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Tue Aug 27, 2019, 09:14 AM

40 Years Ago Today; The Troubles - Lord Mountbatten and 18 soldiers killed in separate incidents


A British Army lorry destroyed in the ambush

The Warrenpoint ambush, also known as the Narrow Water ambush, or instead called the Warrenpoint massacre or the Narrow Water massacre, was a guerrilla attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on 27 August 1979. The IRA's South Armagh Brigade ambushed the British Army with two large roadside bombs at Narrow Water Castle outside Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland. The first bomb was aimed at a British Army convoy and the second targeted the reinforcements sent to deal with the incident. IRA volunteers hidden in nearby woodland also allegedly fired on the troops. The castle is on the banks of the Newry River, which marks the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Eighteen British soldiers were killed and six were seriously injured, making it the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles. An English civilian was also killed and an Irish civilian wounded by British soldiers firing across the border after the first blast. The attack happened on the same day that the IRA assassinated Lord Louis Mountbatten, a member of the British royal family.

The ambush took place on the A2 road at Narrow Water Castle, just outside Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland. The road and castle are on the northern bank of the Newry River, which marks the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Republic's side of the river was an ideal spot from which to launch an ambush: it was thickly wooded, which gave cover to the ambushers, and the river border prevented British forces giving chase.

First explosion
On the afternoon of 27 August, a British Army convoy of one Land Rover and two four-ton lorries—carrying soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment—was driving from Ballykinler Barracks to Newry. The British Army were aware of the dangers of using the stretch of road along the Newry River and often put it out of bounds. However, they had to use it sometimes to avoid setting a pattern. At 16:40, as the convoy was driving past Narrow Water Castle, an 800-pound (363 kg) fertiliser bomb, hidden among strawbales on a parked flatbed trailer, was detonated by remote control by IRA members watching from across the border. The explosion caught the last lorry in the convoy, hurling it on its side and instantly killing six paratroopers, whose bodies were scattered across the road. There were only two survivors amongst the soldiers travelling in the lorry; they both received serious injuries. The lorry's driver, Anthony Wood (aged 19), was one of those killed. All that remained of Wood's body was his pelvis, welded to the seat by the fierce heat of the blast.

Immediately after the blast, the soldiers said they were targeted by sniper fire, coming from woods on the other side of the border. According to Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) researchers, the soldiers may have mistaken the sound of ammunition cooking off for enemy gunfire. Two IRA members arrested by the Gardaí (Irish police) shortly after, and suspected of being behind the ambush, had traces of gunsmoke residue on their hands and the motorbike they were riding on.

On hearing the blast, two civilian bystanders—William Michael Hudson, a 29-year-old from London, and his cousin Barry Hudson, from Dingle—drove to the riverbank on the Republic's side of the border to see what was happening. The men were partners in Hudson Amusements and had been running their funfair in Omeath at the time. Soldiers fired across the border at them; William was shot in the head and killed, Barry was shot in the arm and wounded.

The surviving paratroopers radioed for urgent assistance, and reinforcements were dispatched to the scene by road. A rapid reaction unit was sent by Gazelle helicopter, consisting of Lieutenant-Colonel David Blair, commanding officer of the Queen's Own Highlanders, his signaller Lance Corporal Victor MacLeod, and army medics. Another helicopter, a Wessex, landed to pick up the wounded. Colonel Blair assumed command once at the site.

Second explosion
The IRA had been studying how the British Army behaved after a bombing and correctly predicted that they would set up an incident command point (ICP) at the stone gateway on the other side of the road. At 17:12, thirty-two minutes after the first explosion, another 800-pound bomb exploded at the gateway, destroying it and hurling lumps of granite through the air. It detonated as the Wessex helicopter was taking off carrying wounded soldiers. The helicopter was damaged by the blast but did not crash.

The second explosion killed twelve soldiers: ten from the Parachute Regiment and the two from the Queen's Own Highlanders. Colonel Blair was the highest-ranking British Army officer to be killed in the Troubles up until then. Only one of Colonel Blair's epaulettes remained to identify him as his body had been vaporised in the blast. The epaulette was taken from the scene by Brigadier David Thorne to a security briefing with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to "illustrate the human factor" of the attack. Mike Jackson, then a major in the Parachute Regiment, was at the scene soon after the second explosion and later described seeing human remains scattered over the road, in the water and hanging from the trees. He was asked to identify the face of his friend, Major Peter Fursman, still recognisable after it had been ripped from his head by the explosion and recovered from the water by divers from the Royal Engineers.

Press photographer Peter Molloy, who arrived at the scene after the first explosion, came close to being shot by an angry paratrooper who saw him taking photographs of the dead and dying instead of offering to help the wounded. The soldier was tackled by his comrades. Molloy said, "I was shouted at and called all sorts of things but I understood why. I had trespassed on the worst day of these fellas' lives and taken pictures of it".

The Warrenpoint ambush was a propaganda victory for the IRA. It was the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles and the Parachute Regiment's biggest loss since World War II, with sixteen paratroopers killed. General Sir James Glover, Commander of British forces in Northern Ireland, later said it was "arguably the most successful and certainly one of the best planned IRA attacks of the whole campaign". The ambush happened on the same day that Lord Louis Mountbatten, a prominent member of the British royal family, was killed by an IRA bomb aboard his boat at Mullaghmore, along with three others.

Republicans portrayed the attack as retaliation for Bloody Sunday (30 January 1972), when the Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 unarmed civilians during a protest march. Graffiti appeared in republican areas declaring "13 gone and not forgotten, we got 18 and Mountbatten". The day after the Mountbatten and Warrenpoint attacks, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliated by shooting dead a Catholic man, John Patrick Hardy (43), at his home in Belfast's New Lodge estate. Hardy was targeted in the mistaken belief that he was an IRA member.

Very shortly after the ambush, IRA volunteers Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan were arrested by Gardaí (the Irish police). They were stopped while riding a motorbike on a road opposite Narrow Water Castle. They were later released on bail due to lack of evidence. Burns died in 1988 when a bomb he was handling exploded prematurely. In 1998, former IRA member Eamon Collins claimed that Burns had been one of those who carried out the Warrenpoint ambush.

According to Toby Harnden, the attack "drove a wedge" between the Army and the RUC. Lieutenant-General Sir Timothy Creasey, General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, suggested to Margaret Thatcher that internment should be brought back and that liaison with the Gardaí should be left in the hands of the military. Sir Kenneth Newman, the RUC Chief Constable, claimed instead that the British Army practice, since 1975, of supplying their garrisons in South County Armagh by helicopter, gave too much freedom of movement to the IRA. One result was the appointment of Sir Maurice Oldfield to a new position of Co-ordinator of Security Intelligence in Northern Ireland. His role was to co-ordinate intelligence between the military, MI5 and the RUC. Another was the expansion of the RUC by 1,000 members. Tim Pat Coogan asserts that the deaths of the 18 soldiers hastened the move to Ulsterisation.

Lieutenant-Colonel Blair is remembered on a memorial at Radley School.



Mountbatten in 1976 by Allan Warren

Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (born Prince Louis of Battenberg; 25 June 1900 – 27 August 1979) was a British Royal Navy officer and statesman, an uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and second cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II. During the Second World War, he was Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command (1943–1946). He was the last Viceroy of India (1947) and the first Governor-General of independent India (1947–1948).

From 1954 to 1959, Mountbatten was First Sea Lord, a position that had been held by his father, Prince Louis of Battenberg, some forty years earlier. Thereafter he served as Chief of the Defence Staff until 1965, making him the longest-serving professional head of the British Armed Forces to date. During this period Mountbatten also served as Chairman of the NATO Military Committee for a year.

In 1979, Mountbatten, his grandson Nicholas, and two others were killed by a bomb set by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, hidden aboard his fishing boat in Mullaghmore, County Sligo, Ireland.



Mountbatten usually holidayed at his summer home, Classiebawn Castle, in Mullaghmore, a small seaside village in County Sligo, Ireland. The village was only 12 miles (19 km) from the border with Northern Ireland and near an area known to be used as a cross-border refuge by IRA members. In 1978, the IRA had allegedly attempted to shoot Mountbatten as he was aboard his boat, but poor weather had prevented the sniper taking his shot.

Mountbatten and guests on the Shadow V

On 27 August 1979, Mountbatten went lobster-potting and tuna fishing in his 30-foot (9.1 m) wooden boat, Shadow V, which had been moored in the harbour at Mullaghmore. IRA member Thomas McMahon had slipped onto the unguarded boat that night and attached a radio-controlled bomb weighing 50 pounds (23 kg). When Mountbatten was aboard, just a few hundred yards from the shore, the bomb was detonated. The boat was destroyed by the force of the blast, and Mountbatten's legs were almost blown off. Mountbatten, then aged 79, was pulled alive from the water by nearby fishermen, but died from his injuries before being brought to shore. Also aboard the boat were his elder daughter Patricia (Lady Brabourne), her husband John (Lord Brabourne), their twin sons Nicholas and Timothy Knatchbull, John's mother Doreen, (dowager) Lady Brabourne, and Paul Maxwell, a young crew member from County Fermanagh. Nicholas (aged 14) and Paul (aged 15) were killed by the blast and the others were seriously injured. Doreen, Lady Brabourne (aged 83) died from her injuries the following day.

The IRA issued a statement afterward, saying:

The IRA claim responsibility for the execution of Lord Louis Mountbatten. This operation is one of the discriminate ways we can bring to the attention of the English people the continuing occupation of our country. ... The death of Mountbatten and the tributes paid to him will be seen in sharp contrast to the apathy of the British Government and the English people to the deaths of over three hundred British soldiers, and the deaths of Irish men, women, and children at the hands of their forces.

Six weeks later, Sinn Féin vice-president Gerry Adams said of Mountbatten's death:

The IRA gave clear reasons for the execution. I think it is unfortunate that anyone has to be killed, but the furor created by Mountbatten's death showed up the hypocritical attitude of the media establishment. As a member of the House of Lords, Mountbatten was an emotional figure in both British and Irish politics. What the IRA did to him is what Mountbatten had been doing all his life to other people; and with his war record I don't think he could have objected to dying in what was clearly a war situation. He knew the danger involved in coming to this country. In my opinion, the IRA achieved its objective: people started paying attention to what was happening in Ireland.

In May 2015, during a meeting with Prince Charles, Adams did not apologise. He later said in an interview, "I stand over what I said then. I'm not one of those people that engages in revisionism. Thankfully the war is over".

On the day of the bombing, the IRA also ambushed and killed eighteen British soldiers in Northern Ireland, sixteen of them from the Parachute Regiment, in what became known as the Warrenpoint ambush. It was the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles.


Mountbatten's tomb at Romsey Abbey

On 5 September 1979 Mountbatten received a ceremonial funeral at Westminster Abbey, which was attended by the Queen, the Royal Family and members of the European royal houses. Watched by thousands of people, the funeral procession, which started at Wellington Barracks, included representatives of all three British Armed Services, and military contingents from Burma, India, the United States, France and Canada. His coffin was drawn on a gun carriage by 118 Royal Navy ratings. During the televised service, the Prince of Wales read the lesson from Psalm 107. In an address, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, highlighted his various achievements and his "lifelong devotion to the Royal Navy". After the public ceremonies, which he had planned himself, Mountbatten was buried in Romsey Abbey. As part of the funeral arrangements, his body had been embalmed by Desmond Henley.

Christ in Triumph over Darkness and Evil by Gabriel Loire (1982) at St. George's Cathedral, Cape Town, South Africa, in memory of Lord Mountbatten

Two hours before the bomb detonated, Thomas McMahon had been arrested at a Garda checkpoint between Longford and Granard on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle. He was tried for the assassinations in Ireland and convicted on 23 November 1979 based on forensic evidence supplied by James O'Donovan that showed flecks of paint from the boat and traces of nitroglycerine on his clothes. He was released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

On hearing of Mountbatten's death, the then Master of the Queen's Music, Malcolm Williamson, wrote the Lament in Memory of Lord Mountbatten of Burma for violin and string orchestra. The 11-minute work was given its first performance on 5 May 1980 by the Scottish Baroque Ensemble, conducted by Leonard Friedman.


Despite being aware at the time, I tend to forget how truly terrible the Troubles were...

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Reply 40 Years Ago Today; The Troubles - Lord Mountbatten and 18 soldiers killed in separate incidents (Original post)
Dennis Donovan Aug 27 OP
Siwsan Aug 27 #1
Dennis Donovan Aug 27 #2
Siwsan Aug 27 #3
Arazi Aug 27 #4
roamer65 Aug 27 #5
Javaman Aug 27 #6
Arazi Aug 27 #7

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Tue Aug 27, 2019, 09:48 AM

1. I remember that day, so clearly.

I have always been a big admirer of Lord Mountbatten. He was one of my most memorable 'royal sightings' when I was in London for the Queen's Silver Jubilee.

He led a remarkable life during equally remarkable and trying times. He deserved a much more peaceful end, to his life.

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Response to Siwsan (Reply #1)

Tue Aug 27, 2019, 10:37 AM

2. That must've been quite a party!

And you got to see "Uncle Dickie", as his grandnephew Charles called him.

I remember the event and was disturbed that the IRA targeted an man Lord Mountbatten's age.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Reply #2)

Tue Aug 27, 2019, 10:54 AM

3. It was a magnificent adventure

At one point I was standing right next to the Queen, as she did a walk about. And I was in a crowd estimated to be 1,000,000, in front of Buckingham Palace for one of the famous balcony appearances. Well, twice. Once on Jubilee Day and once for the Queen's official birthday.

All of my photos are contained on color slides. I'm hoping to transfer them to a more user friendly media, real soon.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Tue Aug 27, 2019, 11:03 AM

4. I'll never forget that the British brutally occupied Ireland for centuries, including genocide

The Irish have nothing to apologize for, including this. The British inflicted some of the most reprehensible savagery on the planet towards the Irish

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Tue Aug 27, 2019, 11:11 AM

5. Ask Indians and Pakistanis about Partition Day.

They will give you a different opinion of Mountbatten.

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Response to roamer65 (Reply #5)

Tue Aug 27, 2019, 11:22 AM

6. thank you for pointing that out.

millions died because of him.

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Response to roamer65 (Reply #5)

Tue Aug 27, 2019, 12:50 PM

7. +1

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