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The Glasdrumman ambush was an attack by the South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) against a British Army observation post. It took place on 17 July 1981 at a scrapyard southwest of Crossmaglen, County Armagh.


The crisis triggered by the hunger strikes of Provisional IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners in 1981 led to an increase in militant republican activity in Northern Ireland.[2] British intelligence reports unveiled the IRA intentions of mounting illegal checkpoints and hijacking vehicles on the IRA-controlled roads in South County Armagh, near the Irish border. To counter it, the British Army deployed the so-called COPs (close observation platoons), small infantry sections acting as undercover units, a tactic introduced by Major General Dick Trant in 1977.[3]

On 6 May 1981, a day after the death of hunger-striker Bobby Sands, one IRA member from a three-man unit was arrested while trying to set up a roadblock east of the main Belfast-Dublin highway by 12 members of the Royal Green Jackets, divided in three teams. A second volunteer crossed the border, only to be arrested by the Irish Army. The third IRA man escaped, apparently injured. A total of 689 rounds had been fired by the soldiers.[4]

The attack

After this initial success, the army continued these tactics. On 16 July, another operation was carried out by 18 Royal Green Jackets soldiers. That night, four concealed positions – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta – were inserted into the Glassdrumman area, around a scrapyard along the border. The plan was that another unit – called the triggering team – would ambush any IRA unit on sight, while the other four would block the expected escape routes. On 17 July the commanders in charge of Alpha and Delta teams, suspecting that the operation had been compromised by the presence of local civilians, ordered the withdrawal of his men. Shortly thereafter, Bravo team was suddenly engaged by automatic fire from an M60 machine gun and AR-15 rifles fired by six or seven IRA members. The concealed position, emplaced inside a derelict van, was riddled by more than 250 bullets. The team's leader, Lance Corporal Gavin Dean, was killed instantly, and one of his men, Rifleman John Moore, seriously wounded. Moore was later awarded the Military Medal. The IRA members fired their weapons from 160 yards away, across the border.[5]


British army commanders concluded that risking lives in order to prevent the IRA from mounting roadblocks was untenable.[1] The incident also exposed the difficulties of concealing operations from local civilians in South Armagh, whose sympathy with the IRA was manifest.[6] Several years later, the IRA would repeat its success against undercover observation posts in the course of Operation Conservation in 1990.[7]

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 "After Dean was killed, some Army commanders concluded that it was not worth risking the lives of soldiers to prevent an IRA roadblock being set up." Harnden, page 172
  2. English, pp. 207–208
  3. Harnden, page 169
  4. Harnden, pp. 169-170
  5. Harnden, pp. 170-171
  6. "The small, tight-knit communities in South Armagh meant it was almost impossible for undercover troops to remain unseen or pass themselves off as locals." Harnden, page 172
  7. Harnden, pp. 394-395

Further reading

  • Harnden, Toby: Bandit Country:The IRA & South Armagh. Coronet Books, London, 1999. ISBN 0-340-71737-8.
  • English, Richard: Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-517753-3.

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