Operation Banner

Operation Banner
Operation Banner
Part of The Troubles
British Army roadblock 1988.jpg
Two British soldiers at a checkpoint near Newry
Date 14 August 1969 – 31 July 2007
Location Northern Ireland
Result Stalemate and paramilitary ceasefires[1][2]
Belfast Agreement
United Kingdom British Armed Forces Flag of Ireland.svg Irish republican paramilitaries Ulster banner.svg Ulster loyalist paramilitaries
Casualties and losses
763 dead
6,100 injured

1,854 civilians dead

127 dead 13 dead
Paramilitary casualties includes only those that were killed by the British Armed Forces.

Operation Banner was the operational name for the British Armed Forces' operation in Northern Ireland from August 1969 to July 2007. It was initially deployed at the request of the Unionist government of Northern Ireland to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). After the 1998 Belfast Agreement, the operation was gradually scaled down. It continued, however, to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) from 2001. Its role was to engage in counter-terrorism and public-order operations in response to the Troubles,[citation needed] and to assist the Government in its goal of restoring normality in Northern Ireland.

The main opposition to the British military's deployment came from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). It waged a guerrilla campaign against the British military from 1970 to 1997 (see timeline). An internal British Army document released in 2007 stated that, whilst the Army had failed to defeat the IRA, it had made it impossible for the IRA to win through violence.[2][3]


Role of the armed forces

The support to the police forces was primarily from the Army, with the Royal Air Force providing helicopter support as required. A maritime component was supplied under the codename of Operation Grenada, by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines in direct support of the Army commitment. This was tasked with interdicting the supply of weapons and munitions to both sides of the sectarian divide, acting as a visible deterrence by maintaining a conspicuous maritime presence on and around the coast of Northern Ireland and Lough Neagh.[4]

The role of the armed forces in their support role to the police was defined by the Army in the following terms:

  • Routine support — Includes such tasks as providing protection to the police in carrying out normal policing duties in areas of terrorist threat; patrolling around military and police bases to deter terrorist attack and supporting police-directed counter terrorist operations.
  • Additional support — Assistance where the police have insufficient assets of their own; this includes the provision of observation posts along the border and increased support during times of civil disorder. The military can provide soldiers to protect and, if necessary, supplement police lines and cordons. The military can provide heavy plant to remove barricades and construct barriers, and additional armoured vehicles and helicopters to help in the movement of police and soldiers.

Number of troops deployed

At the peak of the operation, the Army deployed some 21,000 soldiers. By 1980, the figure had dropped to 11,000, with a lower presence of 9,000 men in 1985. The total climbed to 10,500 after the intensification of the IRA use of mortars by the end of the 1980s. In 1992, there were 17,750 members of all military forces taking part of the operation. The army build-up comprised three brigades under the command of a lieutenant-general. There were six resident battalions deployed for a period of two-and-a-half years and four roulement battalions serving on six-months tours.[5] Still in July 1997, in the course of fierce riots in Nationalist areas triggered by the Drumcree conflict, the total number of security forces in Northern Ireland increased to more than 30,000 including the RUC.[6]

A British Army Land Rover patrolling South Belfast (1981)
A British Army Ammunition Technical Officer approaches a suspect device in Northern Ireland.


Armoured vehicles:



Reception by the Catholic community

The Army presence in Northern Ireland was initially welcomed as a neutral force by the Catholic population, who had been under attack by loyalists and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) but this primarily changed following a three-day military clamp down (the Falls Curfew) on the Falls area of west Belfast in July 1970.[7][8][9][10] The journalist Fintan O'Toole argues that "both militarily and ideologically, the army was a player, not a referee".[11]

On 9th Aug 1971 the Unionist government of Northern Ireland introduced internment without trial (Operation Demetrius). Hundreds of Catholics were ‘lifted’ in pre-dawn raids. The operation was directed only at the IRA and no loyalists were arrested. During the three days of violence and riots that followed, 22 people died and 7,000 Catholics were burned out of their homes. [12] [13]

However, the real turning point in the relationship between the Army and the Catholic community was 30 January 1972, more commonly known as Bloody Sunday, when paratroopers killed 14 civil-rights protesters in Derry. The deceased, along with 17 injured, and thousands of others, were taking part in an anti-internment march, when the paratroopers opened fire. The Widgery Tribunal carried out after the deaths was a whitewash, and was scrapped in 2010 after the release of the Saville Inquiry. Prime Minister David Cameron described the slaughter of the civilians as What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable, it was wrong.[14] It is widely acknowledged that Bloody Sunday was the beginning of The Troubles as we know it,[citation needed] and was the biggest recruitment drive that the Provisional IRA ever had.[citation needed]


During the 38 year operation, 763 members of the British Armed Forces were killed and 6,100 wounded.[15]

Those killed in Northern Ireland include:[16]

Also 51 military personnel died outside Northern Ireland.

It was announced in July 2009 that their next of kin will be eligible to receive the Elizabeth Cross.[18]

According to the "Sutton Index of Deaths"[19] on CAIN, the British Army killed 305 people during Operation Banner.

Last years

Crossmaglen RUC Barracks, a joint RUC/British Army base built during the operation and demolished in 2007

Scale-down (1998–2005)

The operation was gradually scaled down since 1998, after the Good Friday Agreement, when patrols were suspended and several military barracks closed or dismantled, even before the beginning of IRA's decommissioning.[20] The process of demilitarisation had already started in 1994, after the first IRA ceasefire. From the second IRA ceasefire in 1997 until the first act of decommission of weapons in 2001, almost 50 per cent of the army bases had been vacated or demolished along with surveillance sites and holding centers, while more than 100 cross-border roads were reopened.[21]


Eventually in August 2005, it was announced that due to the security situation improving and in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement provisions, Operation Banner would end by 1 August 2007.[22] This involved troops based in Northern Ireland reduced to 5,000, and only for training purposes. Security was entirely transferred to the police.[23] The Northern Ireland Resident battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment—which grew out of the Ulster Defence Regiment—were stood down on 1 September 2006. The operation officially ended at midnight on 31 July 2007, making it the longest continuous deployment in the British Army's history, lasting over 38 years.[3] In the words of BBC correspondent Kevin Connolly , the British Army in Northern Ireland "melted away, rather than marched away".[24] While the withdrawal of troops was welcomed by the nationalist parties Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin, the unionist Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party opposed to the decision, which they regarded as 'premature'. The main reasons behind their resistance were the continuing activity of republican dissident groups, the loss of security-related jobs for the protestant community and the perception of the British Army presence as an affirmation of the political union with Great Britain.[25]

Adam Ingram, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, has stated that assuming the maintenance of an enabling environment, British Army support to the PSNI after 31 July 2007 was reduced to a residual level, know as Operation Helvetic, providing specialised ordnance disposal and support to the PSNI in circumstances of extreme public order as described in Patten recommendations 59 and 66, should this be needed,[26][27] thus ending the British Army's emergency operation in Northern Ireland.

Analysis of the operation

In July 2007, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 the Ministry of Defence published Operation Banner: An analysis of military operations in Northern Ireland, which reflected on the Army's role in the conflict and the strategic and operational lessons drawn from their involvement.[2][3] The paper divides the IRA activity and tactics in two main periods: The "insurgency" phase (1971–1972), and the "terrorist" phase (1972–1997).[28] The British Army claims to have curbed the IRA insurgency by 1972, after Operation Motorman. The IRA then reemerged as a cell-structured organisation.[28] The report also asserts that the government efforts by the 1980s were aimed to destroy the IRA, rather than negotiate a political solution.[29]

The report analyses Israeli military theorist Martin van Creveld's comments on the outcome of the operation:

Martin van Creveld has said that the British Army is unique in Northern Ireland in its success against an irregular force. It should be recognised that the Army did not 'win' in any recognisable way; rather it achieved its desired end-state, which allowed a political process to be established without unacceptable levels of intimidation. Security force operations suppressed the level of violence to a level which the population could live with, and with which the RUC and later the PSNI could cope. The violence was reduced to an extent which made it clear to the PIRA that they would not win through violence. This is a major achievement, and one with which the security forces from all three Services, with the Army in the lead, should be entirely satisfied. It took a long time but, as van Crefeld [sic] said, that success is unique.[3]

The US military have sought to incorporate lessons from Operation Banner in their field manual.[30]


  1. ^ Taylor, Peter, Behind the mask: The IRA and Sinn Féin, Chapter 21: Stalemate, pp. 246–261.
  2. ^ a b c "Army paper says IRA not defeated". BBC News. 2007-07-06. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/6276416.stm. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Operation Banner: An analysis of military operations in Northern Ireland". Ministry of Defence. 2006. http://www.vilaweb.cat/media/attach/vwedts/docs/op_banner_analysis_released.pdf. Retrieved 2009-07-31. 
  4. ^ "Operation Banner: An analysis of military operations in Northern Ireland". Ministry of Defence. 2006. http://www.vilaweb.cat/media/attach/vwedts/docs/op_banner_analysis_released.pdf. Retrieved 2009-07-31.  Chapter 6, pp. 1–2
  5. ^ Ripley, Tim and Chappel, Mike (1993). Security forces in Northern Ireland (1969–92). Osprey, pp. 19–21. ISBN 1855322781
  6. ^ More Troops Arrive in Northern Ireland Associated Press, 10 July 1997
  7. ^ Northern Ireland Since c.1960 by Barry Doherty (ISBN 978-0435327286), page 11
  8. ^ Freedom or Security: The Consequences for Democracies Using Emergency Powers to Fight Terrorism by Michael Freeman (ISBN 978-0275979133), page 53
  9. ^ Mick Fealty (2007-07-31). "About turn". Guardian Comment is Free. http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/mick_fealty/2007/07/about_turn.html. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  10. ^ Kevin Connolly (2007-07-31). "No fanfare for Operation Banner". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/6923421.stm. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  11. ^ Fintan O'Toole (2007-07-31). "The blunt instrument of war". Irish Times. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2007/0731/1185230202074.html. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  12. ^ Raidió Teilifís Éireann (2010-10-26). "The Seventies:1971". Raidió Teilifís Éireann. http://www.rte.ie/tv/reelingintheyears/1971.html. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 
  13. ^ Raidió Teilifís Éireann (2009-09-22). "The Seventies:1971 – part 2". Raidió Teilifís Éireann. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAt224i5EN8&feature=related. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 
  14. ^ "Bloody Sunday report published" BBC news, 15 June 2010
  15. ^ Michael Evans (2005-08-02). "Garrison to be halved as Army winds up longest operation". The Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1717292,00.html. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  16. ^ Operation BANNER ends in Northern Ireland after 38 years. Ministry of Defence
  17. ^ Sea Your History
  18. ^ MOD press release
  19. ^ CAIN – Sutton Index of Deaths
  20. ^ O'Brien, Brendan (1999). The Long War: The IRA and Sinn Féin, Syracuse University Press, p 393. ISBN 0815605978
  21. ^ Albert, Cornelia (2009). The Peacebuilding Elements of the Belfast Agreement and the Transformation of the Northern Ireland Conflict. Peter Lang, p. 234. ISBN 3631585918
  22. ^ Brian Rowan (2005-08-02). "Military move heralds end of era". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4739227.stm. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  23. ^ Army ending its operation in NI BBC News, 31 July 2007
  24. ^ No fanfare for Operation Banner BBC News, 31 July 2007
  25. ^ Albert, p. 236
  26. ^ "House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 13 Sep 2006 (pt 2356)". Houses of Parliament. 2006-09-13. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm060913/text/60913w2373.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  27. ^ Ministry of Defence
  28. ^ a b Operation Banner, Chapter I, page 3
  29. ^ Operation Banner, Chapter II, page 15: "The British Government’s main military objective in the 1980s was the destruction of PIRA, rather than resolving the conflict."
  30. ^ Richard Norton Taylor and Owen Bowcott (2007-07-31). "Analysis: Army learned insurgency lessons from Northern Ireland". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Northern_Ireland/Story/0,,2138491,00.html. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 

External links

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