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Barrack buster: Wikis


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IRA's Mark 15 Barrack Buster mortar on display by members of the organisation in a propaganda video from 1994

Barrack buster is the colloquial name given to several improvised mortars, developed in the 1990s by the engineering group of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).
The first barrack buster - known to the British security forces as the Mark 15 mortar - consisted of a one metre long metal propane cylinder with a diameter of 36 cm that contained around 70 kg of home-made explosives and with a range between 75 and 275 m. The cylinder is an adaptation of a commercial 'Kosangas' gas cylinder for heating and cooking gas used in rural areas in Ireland.

It was first used in an attack on 7 December 1992 against a RUC station in Ballygawley, Co. Tyrone, in Northern Ireland.[1 ]


Provisional IRA's improvised mortars

The barrack buster belongs to a series of home-made mortars developed since the 1970s. The first such mortar - Mark 1 - was used in an attack in May 1972 and it was soon followed by the first of a series of improved or differentiated versions stretching into the 1990s:

  • Mark 1 (1972)
  • Mark 2 (1972-73) -- Resulted in the first fatality when a British soldier was killed trying to defuse a misfired mortar projectile.
  • Mark 3 (1973-74) -- During an attack on a police station a misfired mortar killed two IRA men (aged 16 and 27) operating the mortar.
  • Mark 4 (1974) -- Used only in one known attack on 22 February 1974.
  • Mark 5 (1974) -- Never used in any known attack.
  • Mark 6 (1974-94) -- A small calibre mortar with a possible range of hundreds of yards. Its warheads were filled with 200-300 grams of Semtex and using a propellant charge of homemade gun powder. Was used in March 1994 in three attacks on Heathrow airport in the UK. It is not known to have been used after these attacks.[2]
  • Mark 7 (1976) -- Longer version of Mark 6.
  • Mark 8 (1976) -- Longer version of Mark 6.
  • Mark 9 (1976-?)
  • Mark 10 (1979-94) -- A large caliber mortar containing 20-100 kg explosives. Its first use on 19 March 1979 caused the first deliberate victim - a British soldier - from an IRA mortar attack. It was primarily designed for use against police stations and military bases, and was used in the 1985 Newry mortar attack which killed 9 Police Officers. It was used in several attacks using configurations with multiple launching tubes, "often launched from the back of Transit type vans".[3] Three such mortars using a mixture of ammonium nitrate and nitrobenzene - known as 'Annie' - as warhead were used on 7 February 1991 in an IRA attack on 10 Downing Street in London against British Prime Minister John Major and his War Cabinet during the first Gulf War.[4] It was superseded by the larger Mark 15.
  • Mark 11 (1982-?)
  • Mark 12 (1988-?) -- Fired horizontally against armoured vehicles. Used successfully in 1991 and 1992.
  • Mark 13 (1990-?) -- A spigot mortar.
  • Mark 14 (1992-?)
  • Mark 15 (1992- ) -- First mortar known as "barrack buster". It is the "standard IRA large calibre [mortar] system" and described as having "the effect of a 'flying car bomb'". It has a calibre of 320 mm and loads with 80-100 kg explosives. It has also been used in configurations with multiple launch tubes with an attack using 12 tubes against an UK military base in Kilkeel in Northern Ireland as being the "record".[3]
  • Mark 16 (1993-?)-- A shoulder fired weapon for use against armoured vehicles. Used successfully in late 1993 and early 1994.[5]
  • Mark 17 (1998?-
  • Mark 18 (1998?-
  • Mark 19 (2000?-

Strategic impact

The intensification of the IRA's mortar campaign in the late 1980s forced the British government to increase the number of army troops in Northern Ireland from its lowest ebb of 9,000 in 1985 to 10,500 by 1992.[6]

Use by other groups

These mortars have also been appropriated by other political militants using terrorist tactics. These mortars have been used by the Real IRA in the 2000s which also developed their own fusing system for the mortars.[7] Furthermore, what appears to be a similar or identical mortar technology has also been used since 1998 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and ETA in Spain was in 2001 rumoured to have built mortars "very similar" to the IRA's.[8] The possible transfer of this mortar technology to the FARC was a central issue in the arrest in August 2001 and later trial of the so called Colombia Three group of IRA members who were alleged by Colombian authorities and by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on International Relations to have trained FARC in the manufacture and use of this mortar technology.[9]

Colloquial usage

A derived term in Belfast refers to a three litre bottle of inexpensive cider.[10] [11]

See also


  1. ^ Geraghty 1998, 193; Ryder 2005, 256.
  2. ^ Geraghty 1998; Smith 2006; Davies 2001, 13.
  3. ^ a b Davies 2001, 14.
  4. ^ "Geraghty 1998, 192
  5. ^ Operation Banner
  6. ^ Ripley & Chappel 1993, 20
  7. ^ Smith 2006; Davies 2001, 14.
  8. ^ Davies 2001, 15.
  9. ^ Committee on International Relations (2002-04-24). "Summary of Investigation of IRA Links to FARC Narco-Terrorists in Colombia". US House of Congress. Retrieved 2007-06-16.  
  10. ^ Belfast slang
  11. ^ derived slang


  • Davies, Roger (2001), "Improvised mortar systems: an evolving political weapon", Jane's Intelligence Review (May 2001), 12-15.
  • Geraghty, Tony (1998), The Irish War: the Hidden Conflict Between the IRA and British Intelligence, Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801864569
  • Ripley, Tim and Chappel, Mike: Security forces in Northern Ireland (1969-92). Osprey, 1993. ISBN 1855322781
  • Ryder, Chris: A Special Kind of Courage: 321 EOD Squadron - Battling the Bombers, Methuen, 2005. ISBN 0413772233
  • Smith, Steve (2006), 3-2-1 Bomb Gone: Fighting Terrorist Bombers in Northern Ireland, Sutton Publishing.


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