Operation Banner: Wikis


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Operation Banner
Part of The Troubles
South Belfast 1981.jpg
A British Army Land Rover patrolling South Belfast (1981)
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 Northern Ireland 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 between August 1969 and July 2007, initially at the request of the Unionist government of Northern Ireland in support to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) (1972–2001), and later to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) (2001–2007). Its role was to engage in counter-terrorism and public order operations in response to the Troubles, and to assist the Government in its objective of restoring normality in Northern Ireland.

An internal British Army document released in 2007 stated an expert opinion that the Army had failed to defeat the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) but had made it impossible for them to win through the use of 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 auspices of the Granada Patrol, by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines under the Operational Control of Senior Naval Officer Northern Ireland (SNONI) 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 conspicous maritime presence on and around the coast of Northern Ireland.

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

A British Army Ammunition Technical Officer approaches a suspect device in Northern Ireland.
  • 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.[4]

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 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.[5][6][7][8] The journalist Fintan O'Toole argues that "both militarily and ideologically, the army was a player, not a referee".[9]


During the thirty-eight year operation, 763 members of the British Armed Forces were killed and 6,100 wounded.[10] It was announced in July 2009 that their next of kin will be eligible to receive the Elizabeth Cross.[11]

According to the "Sutton Index of Deaths"[12] on CAIN, the British Army killed at least 305 people during Operation Banner.


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

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.[13] This involved troop numbers being reduced to 5,000 and the Northern Ireland based 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 thirty-eight years.[3]

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, providing specialised ordnance disposal and support for public order as described in Patten recommendations 59 and 66, should this be needed,[14] thus ending the British Army's emergency operation in Northern Ireland.

Lessons learned

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] One of the major conclusions of the report states:

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.[15]


  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://wikileaks.org/leak/uk-operation-banner-2006.pdf. Retrieved 2009-07-31.  
  4. ^ Ripley, Tim and Chappel, Mike: Security forces in Northern Ireland (1969-92). Osprey, 1993, pp. 19-21. ISBN 1855322781
  5. ^ Northern Ireland Since c.1960 by Barry Doherty (ISBN 978-0435327286), page 11
  6. ^ Freedom or Security: The Consequences for Democracies Using Emergency Powers to Fight Terrorism by Michael Freeman (ISBN 978-0275979133), page 53
  7. ^ 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.  
  8. ^ 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.  
  9. ^ 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.  
  10. ^ 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.  
  11. ^ MOD press release
  12. ^ CAIN - Sutton Index of Deaths
  13. ^ 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.  
  14. ^ "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.  
  15. ^ 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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