Glasdrumman ambush

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Glasdrumman ambush
Part of the Troubles
Date17 July 1981
Glasdrumman, County Armagh

54°3′26.76″N 6°31′37.84″W / 54.0574333°N 6.5271778°W / 54.0574333; -6.5271778Coordinates: 54°3′26.76″N 6°31′37.84″W / 54.0574333°N 6.5271778°W / 54.0574333; -6.5271778
Result IRA victory
IrishRepublicanFlag.png Provisional IRA

 United Kingdom

Commanders and leaders
Unknown Lance Corporal Gavin Dean 
Up to 7 IRA members 18 soldiers
Casualties and losses
None 1 killed
2 wounded
Glasdrumman ambush is located in Northern Ireland
Glasdrumman ambush
Location within Northern Ireland

The Glasdrumman ambush was an attack by the South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) against a British Army observation post in Glasdrumman, County Armagh on 17 July 1981. An attempted ambush by the British Army on IRA members at a scrapyard southwest of Crossmaglen was itself ambushed, resulting in one British soldier killed and the IRA retaining ability to set up checkpoints in South Armagh.[1]


The crisis triggered by the 1981 Irish hunger strike of Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners led to an increase in militant Irish republican activity in Northern Ireland.[2] British intelligence reports unveiled 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 "close observation platoons" (COPs) - small infantry sections acting as undercover units to counter IRA activity, a tactic introduced by Major General Richard 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 road 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]


After this initial success, the British 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, southwest of Crossmaglen in South Armagh, 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 their 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, was seriously wounded. Moore was later awarded the Military Medal. The IRA members fired their weapons from across the border, 160 yards away.[5]


The British Army's follow up investigation concluded that that Dean's team had been seen on the first day, letting the IRA to carry out detailed reconnaissance of the area and to select a firing position to carry out their ambush.[6]

British army commanders concluded that "it was not worth risking the lives of soldiers to prevent an IRA roadblock being set up."[1] The incident also exposed the difficulties of concealing operations from local civilians in South Armagh, a region of Northern Ireland heavily sympathetic to the IRA.[7] Several years later, the IRA would repeat its success against undercover British observation posts in the course of Operation Conservation in 1990.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "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. ^ Harnden, pp. 124
  7. ^ "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
  8. ^ Harnden, pp. 394-395

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.