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1979: Soldiers die in Warrenpoint massacre

At least 18 soldiers have been killed in two booby-trap bomb attacks at Warrenpoint, South Down, close to the border with the Irish Republic.

It is the highest death toll suffered by the British Army in a single incident since it arrived in Northern Ireland to restore order a decade ago.

The IRA are believed to be behind the attack.

It came only hours after the Queen's cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten, was killed in an IRA bomb attack in Donegal Bay in the Irish Republic.

The dead at Warrenpoint included the most senior Army officer killed in Northern Ireland to date, the commanding Officer of the Queen's Own Highlanders, Lieutenant-Colonel David Blair.

Reinforcements

The ambush had been carefully planned. The first bomb, weighing half-a-ton, was planted under some hay on a flat-bed lorry beside a dual carriageway 44 miles (71km) from Belfast on the Irish border.

It exploded killing six soldiers of the Second Battalion Parachute Regiment as they travelled past in a four-ton lorry at the back of a three-vehicle army convoy.

The surviving troops in the other two vehicles were immediately deployed to cordon off the area and call for reinforcements.

Members of the Queen's Own Highlanders, who flew to the scene by helicopter, arrived from Bessbrook base in County Armagh.

Twenty minutes after the first explosion, as the helicopter took off carrying some of the injured, the second device was detonated.

Twelve more soldiers - two Highlanders and ten Paras - who had been taking cover in a nearby gate house were killed as the second device exploded close to them.

At least one witness reported hearing heavy automatic fire from across the narrow canal, which formed part of the border, after the second explosion. The soldiers returned the fire. A civilian was later found dead nearby.

The British have strict orders not to pursue their attackers into the Irish Republic to avoid causing any diplomatic disputes.

In Context
The IRA admitted carrying out the attacks the following day. They had also admitted carrying out the bomb attack in which Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed.

The Parachute Regiment went straight back out on patrol. Any suggestion their 18-month tour of duty would be curtailed was swiftly rejected.

A memorial service was held for the dead at the Royal Garrison Church in Aldershot on 26 September.

Among the dead was a civilian, the 28-year-old son of one of the Queen's coachmen. Michael Hudson was caught in the crossfire.

The deaths of Lord Mountbatten and the 18 British soldiers were followed by a series of killings of Catholic civilians by Loyalist paramilitaries.


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