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On 21 December 1978, three British soldiers were shot dead when the Provisional IRA's South Armagh Brigade ambushed an eight-man British Army foot patrol in Crossmaglen, County Armagh, Northern Ireland.[2]

Background[edit | edit source]

Since the Troubles began, the South Armagh area—especially around Crossmaglen and other similar republican strongholds—was one of the most dangerous places for the British security forces, and the IRA's South Armagh brigade carried out numerous ambushes on the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). This included the 1975 Drummuckavall ambush[3] and the 1978 downing of a British Army Gazelle helicopter which led to the death of one British soldier and four others being seriously injured.[4][5]

A number of British security force members had been killed in Crossmaglen during 1978. On 4 March, British soldier Nicholas Smith (20), 7 Platoon, B Company, 2 Royal Green Jackets,[citation needed] was killed by an IRA booby trap bomb while attempting to remove an Irish flag from a telegraph pole in Crossmaglen.[6] On 17 June, William Turbitt (42) and Hugh McConnell (32), both Protestant RUC officers, were shot by the IRA while on mobile patrol near Crossmaglen. McConnell was killed at the scene, but Turbitt was kidnapped. The next day, a Catholic priest (Fr. Hugh Murphy) was kidnapped in retaliation but later released after appeals from Protestant clergy.[citation needed] The body of Turbitt was found on 10 July 1978.[7]

Ambush[edit | edit source]

When the patrol was near Rio's Bar coming around a bend, a red Royal Mail-type van was spotted by the patrols commander Sergeant Richard Garmory,[8] the van fitted with armor plating and was facing away from the patrol, which Garmory believed the van was in a suspicious place on the other side of the street. Garmory used noted what looked like boxes in the back of the van (it was cover for the IRA Volunteers IRA members opened fire from the back of the van with an M60 machine gun which was fitted down on to the floor in the back of the van and three other IRA volunteers armed with AR-15 rifles & another Volunteer with an AK47 opened up on the patrol & the British soldiers on patrol returned fire but did not claim any hits. A handful of Christmas shoppers scrambled for cover. Three soldiers at the front of the patrol were fatally wounded. They were treated by staff at nearby health center & then taken to Musgrave Park Hospital but were declared dead on arrival.[9] The soldiers killed were Graham Duggan (22), Kevin Johnson (20) and Glen Ling (18). All were members of the British Armies Grenadier Guards regiment[10][11] The patrols commander Richard Garmory said on the ambush...

"On coming round the bend near the Rio Bar, I saw 40 yards away what looked like a British Rail parcel delivery van parked partly on the pavement on the left facing away from us. It had an 18-inch tailboard with a roll shutter that could be pulled down. The van immediately struck me as highly suspicious because I saw what looked like cardboard boxes piled to the top in the back, all flush with the tailboard so they would fall out if the van moved off fast. I instantaneously put my magnifying sight to my to my eye and saw four firing slts, two above the other two, among the boxes. I immediately opened fire" [12]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

Four months later and the South Armagh brigade struck again at British security forces this time near Bessbrook which is very close to Crossmaglen, just several miles away, when four RUC officers were killed in the 1979 Bessbrook bombing, when a 1,000 lb landmine was detonated when the RUC patrol was passing by the bomb, killing all the officers outright.

See also[edit | edit source]

Sources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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