Fifty years ago this week, the first troops arrived in NI for start of Operation Banner

Some of the first soldiers to arrive in Northern Ireland at the start of the Troubles stand guard in the Falls Road area of riot-torn Belfast
Some of the first soldiers to arrive in Northern Ireland at the start of the Troubles stand guard in the Falls Road area of riot-torn Belfast
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Wednesday, August 14 marks 50 years since troops were deployed on the streets of Northern Ireland – amid fears the cycle of violence could spill over in to all-out civil war.

Images of soldiers in battle dress and armoured cars, against a backdrop of burned-out buses and buildings, were beamed around the world as Belfast and Londonderry smouldered.

A Protestant clergyman talking to a soldier near an armoured car in Disraeli Street, soon after troops had for the first time moved into the Protestant area of Belfast

A Protestant clergyman talking to a soldier near an armoured car in Disraeli Street, soon after troops had for the first time moved into the Protestant area of Belfast

As the Army’s Operation Banner got under way, the first boots on the streets of Londonderry were those of The Prince of Wales’ Own Regiment of Yorkshire.

The troops were initially welcomed by all sections of the community but the lull in hostilities didn’t last long.

Within weeks the first RUC officer to die would be murdered by loyalists on Belfast’s Shankill Road during rioting, and there were six more Troubles deaths by the turn of the year.

With thousands of soldiers now patrolling the streets the level of violence dropped considerably, but the spiral of violence was reignited in on June 27, 1970 when five Protestant civilians were shot dead by the IRA in five separate incidents across north and east Belfast.

Members of the Royal Artillery boarding a Chinook helicopter to leave their base in Armagh for the last time

Members of the Royal Artillery boarding a Chinook helicopter to leave their base in Armagh for the last time

Weeks earlier the Ulster Defence Regiment had been formed to replace the RUC’s B Specials.

The first soldier to die during Op Banner was Gunner Robert Curtis of 32nd Battery, Royal Horse Artillery – hit by IRA machine-gun fire on Belfast’s New Lodge Road in February 1971.

One of four other soldiers wounded in the same attack died a week later in hospital.

The level of violence was to steadily increase in 1971, leading to the bloodiest year of the Troubles.

A soldier on patrol in a Protestant area of Belfast on the traditional July 11 bonfire night

A soldier on patrol in a Protestant area of Belfast on the traditional July 11 bonfire night

Just weeks into 1972, members of the Parachute Regiment shot and killed 13 men during rioting that followed a Civil Rights march in Londonderry. A 14th would die of his wounds months later.

With no let up in the violence, the RUC assumed the lead role in security issues in place of the Army in 1976.

The deaths of 18 soldiers during an IRA ambush at Warrenpoint in August 1979 was one of the darkest days for the Army, and the intensified cycle of violence sparked by the 1981 republican hunger strike in the Maze prison would create another particularly difficult period for police and troops.

The following July, the IRA stuck in Great Britain killing eight soldiers on ceremonial duty in London – injuring 47 soldiers and civilians – in two bomb blasts at Hyde Park and Regent’s Park.

Other mainland bomb attacks would follow, including the murder of 10 young Royal Marine bandsmen at their base in Kent in 1989.

The last member of the Royal Irish Regiment was a part-time member murdered while off duty in August 1994, and the last member of the regular Army killed was shot near Bessbrook in February 1997.

Paramilitary ceasefires created space for the Belfast Agreement, which in turn paved the way for a new power-sharing Executive at Stormont in May 2007.

Operation Banner officially ended two months later at midnight on July 31.

• The regular Army suffered 860 fatalities during Op Banner, with 486 serving or former soldiers killed by terrorists.

Royal Marines/Royal Navy deaths totalled 43, including 24 killed as a result of terrorist attacks.

There were 34 RAF deaths but only seven were a direct result of hostilities.

The Ulster Defence Regiment lost 571 men and women with 264 at the hands of terrorists.

The Royal Irish Regiment (which incorporated the UDR) suffered 81 fatalities with seven deaths caused by terrorist activity.

Fourteen Territorial Army (TA) soldiers were killed during the Troubles of which six were killed in terrorist attacks.

Two members of the cadet forces, and several relatives of military personnel, were also murdered during the Troubles.