In July 1979, 2 PARA, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Colin Thomson, began a 20-month tour of duty in Northern Ireland. Based at Ballykinler Barracks, County Down, the battalion undertook the role of reserve for 39 Infantry Brigade.
On the afternoon of 27th August, a convoy consisting of a land-rover and two 4-ton vehicles carrying men of 3 Platoon, A-Company was travelling along the coastal road from Ballykinler en-route for 2 Para’s Company base at the border town of Newry. Heading along the northern side of Carlingford Lough, near the village of Warren Point, the convoy approached a lay-by in which was parked a trailer loaded with bales of straw. Across the Lough, which is only some 200 yards wide at that point, a group of Provisional IRA terrorists lay in wait, safely within the territory of Eire.
As the convoy passed Narrow Water Castle, a medieval building near the road, and as the rear 4 tonner drew level with the trailer, the terrorists triggered the bomb by remote control. 700lb of explosives, packed into milk churns and surrounded by petrol cans concealed in the straw, exploded and a ball of fire enveloped the trailer. The 4 tonner, which carried 9 men, took the full force of the explosion and of these only 1 survived unhurt. The other vehicles in the convoy halted and their occupants ran back to help their comrades.
Meanwhile, a Royal Marine detachment on patrol in Warren Point had heard the explosion and radioed a contact report to 2 Para’s base in Newry. On hearing the report, Major Barry Rogan, commanding Support Company, immediately despatched his Machine Gun Platoon to the scene in two land-rovers. A few minutes later he and his relief, Major Peter Fursman, commanding A-Company, set off in two further land-rovers and drove to the incident. Upon arrival the MMG’s land-rovers were positioned north and south of the incident in order to prevent civilians entering the area.
The operations room at Bessbrook, manned by the 1st Battalion, The Queen’s Own Highlanders, had despatched its own Airborne Reaction Force in Wessex helicopters. On their arrival, the Highlanders circled the area in their aircraft while another Wessex landed on the central reservation in the road and disembarked a medical officer and his medic, who moved to the Incident Control Point to set about treating the casualties. This Incident Control Point had been set up next to an obvious gate house, by the side of the road and everyone was converging on this point. The pilot of the Wessex decided to wait on the ground and see if he could render any further assistance. Shortly afterwards a soldier came and spoke to the crewman telling him that they should expect only 2 casualties as all the others were dead.
About 5 minutes later both of the casualties were being loaded onto the aircraft. Just before the Wessex had landed a Gazelle had landed in the fields beyond the I.C.P. and dropped off the Commanding Officer of the Highlanders, Lieutenant Colonel David Blair and his signaller. They ran down the road to the front of the Gate House Lodge where they could see Major Fursman’s group of land-rovers. As he did so, the Wessex helicopter on the central reservation prepared to take off.
It was now nearly 5 o’clock. At this point the vehicles were in the following positions: two land-rovers parked outside the lodge, a 4 tonner (the first one) parked further down the road to the North, the two MMG’s land-rovers acting as road blocks at either end of the first incident site, and the convoy land-rover parked ahead of the explosion area. The Wessex helicopter was still on the northern carriageway 30 metres north of the first bomb and the Gazelle helicopter had just departed. Further away was the Royal Marine detachment.
At this moment the second explosion occurred. This was a 1, 000lb bomb also initiated by radio control, but this time the initiation signal had been sent 20 minutes earlier and had been used to start a clockwork timing-device. The bomb was concealed inside the gate-lodge and on exploding, completely demolished the building and killed a further 12 men, seriously wounded 3 more and damaged the helicopter. Among the dead were Lt-Col.Blair and Maj.Fursman.
It transpired later that the terrorists had devoted a great deal of effort and time to planning the attack. As photographs of the location taken a few days earlier later revealed, trailers were often parked in the lay-by, and thus no suspicions had been aroused. The only civilian casualty was a young tourist named Michael Hudson, the son of one the Queen’s coachmen, who was unfortunately mistaken for a terrorist and shot by the men of 2 Para after the second bomb explosion.
This terrorist action resulted in the British Army’s greatest loss of life in a single incident in Northern Ireland with 18 men killed.
Those men killed in the first bomb explosion were:
Those men wounded in the first bomb explosion were:
Pte.T.Caughey. 3 Platoon, A-Company, 2 PARA.
Those men killed in the second bomb explosion were:
Lt-Col.D.N.A.Blair. C.O: 1 QOHLDRS.
L/Cpl.V.MacLeod. C.O’s Radio Op, 1 QOHLDRS.
Those men wounded in the second bomb explosion were:
Cpl.N.H.Porter. 3 Platoon, A-Company, 2 PARA.
Cpl.S.J.Webb. Medium Machine Gun Platoon, 2 PARA.
Pte.M.J.Furrow. Medium Machine Gun Platoon, 2 PARA.