Regarding technicals in modern warfare, the Toyota is the most easily recognizable. But unto you’ve witnessed IRA technicals, you haven’t seen anything yet!
Compared to the plains of Africa and Middle Eastern deserts, many assume armed technicals would struggle to operate in the tight streets of Northern Ireland during The Troubles.
But it’s a little-known fact that the Irish Republican Army heavily utilized a huge range of heavily armed, innovative, and exceptionally deadly non-standard tactical vehicles (NSTV) in their thirty-year war against the British state.
Today, we’re going to delve deep behind the modified armour of these IRA technicals and show you the carnage they unleashed in the brutal urban warfare of The Troubles.
The Dump Truck Flamethrower Used In The Derryard Checkpoint Attack, 1989.
To begin this guide to IRA technicals, few are as notorious as the modified flamethrower dump truck used in the deadly 1989 attack on Derryard Checkpoint.
An IRA unit used heavily modified a Bedford TL truck that was armoured and reinforced with steel plates, sandbags, and a crash bar.
Fitted with two Soviet-era DShK heavy machine guns and an LPO-50 flamethrower, the Bedford TL could fit 11 heavily armed IRA combatants.
Based on the old IRA tactics of Flying Columns pioneered by Tom Barry, the armoured technical burst through the gates of the British Army checkpoint and covered the IRA men with heavy machinegun fire as they disembarked and took up defensive positions.
A vicious gun battle erupted that left two British troops dead. The IRA escaped without any casualties, despite a British counterattack backed by an RAF Wessex aircraft.
The helicopter was forced to retreat when the armoured technical opened fire on the unarmed Wessex.
After leaving a van bomb inside the base, the IRA technical escaped to the Irish border, where the Bedford TL was stripped of its weapons, booby-trapped, and dumped.
The Bulldozer Bomb During The Battle of Lenadoon, 1972
One of the first technicals to feature in The Troubles occurred during the Battle of Lenadoon, which was a six-day-long series of gun battles across Belfast that left 28 people dead.
On the 11th of July, the IRA packed a huge bomb into the bucket of a mechanical digger before driving it towards a British Army checkpoint on Lenadoon Avenue.
The mechanical digger was driven at full speed into the checkpoint as other IRA fighters unleashed hundreds of rounds to cover the driver. However, the bomb failed to detonate.
Despite the attack being a failure, this tactic was reborn over a decade later to devastating effect during the brutal attack on the RUC barracks at The Birches in 1986.
The RUC Barracks Attack, The Birches, 1986.
Raised on a farm, IRA member Declan Arthurs was well-experienced in the use of mechanical diggers since he was young. This made him the ideal recruit for using excavators to attack RUC barracks.
Like the Battle of Lenadoon, the bucket of the JCB excavator was packed with explosives and driven through the barracks wall whilst IRA fighters provided relentless covering fire.
The IRA had diverted security forces away from the area by using a decoy bomb, so the base was unmanned and took no casualties. It was, however, obliterated in the blast.
The aim of the attack was part of an ongoing IRA campaign to wipe out RUC stations in remote areas and destroy them beyond repair. Their intention was to form no-go areas.
British Army Gazelle Helicopter Shot Down By an IRA Technical, 1990.
During a reconnaissance mission on the 11th of January, 1990, a British Army Gazelle helicopter claimed to have spotted an IRA technical armed with heavy machine guns in Clogher.
A few minutes later, heavy machine gun fire peppered the helicopter. After losing oil pressure, the aircraft plummeted to the ground and broke apart upon impact.
Witnesses claim around 50 to 60 shots were fired; the IRA officially stated they fired over 300 shots at the helicopter.
It’s still unclear what specific weapons were attached to the IRA technical. It was most likely Soviet-made DShKs sent from the Gaddafi regime or US-made M60s sent from the Irish diaspora in the United States.
Armoured Ford Transit Van Attacks a British Army Checkpoint, 1994.
When the East Tyrone IRA Brigade acquired a Ford Transit van, they fitted improvised armour plating bolstered by sandbags inside and equipped it with two heavy machine guns.
On the 27th of May ’94, a five-man IRA team waited until the cover of darkness before using the van to launch a nighttime ambush on a British Army checkpoint in Aughnacloy.
A wave of gunfire opened up on the checkpoint, triggering a firefight with the eight-man British Army team manning it.
The improvised technical then vanished into the night and over the border into the Republic of Ireland.
The Downing Street Mortar Attack, 1991.
One of the most audacious and daring examples of an IRA technical being used during The Troubles took place in the heart of London.
Throughout the conflict in Northern Ireland, the IRA had repeatedly utilized lethal homemade mortars. Most notably in 1985 when the Newry mortar attack killed nine RUC officers.
1991 saw the first use of an IRA homemade mortar used on the streets of mainland Britain. This time, it was mounted inside a Ford white Ford transit van technical.
Following a surge of IRA attacks on targets in England since 1988, the British Government had bolstered security of Downing Street and surrounding areas by more than £800,000.
The original target was Margaret Thatcher. But following her sudden resignation in 1990, the IRA went forward with the operation and decided to aim for her successor, John Major.
Around 10am on the 7th February, John Major and other senior government ministers convened for a War Cabinet meeting to discuss the then-ongoing Gulf War.
An IRA driver brought the van to a designated spot 200 yards (180 m) from Downing Street and fled the scene on a motorbike.
Then, three mortar rounds were fired from a Mark 10 homemade mortar, remotely through the roof. The closest landed 30 yards (27 m) from where the War Cabinet was being held.
Aside from injured passers by, there were no fatalities, but if the shell had hit Downing Street itself, it’s thought that the entire War Cabinet would have been killed.
WW2-era Machineguns Dug Up For Action in Crossmaglen, 1985.
A particularly bizarre incident involving an IRA technical occurred on the 24th of May 1985.
After crudely excavating a downed Allied plane that had crashed into Lough Neagh in WW2, the IRA managed to obtain and refurbish at least one .50 Browning machine gun.
Using modified heavy trucks fitted with two .50 Browning machine guns, IRA forces used this improvised technical to launch a sustained surface to air attack on an RAF Wessex helicopter operating near a British Army barracks in Crossmaglen.
The Wessex took three rounds but managed to stay airborne. Soldiers inside the barracks opened fire on the truck and forced it to escape back over the border into the Republic of Ireland.
The WW2-era machinegun/guns recovered from the WW2-era plane made another, more infamous appearance during the Battle of Newry Road.
Battle of Newry Road, 1993.
As we round off this guide to IRA technicals, it’s only fitting to finish with what was arguably the most infamous fight between the British Army and armed IRA trucks: The Battle of Newry Road.
The battle took place in embattled South Armagh. Nicknamed bandit country, it was a hub of surface to air attacks by armed IRA technicals due to helicopters being the primary mode of transport for forces in the area.
On the afternoon of the 23rd of September, 1993, an RAF Puma helicopter escorted by two Lynx helicopters was preparing to take off from the helipad of Crossmaglen barracks.
The South Armagh Brigade of the IRA had surrounded the base using five technicals ranging from trucks to 4x4s armed with RPGs as well as a range of light and heavy machine guns.
As the trio of helicopters began to take hits from heavy weapons such as the 12.7mm DShK round, two more Lynx helicopters came to support their comrades.
The arrival of the additional helos caused two of the heavily armed IRA trucks to make an escape down the Newry Road. A viscous, moving gun battle then raged for over 12 miles.
One lorry vanished and lost their helicopter pursuers, another came to a halt in a village where a transit van was waiting.
Once there, the IRA stripped the truck of its weapons and transported them away in the van. A helicopter deployed unit of eight British troops opened fire on the van, but those inside escaped.
British forces later recovered a Soviet-made DShK heavy machine gun, two light machine guns and an AK-47 assault rifle in the surrounding area.
In an assessment after the thirty-minute or so battle, it was claimed that over 200 bullets were spent by the British helicopters. The IRA, on the other hand, had fired thousands of rounds.
The Battle of Newry Road was said to be the most intense gun battle to have raged in war-torn South Armagh throughout The Troubles. Incredibly, no casualties were reported on either side.
The Lethal Capability of IRA Technicals Had a Profound Impact on British Soldiering in Northern Ireland
Despite being little-known, highly mobile, difficult to attack, and exceptionally deadly, the IRA technicals were the definition of non-standard tactical vehicles (NSTVs).
They also had a serious impact on British operations in Northern Ireland. As the threat from improvised armoured vehicles surged, the British Army’s arsenal was bolstered.
Following the carnage of the attack on Derryard, British troops were issued with the French-made Luchaire 40mm rifle grenade that was adapted to fit on the end of an SA80 rifle.
The light armour-piercing ability of the Luchaire rifle grenade gave British troops a fighting chance against increasing attacks from IRA technicals.
Following the carnage of the Battle of Newry Road, British Army helicopters were refitted with better armour and had their on-board machine guns overhauled.
The threat surrounding surface to air attacks from highly mobile IRA technicals even led to British forces considering buying a Skyship 600 Airship to act as a flying command post that could bolster their forces’ co-ordination from a secure altitude.