Operation Banner was the operational name for the British Armed Forces' operation in Northern Ireland from August 1969 to July 2007. It was initially deployed at the request of the unionist government of Northern Ireland to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). After the 1998 Belfast Agreement, the operation was gradually scaled down. Its role was to assert the authority of the Government of the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland.
The main opposition to the British military's deployment came from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). It waged a guerrilla campaign against the British military from 1970 to 1997 (see timeline). An internal British Army document released in 2007 stated that, whilst the Army had failed to defeat the IRA, it had made it impossible for the IRA to win through violence, and had also reduced substantially the death toll in the last years of conflict.
Role of the armed forces 
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The support to the police forces was primarily from the British Army, with the Royal Air Force providing helicopter support as required. A maritime component was supplied under the codename of Operation Grenada, by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines in direct support of the Army commitment. This was tasked with interdicting the supply of weapons and munitions to both sides of the sectarian divide, acting as a visible deterrence by maintaining a conspicuous maritime presence on and around the coast of Northern Ireland and Lough Neagh.
The role of the armed forces in their support role to the police was defined by the Army in the following terms:
- Routine support — Includes such tasks as providing protection to the police in carrying out normal policing duties in areas of terrorist threat; patrolling around military and police bases to deter terrorist attacks and supporting police-directed counter-terrorist operations
- Additional support — Assistance where the police have insufficient assets of their own; this includes the provision of observation posts along the border and increased support during times of civil disorder. The military can provide soldiers to protect and, if necessary, supplement police lines and cordons. The military can provide heavy plant to remove barricades and construct barriers, and additional armoured vehicles and helicopters to help in the movement of police and soldiers
- Specialist support — Includes bomb disposal, search and tracker dogs, and divers from the Royal Engineers
Number of troops deployed 
At the peak of the operation, the Army deployed some 21,000 soldiers. By 1980, the figure had dropped to 11,000, with a lower presence of 9,000 men in 1985. The total climbed to 10,500 after the intensification of the IRA use of mortars by the end of the 1980s. In 1992, there were 17,750 members of all military forces taking part of the operation. The army build-up comprised three brigades under the command of a lieutenant-general. There were six resident battalions deployed for a period of two-and-a-half years and four roulement battalions serving on six-months tours. Still in July 1997, in the course of fierce riots in Nationalist areas triggered by the Drumcree conflict, the total number of security forces in Northern Ireland increased to more than 30,000 including the RUC.
- Snatch Land Rover
- Ferret armoured car
- Humber Pig
- Saracen APC
- Saxon APC
- Centurion AVRE (during Operation Motorman)
- Saladin armoured car
- Boeing Chinook
- Westland Sea King
- Aérospatiale Gazelle
- Westland Lynx
- Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma
- Westland Scout
- Bell H-13 Sioux
- Westland Wessex
- Britten-Norman Defender
- de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver
According to the "Sutton Index of Deaths" on CAIN, the British Army killed 305 people during Operation Banner, 156 (~51%) of whom were civilians. Elements of the Army also colluded with illegal loyalist paramilitaries responsible for numerous attacks on civilians (see below). The journalist Fintan O'Toole argues that "both militarily and ideologically, the Army was a player, not a referee".
Relationship with the Catholic and nationalist community 
The Army in Northern Ireland was initially welcomed as a neutral force by the Irish Catholic and nationalist community, who had been under attack by loyalists and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), but this changed following the Falls Curfew in July 1970. After a weapons search in the (mainly Catholic and nationalist) Falls area of west Belfast, the Army came under attack from rioters and IRA gunmen. It then imposed a 36-hour curfew. Any journalists inside the curfew zone were arrested by the Army. It is claimed that, because the media was unable to watch them, the soldiers behaved "with reckless abandon". Hundreds of houses were forcibly searched for weapons. Pubs and businesses were also searched and it is claimed that several were looted by the soldiers. The Army saturated the area with CS gas, firing 1,600 canisters, which was deemed "excessive" in such a small area. There were allegations that some soldiers fired CS gas canisters through the windows of houses while residents were still inside. Four civilians were killed by the Army during the operation and another 60 suffered gunshot wounds.
On 9 August 1971 the Unionist government of Northern Ireland introduced internment without trial (Operation Demetrius). Armed soldiers launched dawn raids throughout Northern Ireland, sparking four days of rioting that killed 20 civilians, two IRA members and two British soldiers. Of the civilians killed, 17 were killed by British soldiers – 11 of them in the Ballymurphy Massacre. About 7,000 people fled their homes, of which roughly 2,500 fled south of the border. No loyalist paramilitaries were included in the sweep and many of those arrested were Catholics or nationalists who had no links with the IRA. The policy of internment was to last until December 1975 and during that time 1,981 people were interned. Those arrested suffered abuse at the hands of British soldiers. They complained of being beaten, verbally abused, threatened, harassed by dogs, denied sleep, and starved. Specific humiliations included being forced to run a gauntlet of baton-wielding soldiers, having their heads forcefully shaved, being kept naked, being burnt with cigarettes, having a sack placed over their heads for long periods, having a rope kept around their necks, having the barrel of a gun pressed against their heads, being dragged by the hair, being trailed behind armored vehicles while barefoot, and being tied to armoured trucks as a human shield. The interrogation techniques used on the internees was described by the European Court of Human Rights as "inhuman and degrading", and by the European Commission of Human Rights as "torture".
However, the real turning point in the relationship between the Army and the Catholic community was 30 January 1972: Bloody Sunday. During an anti-internment march in Derry, 26 unarmed protesters and bystanders were shot by British paratroopers. Fourteen died of their injuries. Two protesters were also run down by Army vehicles. Five of those wounded were shot in the back. In August that year, the Attorney general said that none of the soldiers involved would be prosecuted. The Widgery Tribunal into their deaths was described as a "whitewash", and was descredited in 2010 after the release of the Saville Inquiry. Prime Minister David Cameron said "What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable, it was wrong".
On 9 July 1972, British troops in Portadown used CS gas and rubber bullets to clear nationalists who were blocking an Orange Order march into their area. Many Catholics and nationalists see the Orange Order as sectarian, triumphalist and supremacist. The Army then let the Orangemen march into the nationalist area escorted by at least 50 masked and uniformed Ulster Defence Association (UDA) militants. At the time, the UDA was a legal organization.
That same day in Belfast, British snipers shot dead five Catholic civilians, including three children, in the Springhill Massacre. On the night of 3/4 February 1973, allegedly without provocation, British snipers shot dead four unarmed men (one of whom was an IRA member) in the Catholic New Lodge area of Belfast.
In the early hours of 31 July 1972, the Army launched Operation Motorman to re-take Northern Ireland's "no-go areas". These were inner-city areas that had been barricaded by nationalists to keep out the security forces and loyalist gunmen. During the operation, the Army shot four people in Derry, killing a 15-year-old Catholic civilian and an unarmed IRA member.
On 12 and 17 May 1992, there were clashes between British paratroopers and Catholic civilians in the town of Coalisland, triggered by a bomb attack which severed the legs of a paratrooper. The soldiers allegedly ransacked two pubs, damaged civilian cars and opened fire on a crowd. Three civilians were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. As a result, the Parachute Regiment was redeployed outside urban areas and the commander of its Third Brigade was dismissed. The incident stirred memories of Bloody Sunday, whose 20th anniversary was marked in 1992.
Collusion with loyalist paramilitaries 
One particularly controversial aspect of Operation Banner has been collusion between the British Army and loyalist paramilitaries. As well as being members of loyalist paramilitaries and taking part in paramilitary attacks, some soldiers are alleged to have given weapons and intelligence to loyalists, turned a blind eye to their activities, and/or hindered investigations of them. The De Silva report found that, during the 1980s, 85% of the intelligence that loyalists used to target people came from the security forces. A report released by the Irish Government in 2006 said that members of the British Army also colluded with loyalists in attacks inside the Republic of Ireland.
The Army's locally-recruited regiment, the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), was almost 100% Protestant and seen as especially prone to loyalist infiltration. A British government document from 1973 (which was declassified in 2004), named "Subversion in the UDR", states that:
- An estimated 5–15% of UDR soldiers were directly linked to loyalist paramilitaries;
- It was feared that UDR soldiers were loyal to "Ulster" alone rather than to "Her Majesty's Government";
- The UDR was believed to be the best, and the only significant, source of weapons for loyalist paramilitaries; and
- The British Government knew that UDR weapons were being used by loyalist paramilitaries.
In 2011, Army documents from the 1970s were uncovered, which revealed collusion involving '10' UDR battalion (based at Girdwood Barracks in Belfast). According to the documents:
- About 70 of the battalion's soldiers were thought to be linked to the UVF, but only two were dismissed on security grounds;
- One unit was suspected of diverting £47,000 to the UVF and equipment was regularly stolen from another unit to support the loyalist group;
- UVF members, including a member of the Shankill Butchers, often socialized at the UDR's Girdwood Barracks social club;
- Army chiefs considered secretly test firing UDR soldiers' weapons to check whether they had been used in sectarian murders;
- The Army's collusion investigation was halted after a senior UDR officer claimed it was harming morale; and
- The Army then chose to keep the investigation a secret.
Despite knowing that the UDR had problems and that over 200 weapons had been passed from the Army to loyalist paramilitaries by 1973, the British Government would give the UDR a bigger role in maintaining order in Northern Ireland.
In the 1970s, the so-called "Glenanne gang" carried out a string of sectarian attacks against the Irish Catholic and nationalist community in the area of mid-Ulster known as the "murder triangle". The gang was a secret alliance of loyalist militants and rogue elements within the British Army and the RUC. In 1980 two RUC officers, John Weir and Billy McCaughey, were convicted of murdering a Catholic shop-owner and kidnapping a Catholic priest. Weir claimed that his superiors knew the collusion was taking place and that the gang was commanded by British Military Intelligence and/or RUC Special Branch. The Pat Finucane Centre has attributed 87 killings to the Glenanne gang, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings (1974), the killing of John Francis Green, the Miami Showband killings (1975), and the Reavey and O'Dowd killings (1976).
The collusion also involved British agents or informers within the loyalist groups. In 1992, Brian Nelson revealed that he was a UDA intelligence chief who secretly worked for the Army's Force Research Unit (FRU). FRU provided Nelson (and thus the UDA) with intelligence on republican activists, theoretically so that the UDA would focus on targeting them rather than civilians. Since the late 1990s, other loyalists have confirmed to journalists such as Peter Taylor that they also received files and intelligence from the Army on republican targets.
Aside from the aforesaid, other high-profile incidents where Army–loyalist collusion has been alleged include the McGurk's Bar bombing (1971), the 1972 and 1973 Dublin bombings, and the killing of Ronnie Bunting (1980).
During the 38 year operation, 763 members of the British Armed Forces were killed and 6,100 wounded.
Those killed in Northern Ireland include:
- 637 British Army
- 50 former members of the Ulster Defence Regiment or Royal Irish Regiment
- 10 members of the Territorial Army
- 14 Royal Marines
- 1 Royal Navy serviceman
Also 51 military personnel died outside Northern Ireland.
- 156 (~51%) were civilians
- 127 (~41%) were members of republican paramilitaries, including:
- 13 (~4%) were members of loyalist paramilitaries, including:
- 2 were Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers
Last years 
The operation was gradually scaled down since 1998, after the Good Friday Agreement, when patrols were suspended and several military barracks closed or dismantled, even before the beginning of IRA's decommissioning. The process of demilitarisation had already started in 1994, after the first IRA ceasefire. From the second IRA ceasefire in 1997 until the first act of decommission of weapons in 2001, almost 50 per cent of the army bases had been vacated or demolished along with surveillance sites and holding centers, while more than 100 cross-border roads were reopened.
Eventually in August 2005, it was announced that in response to the Provisional IRA declaration that its campaign was over, and in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement provisions, Operation Banner would end by 1 August 2007. This involved troops based in Northern Ireland reduced to 5,000, and only for training purposes. Security was entirely transferred to the police. The Northern Ireland Resident battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment—which grew out of the Ulster Defence Regiment—were stood down on 1 September 2006. The operation officially ended at midnight on 31 July 2007, making it the longest continuous deployment in the British Army's history, lasting over 38 years. In the words of BBC correspondent Kevin Connolly , the British Army in Northern Ireland "melted away, rather than marched away". While the withdrawal of troops was welcomed by the nationalist parties Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin, the unionist Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party opposed to the decision, which they regarded as 'premature'. The main reasons behind their resistance were the continuing activity of republican dissident groups, the loss of security-related jobs for the protestant community and the perception of the British Army presence as an affirmation of the political union with Great Britain.
Adam Ingram, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, has stated that assuming the maintenance of an enabling environment, British Army support to the PSNI after 31 July 2007 was reduced to a residual level, known as Operation Helvetic, providing specialised ordnance disposal and support to the PSNI in circumstances of extreme public order as described in Patten recommendations 59 and 66, should this be needed, thus ending the British Army's emergency operation in Northern Ireland.
Analysis of the operation 
In July 2007, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 the Ministry of Defence published Operation Banner: An analysis of military operations in Northern Ireland, which reflected on the Army's role in the conflict and the strategic and operational lessons drawn from their involvement. The paper divides the IRA activity and tactics in two main periods: The "insurgency" phase (1971–1972), and the "terrorist" phase (1972–1997). The British Army claims to have curbed the IRA insurgency by 1972, after Operation Motorman. The IRA then reemerged as a cell-structured organisation. The report also asserts that the government efforts by the 1980s were aimed to destroy the IRA, rather than negotiate a political solution. The paper stops short of claiming that "Northern Ireland has achieved a state of lasting peace" and acknowledges that as late as 2006, there were still "areas of Northern Ireland out of bounds to soldiers."
|“||Martin van Creveld has said that the British Army is unique in Northern Ireland in its success against an irregular force. It should be recognised that the Army did not 'win' in any recognisable way; rather it achieved its desired end-state, which allowed a political process to be established without unacceptable levels of intimidation. Security force operations suppressed the level of violence to a level which the population could live with, and with which the RUC and later the PSNI could cope. The violence was reduced to an extent which made it clear to the PIRA that they would not win through violence. This is a major achievement, and one with which the security forces from all three Services, with the Army in the lead, should be entirely satisfied. It took a long time but, as van Crefeld [sic] said, that success is unique.||”|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Northern Ireland Troubles|
- BBC News story about the ending of Operation Banner
- BBC News, Operation Banner pictures
- "Operation Banner: An analysis of military operations in Northern Ireland". Ministry of Defence. 2006. Retrieved 2009-07-31.
- Site with Roll of Honour, news and forums on Operation Banner
- Reeling in the Years – 1971: Raidió Teilifís Éireann