1987 Rheindahlen bombing

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1987 Rheindahlen bombing
Part of the Troubles
LocationRheindahlen, West Germany
Date23 March 1987
22:30 (UTC+01:00)
TargetMilitary target
Attack type
Car bomb

The 1987 Rheindahlen bombing was a car bomb attack on 23 March 1987 at JHQ Rheindahlen military barracks, the British Army headquarters in West Germany, injuring thirty-one. The large 300 lb (140 kg) car bomb exploded near the visitors officers' mess of the barracks. The Provisional IRA later stated it had carried out the bombing. It was the start of the IRA's campaign on mainland Europe from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. Although British soldiers were targeted, most of the injured were actually German officers and their wives.


Other than attacks in Northern Ireland & mainland Britain the Provisional IRA also carried out attacks in other countries such as West Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, where British soldiers were based. Between 1979 and 1990, eight unarmed soldiers and six civilians died in these attacks. It was the first IRA attack in West Germany since a British Army officer, Colonel Mark Coe, was shot dead by an IRA unit outside his home in, Bielefeld in February 1980. Coe's assassination was one of the first high-profile killings by the IRA in Germany and on mainland Europe.[1] A year before, British Ambassador to the Netherlands Sir Richard Sykes was assassinated, whilst four British soldiers were hurt in the 1979 Brussels bombing in Belgium, just one day after the killing of Lord Mountbatten and the Warrenpoint ambush, which killed 18 British soldiers. In November 1981 the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) bombed a British Army base in Herford, West Germany. There were no injuries in the attack.[2][3] There was also a mortar attack on British Army base in Germany in 1996.[4]

According to author Ed Moloney's "The Secret History of the IRA", IRA Chief of Staff Kevin McKenna before the capture of the Eksund (a ship that was to ship heavy weaponry to the IRA from Libya) envisaged a three-pronged offensive that would start in the Northern Ireland and then spread to British targets in mainland Europe.

The bombing[edit]

The IRA planted a 300-pound car bomb inside the JHQ Rheindahlen British Army military base, near the officers' mess. When the large car bomb exploded 31 people was injured, some of them badly. Twenty-seven West Germans and four Britons were hurt in the bombing at 22:30 local time. More than 12,000 service personnel were stationed at the base. It was the joint headquarters of the British Army of the Rhine and the Royal Air Force (RAF Rheindahlen).

The force of the blast ripped up the road and caused extensive damage to parked cars and surrounding buildings. The injured were taken to the RAF hospital at Wegberg, a few miles south of Rheindahlen, near the Dutch border. The bomb caused parts of the ceiling to collapse and doors were ripped from their frames. A police spokesman said the blast blew out windows in buildings several hundred yards away.

It looked like it was a reasonably successful attack from the IRA's point of view but the IRA actually had a close escape. The only reason people had not been killed was that the IRA ASU was unable to position the car bomb closer to the mess, because the car park was full of vehicles. Unknown to the IRA unit, most of the vehicles were owned by West German military officers who had been invited to spend a social evening with their British counterparts. Had the IRA's operation plan been carried out fully many of these German officers could have been killed and the start of the IRA's Europe campaign would have been a diplomatic and military disaster and a big blow to any of the IRA's international support.


The IRA later said it had carried out the bombing of the Rheindahlen barracks. A statement from the IRA said: "Our unit's brief was to inflict a devastating blow but was ordered to be careful to avoid civilian casualties."

The National Democratic Front for the Liberation of West Germany, a previously unheard of group, also claimed to have been behind the attack, but this was dismissed by police investigators.

The British Army of the Rhine was renamed British Forces Germany (BFG) in 1994.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  2. ^ Melaugh, Dr Martin. "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1981". cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  3. ^ Sutton, Malcolm. "CAIN: Sutton Index of Deaths". cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  4. ^ Melaugh, Dr Martin. "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1996". cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 17 May 2017.