Barrack buster

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Mk-15 Barrack Buster
Barrack buster feb 2010.jpg
IRA's Barrack Buster mortar
TypeImprovised mortar
Place of originNorthern Ireland
Service history
Used byProvisional IRA
WarsThe Troubles
Production history
ShellHE 196–220 pounds (80–100 kg)
Caliber320mm (12.75in)
Maximum firing range275 yards (250 m)

Barrack buster is the colloquial name given to several improvised mortars, developed in the 1990s by the engineering group of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The first barrack buster—known to the British security forces as the Mark 15 mortar—fired a 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) long metal propane cylinder with a diameter of 36 centimetres (14 in), which contained around 75 kg (165 lb) of home-made explosives and had a range of 75 to 275 metres (246 to 902 ft). The cylinder is an adaptation of a commercial 'Kosangas' gas cylinder, for heating and cooking gas, used in rural areas in Ireland.[1]

It was first used in an attack on 7 December 1992 against an RUC/British Army base in Ballygawley, County Tyrone,[2] injuring a number of Royal Ulster Constabulary officers.

Provisional IRA's improvised mortars[edit]

The barrack buster belongs to a series of home-made mortars developed since the 1970s. The first such mortar—Mark 1—was used in an attack in May 1972 and it was soon followed by the first of a series of improved or differentiated versions stretching into the 1990s:

  • Mark 1 (1972): consisted of a 50 mm copper pipe filled with 10 ounces (0.28 kg) of plastic explosives. Propelled by a .303 and detonated by a .22 cartridge.[3]
  • Mark 2 (1972–73): an 8 in length 57 mm steel pipe filled with 2 pounds (0.91 kg) of explosive and detonated by a 12 gauge shotgun cartridge.[3] This weapon resulted in the first fatality due to Provisional IRA mortars when a British soldier was killed trying to defuse a misfired projectile launched on Fort Monagh barracks at Turf Lodge, Belfast, on 10 December 1972.[4]
  • Mark 3 (1973–74): a 60 mm mortar barrel with a static firing pin on the plate and a range of 260 yards (240 m). Propelled by a dried mixture of rags and sodium chlorate and detonated by a charge of ammonium nitrate. Used in attacks on Creggan Camp, Derry and Lisanelly Camp, Omagh, in 1973.[5] During an attack on a police station a misfired mortar killed two IRA men operating the device.
  • Mark 4 (1974): Basically a Mark 3 with a larger charge of propellant which extended its range to 400 yards (370 m). The bomb was filled with 1 pound (0.45 kg) of ammonium nitrate and aluminium powder. Used only in one known attack on a base in Strabane, County Tyrone, on 22 February 1974.[5]
  • Mark 5 (1974): Never used in any known attack, the security forces learned of it after the discovery of an IRA workshop at Cushendall, Antrim, in 1974.[6]
  • Mark 6 (1974–1994): A 60 mm conventional mortar with a bipod and base plate and a range of 1,200 yards (1,100 m). The shell was propelled by a charge of homemade gunpowder, ignited by a .22 cartridge. The warhead, made of 3 lb of Semtex, was detonated by another .22 cartridge on impact. The bomb armed itself "by means of a wind-driven propeller, which is an integral part of the striker". A Mark 6 grenade was thrown by hand on the roof of an armored vehicle from the top of Divis Flats, Belfast, causing widespread damage and some casualties.[7] It was used in March 1994 in three attacks on London Heathrow Airport in Britain. It is not known to have been used after these actions.[8]
  • Mark 7 (1976): Longer version of Mark 6.
  • Mark 8 (1976): Longer version of Mark 6, it consisted of a 4-foot steel tube, but the projectile was aerodynamically unstable. First used against the British Army base at Crossmaglen.[7] Staff Sergeant Bruce was awarded the George Medal for clearing some unexploded ordnance after this incident.[9]
  • Mark 9 (1976–?): The device fired a shorter but wider mortar bomb, made of a cut-down gas cylinder. First used against Crossmaglen Army base on 23 October 1976.[7]
  • Mark 10 (1979–1994): A large-calibre mortar firing a projectile containing 44–220 pounds (20–100 kg) of explosives. Its first use on 19 March 1979 caused the first deliberate victim—a British soldier—from an IRA mortar attack in Newtownhamilton, South Armagh. It was primarily designed to attack police stations and military bases, and was used in the 1985 Newry mortar attack which killed nine police officers. It was used in several attacks using configurations with multiple launching tubes, "often launched from the back of Transit type vans".[10] Three such mortars using a mixture of ammonium nitrate and nitrobenzene—known as "Annie"—as warhead were used on 7 February 1991 in an IRA attack on 10 Downing Street in London against British Prime Minister John Major and his War Cabinet during the first Gulf War.[11] It was superseded by the larger Mark 15.
  • Mark 11 (1982–?) : Used for the first time on 13 May 1989 against a British Army observation post in Glassdrumman, South Armagh. The mortar had a range of 550 yards (500 m).[11]
  • Mark 12 (1985–?): Fired horizontally against armoured vehicles as well as RUC/Army bases. Also referred to as Improvised Projected Grenade. With a warhead made of 40 ounces (1.1 kg) of Semtex and TNT. Used in 1991 and 1992.[12]
  • Mark 13 (1990–?): A spigot mortar, usually fired from the back of a heavy vehicle.[1]
  • Mark 14 (1992–?)
  • Mark 15 (1992–?): First mortar known as "barrack buster". It was the "standard IRA large calibre [mortar] system" and described as having "the effect of a 'flying car bomb'". It has a calibre of 320 mm and fires a bomb of 196–220 pounds (89–100 kg) of explosives, with a maximum range of 275 yards (251 m). It has also been used in configurations with multiple launch tubes, with an attack using 12 tubes against a British military base in Kilkeel, County Down, on 9 October 1993 as being the "record".[10][13] Two British helicopters, an Army Lynx that was hovering over the helipad at a base under attack, and an RAF Puma taking off from another base, were brought down by this type of mortar between March and July 1994 in South Armagh. Author Toby Harnden describes the 1994 shooting down of the Lynx as the most successful attack on a helicopter by the IRA during the Troubles.[14] The barrel was usually attached to a hydraulic hoist towed by a tractor to the launching site.[15]
  • Mark 16 (1991–?): A shoulder-fired weapon for use against armoured vehicles. Used in eleven attacks[15] from late 1993 to early 1994.[16] Also described as Projected Recoilless Improvised Grenade. The projectile was a 1-pound (0.45 kg) tin can filled with 600 grammes of Semtex formed into a shaped charge.[17]

Strategic impact[edit]

The intensification of the IRA's mortar campaign in the late 1980s forced the British government to increase the number of army troops in Northern Ireland from its lowest ebb of 9,000 in 1985 to 10,500 in 1992.[18] The IRA's use of mortars combined with heavy machine guns compelled the British Army to build their main checkpoints more than a mile away from the Irish border by 1992.[19]

Use by other groups[edit]

These mortars have been used by the Real IRA, who also developed their own fuzing system, in the 2000s.[20] Furthermore, what appears to be a similar or identical mortar technology has been used since 1998 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). ETA in Spain was in 2001 rumoured to have built mortars "very similar" to the IRA's.[21] The possible transfer of this mortar technology to the FARC was a central issue in the arrest in August 2001 and later trial of the so-called Colombia Three group of IRA members who were alleged by Colombian authorities and the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs to have trained FARC in the manufacture and use of this mortar technology.[22]

Colloquial usage[edit]

A derived term in Belfast refers to a two or three-litre bottle of inexpensive white cider.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Geraghty 1998, p. 193
  2. ^ Geraghty 1998, p. 193; Ryder 2005,p. 256.
  3. ^ a b Oppenheimer and English (2009), p. 229
  4. ^ CAIN database of deaths, 10 December 1972
  5. ^ a b Geraghty 1998, p. 189
  6. ^ Geraghty 1998, p. 190
  7. ^ a b c Geraghty 1998, p. 191
  8. ^ Geraghty 1998; Smith 2006; Davies 2001, p. 13.
  9. ^ Reynolds, David (2001). Commando: The Illustrated History Of Britain's Green Berets. Haynes / Sutton Books, p. 163. ISBN 0750922095
  10. ^ a b Davies 2001, p. 14.
  11. ^ a b Geraghty 1998, p. 192
  12. ^ Geraghty 1998, p. 195
  13. ^ Daily Telegraph 10 October 1993
  14. ^ Harnden 2001, p. 398
  15. ^ a b Oppenheimer and English (2009), p. 238
  16. ^ "Operation Banner". Archived from the original on 20 December 2013. Retrieved 17 February 2009.
  17. ^ Geraghty 1998, pp. 196–197
  18. ^ Ripley & Chappel 1993, p. 20
  19. ^ 'Official describes British-Irish border as 300-Mile Difficulty Associated Press, 12 May 1992
  20. ^ Smith 2006; Davies 2001, p. 14.
  21. ^ Davies 2001, p. 15.
  22. ^ Committee on International Relations (24 April 2002). "Summary of Investigation of IRA Links to FARC Narco-Terrorists in Colombia". US House of Congress. Archived from the original on 13 June 2007. Retrieved 16 June 2007.
  23. ^ Belfast slang


  • Davies, Roger (2001), "Improvised mortar systems: an evolving political weapon", Jane's Intelligence Review (May 2001), 12–15.
  • Geraghty, Tony (1998), The Irish War: the Hidden Conflict Between the IRA and British Intelligence, Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6456-9
  • Harnden, Toby (2001). Bandit Country. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-71736-X.
  • Oppenheimer and English (2009).IRA, the bombs and the bullets: a history of deadly ingenuity. Irish Academic Press, p. 238. ISBN 0-7165-2895-9
  • Ripley, Tim and Chappel, Mike (1993). Security forces in Northern Ireland (1969-92). Osprey. ISBN 1-85532-278-1
  • Ryder, Chris (2005). A Special Kind of Courage: 321 EOD Squadron - Battling the Bombers, Methuen. ISBN 0-413-77223-3
  • Smith, Steve (2006). 3-2-1 Bomb Gone: Fighting Terrorist Bombers in Northern Ireland, Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0750942053