1990 British Army Gazelle shootdown
On 11 February 1990, an active service unit
Active Service Unit
An active service unit was a Provisional Irish Republican Army cell of five to eight members, tasked with carrying out armed attacks. In 2002 the IRA had about 1,000 active members of which about 300 were in active service units....

 of the Provisional IRA, East Tyrone Brigade, shot down a British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

Aérospatiale Gazelle
The Aérospatiale Gazelle is a five-seat light helicopter, powered by a single turbine engine. It was designed and manufactured in France by Sud Aviation . It was also manufactured under licence by Westland Aircraft in the United Kingdom , by SOKO in Yugoslavia and ABHCO in Egypt...

 helicopter, serial number
United Kingdom military aircraft serials
In the United Kingdom to identify individual aircraft, all military aircraft are allocated and display a unique serial number. A unified serial number system, maintained by the Air Ministry , and its successor the Ministry of Defence , is used for aircraft operated by the Royal Air Force , Fleet...

 ZB687, along the border between Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

 and the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

 near Augher
Augher is a small village and townland in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. It is 18 miles southwest of Dungannon, on the A4 Dungannon to Enniskillen road, halfway between Ballygawley and Clogher. The 2001 Census recorded a population of 399....

, County Tyrone
County Tyrone
Historically Tyrone stretched as far north as Lough Foyle, and comprised part of modern day County Londonderry east of the River Foyle. The majority of County Londonderry was carved out of Tyrone between 1610-1620 when that land went to the Guilds of London to set up profit making schemes based on...

, close to the Republic's village of Derrygorry. The helicopter was hit several times by heavy machine gun fire and crashed on an open field, injuring three members of its crew of four.

Previous Provisional IRA activity

Since early December 1989, the British Army had been on alert in and around County Tyrone after a credible threat was made by a suspected member of the IRA about an imminent attack. On 13 December, a major assault took place when an IRA team raided a permanent vehicle checkpoint manned by members of the King's Own Scottish Borderers
King's Own Scottish Borderers
The King's Own Scottish Borderers was an infantry regiment of the British Army, part of the Scottish Division.-History:It was raised on 18 March 1689 by the Earl of Leven to defend Edinburgh against the Jacobite forces of James II. It is said that 800 men were recruited within the space of two hours...

 (KOSB) regiment near Derryard, County Fermanagh
County Fermanagh
Fermanagh District Council is the only one of the 26 district councils in Northern Ireland that contains all of the county it is named after. The district council also contains a small section of County Tyrone in the Dromore and Kilskeery road areas....

, just a few yards from the border with the Republic. Two soldiers were killed in an attack that involved the use of machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and even a flamethrower. While British officials focused on members of the IRA from County Monaghan
County Monaghan
County Monaghan is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Border Region and is also located in the province of Ulster. It is named after the town of Monaghan. Monaghan County Council is the local authority for the county...

, in the Republic, supported by others from Clogher
Clogher is a village in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. It lies on the River Blackwater, south of Omagh. The United Kingdom Census of 2001 recorded a population of 309.-History:...

, County Tyrone, author Ed Moloney
Ed Moloney
Ed Moloney is an Irish journalist and author best known for his coverage of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and particularly the activities of the Provisional IRA. Ed worked for the Hibernia magazine and Magill before going on to serve as Northern Ireland editor for The Irish Times and...

 asserts that the culprit was a flying column
Flying column
A flying column is a small, independent, military land unit capable of rapid mobility and usually composed of all arms. It is often an ad hoc unit, formed during the course of operations....

 made up of IRA volunteers from different brigades, commanded by Michael "Pete" Ryan, from the East Tyrone Brigade. The execution of hit-and-run raids by the IRA was "professional" and "calculating" according to military sources.

Shootdown incident

On 11 January 1990, a patrol of the King's Own Scottish Borderers was sent to investigate a suspicious column of vehicles close to the border with the support of an unarmed Gazelle helicopter from the 656 Squadron, Army Air Corps
Army Air Corps
The Army Air Corps is a component of the British Army, first formed in 1942. There are eight regiments of the AAC as well as five Independent Flights and two Independent Squadrons deployed in support of British Army operations across the world. They are located in Britain, Belize, Brunei, Canada,...

. The motorcade was actually a diversionary maneuver set up by the East Tyrone Brigade in order to lure the troops to an ambush. As usual during the KOSB tour in Northern Ireland, the soldiers would be backed up by a helicopter. The main mission of the helicopters was to airlift patrols to different locations during a single day. Another key role was to scan the terrain for potential enemy ambushes and to block the IRA getaway by landing reinforcements on their escape route. It was never determined if the provisionals had previously planned the shooting of the Gazelle or the helicopter became an opportunity target.

At 16:30, a local witness heard 50 to 60 shots fired, then she saw the helicopter skimming over an open field just north of the border, near the village of Derrygorry, in the Republic. The Gazelle, serial number ZB687, was hit by a number of rounds and lost oil pressure. The crew was forced to crash-land the machine, which broke up on impact. The RUC and the Army sealed off the scene as an investigation was mounted. The official report confirmed that the Gazelle had been on a reconnaissance flight. Three crew members were wounded in the crash, one of them a sergeant major from the KOSB, who suffered spinal injuries. None of the injured was hit by gunfire. Another crewmember survived unscathed. The incident was covered by an ITN news report, which shows the helicopter wreckage being examined by Army technicians. The remains were kept under armed guard for further forensic analysis for several days before being removed from the field.

The Provisional IRA claimed in a statement that they had fired 300 rounds at the aircraft from two heavy machine guns and three automatic rifles. Some sources have speculated whether the machine guns were either Soviet-designed DShK
The DShK 1938 is a Soviet heavy machine gun firing the 12.7x108mm cartridge. The weapon was also used as a heavy infantry machine gun, in which case it was frequently deployed with a two-wheeled mounting and a single-sheet armour-plate shield...

s, part of the Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

n shipments to the IRA in the 1980s, or American M-60s. The Gazelle was eventually written-off. It was the first helicopter brought down in Northern Ireland by hostile fire since June 1988, when a Lynx
Westland Lynx
The Westland Lynx is a British multi-purpose military helicopter designed and built by Westland Helicopters at its factory in Yeovil. Originally intended as a utility craft for both civil and naval usage, military interest led to the development of both battlefield and naval variants...

 fell to ground fire in South Armagh
County Armagh
-History:Ancient Armagh was the territory of the Ulaid before the fourth century AD. It was ruled by the Red Branch, whose capital was Emain Macha near Armagh. The site, and subsequently the city, were named after the goddess Macha...



The Gazelle shootdown raised fears that the Provisional IRA could have in mind a new high profile action before the end of the KOSB tour.

After this and other attacks on security forces along the border in 1990, especially against permanent vehicle checkpoints, the troops were issued with .50 Browning machine guns and M203 grenade launcher
M203 grenade launcher
The M203 is a single shot 40 mm grenade launcher designed to attach to a rifle. It uses the same rounds as the older M79 break-action grenade launcher, which utilize the High-Low Propulsion System to keep recoil forces low. Though versatile, and compatible with many rifle models, the M203 was...

s. By 1992, the use of long range weapons by the Provisionals like mortars and heavy machine guns had forced the British Army to build its main checkpoints along the border one to five miles within Northern Ireland to avoid assaults launched from inside the Republic.

From 1990 up to the first Provisional IRA ceasefire in 1994, there were indeed a number of IRA actions involving heavy weapons in the border areas of Tyrone and Fermanagh, not far from the site where the Gazelle crashed, at least four of the incidents involved British Army helicopters. On 19 July 1991, the crew of a Wessex
Westland Wessex
The Westland Wessex is a British turbine-powered version of the Sikorsky S-58 "Choctaw", developed under license by Westland Aircraft , initially for the Royal Navy, and later for the Royal Air Force...

 successfuly dodged a surface-to-air missile at Kinawley
Kinawley or Kinawly is a small village and townland in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. In the 2001 Census it had a population of 75 people. Kinawley is also the name of the parish in which the village lies...

, County Fermanagh. On 15 March 1992, a Provisional IRA unit fired more than 1,000 rounds at two helicopters from across the border near Roslea, County Fermanagh. In 1993, two helicopters were fired at in different circumstances, one of them on 8 January at Kinawley, after a mortar attack on a British Army outpost and the other on 12 December in Fivemiletown
Fivemiletown is a village and townland in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. It is 16 miles east of Enniskillen and 26 miles west-south-west of Dungannon, on the A4 Enniskillen-to-Dungannon road. Its population as of 2009 is estimated to be 1,128. The village is most famous for its creamery, which...

, in the aftermath of an ambush where two RUC officers from Clogher were killed.

See also

  • 1994 Crossmaglen mortar attack
  • Chronology of Provisional Irish Republican Army actions (1990-1999)
    Chronology of Provisional Irish Republican Army actions (1990-1999)
    This is a chronology of activities by the Provisional Irish Republican Army , from 1990 to 1999. For actions before and after this period see Chronology of Provisional Irish Republican Army actions....

  • East Tyrone Brigade
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