Provisional IRA's Balcombe Street Gang

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Balcombe Street gang

Participant in the Troubles

Aftermath of the Guildford pub bombings 5 October 1974
Active October 1974–December 1975
Ideology Irish Republicanism
Headquarters safe houses in London
Area of operations Mainly London
Size No more than 4 at any one time
Part of the Troubles
Balcombe Street Gang 2

Participant in the Troubles

Aftermath of Waltons Restaurant bombing in London's West End.
Active 1974–1975
Ideology Irish Republicanism
Leaders IRA Army Council
ASU's Commander Joe O'Connell
Headquarters Safe houses in London
Area of operations Mainly London
Size At least 6 known members, no more than 4 at anyone time
Part of Provisional Irish Republican Army

British Army, London Police, British Establishment targets.
Attacks include...

The Provisional IRA's Balcombe Street Gang was a Provisional IRA Active Service Unit (also known as the Balcombe Street Four or the Balcombe Street Unit) who carried out a bombing campaign throughout England with London and surrounding areas being the primary focus. Between October 1974 and December 1975 they carried out approximately 40 bomb and gun attacks, sometimes attacking the same targets twice. They were caught at the Balcombe St siege in December 1975 thus ending their campaign.[1][2]

Active Members

The six known members of the Balcombe Street Gang's Active Service Unit (ASU) were – Hugh Doherty, Joseph O'Connell, Eddie Buttler and Harry Duggan – these four Volunteers were captured at the Balcombe St siege. Liam Quinn (a US-born Volunteer) and Brendan O'Dowd were also active Volunteers within the unit.

O'Connell and fellow ASU member Brendan Dowd flew from Shannon Airport, County Clare, to Heathrow in early August 1974, under the guise of looking for work in London. They rented a flat in Fulham (west London) for both living quarters and the storage of nitroglycerine and other bomb making equipment.

O'Connell, as the bomb-maker of the group, was responsible for making the first devices the ASU let off in their campaign, in the Guildford pub bombings on 5 October, 1974. This was the beginning of a wide-ranging and peripatetic number of attacks O'Connell was involved in, ranging from the kidnapping of a bus inspector and the bombing of the Kings Arms, Woolwich, to throwing hand bombs into Sir Edward Heath's club and the Harrow School and the assassination of an insurance broker.[3]


The Balcombe Street Unit was possibly the most successful, one of the most ruthless and probably the most notorious IRA unit ever to carry out a bombing campaign in England, in particular in London and even more particular London's "West End" where they hit many pubs, clubs and restaurants with bombings and shootings. They attacked several of their targets twice. Within the space of five days they had planted their first five devices.

In the spring of 1973, the IRA extended its bombing campaign to mainland Britain, attacking military and symbolically important targets to both increase pressure on the British government, via popular British opinion, to concede to their demand to withdraw from Northern Ireland and to maintain morale for IRA supporters & Volunteers as well. The bombing campaign by the IRA in England began on 8 March 1973 when an 11-person Active Service Unit that included now well known Irish Republicans like the Price Sisters and Gerry Kelly bombed the Old Bailey courthouse causing devastation to central London. Despite warnings, one person died of a heart-attack and about 200 were injured some seriously. The IRA always believed that one bomb in England was worth about 30 in Belfast and the huge media response and discussion it had created by the Old Bailey bombing was massive and seemed to prove the IRA's theory about bombs in England having a bigger impact than bombs in Ireland.

The 11-member IRA ASU was caught that day even before the bombs went off trying to leave England by plane to Ireland. Although the IRA achieved its objective, it was naive to try and leave the same day as the bombing, as British security forces would be all over escape routes from England to Ireland. The IRA GHQ realized this mistake and decided instead of sending over a large 10 -person active service unit for just one day of large spectacular bombing, they would use smaller sleeper-cells of between 3–4 Volunteers to carry out several bombings over a number of months. IRA attacks in England for the rest of 1973 started to become more professional and sophisticated, the next IRA attack on London happened on 18 August 1973 when two IRA firebombs exploded at Harrods Department store in London, causing some damage but no injuries or deaths. This was the start of a prolonged bombing campaign in England as just four days later an IRA book bomb exploded at the Conservative Party Central Office in London, injuring several people but none seriously. A few weeks later IRA bombs went off at King's Cross & Euston stations causing 13 injuries and wide spread damage and panic in central London. From then on IRA bombs became a regular occurrence in London and other major English cities largely avoiding civilian casualties for the most part.

By 1974, mainland Britain saw an average of one attack—successful or otherwise—every three days. These attacks included five explosions which had occurred in Birmingham on 14 July which were possibly the first main attacks on the English Mid-Lands. It is believed veteran hardline Republican Brian Keenan was in charge of the IRA bombing campaign in England from 1974–1976. After the Balcombe Street unit was arrested in 1975 Keenan visited the unit in Crouch Hill, London, to give it further instructions. In follow-up raids after the siege, police discovered crossword puzzles in his handwriting and his fingerprints on a list of bomb parts. A warrant was issued for his arrest. He was arrested by the RUC at Banbridge in March 1979 on charges relating to the London campaign in the mid-1970s.[4][5]



Sometime in August 1974 the first members of the Balcombe Street Provisional IRA active service unit (ASU) moved into its first safe house, a London home in Fulham, in Waldemar Avenue SW6. O'Dowd & O'Connell start drawing up plans with a list of targets for the campaign to start in Autunm.[6]


  • 5 OctoberGuildford pub bombings The IRA unit planted 2 bombs in Guildford pubs. The Bomb in the Horse & Groom pub killed 5 people and injured 65. This was the start of "phaze one" of the campaign.[7][8]
  • 11 October – The IRA attacked two different London clubs in the same night, each time using a throw bomb. One person was injured from both attacks.[9]
  • 22 OctoberBrook's bombing The IRA threw a bomb into Brook's club injuring three people.[10][11]
  • 24 October – The IRA bombed a cottage in the grounds of Harrow public school which used to house the head of the school's Combined Cadet Force. Nobody was hurt in the attack. This was the first time the unit gave a telephoned warning before a bombing occurred.[12]


  • 7 NovemberWoolwich pub bombing The IRA threw a bomb into the Kings Arms pub in Woolwich killing 2 people & injuring 30.[13][14]
  • 11 November – London insurance broker Allan Quartermaine is shot dead by the IRA while he was waiting in traffic. It is believed the killing was a case of mistaken identity.[15]
  • 27 November – The IRA carried out two bomb attacks in Tite Street, Chelsea, the first bomb was placed in a post office pillar-box at 8:30 pm. About 20 minutes later a second, larger bomb, exploded close to the second. The second bomb injured 20 people including an explosives officer, six policemen and two ambulancemen.[16]
  • 30 November – The IRA threw two bombs into Talbots Arms pub in Little Chester street injuring five people.[17]


  • 11 December – The IRA threw a bomb into the Long Bar of the Naval and Military Club in Piccadilly. Later on there was an IRA gun attack on the London Cavalry Club. Nobody was hurt in either attack.[18]
  • 14 December – The IRA carried out a gun attack on the Churchill Hotel in London. Three people were injured in the attack.[19]
  • 17 December – The IRA planted three time bombs at telephone exchanges in London. One person (a post office telephonist) was killed.[20]
  • 19 December – The Balcombe Street Gang used a car bomb for the first time when they exploded one outside Selfridges department store on Oxford Street. The bomb caused £1.5 million worth of damage. There was 100 lbs of high explosives in the car, the biggest bomb the IRA had used in England at that time.[21]
  • 20 December – A bomb left by the IRA at a railway station in Aldershot was defused.[22]
  • 21 December – The IRA firebombed Harrods department store. A second bomb at the King's Arms public house in Warminster, Wiltshire was defused.[23]
  • 22 December – The IRA unit threw a bomb into former British Prime Minister Edward Heath's flat. Heath was not home at the time of the attack and there were no injuries.[24]



  • 19 January – The IRA attacked two hotels in London. They fired shots into the Carlton Tower Hotel and later the Portman Hotel. 12 people were injured in total from both attacks.[25]
  • 23 January – The Balcombe Street gang exploded a time bomb at the Woodford Waterworks pumping station in North London. Three People were injured in the blast.[26]
  • 24 January – The unit shot Alfred Knott, a 45-year-old deputy head of Roan School in Greenwich, but he survives his injuries. They mistook him for a British Army brigadier who lived next door to him in Maze Hill, Greenwich.[27]
  • 27 January – The Balcombe Street Gang planted seven time-bombs all over London. At 6:30 pm a bomb exploded at Gieves, in Old Bond Street. At 9:30 pm bombs exploded at the Moreson chemical plant in Ponders End and a disused gas works in Enfield. Only minimal damage was caused by these two bombs. Two further bombs exploded in Kensington High Street and Victoria street. A warning was given of a bomb in Putney High Street and a British Army bomb-disposal officer was able to defuse the device. A warning was also given for a bomb in Hampstead and it was defused. Two people were injured from the Kensington High Street bomb.

This was the end of "phaze one" of the campaign.[28]


  • 26 February – Balcombe Street Gang member and IRA Volunteer Liam Quinn shot dead police officer Stephen Tibble while being chased. During a subsequent search operation, a bomb-making facility of the Balcombe Street gang's was uncovered in Hammersmith.[29][30]


  • 27 AugustCaterham Arms pub bombing The IRA planted a time bomb in a pub in Caterham, Surrey. The explosion injured 33 people including 10 British soldiers. This began "phaze two" of the Balcombe Street Gangs campaign.[31]
  • 28 August – The IRA exploded a bomb outside the south-east corner of Selfridges store on Oxford street.[32]
  • 29 August – A British Army bomb-disposal officer died when a bomb that was planted by the IRA at Kensington Church Street exploded.[33]
  • 30 August – The IRA planted a time bomb in High Holborn, London. Nobody was injured in the explosion.[34]


  • 5 SeptemberLondon Hilton bombing The Balcombe Street gang detonated a time bomb in the Hilton Hotel in London. A 20-minute warning had been given but this was not passed on to the Hotel. Two people were killed and 63 others were injured.[35][36][37]
  • 28 September – The IRA exploded a bomb in Caterham, Surrey. No injuries.[38]
  • 29 September – The IRA exploded a time bomb in Oxford Street injuring 7 people.[39]


  • 9 OctoberGreen Park Tube Station Bombing The IRA exploded a bomb at a bus stop just outside Green Park tube station. One person was killed and 20 were injured.[40][41]
  • 12 October – A bomb at Lockett's Restaurant in Marsham Street, Westminster, a popular haunt of Tory MPs, is defused.[42]
  • 23 October – The IRA planted a booby-trap bomb under the under the car of Conservative MP Hugh Fraser. A passer-by noticed the bomb under the car, and by mistake detonated the device killing himself.[43]
  • 30 October – The unit explode a bomb at the Trattoria Fiore in Mount Street W1 which injures 17 people.[44]



  • 6 December – The IRA unit fired shots into Scott's restaurant, the same restaurant they blew up a month earlier. British police were obeserving the IRA unit and gave chase once they left the restaurant. The police cornered the unit inside a London flat where the IRA unit took a married couple hostage which then began the six-day siege of Balcombe Street.[54][55]

Type of Attacks

Most of the attacks carried out by the unit where various arrays of bombings, they were also involved in several shooting incidents.

The gang used several different methods to deliver and explode their bombs. The units most favorite method was using throw bombs. The unit made and used a series of these grenade-like devices. These were small devices with around 2–5 pounds (0.91–2.27 kg) of gelignite in them with a short fuse attached that was lit and then thrown at its target by one Volunteer while another Volunteer would keep lookout for anybody passing by. This method was used in the Woolwich pub bombing of November 1974 and the Waltons bombing of November 1975.

Another common method was making either a time bomb or an incendiary device with a timer on it which would then be planted inside a pub, club, hotel etc. This method was used in the Guildford pub bombings of October 1974 and the Hilton bombing of September 1975. They also detonated a car bomb at Selfridge's department store on Oxford Street in December 1974. On one occasion they placed a booby-trap bomb under a car in an assassination attempt on a Conservative MP but the bomb killed a different person. They also placed letter bombs into post boxes. During these attacks they also placed a hidden second bomb with a timer nearby to try and kill or injure security services reacting to the initial bombing.

On several occasions they fired shots from rifles and machine guns into hotels and restaurants, as in the attacks on the Carlton Tower Hotel and the Portman Hotel in January 1975. The gang also shot-dead several people, the most famous of whom was Guinness Book of Records founder Ross McWhirter in November 1975.

19 people were killed from the ASU's campaign: 16 from bombings and three from gun attacks. Six of the dead were British military personnel, one was a London police officer, one was a member of the bomb squad and 11 were civilians.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ 'Time Bomb: Irish Bombers and English Justice' (Bungay 1988) McKee G. & Franey R. p.87.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Bowyer Bell, J. (1997). The Secret Army: The IRA. Transaction Publishers. pp. 472–473. ISBN 1-56000-901-2.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ a bomb attack on the home of Edward Heath, a former British Prime
  19. ^ a bomb attack on the home of Edward Heath, a former British Prime
  20. ^ a bomb attack on the home of Edward Heath, a former British Prime
  21. ^ a bomb attack on the home of Edward Heath, a former British Prime
  22. ^ a bomb attack on the home of Edward Heath, a former British Prime
  23. ^ a bomb attack on the home of Edward Heath, a former British Prime
  24. ^ a bomb attack on the home of Edward Heath, a former British Prime
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^
Retrieved from ""
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia :'s_Balcombe_Street_Gang
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Provisional IRA's Balcombe Street Gang"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA