Armoured vehicles enter Londonderry on 31 July 1972 as part of Operation Motorman

Operation Motorman

31 July 1972

'Motorman' was the name given to a massive military operation by the British Army to reclaim 'no-go areas' set up by republican paramilitaries in towns across Northern Ireland.

It was a response to 'Bloody Friday', the Provisional IRA bombing of Belfast 10 days before.

The atrocity put huge pressure on the British government to improve security. The two main targets were Londonderry and Belfast, but there were smaller operations in other towns. Motorman was then the largest British military operation since the Suez Crisis of 1956.

Photo: Armoured vehicles in Londonderry (Press Association)

More information about: Operation Motorman


The city of Derry was a major stronghold for the Provisional IRA, the most prominent republican paramilitary group opposed to British rule in Northern Ireland.

As a prelude to Motorman, British Army foot patrols were sent into the city’s staunchly republican Bogside estate.

Then, on 30 July, soldiers moved into Derry in preparation for the retaking of the no-go areas.

In the early hours of 31 July, over 1,000 troops in more than a hundred armoured personnel carriers entered Derry's Bogside and Creggan estates. Armoured ambulances accompanied them.

HMS Fearless, an amphibious assault vessel, had earlier come close inshore under cover of darkness to unload four huge armoured bulldozers. As troops secured the streets, these giants smashed aside the barricades around the no-go areas.

Such was the overwhelming scale of the operation, the army met with little resistance.

Two people were killed in the Creggan area of Derry. A teenager called Daniel Hegarty was shot in the head and died instantly. His cousin, Christopher, 16, was also shot in the head but survived. An inquest found that neither had posed any threat.

Seamus Bradley, an IRA member, was shot in a separate incident. He was pronounced dead on arrival at an army medical post almost an hour later.


Troops moved into republican areas across Northern Ireland's capital city, where there was little trouble in the face of such a heavy army presence. As in Derry, the army quickly dismantled the barricades. Some arrests were made, but no paramilitaries were engaged.

Across Northern Ireland

Small scale operations were carried out in Armagh town, Lurgan (a town in County Armagh), Coalisland (a town in County Tyrone) and Newry (a city on the border of County Down and County Armagh).

Reactions to Operation Motorman

On the evening news that night, the British secretary of state for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Brian Faulkner, and nationalist politician John Hume gave their reaction to Operation Motorman.

The Claudy bombing

On the same day as Motorman, three car bombs exploded in the small village of Claudy, just outside Derry. Nine people were killed. Six died instantly, with three more succumbing to their injuries in the following days. Five of the dead were Catholics, four were Protestants. All were civilians.

The Provisional IRA immediately denied involvement. No one has ever claimed responsibility for the atrocity and no one has ever been charged. In 2010, a report by the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland found that the possible involvement of a local priest, Father James Chesney, was covered up by a conspiracy involving the police, the state and the Catholic Church. Chesney was transferred to Donegal in the Republic of Ireland soon after the bombings and died in 1980.

Contingency plans

IRA resistance to Motorman was less than had been feared, but secret documents released 30 years after the event show the British government’s radical contingency plans if events had flared into something more serious. Protestants would have been moved out of Fermanagh, most of Tyrone and Armagh, with these areas becoming part of the Republic of Ireland. Catholics would have been moved out of what remained of Northern Ireland and across the newly established border.

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