The Provisional IRA murdered three British soldiers in west Belfast. The gun attack took place as soldiers of the Royal Green Jackets were travelling between bases in two army Land Rovers. The men were transporting an RAF sergeant from their brigade headquarters on Springfield Road to another army base a short distance away on North Howard Street. The IRA had taken over a house on Cavendish Street the previous night, holding its three residents hostage, including an 81-year-old woman.
The terrorists had taken up positions upstairs and downstairs and watched as the two Land Rovers turned up Crocus Street at 11:20am, facing away from them. The back doors of at least one of the vehicles were open. The IRA opened fire with sniper rifles and an M60 machine gun, hitting Rifleman Daniel Holland. In the same vehicle the RAF sergeant was also hit, but the driver sped away. The terrorists then concentrated their fire on the second vehicle which subsequently came to a halt. Rifleman Anthony Rapley was struck in the head and killed instantly, while Rifleman Nicholas Malakos was struck in the stomach, neck and jaw. Malakos and Holland died from their injuries a short time later.
The driver of the first vehicle, a corporal, made his way back to the scene on foot and ran towards the IRA positions while under heavy fire. He managed to reach the front door of the house, but the terrorists escaped from the rear of the property. A booby-trap device containing six-inch nails was left behind the house, but defused by the army. The corporal later received the Military Medal for his bravery.
The attack came during a lull in violence and many people were out enjoying the sunshine. Several civilians were injured, including a man shot in the leg as he was pushing his five-month old baby in a pram. Another civilian reportedly pushed the baby to safety. An RUC spokesman later alluded to the callous nature of the attack as it took place in a staunchly republican area and the terrorists appeared to give scant regard to members of its own community.
It was suggested that the IRA planned the attack in response to claims they were on the brink of collapse. Recent defections had led to dozens of arrests and the loss of several arms caches. A police statement prior to the Cactus Street attack said of the IRA: "There is no future for them and they offer no future for anyone else". In claiming responsibility the terrorists said: "The attack, while not in direct response to British-inspired stories to the effect that the IRA is finished - all of which we have heard before - demonstrated that the struggle will continue until our objectives are achieved".
Northern Ireland Secretary James Prior argued that statements on IRA capability were counter-productive: "Every time that anyone in the press or anywhere talks about the demise of the IRA, it is an open invitation for them to come out. That is why I think the less said about these things, the better".
The three dead Riflemen were the first full-time army fatalities of 1982. Up to that point the army had sustained one loss, a part-time member of the UDR who was murdered while he was off-duty in January. All three of the men murdered at Crocus Street belonged to the 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets who were due to leave Northern Ireland two days later. Rifleman Anthony Rapley was 22 and came from Oxford. His father said he had planned to go on a camping holiday with his friend Rifleman Holland, who also perished: "Tony just loved army life and he was soon bored when he was home on leave. He couldn't wait to get back. It's such a terrible waste, but at least he died a soldier's death, a good death".
Rifleman Nicholas Malakos was 19 and from Surrey. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital. His mother said: "All the time he has been over there I have dreaded a knock at the door. Just two days to go and I was on edge the whole time". Rifleman Daniel Holland was also 19 and from south-east London. He died shortly after arriving at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
|Memorial to the Royal Green Jackets at the National Memorial Arboretum in
Staffordshire. In 2007 the regiment was amalgamated with three other infantry
regiments to form The Rifles