IRA Emissary Harry
Boland had ordered and paid for 653 Thompson Guns but only 495 were seized on
the steamer East
Side in New York.
The balance were re-routed onto regular tried and tested
American arms shipments from New York to Liverpool.
The S.S. Celtic
and her sister ship S.S. Baltic of the B&I line were used reliably and the
courier was a Mister Rees. Once in Liverpool, England the arms were received by Patrick Daly and
his crew of dockside gun-runners who were referred to as ‘Q’ Company. He noted
that machine guns required special handling, “Thompsons
with their magazines and supplies of ammunition were rather bulky…………..taking
them out of the docks to our dumps and then back again increased risk of
Daly recorded that
the first lot of three guns, three drums and twelve stick magazines arrived
12th May in Liverpool and were sent on to Dublin. The trusted courier Mr.Rees had brought them from America and he hoped for a ‘regular supply’. Next
shipment through Liverpool, he said, was 6th July
1921. On this
occasion four Thompsons were landed and sent on to Dublin.
By end of July ,
New York had shipped 15 guns to Liverpool which arrived safely in Liverpool on
23rd August, 6th, 7th ,20th
September and 4th October which were sent on to Dublin.
The Truce between
the IRA and the British came into play on 11th July along with the
easing of British controls on Irish Ports. This resulted in
a rapid increase in arms smuggling traffic. A steady stream of Thompson Guns
appeared. On 27th November, at a critical time in the peace
negotiations, disaster struck when British Customs found ten Thompsons during a random search of the S.S. Baltic at Liverpool. This was a potential diplomatic disaster
since the IRA had agreed to halt imports after the Truce. This find was covered
up and no information released to the Press. The Treaty between Ireland and Britain was signed in December 1921. By end of
October 1921 the IRA recorded 49 Thompsons in Ireland of which Dublin held 7. During November and December only
two more guns were received.
From September the
IRA held a series of training camps to keep the volunteers active and prepare
for any breakdown in negotiations with the British. The new Thompson gun
featured heavily with instructions given using hand written manuals since all
the manuals purchased were seized on the East Side. The Irish
Times of 4th October reported that volunteers were being trained
in the use of the Thompson.
“The IRA is the
first fighting force to make use of it in actual warfare……not only is it the
latest and finest machine gun made but………has proved to be especially well
adopted for use in the particular form of guerilla operations in town and
country”, said General Mulcahy of the IRA.
In October 1921 it
was reported that there were only 100 rounds per gun available to the IRA.
Thompson Gun would see more use against former comrades during the Irish Civil
War rather than against British Forces in the War of Independence.
Constabulary (RIC) reported in their monthly reports that they had seen “a
small sized machine gun of American pattern” in Armagh, Cavan, South Tipperary and Kerry at this time.
In April 1921, the
British were acutely aware that IRA munitions were arriving into Ireland via the ports. They formed “Q” Company led
by Brigadier-General E A Wood, a unit of the Auxiliary
Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary whose purpose was to prevent the
importation of arms and explosives. The press carried this news quoting British
officer “we shall have a complete stranglehold on the traffic in munitions” - “Q” Company
comprised ex-naval officers and had a special Intelligence Staff to follow up
investigations in the shipping quarter. During the Truce on 27th
October 1921, a question
was asked in the British House of Commons of the Chief Secretary for Ireland why these ports searches had stopped and
“what number of Thomson (sic) machine guns and other arms had been imported
into Ireland during the Truce for the use of the IRA”.
Sir Hamar Greenwood confirmed that searches at six
Irish ports had been suspended with the July 11th Truce between the
British and the IRA and was resumed on September 18th after rumours of arms smuggling. The Government had no knowledge
of any arms landings.
In a Belfast court case November 22nd
1921 , the police accused a man of possession of a notebook
containing notes on various weapons including the “Thomson machine gun” (sic).
In the House of
Commons on 25th May 1921, the Chief Secretary for Ireland Greenwood
disclosed that in the past two months, 16388 rounds of American made ammunition
(.45 calibre) had been
seized in Dublin alone.
power of the Thompson was witnessed in the border town of Clones on 11 February 1922 when the IRA and the Ulster Special Police
Constabulary were involved in a fire fight in the confined space of a train.
Four Constables, one IRA officer were killed while numerous other combatants
and civilians were wounded.
April 1922, five
more Thompsons had arrived into Liverpool from the US, one of which disappeared in England.
By June 1922, the
SS Baltic and SS Celtic were ferrying 800 rounds per week of
Reports from the
field recorded that IRA Thompsons were rendered idle because of poor maintenance
and shortage of .45ACP ammunition.
In March 1923 some
23,000 rounds did get through to Dublin.
In May 1923 some
76 silencers for machine guns and 3,500 rounds of .45
ammunition were seized by Police in Liverpool.
In 1933 the US Justice department investigators were able
to match serial numbers from the East Side IRA shipment to ‘underworld’ guns.
By 1936 the entire
original supply of IRA Thompsons in New York had all be sent to Ireland.
In 1937 the IRA
were able to purchase forty brand new Thompsons in
the US which were duly sent to the Dublin
Sword” , Journal Military History Society of Ireland ]