FBI records –S.S. EastSide case 52-505
7th June 1921 – over a week before Eastside discovery FBI agents visited Auto-Ordnance Corporation and spoke with Marcellus Thompson. The gun was described in FBI notes as “sub-machine gun manufactured by this corporation is a light machine gun, weighing but eight pounds and costs $225 complete…”. Marcellus stated to the agents that on 3rd June he had received from British Consul-General in New York a copy of a cablegram sent from England in connection with the reported shipment of the Thompson gun to parties in Ireland. He denied knowingly having made such a sale but if true, they had been obtained through misrepresentation. Six weeks earlier, Auto-Ordnance General Sales Manager Morgan had been in England to interest the British in its purchase. He had sold them 100 guns but sale held up by US Govt. However US Govt permitted four guns to be sent for trials. Marcellus told FBU that production was now at 20 units daily. FBI examined the books and found only one sale which attracted attention – that of 51 guns to John J Murphy of Greenwich Street (saloon there) New York city, a hotel keeper. He paid cash and shipment directed to P J Gentry at his same address. Order placed 20th February 1921, first gun 2nd May and final shipment 26th May. FBI met Frank J Merlin (Merkling?) at AO offices that day and recognised him as connected with Thomas F Ryan the millionaire. FBI recorded that they understood that Ryan was connected with AO Corp….Merking requested that if there was any publicity to be given to investigation, Mr. Ryans’ name should be ‘withheld’.
Frank Merkling was AO Corp Secretary having been personal Secretary to General Thompson. Owen Fischer was salesman, Morgan Director of sales, Lieut G T Wise was salesman formerly of Air Service AEF, Goll was a demonstrator and personal man to General Thompson, Major Barrett was Inspector, Eickhoff was Chief Engineer.
19th June FBI instruct keep breech blocks separate from guns while being stored
18th June FBI confidential source reported that at one time the Irish had plans to for a regular steamship company to be formed to gun-run to Ireland from the US
18th June 1921 - While the FBI agents were staking out AO man Frank T. Merkling at the Hotel Washington in the city, they happened to seize a telegram which came through addressed to Merkling from Company Secretary T.A.Clark in NYC (Thomas A Clarke described in notes as a young man employed by Auto-Ordnance Corporation). It read:
“Barrett advised Pollard shipment of 10 only to go by and is best case made up so far. Colt making sample cases but not completed. Pollard specifications are gross 176 lbs net 114. Dimensions 42x26x11 ins. Only increase in your order would be in net weight. Largest case of pellets contain 2000. Dimension 15x12x7 ½ ins. Gross weight 103 lbs. Barrett getting in touch with More the works manager and will phone you regarding production”.
21st June – Department of State Washington wrote to FBI Mr J Edgar Hoover informing him that US London Embassy had reported day previous “that there were found in the course of recent raids in Ireland, papers containing instructions for us eof guns of type captured recently in New York. It was assumed that shipment of this gun would soon be on the way. There were also discovered, documents concerning formation of machine gun releases in connection therewith”
S.S. EastSide inventory reads; 495 guns, 491 stocks, 1391 box magazines,269 Drum mags Type C, 174 Drum mags Type L, 486 cleaners, 440 pamphlets, 1 box cartridges .45 calibre, steel jackets containing 40 small boxes.
FBI record 395 guns had their serial numbers chipped off, remaining 100 serial numbers listed;
855,958,739,833,707,735,799,860,784,751,796,801,678,974,726,639,788,971,856, 848,652,613,876,861,863,872,758,918,460,694,984,1039,653,925,993,841,806,728,789,905,965,741,1043,815,995,776,401,886,625,708,829,800,824,973,792,660,891, 1006,651,1026,878,714
17th May – London reliable source advises US State Department that quantity of arms and ammunition smuggled from America to Ireland having been stolen from US Military.
16th June 1921 – FBI interview with Frank Ochsenreiter (interviewer Mr. Hoover) – salesman with AO since May 1st. Went to law school with GG Rorke in 1911. Other representative for AO being George T Wise. On Feb 15th, placed and order for 100 guns at $180 each plus 200 clips of 20 rounds at $3 each, 100 clips of 100 rounds at $25 each less 20% discount, on behalf of G G Rorke. At that time he worked for the Royal Typewriter Company, not AO Corp. He revealed that he had been in correspondence with AO regarding the initial 100 guns plus mags and another 900 guns. During interview, the name of Thomas Fortune Ryan came up as stockholder in AO Corp Mr G T Wise was cousin of Ochsenreiter – he handled US Army & Navy business for AO Corp.
FBI case files contain the press clipping from New York Times dated 17th June reporting on the East Side seizure. The paper reported that the British Secret Service were behind the seizure (this did not please the FBI). In a well informed article, the NYT said that the British had been interested in General Thompson’s new invention and described the gun as an ‘excellent idea’ …’handy little guns which interested the British Army. NYT said that in December 1920 London had negotiated with Auto-ordnance to acquire control of the gun for its own purposes. General Thompson and his manager Walter Morgan came to England in May 1921 to demonstrate the gun. At the same time, British forces captured documents which bore on the Thompson gun. These IRA documents were endorsed with notes by “Mulcahy, General of the Irish revolutionary Army” and were accompanied by a map showing distribution of the gun throughout Ireland, setting up of training squads and being on the look out for suitable targets.
IRA papers above seized by the British in Dublin raid showing Thompson gun deployment
18th June 1921 – FBI interview with Frank Merkling of AO Corp - joined corporation on 1st June 1920 – made Director and Secretary – previously worked for Thomas F Ryan as his private secretary. Directors of the company are; John Larkin as President, Marcellus Thompson as Vice-President and General Manager, Frank Merkling as secretary, Adolphus F. Long as Treasurer and Captain C.J. Ryan (son of Fortune Ryan). Walter Morgan is Director of overseas sales. Chief Engineer is Theodore Eickhoff. Chief Inspector based at Colts Manufacturing is Major J H Barrett. Salesmen given as Captain George R Coxe, formerly of Marine Corps, G Owen Fischer, Lieutenant George T Wise formerly of Air Service AEF. From recollection, only 35 hand made models developed at great expense had been turned out prior to April 15th 1921. AO Corp knew where all these guns were. G G Rorke personally received 3 guns. Guns sold to Frank Williams comprised “7 in first consignment, then 10, then 8, making 25, then 25, another 25 and still another 25 making 100, then the 490 came forward in 7 thirtys, 40 about 12 shipments” . FBI put it to Merkling that 2 weeks previous, British has alereted AO Corp to the British having documentary evidence that the guns were being shipped to Ireland. Merkling said; “The British Government was in possession of documentary evidence that the Irish rebels expected a large consignment of Thompson Submachine guns. Investigate to make certain, as there may be a leak in production…..we are making every effort to make sure that the ammunition does not fall eventually into the hands of the Irish rebels”. AO Corp has two demonstrators in Washington and two others of which Mr Fischer and Mr Coxe are named.
17th August 1921 – Lawyer for Frank Williams who claimed ownership of the East Side guns, wrote to the Department of Justice saying his client was anxious that the guns be kept in good condition, should not rust or deteriorate in any way. They should be oiled and inspected and report made to Frank Williams.
FBI examined the bank account of George Gordon Rorke and found deposits from January to May 1921 of $72,000.
26th September 1921 – FBI interview with George Owen Fischer – salesman for AO Corp from May 1920 to September 1921 who made hundreds of demonstrations, two or three a week. (G Owen Fischer was described in notes as a demonstrator agent – He had been ill for some time and died of natural causes after the US inditements were issued). AO used the 71st Regiment armoury for these purposes. Fischer admitted demonstrating gun to Mr Murphy who went on to purchase 50 guns in January 1921. Murphy was a ‘miner ‘ who ran a bar at Greenwich Street. Also present at the demo were two female Police officers, Bank officials , men named John O’Brien and Mr Gallagher, friends of Murphy. The Folsom Arms Company had invited all concerned. Fortune Ryan again mentioned in questioning as an AO Corp stockholder. Fischer admitted personally delivering George G Rorke 2 or 3 guns in Wallcott Hotel room. Fischer met Dinneen at the Beslin Hotel in April 1921 and brought one gun with him. He demonstrated the weapon at 71st Regiment armoury. Dinneen asked could he shoot outdoors so Fischer and Dinneen travelled alone to Staten Island to fire at paper targets. Fischer met Dinneen on two more occasions – first they returned to Staten island range accompanied by Dinneen’s friend Mr O’Hanlon from Chicago. Following day Dinneen met Fischer and Morgan at his New York offices to discuss the gun. “Mr.Morgan asked Mr.Dinneen or suggested that he might be connected with some other group that we had former dealings with and the similarlty of his name suggested it. Mr Dinneen answered and said that he might be selected by the people he represented for the very reason that his name was similar and that would show that that was the reason for his selection”. No deal was consummated at that meeting.
The truckman who ferried the guns from the offices of American Railway Express Company was a John Culhane. He was employed by Fred Williams to bring the cache to his home at La Fontaine Avenue in the Bronx where the boxes were opened and the guns and mags broken down and repacked in burlap sacks before being transferred to the SS EastSide.
24th June 1921 - FBI visit American Railway Express Company NY offices at 44th Street – loads taken away comprised;
May 21st three cases, 23rd May six cases, May 31st six cases, June 2nd three cases, June 8th four cases
6th June 4 boxes, 18th June three boxes, 18th June three boxes, 11th June six boxes – all signed for by John Culhane (born in County Limerick in 1876)
[Dinneen and Cronin took to Ireland with them gun serial numbers 46, 50 and 51]
26th September 1921 - FBI stake out Waldorf Astoria Hotel 5th Avenue NYC looking for George Gordon Rorke who was booked in there. “Prepare immediately complaint before Commissioner charging George Gordon Rorke, Frank Williams and others with conspiracy to set on foot military enterprise against the King of England for supplying native subjects in Ireland with arms and ammunition and instructing them in use of same. Date conspiracy from November 1920 to present date. Overt act purchase of seven machine guns April 7th, 19th, 21st by Rorke from Auto-Ordnance Company New York”. Rorke was arrested and questioned.
Several times in the typed FBI records of the EastSide case the sub-machine guns were referred to as submarine guns !
29th June 1921 – American Embassy in London wrote to Washington regarding a shipment of arms on board the SS Pocahontas bound for Ireland – but Washington wrote back to confirm ship’s name as this vessel was off the Azores with engine trouble bound for Genoa in Italy.
American Railway Express first shipment of guns was dated 7th April 1921 – one boxed gun was crated and weighed 40 pounds.
Records show shipment dated 26th April from ARE Company of one box weighing 103 pounds, value $1140 to their Foreign Department, NYC – possibly guns for POLLARD in LONDON.
The Thompson guns seized on board SS Eastside were inside 134 separate bags plus one box of cartridges.
SECRET memo dated 15th July to Mr Hoover carried attachments of copies of the Thompson gun literature and IRA orders on the gun mechanism and deployment including winding card, seized in Dublin raid in May 1921. Also was the contact report from 16th June on the Drumcondra Dublin troop train ambush when Thompson used for first time and it is recorded in the memo that this report was found on DeValera when arrested on 22nd June. FBI reported that some of the guns had already reached Ireland. Deputy Chief of Police S. Winter of Dublin Castle provided the documents.
4th October 1921 – FBI memo to Director Burns reports that 156 of the Thompson guns purchased by the ‘conspirators’ are still unaccounted for and whereabouts unknown. 40 guns were delivered between June 5th 1921 and June 11th. In all 540 guns were delivered by Auto-Ordnance to Frank Williams before the discovery of the cache on the S.S. EastSide. 60 guns were delivered to Williams after the 495 were discovered on board ship. The 51 other guns sold to Murphy/Gentry are also missing. The memo went on to mention .45 ACP ammunition to feed the Thompson. The companies which manufacture the cartridge are mentioned and suggested investigation into large orders be made [Remington-UMC, Winchester, United Sates Cartridge Company, Peters Cartridge Company, Western Cartridge Company]
P J Gentry guns serial numbers – shipped 25th May 1921
293, 316, 324, 345, 441, 532, 533, 545, 560, 579, 581, 582, 597, 609, 615, 617, 623, 627, 628, 630, 632, 633, 634, 636, 637, 640, 641, 643, 645, 648, 650, 654, 658, 672, 674, 677, 686, 688, 690, 692, 693, 695, 700, 702, 705, 717, 780, 808, 816, 818.
[NB; Garda police records show serials 630,686,690,648,628,705 captured in Ireland – four found in large dump at Charlestown, Co.Mayo]
Shipping record from FBI papers below;
From 1919 through 1921 he British administration prepared a Weekly Report for submission to the US Embassy in London for forward transfer to Washington. Complied as SECRET by the Directorate of Intelligence (Home Office) and entitled “Report on Revolutionary Organisations in the United Kingdom” it included reference to Coal Miners, Communists, Sinn Fein and Ireland. The report was signed off by B.H.T. being Basil H Thomson, Director of Intelligence Home Office.
Report dated 16th June 1921 reported “Through action taken on information received from the Irish Intelligence, 600 Thompson sub-machineguns with spare parts have been seized in New York……There being reason for believing that the IRA were arranging the importation of a considerable number of Thompson sub-machien guns, a new and rather deadly weapon, this Directorate reported the matter confidentially to the American Embassy and entered into relations with the local agent for the gun in London, with the result that yesterday 600 of these guns were seized by the Amerivan Customs, together with 160 magazines and hundreds of machine gun parts. They were consigned to Belfast”.
Report dated 25th March 1920 reads; “It is reported that ammunition and arms are being imported into Ireland as passengers’ luggage via Holyhead and Dublin….”.
Report dated 23rd June 1921 reads: “Sinn Fein leaders are greatly perturbed on account of the seizure by the American authorities of Thompson sub-machine guns destined for Ireland. They have put forward a sympathiser to claim the guns are his property, alleging that they had been stolen from him; the purchase of these weapons must have cost Sinn Fein a considerable sum of money which can be ill afforded. It is reported that Michael Collins has called for forty of his most reliable Volunteers serving in Dublin to proceed to England”.
Report dated 30th June 1921 reads: “An attack was made on a train near Drumcondra….The commander, in reporting this attack, refers to the use of two Thompson sub-machine guns of which a large number has recently been seized by the American authorities in New York. One of these failed to come into action and the other checked after four bursts……This is the first time that the use of these guns by the rebels has come into notice…….there seems little doubt that only very few of these guns have reached the rebels”. The report went on; ”The arrest and detention for a few hours of President deValera during the week in a house at Blackrock caused some sensation. A document found on him was a report from the commander in the Drumcondra ambush…”
Various FBI papers
24th November 1919 – FBI papers hold coded telegram from London Embassy to Washington which states; “That revolutionary organisation is expecting shipment of arms and ammunition from the United States is confidential information received from sources which appear to be reliable. That he has at last succeeded in his mission to America, and has obtained supplies which may be expected in Ireland any day is the message which, it is reported, has been sent by Harry Boland, an Irish Member of Parliament from South Roscommon…..he is in the United States……It is because of this information that the British have been watching American shipping and crews arriving in Irish ports. So far however all search has been of no avail. Great damage is caused to the police by the importation of revolvers into Ireland. They are brought ashore by sailors”.
2nd September 1920 – FBI’s Mr Hoover advised that the British believe that expert New York gunmen were being exported for use by Sinn Fein in Ireland.
9th December 1920 – confidential memo to Department of State from L Lanier Winslow at London Embassy regarding Harry Boland of Sinn Fein. It reported a note from Boland to a Sinn Feiner in Ireland who was arrested and said; “You are correct; there is a repeating gun which takes shot-gun cartridges, called the Riot Gun and it is in the hands of the New York Police Department. It is made in the Government factories for the police; but I will do my best to secure you one and send you as a sample”. Lanier Winslow went on to write; “You may like to take steps to have a warning given in the proper quarter. [This is reference to the Thompson gun which was sold to the police and was envisaged as a riot gun]
31st January 1921 - Military Intelligence Division memo on reports of US Military ex-servicemen training, drilling and leaving US cities singly or in small groups bound for Ireland.
6th October 1921 – FBI Director Burns quoted a source (Dublin Castle?) as saying; “ We have information that there is to be another gun-running epidemic to southern Ireland and our information is that the organisation has been completed and that some funds toward more guns have already been supplied on the theory that the negotiations between Dublin and London will fail and that British troops will be poured into Ireland especially if a General Election sustains Lloyd George in his course”.
Other FBI documents
In 1921 the US Justice department brought three of the seized East Side guns to their offices for investigation and evidence. These Thompsons bore serial numbers 758,800,and 833.
On 4th August 1924, US Customs in New York City borrowed six of the East Side Thompsons for their use on harbour patrol boats. On 18th August they borrowed six more.
When IRA front man Frank Williams signed a ‘Power of Attorney’ in Dublin giving Joe McGarrity of Clan na Gael the legal right to reclaim the seized 495 Thompsons, the Marine Patrol returned 11 borrowed guns on 10th June 1925 claiming the missing gun had fallen over the side into the water. By 14th September 1925 the US Justice department had released the guns back to the IRA who had bought them.
Agent Roy McHenry of Department of Justice Washington wrote on 8th August 1921 “The papers taken in the raid in Dublin showing that Thompson sub-machine guns were in action there, and that Photostat copy of the direction for loading the drum magazines also taken in this raid should be exhibited to the Grand Jury”. He continued “James J Dineen’s connection with the case; During the month of April 1921 James J Dineen, a detective sergeant of Chicago and a former Army officer in France, looked up Fischer and told him he was in the market for some of the guns, not specifying the number. Fischer made a remark about Dineen having an Irish name and the matter said; ’Perhaps that is why the parties who want to get the guns employed me’, or words to that effect. Afterwards with the knowledge of the company, Fischer gave Dineen four or five demonstrations of the gun at the 71st Regt Armoury and Dineen learned to operate the gun himself. [from Fischer’s statement]. There is no known connection with Dineen beyond the foregoing. His brother, Patrick Dineen, is the state president of the Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic, for Illinois.”
FBI Assistant Attorney Roy McHenry wrote on 4th October 1921; “Use of Thompson Guns in Ireland – On May 19th 1921, British officers in Dublin raided a place used as a storehouse for the Irish Republican Army, and discovered reports there from insurrectionary officers upon the use of two Thompson guns in an attack on a British train of cars. There was found there a printed card of the kind attached to the gun’s drum magazine, containing directions as to its operation. (see papers from Dublin police, received through the State Department). NOTE; these cannot be used as evidence and the testimony of the officers finding the original papers and the papers themselves should be used at the trial. Knowledge of Auto-Ordnance Corporation officers as to use of guns in Ireland; Sales manager Morgan had gone to England in May 1921 to try and market the guns there. One June he cabled the company through the British Consul that documentary evidence showing Irish rebels were expecting large quantities of Thompson Guns had been discovered and was in the hands of the British Government. This evidence is that referred to under the preceding hearing. (papers seized on search warrant).
On 6th June, Colonel M H Thompson addressed a letter to the British Consul General in reference to the cablegram “……to begin with the Auto-Ordnance Corporation is a company in too high a standing to countenance any underhanded dealings in the gun business with those operating against the constituted authorities;……Our advertisements as well as our policy distinctly enunciate the principal ‘On the Side of Law and Order’. Our production has as yet not been large enough to allow the sales of the Thompson submachine gun on any large scales. This will not be true of the future however. To date we have been averaging since the last of April, from fifteen to twenty guns per day, so you can see very few guns have gone out. We have no large domestic contracts; but have underway some negotiations with foreign countries that mount up into very large orders. We realise the gun is a very dangerous weapon indeed; in fact it is the most effective portable firearm in existence, and for the first time allows full machine gun fire from the shoulder which is a very deadly method of firing…..I can assure you that no one has purchased any gusn in large quantities such as Mr Morgan has outlined, for domestic use in America. If guns going abroad are being used for this purpose, it has been entirely misrepresented to us and we cannot believe this possible as such negotiations are taken place with the governments concerned, rather than with the individuals”.
Assistant Attorney continued; “It is to be noted that Col. Thompson told a deliberate falsehood in the letter, when he said’we have no large domestic orders’. About 1500 guns have been delivered, and of these 500 had been turned over to Williams, and 51 to Murphy. No other deliveries anywhere near approaching these in size has been made, the largest individual one having been to Milton Kohn Export Corporation, New York on June 3 of 29 guns. This shipment has been traced to Panama and need not be considered. No large deliveries had been made to any foreign nation, the 29 gun delivery being the largest to anyone except to Williams and Murphy”.
Assistant US Attorney Thomas V Arrowsmith wrote on 29th December 1922: “In addition to the facts I have stated above, it came to our knowledge that the insurgent army in Ireland had used Thompson Machine Guns against British troops, and that it was possible that the serial numbers of the guns so used are the same as a part of the serial numbers of the guns sold to Rorke, but the British government has declined to furnish any evidence of this line”.
November 12th, 1924 – Power of Attorney from “Frank Williams of 387 North Circular Road, in the City of Dublin in Ireland…..have made Joseph McGarrity of the City and County of Philadelphia my true and lawful attorney for me…..act for me in a certain libel action or proceeding for the condemnation of 495 Thompson sub-machine guns, 491 stocks, 1391 box magazines, 289 drum magazines Type C, 174 Drum magazines Type L, 486 cleaners, 440 pamphlets, one box cartridges, .45 calibre steel jackets containing 40 small boxes…..signed by Frank Williams” – legal papers prepared by Solicitor Ernest W Prond, 12 Dawson Street, Dublin, Ireland.
September 14th, 1925 at US District Court, District of New Jersey in the case United States of America vs 495 Thompson machine guns on libel for Condemnation Order , the seized guns were returned legally to Frank Williams and Joe McGarrity.
Affidavits of Export from Auto-Ordnance from May 1921 through November 1925. In this period some 1010 Thompson guns were sold to Foreign countries including 2 to Birmingham England (Army of Great Britain) 30th July 1921, 12 guns to England on 3rd October 1922, 5 guns on 1st August 1925 to BSA Ltd Birmingham England, and 2 guns to BSA Ltd Birmingham England on 19th September 1925. 615 guns were shipped to Germany alone or transhipped via Germany to somewhere else.