S.S. Honolulu story


Given that the first Colt production guns rolled off production line end of March 1921, then how did the IRA in Cork attest to the fact that they took delivery of 30 guns on 23rd April?

Were they wrong? Were dates mixed up? These were confused and tough times in the Irish War of Independence.


It is commonly agreed that the first two Thompson guns arrived with the two American ex-servicemen and weapons instructors Patrick Cronin and James Dineen in May 1921 in their luggage.

They demonstrated the new weapons to Michael Collins, GHQ Staff of the IRA and Dublin volunteers in May 1921 for the first time. These actual guns #42 and #43 shipped from Auto-Ordnance 24th March 1921 in the name of Captain G.T.Wise were the ones used in the first military action for the Thompson Gun against a British Army troop train in North Dublin on 16th June 1921.


The 50 Thompsons delivered to P.J. Gentry (actually purchased by a John Murphy) in New York landed in Ireland just before the Truce with the British in July 1921.


Prior to the arrival of these two successful shipments, 30 guns were reportedly landed in Cork sometime before 26th April 1921 into the possession of Cork No.1 Brigade IRA. IRA Officers Florrie O’Donoghue, Joe O’Connor and Tom Barry all recount this date.


It has been learned that the British were monitoring Irish connected shipping lines ex-United States after press reported massive arms caches being ferried on this route to Ireland. One of these was the New York based firm of Moore & McCormack Shipping Company.

The British knew that from the Treasurer down, this firm was full of Irish sympathizers.The British asked the US authorities to have shipments monitored. Evidence of this arms route was discovered in September 1920 when a parcel carried by the company was wrongly delivered to Ford Motor works in Cork containing ammunition!

The US authorities arranged for McCormack to provide shipping manifests which were shown to the British.


Interestingly the debateable IRA Cork shipment of guns in April 1921 was carried on a Moore & McCormack ship, recalled the IRA officers.

O’Donoghue recalled that 26th April was the day that the First Southern Division IRA was formed and he was present at staff meeting. The next day he married. This is how he remembers the date.

The IRA recalled that 30 guns arrived packed in a sofa and overstuffed chairs. From McCormack shipping manifests, only one matched this consignment. It was on the S.S. Honolula, a steamer which departed March 21st 1921 from New York and arrived at Queenstown at Cork on 23rd April.(The S.S. Honolulu had been to Ireland before when it brought relief supplies to Cork in December 1920 after the burning of the city by British forces on 11th and 12th of that month).

The manifest showed that the furniture and effects were shipped by William Fitzsimmons to Reverend E.W.Fitzsimmons in Dublin.

Another important factor was that in British raids between March and June 1921, 16388 rounds of .45 ammunition was seized from the IRA in Ireland.

Of the 30 guns which arrived in Cork, the IRA sent 10 to Dublin and kept the balance.

The police in Ireland north and south have captured many IRA Thompsons over the years since 1921 some have had serial numbers, some have been defaced, and at least 4 bore ‘strange serial numbers’ of T9, K114, G027 and G030. Detailed records were not kept to assess the importance of these numbers and if they could have been Cork prototype guns.


The big question is how these Cork guns arrived in Ireland before Colt began making the Thompson Gun?


In the first two weeks of production, only 35 Thompsons were completed, well after the Honolulu had departed port.

Prior to Model of 1921, Auto-Ordnance had produced numerous prototypes itself in Cleveland, Ohio. Design began in 1917 and these early guns were known as Model of 1919.Second series were known as Annihilator I, II, and III. One of the III was eventually used as a basis for Model of 1921.It is thought that since the Model of 1921 Colt production started with #41, there were 40 prototypes made. But this has always been impossible to prove.It appears that no records were kept of the early prototype guns – some of them are kept in Museums eg #1,2,3,6,7,8,9 and 11. #19 and #20 were gifted to salesmen. #26 was used as a template for Colt Model of 1921. Captain Hugh B.C.Pollard received #38 and 14 Model of 1921 guns later to test for the British Army. The existence of un-numbered Model of 1919 guns points to the fact that more than 40 prototypes were manufactured.It is reported that Auto-Ordnance let prototype guns ‘leak’ from production for an unmarked example was given to a police officer in Cleveland.

There is also a report that such was the rush to get examples of the Thompson gun to Europe for WW1, that early prototypes arrived at New York harbour for shipping to Europe the very day 11th November 1918 that the Armistice was signed.The British had been approached in December 1920 but by May 1921 there had been no expression of interest.

The original plan for Colt production was February 1921 which was obviously in Harry Boland’s plans when he reported to Michael Collins in January that delivery was imminent. Production delayed until end of March.



[Reference: “Irish Sword”, Journal of Military History Society of Ireland Winter 1998, no.84}