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A Military Study of the Conventional Phase of the Irish Civil War

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  • A Military Study of the Conventional Phase of the Irish Civil War

    This link appeared on a previous incarnation of the board and I thought that the conclusions were interesting, especially with wheeled armoured vehicles coming on stream, not to mention the interest of the Irish Civil War, about which there is very little military analysis floating around. Another aspect of the Civil War I was always interesting was the use of seabourne forces by the Forces of the Provisional Government to take control of Munster, but that's another story.

    Here is the link and the conclusions.


    The Irish Civil War, like all such conflicts, was a tragedy. For military historians, however, it represents an interesting example of the conduct of warfare in the immediate aftermath of the Great War. What is remarkable about the Irish Civil War is how completely different in operational character it was from the First World War. Nothing like the trench stalemate of the Western Front developed in Ireland. Obviously, this was due to the very small number of troops engaged, the equally small number of heavy arms employed, and the reluctance of the Republicans to fight to the bitter end in conventional battles. (177) However, it is significant that virtually none of the military leaders on either side attempted to imitate trench warfare (with the notable exception, perhaps, of Maj.Gen. W.R.E. Murphy in the Kilmallock campaign).

    Instead, mobility was the dominant feature of the conventional phase of the Irish Civil War, particularly with regard to the Free State forces (which, admittedly, were blessed with greater resources). It is tempting to attribute this emphasis on mobility to a tradition in Irish warfare of relying on lightly armed soldiers, and the use of 'Flying Columns' in the War of Independence is certainly consistent with such a tradition. But it would seem that, while the majority of the military commanders on both sides participated and learned from the guerrilla war against Britain, the primary reason for an emphasis on mobility was the need for both sides to quickly establish their control over the country. Clearly the Free State forces were the winners in this race. Indeed, the Republicans only competed in a half-hearted manner.

    It could be argued, however, that there was another factor involved in the emphasis placed on mobility by the opposing sides; a willingness to exploit the capabilities of new technologies (or in the case of naval transport, old technologies) to their fullest. When the new technologies of armored vehicles, motorized transport, and even light, portable automatic fire arms, were introduced during the Great War, regular army officers were faced with having to incorporate them into pre-existing tactical and strategic concepts. All too often this meant that the full potential of these new technologies were not exploited. By contrast, the military commanders in the Irish Civil War, though many of them were veterans of World War I, had not been regular officers in the British, or any other Army. As such, they were less likely to have preconceived ideas about how technology should or should not be used in a war. They approached the new technologies of armored vehicles, motorized transport, light, portable automatic fire arms, and even the potential offered by the old technology of naval transport, in a fundamentally pragmatic manner. As such, they used both old and new technologies in an aggressive and imaginative fashion.

    While it is certainly true, for instance, that the presence of armored vehicles, as well as artillery, was often seen as a vital means of bolstering the confidence of raw recruits, the practice of assembling small motorized detachments and providing them with armored vehicles and, in the case of the Free State, artillery - essentially mobile task forces - became standard practice very early in the war. Even more significant were the examples of operations that were tailored, not around the capabilities (particularly the speed) of the foot soldier, but around the capabilities of these new technologies, such as armored vehicles. This is demonstrated by the plan suggested by Col. Patrick Paul to seize the bridge leading into the city of Waterford with a motorized column spearheaded by three or four armored cars and all the more so in the case of the actual armored assault on the town of Bruree by Republican forces. The widespread use of armored vehicles including occasions when they assumed the role of the dominant arm, the employment of mobile combined arms task forces, the exploitation of naval transport to outflank an enemy's defensive lines on land; these were all notions that it would take regular armies a great deal of time to digest and incorporate. Many had not done so by 1939. While the more imaginative techniques that were used by the opposing forces in the Irish Civil War certainly did not serve as a model for other armed forces to emulate, it is clear that they pointed, not backwards, towards the practices of the Great War, but rather forwards towards the practices of the next World War.
    Last edited by Guest; 2 May 2003, 17:37.

  • #2
    This is the link to the full article:

    "The dolphins were monkeys that didn't like the land, walked back to the water, went back from the sand."


    • #3
      I was interested to read about Bi-plane CAS used in the south by SE.5's etc.
      "It is a general popular error to imagine that loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for it's welfare" Edmund Burke