I send herewith an undated and Secret note on the Irish Brigade in Spain which I received this morning from the Dominions Office. Sir Harry Batterbee explains that the British were in the habit of getting information about certain happenings, by which remark I understood him to convey that this was a report of the British Secret Service.
The Irish Brigade
- On the 25th January there was a total of 641 non-commissioned officers and other ranks belonging to General O'Duffy's Irish Brigade on Spanish territory. (This figure is based on the ration strength). Most of them had been brought to Spain in the 'Argulia' ex Liverpool about the 5th December, 1936, the 'Ardeola' ex Liverpool 12th December, and a German ship which sailed from Ireland about the same time and was later picked up and escorted to Lisbon by a German destroyer. Other groups, each between ten and forty volunteers, had reached Spain by other routes.
- The majority of the members of the Irish Brigade were landed at Lisbon whence they proceeded to Caceres. At Caceres the Brigade was inspected by General O'Duffy, after which all were required to sign enlistment papers (printed in Spanish and therefore understood by very few) agreeing to serve as legionaries in the Spanish Foreign Legion for a period of six months or the duration of Spanish hostilities, whichever happened to be longer.
- At Caceres they were equipped in uniforms of German manufacture consisting of inferior quality khaki-coloured German pattern tunics and khaki forage caps. German pattern shrapnel helmets were issued. No underclothing was issued and the men suffered from cold.
- Complaints about the food were made from the first day, and despite promises, little had been done to improve rations. Pay was at the rate of three pesetas per day.
- German Mauser rifles manufactured in Spain under licence and Hotchkiss machine guns were issued at Caceres and training immediately commenced. Difficulty was experienced with the Hotchkiss, owing to overheating and seizing of the breech-block.
- The Brigade was formed into the 13th Tercio of the Spanish Foreign Legion and this designation was still borne, although consideration was being given to changing the number to the 15th Tercio, thirteen being unlucky.
- In general, the Brigade was composed of a poor type of soldier, deficient in physique and character. There were at least two lunatics in the ranks.
- Most of the officers were ill-trained and inefficient.
- The Sergeant Major was an ex-soldier of the British Army who had seen service in India. He was efficient, but was supported by inexperienced sergeants of a bad type. Some of the corporals had served in the British or Irish Free State armies and a few alleged they had held commissions.
- There was continual talk of the arrival of reinforcements and it was proclaimed that the total strength would ultimately be five thousand men. On the 21st January a further detachment of 500 men was expected. None arrived, however, and it was subsequently admitted by the Officers that they had not left Ireland. It was now generally realised that few, if any, further reinforcements would arrive.
- In view of the many serious complaints against uniforms, rations, service conditions, unclean barracks, etc., all letters written by the men to their families and friends were now strictly censored and very few letters got through. Of twenty letters written by one member of the Brigade to his family in Ireland not a single one reached the addressee.
- Up to the 25th January the Irish Brigade had seen no fighting. On that date it was announced that the Brigade was to leave for the Malaga front.
- General O'Duffy had then only visited his force on two occasions: the first being on the day of arrival and the second being some two weeks later when he addressed his men on the subject of their enlistment. Amongst other things he said that if any man had enlisted with an object other than religion and a willingness to fight for the Catholic cause he should immediately say so when he would be given his passport and sent back to Ireland. Some two hundred men applied for repatriation under this promise but none was given his passport or allowed to leave Spain.