No. 9  NAI DFA Secretary's Files A3

Notes of a discussion concerning British-Irish defence co-operation between Joseph P. Walshe, General Harrison, Major General Daniel McKenna, Colonel Liam Archer and Major M. H. Pryce (Secret)

DUBLIN, 17 February 1941

General Harrison referred to the existence of road barriers in the vicinity of the Border and asked would these exist when their forces were coming to our assistance and could they easily be removed. The Chief of Staff 1 replied to him by saying that if any prominent member of the British Government was prepared to make a public statement to the effect that there was no intention on the part of England to invade this country he would remove the barriers immediately. He was, however, in the position that owing to the propaganda carried on in England against this country and for the possession of the Ports, he was compelled to look two ways when, in fact, he should only be looking in one direction. The barriers could be removed and without much difficulty unless they were covered by fire. General Harrison indicated that he appreciated the difficulty that we were in in this connection and he wished to assure the Chief of Staff that as far as he knew, and as far as the G.O.C. Northern Ireland2 knew, there was absolutely no intention of invading this country. He personally was acquainted with the C.I.G.S.3 and he could not of course ask him what was in his mind but he felt satisfied that the intention to invade this country, if it existed amongst the Service Chiefs, could not but be known to the G.O.C. N. Ireland, and as he had said he was satisfied that there was nothing in the mind of the latter indicating any such intention or plan. Colonel Archer after this said that General Harrison could rest assured that if and when they were coming to our assistance no barriers would exist on the essential roads. The Chief of Staff stressed the effect that propaganda in England must necessarily have upon the minds not only of our people but of our soldiers, and when the latter had to be employed on creating such barriers, naturally their outlook must be affected by it.

General Harrison then referred to items of equipment which were on a list that the Chief of Staff had sent to him:

  • (1) Field Guns He said that at the present time British Divisions were not up to 100% of their strength in these items. They were presently using French 75's4 built in the United States during the last war and which they had bought from there. Some of these were actually with the Forces in N. Ireland. He saw no immediate hope of us getting any. He would say there was very little prospect for at least three months.

    The Chief of Staff stated his anxiety in this connection was because we had so little artillery. We were at present training men on the expectation that we would get the guns. Did General Harrison think there was any use in us continuing to train men in this expectation? General Harrison said that he considered it wise that men should be trained, but he would say that only such number of men as would provide first reinforcements. He did not think we should train a greater number of men.

  • (2) Gas Masks He thought these were coming along fairly well. Had we sufficient civilian gas masks? He was told that we had approximately only 25,000 Service Respirators, not all of the latest pattern, and we had not got gas masks for the entire population. In fact, we only had sufficient masks for a few of the principal cities. He expressed the opinion that there was a grave likelihood that Germany in her forthcoming offensive might use gas. After all in the last war large areas had been rendered unusable by gas shelling and whilst the spraying of gas from aircraft was very problematical, there seemed no reason why gas bombs could not be intensively used.

  • (3) Bivouacs General Harrison was not quite clear what was meant by these items and it was explained to him by the Chief of Staff.

  • (4) Anti-Tank Rifles 5 and 2-Pdr. Guns6 He said the position in regard to these was definitely bad. They had actually to take some from N. Ireland for use in the East. The Chief of Staff said that we felt confident we could deal with any air-borne or parachutist troops, but we were very weak in anti- tank protection and he was seriously concerned about this. General Harrison was personally glad to see that we appreciated the danger from tanks.

  • (5) Bren Gun 7 The position here was not very hopeful but perhaps a little better than the position in regard to No. 4.

  • (6) Vickers Guns 8 The possibility in this connection was somewhat better.

  • (7) Wireless Sets The position regarding these was definitely bad.

  • (8) Igniter Sets for Grenades The Chief of Staff explained to him the progress we had made in the manufacture of grenades but how we were held up in regard to the igniter sets, particularly fuses. In order of importance we required (a) fuses, (b) rim caps, (c) detonators, (d) baratol9 General Harrison thought that something could be done to help us in this connection.

  • (9) Explosives, Gun Cotton Slabs and Primers He thought he could help us also in this connection.

He indicated that the following items were those which we were most likely to receive first gas masks, Vickers guns, igniter sets and explosives.

He asked would it be possible for their Supply & Transport Officer from N. Ireland to come down and meet Major Lillis10 so that they could get to know one another and perhaps discuss points of detail arising from the questionnaire. The Chief of Staff said we would consider this.

General Harrison referred to the reception areas for evacuees and he had noticed that Co. Meath was one of these areas. He was concerned as to whether these evacuees would block the roads which would be essential for their forces coming South. The Chief of Staff assured him that such would not be the case as evacuees would be diverted on to other roads. He then referred to the question of the distribution and destruction of petrol supplies and the Chief of Staff told him that in fact we had now no petrol to destroy owing to the action of the British authorities in closing down so suddenly upon our supplies. He had expected that we would have had no difficulty in having a stock of two million gallons of petrol for purely military use but that was not now the position. The fact that we were cut so short meant that it affected the availability of transport for the forces when hostilities started in as much as a large quantity of the transport we had earmarked was now out of commission and batteries, etc. would deteriorate for lack of use. General Harrison said that if that was the situation he would have to tell the people in N. Ireland that they need not come here expecting to get supplies of petrol. He thought at the same time that we had been rather lavish in the use of petrol from the early stages, but Mr. Walshe pointed out to him that many tankers had come in here on the invasion of Belgium and Holland and we had very large supplies at that time, and there seemed little reason why we should retain very large supplies and be faced with the very serious problem of attempting its destruction in the event of invasion. One method of the destruction of it was to allow it to be used. We had handed over seven tankers to the British authorities on the under- standing that our normal requirements would be met but this had not been done and we had received no warning that our supplies would be so drastically cut. General Harrison said that of course they had suffered very heavy losses in tankers. Though it was not his affair, he would, however, do all he could when he got to London to see if the situation could be improved for us.

He spoke in general of the destruction done by the German air raids and said that whilst some areas in London were very seriously affected, other large areas remained completely untouched. The raids had, of course, hit some of their factories and to a certain extent hampered their output but not in the same degree as their raids had hampered Germany's production.

He then referred to the rumour which was in existence in N. Ireland that the I.R.A. had a plan to hold up on the line of the Boyne any assistance coming to us from N. Ireland and seemed to be deeply concerned with the security of the Boyne Viaduct. The Chief of Staff assured him that he would take steps to ensure that that crossing would be quite safe.

The Chief of Staff then referred to the questionnaire and indicated that he was rather confused by the layout of their advanced base area in North Co. Dublin and of the suggestion of an area around Naas. He did not exactly know what was the strength of the Force that was coming to our assistance. We had firstly been told that the force would be a Division, later that it would be almost double that size, and still later that we could only count on one Division.

General Harrison said that owing to his absence he was not very well in touch with this problem. The strength of the force earmarked to come to our assistance was approximately a Division and a half, but hoped it would be more. Reinforcements in England were earmarked but they in N. Ireland felt that these reinforcements were too far away. They could not, however, get them moved over as naturally there was opposition to the taking away from England of more troops.

Mr. Pryce said that the idea of the area in North Co. Dublin was to enable them to get enough supplies South of Drogheda to last for the first fortnight. Thereafter all supplies would come to whatever base area was agreed on in the light of the situation. The people in N. Ireland were worried over the fact that they had only one line of railway by means of which to transport their supplies initially and they felt they must get supplies quickly over the bottleneck of the Drogheda Viaduct.

General Harrison said that after that stage they expected to use Dublin as an advanced sea base and to send all their supplies and reinforcements through the Port of Dublin. At the beginning, however, the G.O.C. N. Ireland must be able to move by good roads, must get his supplies South of the Boyne, and must move his force to the area where it could be made most use of whenever wanted and must also ensure the safety of the aerodromes.

The Chief of Staff handed to General Harrison the attached notes having reference to the question of the advanced base and other matters referred to in the questionnaire. 11

1 Not printed. The reference is to a questionnaire concerning information on military, logistics and transport facilities in Ireland required by British forces should they cross the border to assist Irish forces.

2 General Sir Henry Pownall (1887-1961), General Officer Commanding, British Troops in Northern Ireland (1940-1).

3 John Greer Dill (1881-1944), Chief of the Imperial General Staff (May 1940 Dec. 1941).

4 The French 75mm field gun, saw widespread use during the First World War and despite near obsolescence in 1939, considerable Second World War service, including use by the Defence Forces.

5 The Boys Rifle, a British-designed .55" anti-tank rifle which entered service in 1937. It was rendered obsolete by the development of thicker tank armour, though remaining in Defence Forces service after 1945.

6 The QF (quick firing) 2-pounder gun was a British 40mm calibre anti-tank gun which saw service internationally from 1936 to 1945.

7 The Bren gun was the main infantry light machine gun used by British forces during the Second World War. The weapon saw service with the Defence Forces from the late 1930s until the early 2000s.

8 A .303 medium machine gun of British design, first used during the First World War and in Defence Forces use until the 1960s.

9 An explosive made from a mixture of TNT and barium nitrate.

10 Major (later Major General) James Lillis (1896-1988), Director, Supply and Transport Corps (1935-50).

11 Not printed. The reference is to a questionnaire concerning information on military, logistics and transport facilities in Ireland required by British forces should they cross the border to assist Irish forces.


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