British Intelligence in Ireland

I attempt here to analyse the overall workings of British Intelligence in Ireland, both before and after Bloody Sunday. The events of Bloody Sunday on 21 Nov 1920, are covered in detail

British Intelligence in Ireland

British Intelligence in Ireland was a hodge podge of different organisations operating aparently entirely in issolation to each other. Intelligence came from a variety of Agents

By late 1920 the British had started to close in on the centre of IRA operations. Three IIS senior officers, Liam Tobin, the senior officer in charge of IRA Intelligence, Frank Thornton Tobin's deputy in IRA intelligence, and Tom Cullen, his assistant, were arrested. Tobin and Cullen were detained only a few hours. Thornton underwent a grueling interrogation for ten days. Shortly after Thornton's release, Collins received information that the British planning more arrests. and as a result met with his staff and formulated the plans for "Bloody Sunday."

Surveillance of British suspects was stepped up, and intelligence was gathered from rooming houses. The IRA Dublin Brigade and the IRAID then pooled their resources and intelligence to draw up their own hit list of suspected gang members and set the date for the assassinations to be carried out: 21 November 1920 at 9:00 am sharp. Two principle factors enabled the IRA to target British Agents in Dublin.

To draw up my list of 71 British Intelligence officers, I too have used the London Gazette Special Appointments. The establishment was for 75 men of this grade. My covers men killed, resigned, etc, so my feeling is that the number was topped up to 75 and that more than 75 were hired. Most agents relinquished their commissions after the war, and to become agents in Ireland were re-commissioned, given a Special Appointment. The lowest rank of foot soldier on the streets of Dublin got Class II grading. They came under Military Intelligence until the end of 1920, when they were transferred to Winter and his Police Intelligence Operation. The final cut off date was 1 April 1921 when these man relinquished their Army commissions and continued to work as civilian policemen. The IRA could easily have kept track of British Agents via the London Gazette in this way . In addition to the London Gazette, I was helped by two pieces of paper at the bottom of this page . One of which shows men recommended for awards art the time of withdrawal, and the other a group of Special Branch men on a large raid. . As the LG entries were in groups, it is comparatively easy to check out suspects on the LG entries.

The Bloody Sunday Operation was planned by several senior IRA members, including Michael Collins, Dick McKee, Liam Tobin, Peadar Clancy, Tom Cullen, Frank Thornton and Oscar Traynor. The killings were planned to coincide with the Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary, because the large crowds around Dublin would provide easier movement and less chance of detection for the members of Collins' Squad carrying out the assassinations. Clancy and McKee were picked up by the British on the evening of Saturday, 20 November. They were interrogated, tortured and shot dead, along with a Gaelic language student, Conor Clune, the nephew of Archbishop Clune. In spite of being tortured, they did not talk, and the British learned nothing of the assassination plot.

On 17 November Collins had written to Dick McKee, Commander of the Dublin Brigade: Dick . . . have established addresses of the particular ones. Arrangements should now be made about the matter. Lt. G. is aware of things. He suggested the 21st. A most suitable date and day I think. "M"

Early Sunday morning, November 21, 1920, the IRA hit squads went into action. They executed 15 men. The British reaction to "Bloody Sunday" was quick. Carloads of Auxiliaries, RIC and Military were almost immediately dispatched to Croke Park, Dublin where a large crowd had assembled to watch a football game. Accounts of what followed are conflicting, but one of the most widely reported stated that the Auxiliaries fired into the crowd. Whatever happened with the shooting, fourteen people were killed and many others wounded..

Mrs Woodcock, wife of Lt Col Woodcock , who herself witnessed the shootings, writes

It was not until I went back to the military hospital on the afternoon of 21st November that I realised that our house had not been the only one visited by the murderers. The matron there told me that the dead bodies of fourteen British officers lay in the hospital mortuary. Nine of these were in pyjamas. That little sentence shows in what circumstances the majority of them lost their lives. Two officers who had dined at our house on the Saturday night were among the killed. These officers were Roman Catholics, and, I was told, had taken up special service work from a sense of duty. Tale after tale of horror was unfolded to me until my brain reeled,and I felt I could bear no more.

One officer had been butchered in front of his wife.[ This must refer to the woman in the room when Newberry was shot. I cannot find either a second marriage, nor a death for Mrs Newberry. It is clear that the lady in the room was not his wife, but was carrying his child. The identity of Capt. Newberry's mystery companion at the time of his murder and, with her own reported death and still-born child still to be resolved. The early Dublin Metropolitan Police report, compounded by the subsequent Hansard entry, has maintained the heroic but false image of a brave dutiful wife under extreme emotional/traumatic stress.] They took some time to kill him.(This refers to Newberry ) Shortly afterwards she had a little baby. It was born dead, and a few days after she also died. .....

The American Consul had dined at our house the night before the murders. His two hosts were among the murdered . They had played bridge till it was very late, and he had been pressed to stay the night. If he had, there would probably have been an American citizen the less, as there is no doubt the men and boys who visited our house were mostly quite incapable, from fright, of distinguishing friend from foe. One of the wounded officers told me he was placed against a wall in the hall, and eight men took, or tried to take, careful aim at him. One man's hand shook so much that a comrade took his revolver away from him, and another supported his trembling right hand on his left arm. This officer also was a regimental officer, and had nothing to do with police or secret service. Like my husband , he too had a most marvelous escape, and none of the shots he received were vital.

I had absolutely no idea until after the murders of 21st November of the awful risks run by our men, when one of the few survivors of the original Intelligence Service opened my eyes to the dangers and difficulties of their lives. He would probably never have spoken then had not the horrors of that day shaken him to the depths. He told me of whole nights spent in lonely railway cuttings when the slightest sound would have resulted in discovery and immediate death. Of long crawls over marshy fields, ending, perhaps,in a sudden dash and a volley of revolver shots. I had seen those men leaving the house, night after night, but I never knew or guessed what their work was, or still less, of the months of training they had had in this special work before coming to Ireland.

Within the context of British Army deaths in Ireland, over 700 British Army men died between Jan 1919 and Dec 1921 (only 25% were KIA), the casualties of 21 Nov were not that great (9 of the 15 deaths were actual British Army serving officers). The hit that British Intelligence operations took was not that great either: only 6 of the men shot that day were Intelligence officers, out of around 160 Intelligence officers believed to have been in the field at that time. The British were never going to say exactly the damage caused to their intelligence operations (it was in their interests to put out that they were just "ordinary" officers killed that day anyway). The IRA were never going to talk about their failures, either wrong men shot or empty houses raided.

It is comparatively easy to put together British officers lives and career records from, BMD entries, censuses, London Gazette entries. No effort has been made to cover men's tracks by the authorities. Where men changed names it was genuine rather than contrived, eg with Peel to avoid using a German name in wartime British Army or with Wilde to change from Leonard William Wilde to Leonard Aidan Wilde was to appear to himself more Irish. The Basil Thomson men are more difficult to find. Angliss is the only one living under false name (Mahon)

It is more difficult to find the records of those who survived that morning, as all that we have is a Surname usually, rather than Christian names or initials. It needs effort to keep digging away to find who they really were.

The IRA men are difficult, some have given their stories to Irish Bureau of Military History. But there is still a lot of work to be done to give colour to the IRA men.

The British had been improving their Intelligence, particularly in Dublin, since early 1920. It appears to have been a reaction to this success that prompted Collins to plan to hit British Intelligence hard. Collins drew up a list of agents that were to be killed. That list was later augmented by local IRA commanders. The number targeted by Collins that morning is not known. Supposedly he drew up a list of 35 targets, pared down by Brugha and/or Collins to around 20. A letter from Collins to Mulcahy confirms that the list was augmented by Dublin Brigade of the IRA, to an unknown number

The scale of the operation that Collins planned for the morning of Sunday 21st Nov 1920 was quite breathtaking. Around 15 hit squads (nobody now knows the exact number), each with around 15 men, arrived at their target addresses at exactly 09.00 on the Sunday morning of 21 Nov 1920. They appear to have about 2 men targeted at each address, so around 30 men were targeted that morning. Why so vague? Well the failures when the targets were not at home, are not mentioned in history. Neither do the addresses where the wrong men were shot attract many candidates for credit by hit squad members. There appear to have been between 200 and 300 IRA volunteers roaming the streets of a very small area of Dublin that morning

The IRA groups met on the evening of 20 November 1920, and were timed to move so that all the killings would be simultaneously taking place at 9am exactly on the following morning. This was a major operation that required a lot of planning.

Fifteen men were killed as a result of the IRA Operation on 21 Nov 1920, 12 men died immediately when they were shot in their bedrooms, another ( Montgomery) died later, and 2 Auxiliaries who were part of the British response were later killed, make fifteen in all. Four more were wounded.

A number of others escaped either with wounds, or from not being in their rooms when the attacks took place

Dr Bowden's poorly researched view                      Townshend's conclusions on the list of names and its value in ascribing men to being Intelligence Officers

As Townshend says, the evidence from Collins himself is that "the list" for the 21st November was not his alone, and had been augmented by the local IRA without perhaps the same evidence against the men murdered, as Collins had amassed against the men on his original list. Basically we do not know who was on Collins original list - in other words we do not know who was added by local IRA commanders, and we do not know who was on Collins list and who escaped by being out when the IRA arrived.

The operation was reasonably successful in killing a number of British Secret Service Agents. Of those killed I believe that 6 were Intelligence men (an analysis of this is given below) and at least further 7 Intelligence men on the list escaped death for one reason or another. Total number of Intelligence Officers in Ireland at that time was 98 Military Intelligence Officers (see details on British Intelligence) and a further 60 who had been infiltrated into Ireland By Basil Thomson . The 6 deaths of Intelligence Officers on Bloody Sunday was an inconvenience to the British, but not a disaster. Probably more of a worry to them was the fact that the IRA was able to pinpoint British Agents in Dublin.

Cairo Gang

The photo is invariably used for the Cairo gang, one print is in Bureau of Military History and its provenance is IRA papers. A discussion on it here. and this is certainly of named men from F Coy ADRIC. The men are nothing to do with the men who were murdered on Bloody Sunday. The Cairo Gang never existed and is an invention of the late 1950s

On of the strange myths that has grown up is that men targeted were members of a British hit squad called the Cairo Gang. The photo touted (above) is labeled by the IRA as "special gang" with their names on the back of the photo. It is in fact a Group from F Coy of the ADRIC who were neither targeted nor harmed on Bloody Sunday. There never was a "Cairo Gang"

British Intelligence in Ireland is a tortuous subject to research. By its nature, Intelligence serves leave few clues on their existence. More details can be found on this link. and I have examined both the structure of the British Intelligence system, and the individuals involved in it.

police sheet of murders

Dublin Metropolitan Police Incident Report. and a Times report of events

The men murdered were:

And it is important also to consider the men who escaped. 8 were probably Intelligence Officers. This is by no means a full list of those who escaped

Scenes as the bodies went through Dublin to be put on a destroyer bound for England

British Intelligence in Ireland

British Propaganda Apparatus

Men who died

Men who escaped

Addresses Raided by IRA

IRA men involved

IRA Address List

All British Army killed in Ireland 1919 to 1922

Civilians shot as British spies or informers

Civilians Shot by Crown Forces

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