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Extract: Ireland planned to ask the UK for help if Germany invaded in WW2

This ‘secret’ document from 1940 states that the Irish people would support the British troops if they came to help when Hitler invaded, but that British troops were not to step foot in Ireland until the invasion was underway.

Damage caused by bombing raid in Dublin May 30, 1941
Damage caused by bombing raid in Dublin May 30, 1941
Image: AP/Press Association Images

Crisis was facing Ireland from May-June 1940 with the threat of German occupation in Europe expanding. This report documents the minutes of a British-Irish co-operation talks where it was stated that mutual co-operation between Ireland and the United Kingdom was needed in order to stave off Hitler. The minutes of meeting between representatives of the Government of Éire and representatives of the Dominions Office and Service Departments of the United Kingdom is classed as “secret” and took place in London at 5.30 pm, 23 May 1940.

THE FOLLOWING WERE PRESENT:-

United Kingdom Éire
Sir Eric Machtig, Dominions Office Mr. Walshe
Mr. Stephenson, Dominions Office Colonel Archer
Commander J. Creswell, Admiralty
Major G.D.G. Heyman, War Office
Squadron Leader R.E. de T. Vintras, Air Ministry

SIR ERIC MACHTIG introduced Mr Walshe and Colonel Archer to the Service Representatives. He referred to the messages conveyed to the United Kingdom Government by Mr de Valera. He understood the position to be as follows. Éire would fight if attacked by Germany and would call in the assistance of the United Kingdom the moment it became necessary.

The political situation in Éire, however, was such that there could be no question of the Éire Government inviting in United Kingdom Troops before an actual German descent, and before fighting between the German and Éire forces had begun. If the United Kingdom forces arrived before such fighting had taken place, Mr de Valera could not be responsible for the political consequences. If, on the other hand, fighting was in progress between Éire and German forces and the United Kingdom forces came in to help, Éire opinion would give whole-hearted support to British forces.

It was against this background that the meeting had to consider the problem of mutual co-operation.

Mr Walshe agreed and said that as soon as it became apparent to the Irish people that an act of aggression had taken place against Ireland the whole attitude of the Irish people would change and they would gladly welcome support from British troops. Until the Irish people fully realised that the attack had come, however, the Irish Government could not call for British support.

The discussion first turned upon the question of the time at which the call for assistance should be given.

Calling for assistance too late

Major Heyman pointed out that if assistance was to be effective it was essential that the request should be made at the moment the first German foot was placed upon Irish soil. If it was delayed and the Germans became established it would be all the more difficult to turn them out. He drew a parallel with the recent German invasion of Holland. The call for assistance in that case came too late. It was true that the Germans could not follow up a landing by seaborne troops in Éire with great mechanised columns.

Colonel Archer appreciated that it was most desirable, if assistance was to be effective, that the call should be made at the earliest possible moment. He pointed out, however, that the political situation in Ireland was such that the Irish must take the first brunt of the attack. It would be quite impossible to call for assistance, even air assistance alone, until Irish public opinion had fully realised that the attack had taken place and that Irish troops were engaged.

This realisation might be a matter only of hours, although it might, in the event, be a matter of a day or two. He asked whether it would be sufficient if the arrival of parachute troops were immediately made known and aircraft were detailed to stand by to await the call.

image

Two German Dornier 217 planes pass over the burning bombing targets of the Beckton Gas Works at Silvertown, a suburb in the southeast of London, during the Battle of Britain in autumn 1940. (AP Photo)

Sending parachute troopers into Ireland

Mr Walshe asked whether, if a warning were received of the landing of parachute troops in Éire, fighter aircraft could not intercept the subsequent flights of troop carriers. As he understood it the doctrine of hot pursuit in Irish territorial waters was already established. It seemed unlikely that there would be any objection to fighters pursuing enemy aircraft and attacking them in Ireland.

Squadron Leader Vintras pointed out that interception could not be guaranteed, particularly during the hours of darkness when the troop carriers would probably pass our fighter defences. German aircraft could however be attacked on arrival if their probable destinations, as revealed by preparatory parachute landings, were known. The opportunity would be lost if no call for assistance had been made.

There was general agreement that the establishment of efficient and rapid communication between the Service Staffs in Ireland and the Service Staffs in the United Kingdom was of vital importance. At present no such arrangements existed. The perfecting of a first-class system of communications was therefore one of the first requirements in mutual co-operation.

The meeting then turned to consider, seriatim, certain precautionary measures which Service Departments suggested should be taken by the Government of Éire.

Protecting the ports

(1) That all shipping in and approaching ports should be searched with a view particularly to locating troops, munitions, refugees and suspicious characters.

Commander Creswell  pointed out that a landing by air alone would probably not be a threat of a decisive nature. The Navy would take all possible steps to prevent any reinforcements by sea. In the light of recent experience of German methods in Norway, it was vital that the Government of Éire should take all possible steps to scrutinise shipping, both in and approaching Irish ports.

Colonel Archer said that measures to this effect were receiving urgent consideration when he left Éire.

After a short discussion, Mr Walshe agreed that measures would be taken to tighten up precautions in this respect immediately.

Preventing the Germans from landing

(2) That preparations should be made to prevent enemy landings at aerodromes and seaplane bases, particularly Foynes, Baldonnell and Collinstown.

Colonel Archer outlined the measures which were in the process of being taken by the Irish Government to achieve this object. At Rineanna, for instance, the whole aerodrome was to be put out of commission except for a few small runways required for coastal reconnaissance aircraft. The aerodrome was being divided into sectors and staked and wired. Obstacles were being placed on the open runways when they were not in use and could be quickly moved into position in an emergency. Sandbagged M.G. positions were being erected round the ground and two armoured cars would patrol.

Similar measures were being taken at Baldonnell except that half of this aerodrome would be left open. At Collinstown two-thirds of the aerodrome was being put out of commission. In both cases piquets and machine gun posts were to be established and armoured cars would patrol.

Erecting obstacles in Phoenix Park

It was not proposed to erect obstacles in Phoenix Park which was used by the public. Similarly the Curragh was being left open. In this area, however, there was a considerable reserve and no difficulty was anticipated in dealing with any German attempt to land. Three other smaller aerodromes in the vicinity of Dublin were being put out of commission. In regard to the aerodrome at Oranmore (near Galway) it was proposed to render this unserviceable by cratering.

He asked whether, in the event of the Germans landing on Gormanston aerodrome the Navy would be able to render their position untenable by bombardment.

Commander Creswell undertook to examine this question with the Naval Staff and provide Colonel Archer with a considered opinion. In discussion…

… Squadron Leader Vintras emphasised the necessity for dispersing aircraft on aerodromes. With regard to the question of placing landing grounds out of commission, he asked whether it might be possible to establish stocks of bombs and petrol at suitable landing grounds, for use by British Air Forces, if in the event, their assistance was required. Phoenix Park would probably not be suitable for this purpose.

Colonel Archer asked Squadron Leader Vintras to let him know which particular aerodrome the air staff would like to use.

image

The British battleship Warspite, above, 30,600 tons, led the British fleet into the Narvik Fjord, Norway’s ore port, and sank seven German destroyers April 13, 1940. (AP Photo)

Seizing of the ports

(3) That preparations should be made to prevent the enemy seising ports, particularly Shannon, Cork, Galway, Swilly and Berehaven.

Colonel Archer described the general plans for the defence of ports. In cases in which there was no military forces at the port in question, defence was based upon mobile reserves.

Commander Creswell asked whether there were any local anti-submarine defences at any of the ports. In particular if the British Navy were to be called in to assist the use of Berehaven and possibly Cork would be a necessity, and/or these local defences would be required.

Colonel Archer said that the problem of the defence of ports was mainly a question of material and the availability of trained personnel.

Commander Creswell undertook to examine the question of the provision of material in conjunction with the Naval Staff and inform Colonel Archer of the position.

Interning of ‘undesirable’ charachters

(4) That all possible measures should be taken against ’5th Column’ activities including the supervision of the German Legation and German firms.

Major Heymen stressed the vital importance of ensuring that the closest watch was kept upon all undesirable characters. While appreciating the impracticability of interning all such persons forthwith, he earnestly requested the Irish representatives to make all arrangements so that they could be interned at very short notice.

Mr Walshe said that the Government of Éire were satisfied with the position as it now stood. If and when Éire were to become belligerent, there would be no difficulty in taking all necessary measures.

(5) That a complete blackout should be organised forthwith throughout the whole of Éire.

Preparing for a German attack

Major Heyman  then asked whether the Government of Éire were prepared to discuss detailed plans. The point was that if we were to be really prepared to meet a German attack, it was essential that ways and means should be discussed. This could be done with the greatest of secrecy if so desired. If it was agreed that this should be done, the War Office would be ready to start discussion in about three days’ time.

Mr Walshe and Colonel Archer agreed that this was the essence of the problem. There was no use in talking generalities, the object must be to obtain the closest possible mutual co-operation.

Major Heyman asked whether the detailed planning should be carried out in London or in Dublin. There might be certain advantages in their taking place in Dublin.

Mr Walshe undertook to consider this point.

It was agreed:

  • That the representatives of the Government of Éire should give immediate consideration to the precautionary measures suggested by Service Departments, on the lines set out in the above record of discussion.
  • That the immediate and most urgent problem was the establishment when the threat arises, of efficient and rapid communications between the Service Staffs in Éire and the United Kingdom. To this end expert advisers should be invited to meet Mr Walshe and Colonel Archer the next morning and advise on the necessary steps that should be taken.
  • That the representatives of the Government of Éire should be fully informed of the experience recently gained in respect of the following:-
  • That detailed planning to ensure the closest of mutual co-operation should be considered as soon as possible in the greatest secrecy. In this connection, Mr Walshe undertook to inform the Dominions Office whether it would be convenient that these conversations should take place in Dublin.

This report, taken from the sixth published volume of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy (DIFP) online, is a dark read, showing that the threat to the relatively new Irish state’s independence was imminent and over-powering in 1940. The series, produced by the Royal Irish Academy with support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and National Archives of Ireland, offers a unique insight into the outlook and mindset of diplomats and the Irish government during Ireland’s first international crisis as an independent nation. The volume is edited by Dr Michael Kennedy.

Extract: ‘We must anticipate war’ – 1945 Irish diplomats on the threat of World War III>

Extract: ‘Mr de Valera’s conviction that Hitler would win the war was stupid’>

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Michael Kennedy

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