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Osprey - Essential Histories 065 - The Anglo-Irish War 1913-1922

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56 Essential HistoriesThe Anglo-Irish War restart the war in the county. The big difference between the Tans and the rest of the RIC was that most of them were ex-soldiers who brought the mentality of the trench-raid to policing. The 2,200 men of the ADRIC or Auxiliaries brought another violent edge to the conflict. The ADRIC was meant to take the fight to the IRA and its men were based in the worst trouble spots. Despite its reservations about ex-soldiers, the IRA did recruit them for their expertise. One of the most famous was the son of a policeman and ex-Royal Artillery Sergeant, Tom Barry, who helped train and then led the West Cork Brigade Flying Column. Barry was a ruthless guerrilla leader who prosecuted a merciless war against the Essex Regiment and the RIC. On 28 November 1920, Barry ambushed two truckloads of Auxiliaries from C Company based in Macroom Castle. The ambush was an overwhelming success for the IRA, leaving 16 dead and one so badly injured that he was paraplegic for the rest of his life, for the cost of three dead Volunteers. One man, Cadet Guthrie, escaped but was later captured and murdered by the IRA who hid his body in a bog. As a result C Company was moved to Dublin and later disbanded. The Kilmichael ambush, 28 November 1920 The IRA ambush that took place on the afternoon of Sunday 28 November 1920 on a quiet country road near Kilmichael, Co. Cork, is perhaps one of the best known and most controversial incidents of the Irish War of Independence. It is impossible to know exactly what actually happened, as several contradictory accounts survive. Even the man who commanded the IRA at Kilmichael, Tom Barry, produced different accounts of the event in his after-action report and in his memoirs. Compared to the losses suffered by British forces in the First World War, or even Iraq in the 1920s, the British loss at Kilmichael of some 17 men was insignificant. However, what was deeply significant was that members of the IRA's No. 3 (West) Cork Brigade managed to defeat an Auxiliary patrol in a conventional operation and undermine the Auxiliaries' reputation as 'super fighters'. The IRA commander, Tom Barry, carried out a classically simple and ruthlessly executed ambush employing cut-offs and killing groups to eliminate the police patrol. Despite the fact that all of the policemen were combat veterans and many were decorated for bravery, they died at Kilmichael because they had become complacent, letting down their guard and failing to vary the routes used by their patrols. Barry claimed that he had known that the policemen would use the Kilmichael road as early as the Monday before, and that it was only a matter of time before he was able to spring his trap. In all probability, Barry did not intend any of the policemen to survive; after all, as an ex-British soldier he would have been aware that wellexecuted ambushes rarely leave survivors. It is more likely that Barry set out to kill all of the policemen in the patrol to send a message to both his own men and to the Auxiliaries. Barry was the son of a policeman and an ex-soldier and he needed to prove his Republican credentials to his IRA comrades-in-arms, whilst he also needed to break the psychological hold that the Auxiliaries had over many rebels by showing that they could be defeated. Nothing could more graphically serve that purpose than annihilating an ADRIC patrol. The British later claimed that some of the policemen had been shot after they had surrendered, and that others had been mutilated with axes after they had been shot. There is, however, no evidence to support British claims that the bodies had been mutilated. In Guerrilla Days, Barry claimed that some of the British had pretended to surrender in order to lure his men into the open, and then fired on them killing Volunteers Michael McCarthy, Jim Sullivan and Pat Deasy and wounding Jack Hennesy, causing his men to ignore further pleas for mercy. What is perplexing is that

The fighting 57 Barry did not mention the 'false surrender' in his report, nor do some of the other survivors of the attack. Another contradiction in Barry's Guerrilla Days is his claim that Cadet Cecil Guthrie was wounded and crawled off into a bog where he drowned. In reality he did escape the killing ground only to be captured and shot two days later by the IRA. It is hard to believe that one of the most active and effective IRA leaders in west Cork would have been unaware of Guthrie's fate or why he felt compelled to lie about it. Although the truth will never be known as to what exactly happened at Kilmichael, there is a rough consensus over the course of events. Barry's scouts spotted the patrol, consisting of two lorries carrying men of No. 2 Section, C Company, ADRIC, at about 4.05pm coming from the direction of Macroom. Shortly afterwards the two vehicles entered the killing area and an IRA man dressed in full Volunteer Officers uniform, possibly Barry, stepped into the road and flagged them down. This ruse was intended to slow the lorries down so that they could be engaged with hand grenades. Whether the Auxiliaries mistook the man in the road for a British officer or not, the ruse worked and slowed the lead vehicle. The blast killed the driver and the passenger in the cab and a hail of gunfire quickly dealt with the remainder in the back. The map on p.55 clearly shows where each of the policemen died, indicating that, unlike those in the lead vehicle, the men in the second lorry had the chance to put up much more of a fight. Cadet Guthrie, driving the second vehicle, attempted to manoeuvre out of danger but was prevented from doing so by one of the cut-off groups. A brisk firefight developed, and it was during this engagement that the 'false surrender' is said to have taken place. The FOLLOWING PAGE British troops at the Jervis St Hospital. Dublin, after the Croke Park shootings in November 1920. (Courtesy of National Library of Ireland, Photographic Archive)

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