I have had several conversations recently about Irish neutrality during WWII. I am curious about the opinion of The Wild Geese community.
In case you are not familiar with this piece of history: Ireland, under Taoiseach Éamon de Valera maintained neutrality throughout WWII. In discussions behind the scenes, representatives of the Irish government made statements indicating tacit support of both sides of the conflict. 50,000 Irish citizens volunteered to fight as part of the British armed forces. However, there was also sympathy towards Germany, with Fine Gael founder Eoin O'Duffy facilitating links between the IRA and the Nazis, and de Valera famously signing the book of condolence at Hitler's death. It was revealed in a 1970 biography that de Valera refused a British offer to end the partition of Ireland in exchange for Irish support of the Allies.
Secretary of the Department of External Affairs Joe Walshe, 1941:
"... small nations like Ireland do not and cannot assume a role as defenders of just causes except [their] own ... Existence of our own people comes before all other considerations ... no government has the right to court certain destruction for its people; they have to take the only chance of survival and stay out."
So, what do you say: Was Irish neutrality in WWII principled, pragmatic, or cowardly? Did "Dev" miss a chance to unite Ireland, and come out on the morally "right side" of history?
Reference for Walshe quotation: Collins, M.E., 1993, Ireland 1868-1966, Dublin: the Educational Company of Ireland. p. 371
Thanks for your comments Joe. I guess there are many new forum members who do not know me as well as you do, who might think I am anti-American. I of course resent any suggestion that my comments were anti-American, but to be fair, I think most of the complaints related to a post by another member which was quickly deleted.
I do not understand how any discussion about de Valera's and Ireland's role in WW2 can take place without comparing his actions, and the actions of his country, with those of other western countries.
I think that de Valera was a fool for visiting Hempel, but to claim that he was pro-Nazi is ridiculous. A telling comment on de Valera's true relationship with the Jews can be seen from the fact that in 1965 a forest was established at Kfar Hanna, near Nazareth, which was paid for by the Jewish community of Ireland. A year later the forest was formally dedicated in a ceremony involving Irish Jews and was named the Eamonn de Valera Forest in tribute to the Irish President.
Kieron, DeValera was also very good friends with Robert Briscoe the Jewish member of Sinn Feinn, the IRA and later Fianna Fail and the very Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin. According to his own memoirs Briscoe was very frustrated with Jewish leaders in Poland who he repeatedly visited and begged to get their people out. They were convinced Hitler was all rhetoric and so did nothing. I'm certainly not blaming the Jews for the Holocaust but I mean if even they were not frightened enough to leave, why should the Irish now be expected to have declared war on Germany in 1936 or 7? After the war Briscoe used things he learned while in the IRA (and while still a member of the Dail for Fianna Fail), to actively help in the creation of the state of Israel in their war with the UK. His specialty was gun running. Now if Briscoe did not find his friend DeValera to be anti-Semitic, I have to wonder why so many non-Jewish Irish revisionists do.
I took this photo a month ago at Blacksod Lighthouse at the southern tip of the Mullet peninsula, in north-west Co. Mayo. Blacksod Lighthouse was the most westerly weather station in Europe and so it had the honour of providing the vital weather forecast that enabled the D-Day invasion to take place on 6th June, during a brief break in the unseasonal bad weather.
In addition to providing continuous weather forecasts for the Allies, "neutral" Ireland also provided the Allies with sightings of U-Boats and German aircraft, interned downed German pilots and washed-up sailors for the duration of the war, yet frequently released Allied service personnel, or permitted them to cross the border into Northern Ireland (including General Jacob Devers, the future commander of 6th Army Group during the liberation of western Europe, who crash-landed near Galway), provided air corridors for Allied aircraft across Irish airspace, permitted Allied flying boats to be stationed at Foynes on the river Shannon, passed intercepted German and Italian radio messages to the Allies, drew up joint Irish-British plans for combined resistance to any German invasion of Ireland, permitted Britain to establish offices in southern Ireland to recruit Irish people to work in vital British war production etc
The England football team giving the Nazi salute in Berlin.
The former British King meeting Hitler
Prince Philip (circled), who later married Princess Elizabeth (the current British Queen) attending the Nazi funeral of his Nazi sister. In the middle of the row behind him (in the long black coat) is Lord Louis Mountbatten.
These photos were taken before the war, but the Nazis had already begun persecuting their opponents, introduced discriminatory, anti-Jewish laws, reoccupied the Rhineland, began remilitarisation, bombed Guernica in Spain. If Britain is not considered to be pro-Nazi in 1938 despite events such as those listed above having occurred, why is southern Ireland considered by some to be pro-Nazi because it didn't declare war when Germany attacked Poland in 1939?
Southern Ireland was in no position to enter a modern war. The statistics below clearly show that Ireland did not have any modern armed forces that could have played any significant part in an offensive against the Germany, and would have struggled to defend any Irish port, or town, for more than a few hours, if attacked. Those stats only tell part of the story. Even if Southern Ireland had entered the war, it did not have any industrial base with which to equip an expanded military, nor did it have any sizeable natural resources such as coal, iron-ore, tin, oil etc. Yes, Britain may well have equipped the Irish military, but would not have been able to do so for some time because it was already struggling to produce sufficient war materiel to equip its own expanding armed forces. In the meantime Ireland would have been vulnerable to attack, and would have required several British divisions and fighter squadrons to be stationed there - vital divisions and squadrons that were needed to defend Britain itself from invasion.
Irish Army in 1939
Manpower: 19,136 men including 7,600 Regulars in 5 Regular infantry battalions
Irish armoured forces in 1939: 25 armoured cars, 2 cyclist squadrons “Peddling Panzers”
British Army in 1939
6 Regular divisions, 13 Territorial divisions
Tanks: 2 x armoured divisions
Plus the manpower and resources of Canada, Australia, New Zealand South Africa, India and the rest of the Empire
French Army in 1939
Manpower: 5,900,000 including 900,000 Regulars
Divisions: 63 infantry, 7 motorised infantry, 3 armoured, 3 light mechanised, 5 cavalry, 13 fortress fortress
Total: 94 divisions
German Army in 1939
Manpower: 3,737,000 in army (4,222,000 in total in Wehrmacht/armed forces)
103 divisions, including 6 armoured
Irish Naval Service in 1939
Displacement: 323 tons
Speed: 15 knots
Armament: 1 x 12pdr, 2 x .303in mg
Displacement: 258 tons
Speed: 12 knots
Armament: 1 x 12pdr, 2 x .303in mg
In 1939 the Irish Marine Service strength also included a mine-planting vessel and a training schooner.
Royal Navy in 1939
Battleships and Battlecruisers: 12
Aircraft Carriers: 6
Seaplane Carriers: 2
Fleet Cruisers: 35
Trade Route/Convoy Cruisers: 23
Fleet Destroyers 100
Escort Destroyers and Sloops: 101
Manpower: 200,000 officers and men
French Navy in 1939
Aircraft carrier: 1
Seaplane carrier: 1
German Navy in 1939
Battleships: 2 + 2 nearing completion
Old Battleships: 2
Pocket Battleships: 3
Aircraft Carriers: 1 under construction
Heavy Cruisers: 2 + 1 nearing completion
Light Cruisers: 6
Destroyers: 22 + 12 under construction
Torpedo boats: 20 + 13 under construction
Irish Air Corps in 1939
Strength: 16 service aircraft, 6 of which were unserviceable 3 of these were obsolete Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters
There were also 17 serviceable and 15 unserviceable training aircraft
Royal Air Force in 1939
Strength: 4,275 aircraft including: 928 fighters & 1,986 bombers in the European Theatre
French Air Force in 1939
Strength: 1,114 fighters, 1,002 bombers
Luftwaffe in 1939
Strength: 4,093 aircraft including: 1,179 fighters, 1,176 bombers, 335 dive-bombers
One has to look at Dev;s decision not from our vantage point but from his position and Irelands condition at this time in history. Chamberlain has been attacked for trying to appease Hitler, but might he have been looking for more time to allow the British Armed Forces to prepare for the unfolding events?? I have no specifics but would side on the pragmatic prognosis on Irish neutrality. America stayed neutral as long as it could for pragmatic reasons too.