Monday, 26 April 2010

I have been reading ... a book about the Irish Army

I have just finished re-reading Donal MacCarron's book about the Irish Army during the Second World War. The book is 'STEP TOGETHER!' (Published in 1999 by Irish Academic Press [ISBN 0 7165 2619 0]) and it tells the story of the Irish Army from the outbreak of World War II – when it only numbered 7,500 men – until 1945 when it had 60,000 full-time and 290,000 part-time personnel.

The book is full of wonderful anecdotes as well as numerous black and white photographs. I bought it some time ago and read it almost straight away, but since my interest in the inter-war era has been growing … and I have been looking for a prototype small European army upon which to base one or more of my imagi-nation armies … it seemed the right time to read it again.

I would recommend this book to any reader who has an interest in some of the more obscure armies of the 1930s and 1940s; it is well worth trying to find a copy if you can.


  1. It sounds very interesting--I really don't know much of anything about Ireland during the War, except that I've always been a bit perplexed at its remaining neutral. I'm aware of Ireland's antipathy towards the UK, of course, and towards Churchill in particular, but given the alternative ... would Ireland have really been OK with a German victory?!

    I noticed the picture on the jacket indicates a uniform very similar to that of the UK, which given the hatred noted above, is rather ironic.

  2. Chris J,

    One thing to remember is that De Valera had been a leading Anti-Treaty Republican, and had fought against the Pre-Treaty Republicans during the Irish Civil War (in which, incidentally, the casualties were higher than during the period between 1916 and Partition/Home Rule i.e. the War for Independence). He was, as a result, very pro-neutral.

    The Irish economy had been hard hit by the Depression, there was still considerable resentment as a result of the Partition, and the antipathy of Churchill to De Valera (and vice versa) meant that Ireland was in no state to fight on either side, and as a young nation did not want to.

    The Irish would have resisted any invasion, had it come, but I suspect that they knew that a German one was unlikley because of the distance involved, and that a British one was unlikely because the UK needed US support (who would have been against such a move) and could not spare the forces to mount the operation.

    The uniform question is an interesting one. Before 1939 the Irish Army uniform was very Germanic in style because of the use of a German-style steel helmet (made by Vickers!) and tall leather leggings. This was replaced by a much more Anglo-Saxon style of uniform, with Britain supplying large numbers of 'battle bowlers' to replace the earlier helmets. The Irish Army did not adopt the Battledress tunic (they kept a longer style of jacket tunic simlar to that worn the the US Army) or Battledress trousers (the Irish wore long straight trousers that were gathered together into leather 'jampot' gaiters). So they looked more like the US Army of 1940/41 than the British Army.

    All the best,


    PS. I understand that more Irishmen served in the Regular British Army from 1939 to 1945 than served in the Irish Army during the same period, so their sympathies would appear to be - at heart - more pro-British and/or anti-Nazi than not.

  3. I remember an Airfix magazine from the late 60's which had great photos of Irish troops in their Germanic uniforms armed with lee enfields and Vickers Mgs - pure Imagi-nation stuff.

    I used some jacklex 20mm WW1 Germans as Irish in a couple of tabletop adventures.


  4. Mark,

    Your reminder about the Jacklex range is very timely ... especially as the Vintage Wargaming website has news about Jack Alexander launching a 'new' range of figures!

    All the best,



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