In the Guerrilla Logistics post from yesterday, one of the comments was absolutely superb in highlighting the challenges and resulting limitations the Irish experienced during the Black and Tan War.

The West Cork IRA Flying Column had a terrible logistic problem in the 1919-1921 Black and Tan War with England. The Units commander Tom Barry, described the initial class V situation as grim and the tactics had to be tailored to the specific mission of engaging the enemy specifically to resupply by pickup from enemy casualties. Obviously, with almost nothing on hand initially, the early targets were chosen because they were lightly defended by small details who were not primarily front line combat soldiers. An early raid to destroy a coastal lighthouse is a good example. The beacon was of little military value, but the disarmed coasties provided a few more rifles, handguns, and ammunition. By carefully selecting weaker targets that could be overwhelmed with low risk to the insurgent force, Barry was able to build up a stockpile of about 300 Lee Enfields and a Lewis Gun. The West Cork IRA Flying Column therefore had an operational strength of 300 men. There were relief IRA gunmen available who had no arms, so the replacements took the weapons from the men they were relieving at designated times and places and the operational force was always fresh for new assignments. There was a well developed underground organisation to look after security, medivac, and such classes of supply that the impoverished Irish countryside could provide, but the only way to obtain arms at the local and regional level was to take them from the British police and military. The roadside ambushes conducted by Barry’s men featured special task details who had no job other than to sweep the kill zone for enemy arms and equipment after the action. Barry’s men knew that they had better make the most of their shots because the typical combat load was just 5 rounds. They became experts at the efficient ambush out of this necessity and were the same men who ambushed and killed Michael Collins and his Free State troops in the 1922 Irish Civil War.

The training, development of tactics, operational history of this force is described in detail in Tom Barry’s book “Guerilla Days in Ireland”.The national level leadership of the IRA operating clandestinely in Dublin was eventually able to obtain some Thompson Submachine guns from America by way of smuggling networks, but these were few, and late, and obviously added to the ammo supply problem by way of rate of fire and unique .45 ammunition. The lessons for the impoverished, isolated insurgent are many , but chief among them is that battlefield pickup is an emergency expedient. If that is your only option you had better pick your fights carefully and make sure you win them quickly.

Learn from the past, gents. Get what you can for the Troubles that lay ahead.

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