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Ирландское Свободное Государство / Irish Free State


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Infantry in ‘Battle Order’, Irish Free State Army, 1930

 

Excellent colourized photograph of men of an infantry battalion of the Army of the Irish Free State, undertaking field exercises on the Curragh plain of County Kildare, in 1930 (they are most probably from the 3rd Infantry Battalion, whose depôt was the army training camp located on the Curragh). On the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922, the new government formed a provisional ‘National Army’, initially composed of volunteers from the Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.) who supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty (which created the Free State as a Dominion within the British Commonwealth) and who defended it against the staunch republicans of the anti-Treaty faction of the I.R.A. The Imperial legacy remained strong, however: by 1923, Irishmen who had served in the British Army 1923 comprised 50% of the 53,000 troops of the ‘National Army’, and 20% of its officers. Once the Civil War was concluded in favour of the Free State, troop numbers were slashed, and the military forces of the state reorganised and put on a statutory footing in 1924 as the ‘Irish Defence Forces’ (Oglaigh na hEireann). Until the creation of the ‘Marine Service’ in 1939 (renamed the ‘Naval Service’ in 1946), the Army (including the Army Air Corps) was the sole component force of the ‘Irish Defence Forces’.

 

These infantrymen wear the Model 1924 uniform, which was regulation Service-Dress till 1940. Very similar to the British khaki Service-Dress, the Irish version was also made from serge, but differed in being in dark-green, with high-cut stand-and-fall collars usually worn tightly closed. On the soldiers’ collars we see the arm-of-service insignia of the infantry, i.e. crossed rifles. Issue trousers were cut as breeches, and unlike in the British Army, brown-leather leggings were worn instead of puttees. As we see here, weapons and equipment were British. As with the British Army, the standard service rifle of the Irish Free State Army was the 10-round, .303-inch ‘Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield Mark III’ (in British service, redesignated the ‘Rifle Number 1, Mark 111’ in 1926.). And as with the British Army, the standard infantry equipment was the ‘Web Equipment, Pattern 1908’, though the Irish Defence Forces blackened the webbing, and brought it to a high sheen with a mixture of boot polish and candle grease. Here the men are in ‘Battle Order’, whereby the Pack was removed, and the Haversack worn on the back in its place: the haversack of the ‘Small Box Respirator’ is worn on the chest in the ‘Alert’ position. In search of a silhouette on the battlefield distinct from the British, the Irish Free State Army trialled the French ‘Adrian’ steel helmet in the late 1920s: this design being found unsuitable, the Irish government finally settled on the German Model 1916, though due to post-war limitations on German production of war matériel, copies of the design were manufactured by Vickers Ltd, in the United Kingdom, as the Model 1928. In the photograph we can see clearly, on the front of the helmets, the welded-on metal loops which should have been used to attach the universal-pattern Army cap-badge. Initially painted dark-green, M.28 helmets were usually blackened in the field, to hide the wear-and-tear of field conditions, leading to troops being popularly dubbed ‘The Black Uhlans’.

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Edited by cmf
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The ‘Irish Defence Forces’ Cap Badge (or ‘F.F. badge’ as it is sometimes called) is common to all services and corps of the ‘Irish Defence Forces’. Although principally associated with the Irish Army (Defence Force regulations in fact describe it as ‘the Army Badge’) it is also worn by and appears in elements of the insignia of the ‘Naval Service’ and ‘Air Corps’.

 

The badge was designed in 1913 by Eoin MacNeill, a founding member and chairman of the 'Irish Volunteers’. It was worn by republicans in the 1916 Easter Rising. Before the Civil War, the Irish Free State Army adopted the badge. ‘Other Ranks’ wore the badge in brass (currently ‘Stay-Brite’ anodised aluminium), while senior Non-Commissioned Officers and all Officers up to the rank of Colonel wear a version in dark-bronze. Colonels and Generals wear the design in gold bullion, on a red cloth backing.

 

The badge itself consists of a sunburst, surmounted by an 8-pointed star, at the centre of which are the letters ‘F.F.’ (Fianna Fáil) in Gaelic script, encircled by a representation of an ancient warrior's sword belt. Upon this belt is inscribed ‘Óglaigh na hÉireann’ (‘Soldiers [or volunteers] of Ireland’).

 

The word ‘Fianna’ is the name of the ancient military organisation (circa 3rd Century A.D.) forming what then corresponded to the standing Army of the country. The word ‘Fáil’ means ‘Destiny’. One of the ancient names of Ireland was ‘Inishfáil’ (‘the Isle of Destiny’) and ‘Fianna Fáil’ thus signifies the ‘Fianna (or Army) of Ireland’. The sunburst (An Gal GrÉine) was the traditional battle symbol of the ‘Fianna’. There is no symbolic meaning to the use of the star in the design of the badge, it being included purely for aesthetic reasons.

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Edited by cmf
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  • 2 weeks later...

Views of the Model 1928 helmet, inspired by the German Model 1916. During the 1920s a distinctive helmet was sought for the Irish Defence Forces, and though the Free State Army had a very British appearance in many respects, it was decided to seek an alternative to the option of the British ‘Helmet, Steel, Mark I’. After trials of the French ‘Adrian’ helmet proved disappointing, the government of the Irish Free State contacted the German government to request quantities of German patterns to field test. However, advised by Berlin that this was impossible, given the limitations on the production and export of war matériel imposed by the Treaty of Versailles (the ‘Reichswehr’ was limited to one helmet per soldier in the 100,000 man army, with an additional 15,000 helmets allowed held in reserve), the Free State authorities subsequently approached the British firm of Vickers Ltd (which had acquired a captured German helmet press) to supply 5,000 helmets of a design similar to the German Model 1916. These were to be supplied ready in time for field evaluation during the autumn manoeuvres of 1928: the trials were successful, and a total of 10,021 helmets were manufactured by Vickers for use by the Free State Defence Forces, which had 10,000 men under arms. Vickers subsequently, though unsuccessfully, marketed the helmet commercially as the ‘Export No. 5 Pattern’.

 

The Model 1928 helmets (commonly just called the ‘Vickers’ helmet) were distinct in design and manufacture from the German Model 1916 in a number of ways. In handling the helmet, most obvious was its lighter weight and inferior quality of construction (many helmets becoming cracked and unserviceable): it is still uncertain as to whether the low-grade steel used was a deliberate choice made by the Irish government, for reasons of economy, or whether it was due to Vickers’ inability to stamp nickel steel to the same gauge as the Germans had achieved in World War One. In silhouette, the dip between the peak and the neck guard was far shallower, and curved, than on the German Model 1916, almost reminiscent of the Austro-Hungarian ‘Berndorfer’ in that respect. Two brass loop mounts were fixed to the front of the helmet, to allow the attachment of the Irish Defence Forces’ helmet badge: this was in design exactly similar to the standard cap badge, but for all-ranks was heavily bronzed (as normally only worn by officers on the Service Dress cap), and had prong attachments suitable only for the helmet.

 

The Model 1928 helmet was worn by the Irish Defence Forces till about 1940, at which point the British ‘Helmet, Steel, Mark II’ was adopted, with the Model 1928 subsequently relegated to Civil Defence use, badges removed, and the helmets painted white (thus, many helmets still in existence today, and which have been restored, such as those below, have had brass ‘Other Ranks’ cap badges incorrectly attached).

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Edited by cmf
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Hi Andrew! They are an interesting and little-known subject, and very collectible today. . . more than half of the helmets made were bulldozed into the ground as a foundation filling for an Irish Army barracks in the 1970s, along with some old Bren Gun Carriers. . . :scratch_one-s_head: . . . here's another example, this time in the remnants of the white paint applied for use by Civil Defence units . . .

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Infantry section, in 'Battle Order', circa 1928-1931. Note the British manufactured 'Gun, Machine, Lewis, .303-inch Mark I', which the Irish Defence Forces adopted as the standard infantry section light machine-gun. The troops are wearing the first pattern of brass infantry arm-of-service collar insignia, ie crossed rifles behind a disc bearing the battalion number, above a scroll bearing the title 'Ceitearnact' in Gaelic script. 'Ceitearnact' anglicises as 'Kern', the name of a type of Irish light infantryman seen during the Middle Ages. This insignia was worn from 1924 till 1931, and its use here together with the Model 1928 steel helmet indicates the likely date-range of the photograph.

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Vickers machine-gun crew, in 'Battle Order', circa 1928-1940. As with the Lewis light machine-gun, the Irish Defence Forces adopted the British water-cooled 'Gun, Machine, Vickers, .303-inch Mark I' as a standard infantry weapon, in the Vickers' case as battalion medium machine-guns. This particular gun (on a standard Mark IVB tripod) was manufactured after 1918, when, for ease of production, guns were made ​​without their hitherto distinctive fluted water-jackets. Note the tangent rear-sight, which was marked from 100 to 2,900 yards in 100 yard increments, and the 250-round, canvas, ammunition belt. Although seven or eight men comprised a Vickers machine-gun crew, we see here only the 'No. 1 ', or' Gunner ', and the' No. 2 ', or' Gunner's Assistant '.

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Lewis light machine-gun crew, in ‘Battle Order’, circa 1928-1940. Excellent study of both the Defence Forces Badge as worn on the Model 1928 helmet, and the gas-operated, air-cooled ‘Gun, Machine, Lewis, .303-inch Mark 1’. Note the Lewis gun’s 47-round, top-mounted pan magazine, and the adjustable-leg bipod, folded under the barrel jacket. This particular weapon was manufactured after World War One, as indicated by the circular depression on the stock, which was a design feature introduced post-war, and intended to take a brass disc identifying weapon and unit. Mirroring the British Army’s decision in 1935 to adopt the ‘Gun, Machine, Bren, .303-inch Mark 1’ as the replacement for the Lewis in the section light machine-gun rôle, the Irish Defence Forces placed an order for the Bren in 1937, but slow delivery meant that the Lewis soldiered on in front-line Irish service until the 1940s.

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