Irish Neutrality 1939-45: How Much of It was a Sham?


owedtojoy

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There is a pervasive myth that Irish neutrality 1939-1945 was scrupulously even-handed and principled.

That was not true. One historian (Joe Lee) described De Valera's policy as "anglophile", adding that Dev did not have to endure from the Allies the same bullying endured by the Spanish, Swedes and Swiss from Hitler.

Ronan Fanning in Independent Ireland takes from British Cabinet records a list of the way Ireland helped the Allied cause - a list that surprised even its most anti-Irish members.

Below, They = The Irish (my own comments are in [])

  1. They agreed to the use of Lough Foyle for naval and air purposes.
  2. They agreed to an air corridor for aircraft taking off from Lough Erne.
  3. They agreed to the transmission of information regarding submarine activity.
  4. They broadcast reports by their Air Observer Corps of aircraft sighted over Southern Ireland.
  5. They arranged for the extinction of trade and business lighting in coastal towns [so as to confuse German aircraft].
  6. They continued to supply meteorological reports [one of which was vital for D-Day]
  7. They agreed to the use of two radio-direction-finding stations at Malin Head.
  8. They arranged for staff talks on the question of co-operation in the event of a possible German invasion of Southern Ireland.
  9. They interned all German fighting personnel reaching Southern Ireland. On the other hand, Allied personnel are returned.
  10. They have agreed to return German prisoners-of-war who escape from Northern Ireland to Southern Ireland.
  11. They continue to exchange security information.
  12. They agreed to establish a radar station in Southern Ireland.
De Valera, by means of the strictest censorship ever in the history of the state, kept these facts from the Irish public, who were led to believe that our neutrality was a reality.

Eunan O'Hailpin in Defending Ireland puts it differently. He says the British and Americans "extracted a considerable price for tolerating Irish neutrality, which was large paid in secret". But it was a price Dev was more than willing to pay so as to display a faux "even handedness" to his pro-German Republican adversaries. He feared these internal enemies more than he feared the Allies.

So, was 1939-1945 Irish neutrality a "sham"? It was certainly more pragmatic than principled, but where you set the bar between sham and sincerity probably depends initially on your own bias and political affiliation.
 
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McTell

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No
Yes, that all happened, but we kept very quiet about it.

Probably why DeV stayed neutral from 1944, the definite aspergers moment on his part.
 

owedtojoy

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Yes, that all happened, but we kept very quiet about it.

Probably why DeV stayed neutral from 1944, the definite aspergers moment on his part.
You have a point ... Irish neutrality made sense in 1940 and 1941. Increasing the British defense perimeter by 50% could have made no sense. The British could barely defend themselves.

Allied aircraft and ships patrolling from Northern Ireland, plus the air corridors we gave the British meant they did not need a port in the South for the Battle of the Atlantic, which was the "front" we could influence the most.

After 1943, the case for neutrality weakens because clearly an Allied victory was in Ireland's interests (and so it proved). However, Dev decided that all means short of war was the easier way to defeat Republican subversion.
 

ruserious

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I don't mean to sound ignorant, but hasn't all this been discussed many times before with common agreement?
 

Hitch 22

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From what we know now Hitler never had the capability to launch an invasion of Britain.
In 1940 it would have taken years to build up a surface fleet to match the British especially after the Germans lost so many vessels in the invasion of Norway.
The Germans never could conceived of building thousands and thousands of landing craft and the prefabricated harbors that were used by the Allies on D-Day.
British and American production of aircraft outstripped German production early in the war.
Hitler saw the British Empire as a natural ally rather than an enemy and his primary focus since the 1920s was an apocalyptic military confrontation with Soviet Russia.
German U-boats could not stop the convoys bringing men, weapons and supplies to Britain and the Germans did not have the capability to invade the American East Coast.
It is difficult to see how the Nazis could have implemented Plan Green - the proposed invasion of Ireland - with any hope of success if they couldn't defeat Britain.

After 1943-1944 when it was clear that Germany had lost the war and defeat was only a matter of time, Ireland should have declared war on Germany as most of the world had already done so. At that stage Ireland's involvement would have been minimal. We had no air force or navy of any significance and our troops had no experience of modern warfare. At most they would have been involved in occupation duties in Germany after the war. Our independence from Britain would have been in no way compromised by us participating.
 
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Con Gallagher

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Given that the Irish Defence Force did not part in armed combat with either side demonstrates that the country was militarily neutral. A pragmatic decision not to enter the war (eg in the basis of our anti-aircraft power, risk to civilians, loss of soldiers, many Irish soldiers who joined the British would have had to defend the State instead of engaging in the war effort v being on the winning side, benefit of a Marshall aid plan, a deal on partition) but it was elevated to a principle. De Valera's biggest mistake was to pay respect to the US ambassador on the death of FDR, which then required him (and President Hyde) to go the Germans a few weeks later (which was somewhat offensive then, but appears morally bankrupt now).
 

Lain2016

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There is a pervasive myth that Irish neutrality 1939-1945 was scrupulously even-handed and principled.

That was not true. One historian (Joe Lee) described De Valera's policy as "anglophile", adding that Dev did not have to endure from the Allies the same bullying endured by the Spanish, Swedes and Swiss.

Ronan Fanning in Independent Ireland takes from British Cabinet records a list of the way Ireland helped the Allied cause - a list that surprised even its most anti-Irish members.

Below, They = The Irish (my own comments are in [])

  1. They agreed to the use of Lough Foyle for naval and air purposes.
  2. They agreed to an air corridor for aircraft taking off from Lough Erne.
  3. They agreed to the transmission of information regarding submarine activity.
  4. They broadcast reports by their Air Observer Corps of aircraft sighted over Southern Ireland.
  5. They arranged for the extinction of trade and business lighting in coastal towns [so as to confuse German aircraft].
  6. They continued to supply meteorological reports [one of which was vital for D-Day]
  7. They agreed to the use of two radio-direction-finding stations at Malin Head.
  8. They arranged for staff talks on the question of co-operation in the event of a possible German invasion of Southern Ireland.
  9. They interned all German fighting personnel reaching Southern Ireland. On the other hand, Allied personnel are returned.
  10. They have agreed to return German prisoners-of-war who escape from Northern Ireland to Southern Ireland.
  11. They continue to exchange security information.
  12. They agreed to establish a radar station in Southern Ireland.
De Valera, by means of the strictest censorship ever in the history of the state, kept these facts from the Irish public, who were led to believe that our neutrality was a reality.

Eunan O'Hailpin in Defending Ireland puts it differently. He says the British and Americans "extracted a considerable price for tolerating Irish neutrality, which was large paid in secret". But it was a price Dev was more than willing to pay so as to display a faux "even handedness" to his pro-German Republican adversaries. He feared these internal enemies more than the feared the Allies.

So, was 1939-1945 Irish neutrality a "sham"? It was certainly more pragmatic than principled, but where you set the bar between sham and sincerity probably depends initially on your own bias and political affiliation.
I dont think that "myth" is accepted very much these days, most people know we were neutral/for the Allies.

It was pragmatic and real politik, we had little or no choice...
 

owedtojoy

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I don't mean to sound ignorant, but hasn't all this been discussed many times before with common agreement?
Possibly, but I have been reading here for some time without noticing.

Also, most posters put up a defence of Irish neutrality as a principled stand by the Irish, and so it was presented by Dev's government at the time. My aim is to challenge that by showing it was pragmatically pro-Allied in practice, something kept hidden from the Irish public.
 

ruserious

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Possibly, but I have been reading here for some time without noticing.

Also, most posters put up a defence of Irish neutrality as a principled stand by the Irish, and so it was presented by Dev's government at the time. My aim is to challenge that by showing it was pragmatically pro-Allied in practice, something kept hidden from the Irish public.
They were non-alligned on the side of the allies. I thought that was pretty much common knowledge.
 

stopdoingstuff

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Also, most posters put up a defence of Irish neutrality as a principled stand by the Irish, and so it was presented by Dev's government at the time. My aim is to challenge that by showing it was pragmatically pro-Allied in practice, something kept hidden from the Irish public.
It depends on the principle I suppose. It did enough to keep us out of any direct conflict and allowed us to officially assert our independence, while at the same time aiding the Allies just enough to keep them from making imperialist demands on our ports and our cannon fodder, I mean, troops. Classic FF- nice one Dev. Then in the long run, it laid down a marker that kept us out of NATO, and out of such proxy-wars as Korea and Vietnam.
 

Con Gallagher

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There is a pervasive myth that Irish neutrality 1939-1945 was scrupulously even-handed and principled.
How pervasive was that "myth"? Eg fire engines being sent north, residents being aware that there were only German prisoners, no enforcement to prevent Irishmen joining the British army, news broadcasts being predominantly allied, pro-german ira men being detained. Is there any evidence that Irish people at the time believed this myth?
 

stopdoingstuff

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It depends on the principle I suppose. It did enough to keep us out of any direct conflict and allowed us to officially assert our independence, while at the same time aiding the Allies just enough to keep them from making imperialist demands on our ports and our cannon fodder, I mean, troops. Classic FF- nice one Dev. Then in the long run, it laid down a marker that kept us out of NATO, and out of such proxy-wars as Korea and Vietnam.
To clarify, the only principle that matters is that Irish interests as they were perceived by us outweighed any commitments to our former abuser.
 

owedtojoy

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Given that the Irish Defence Force did not part in armed combat with either side demonstrates that the country was militarily neutral. A pragmatic decision not to enter the war (eg in the basis of our anti-aircraft power, risk to civilians, loss of soldiers, many Irish soldiers who joined the British would have had to defend the State instead of engaging in the war effort v being on the winning side, benefit of a Marshall aid plan, a deal on partition) but it was elevated to a principle.
My point is that the elevation to a principle is untrue to our tradition of being pragmatically allied to the British and Americans. We did get Marshall Aid loans (paid back!), Sean McBride approached the Americans for a bilateral defence agreement (the Yanks gave him a frosty reception), and we joined the UN in 1956 (or so).
De Valera's biggest mistake was to pay respect to the US ambassador on the death of FDR, which then required him (and President Hyde) to go the Germans a few weeks later (which was somewhat offensive then, but appears morally bankrupt now).
De Valera was keeping up the sham of being "even-handed" for the benefit of internal enemies. A bit yucky in retrospect.

One interesting speculation is that if Churchill had not lost the run of himself and attacked Dev in a 1945 speech for "frolicking with the German ambassador", what might have happened? If Churchill had thanked Dev (as he should have) and said why, it would have caused the Irish Government a few headaches at home. As it was, it gave Dev a dream opportunity to "twist the lion's tail", but it was all a bit of play-acting.
 

owedtojoy

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It depends on the principle I suppose. It did enough to keep us out of any direct conflict and allowed us to officially assert our independence, while at the same time aiding the Allies just enough to keep them from making imperialist demands on our ports and our cannon fodder, I mean, troops.
I believe the % of Irish in the British forces were comaprable to those of any Commonwealth country.

No one seriously believes that a few ill-equipped Irish divisions would have made a difference. They could have guarded prisoners or installations, but they were hardly worth re-training or re-equipping to fight. No disrespect intended .. my Dad was one of them.

Ireland's value to the Allies lay in its ports and airspace, and we contributed enough there to be considered an asset.

Classic FF- nice one Dev. Then in the long run, it laid down a marker that kept us out of NATO, and out of such proxy-wars as Korea and Vietnam.
Same difference ... the tiny Irish Army would have been of little value in Korea. Vietnam? How many European countries had troops in Vietnam?
 

Catalpast

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We were Neutral as 'Neutrality' went at that time in Europe

Dev played a masterly hand though he did not need to have been so pedantic about paying condolences on Hitler's death

There were not that many neutral states left by the Wars end and the few that were had to adjust to circumstances too...
 

owedtojoy

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To clarify, the only principle that matters is that Irish interests as they were perceived by us outweighed any commitments to our former abuser.
Not sure if you read the OP, but the point is that we pragmatically gave the "abuser" all the help we could short of declaring war on Germany. And we fooled the Germans and most of our own public into thinking that we were not.
 

owedtojoy

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We were Neutral as 'Neutrality' went at that time in Europe

Dev played a masterly hand though he did not need to have been so pedantic about paying condolences on Hitler's death

There were not that many neutral states left by the Wars end and the few that were had to adjust to circumstances too...
Joe Lee pointed out that we were lucky to have to deal with Churchill and Roosevelt, compared to Sweden who had to deal with Hitler Unchained.

We also sacrificed much of the principles of neutrality in order to keep the Allies happy with us e.g. weather forecasts (vital for bombers and for D-Day), interning German prisoners and (quietly) letting Allied ones cross the border, giving the Allies overflight rights, joint military staff talks and exchange of intelligence.

Adolf would have been very unhappy with us, if he had found out.
 

ruserious

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Joe Lee pointed out that we were lucky to have to deal with Churchill and Roosevelt, compared to Sweden who had to deal with Hitler Unchained.

We also sacrificed much of the principles of neutrality in order to keep the Allies happy with us e.g. weather forecasts (vital for bombers and for D-Day), interning German prisoners and (quietly) letting Allied ones cross the border, giving the Allies overflight rights, joint military staff talks and exchange of intelligence.

Adolf would have been very unhappy with us, if he had found out.
The Germans dropped a fair few bombs in Ireland 'by mistake' during the war. Do you not see those as warnings to Paddy?
 

APettigrew92

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I dont think that "myth" is accepted very much these days, most people know we were neutral/for the Allies.

It was pragmatic and real politik, we had little or no choice...
This is the closest assessment you can achieve without being wrong.

The same way the Swedes were "Neutral" in World War II, despite being effectively bullied into extortionate trade deals.

Neutrality in the modern World comes at a price, especially if you are in the middle of a warzone.
 
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