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Ambushes and Armour: The Irish Rebellion 1919–1921


W.H. Kautt

This study provides a focused and thorough examination of the development of ambush and counter-ambush doctrine within the Irish Rebellion (1919-1921). Political and social context is put to one side, as much as is deemed possible, in order to focus on the military aspects of these operations.

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The recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have focused public attention on ambushes, but this is not a new problem. The Irish Revolution (1916-1923) was a war of ‘firsts’: the British counterinsurgency after World War I; the first mass use of motorised vehicles for counterinsurgency; the first use of extensive countermobility operations by insurgents; the first time a military force had to ‘up-armour’ its motor vehicles in response to the insurgent threat; the first time they had to deal with the negative effects of hanging steel plate on cars and trucks; the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against motor vehicles-in both forms of pressure detonation and command (electric) detonation; the first time an army had to develop doctrine for the use of motor vehicles in a tactical or combat mode. Thus, the IRA exploited the axiom that military forces are at their most vulnerable when on the move.

This study focuses on the last of the ‘firsts’, the development of ambush and counter-ambush doctrine, for in examining how the British forces (army, RIC, ADRIC) learned to counter these threats, the story of the other ‘firsts’ comes out too. By disregarding the politics and social issues, as much as possible without losing context and perspective, the focus is on the military aspects of these operations. Further, the examination of the tactics, rather than the strategies, reveal truths about how the opposing forces functioned ‘on the ground’.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Operations Against British Transportation in Ireland
3. Kilmichael & the IRA Counter to the British Autumn 1920 Offensive
4. The British and IRA Rural Ambushes
5. Improvised Explosive Devices & Ambushes in Ireland
6. IRA Urban Ambushes
7. Conclusion – British Tactics, Techniques and Procedures

About the Author

W.H. Kautt is the author of The Anglo-Irish War and Ground Truths: British Army Operations in the Irish War of Independence. He served for ten years in the US Air Force and taught history at the USAF Academy. He is an Associate Professor of Military History at the US Army staff college. In the summer of 2005, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.