Weapons of the Irish Rebels and the British

Watson’s
Pocket Pistol

 The Colt Model .32 Pocket Pistol was invented by John Browning who would go on to design the ubiquitous  Colt M1911 .45 ACP pistol still in use today, a hundred years later, by the US Military. The pistol was made in .32 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) and in 1908 was redesigned to shoot .380 cal.

The Model 1903 was a very popular pistol. Light (33 oz.), thin, compact, and with an eight round magazine was easy to carry concealed in a pocket. It was also adopted as the US Army’s issue handguns for General Officers and used up into the 1970’s. Gangsters such as Al Capone were enamored of the weapon and it even reflected in the gangster movies of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. James Cagney and Edgar G. Robinson always carried a Colt
pocket pistol when playing the bad guy.

About 570,000 Pocket Pistols were made from 1903 until 1945. Considering the quantity made, they still bring a good price. The simplicity of design, double safety (grip and manual), covered hammer (doesn’t get caught on a coat pocket when you need it NOW) and magazine capacity, all made the Model 1903 a very popular gun.

Model
1871 Mauser


Irish Volunteers and members of the Irish Citizen Army were both equipped with the I.G. (Infanterie-Gewehr) Mod 71 German Mauser. In Ireland they werecommonly called Howth Mausers. These long barreled rifles were obsolete German infantry weapons. They had been brought into Ireland by the volunteers in a response to the Ulster Unionist forces of Carson arming themselves. Carson had armed the Unionists in order to fight if Home Rule became a reality. Nine hundred Mausers were landed at Howth and another 600 at
Kilcool (it is odd how often the Kilcool landing is forgotten about). At Howth the British tried to confiscate the  weapons from the Volunteers but were decidedly unsuccessful. The Crown Forces only got about eight weapons. On the march back to their barracks they
were harassed by local citizens and in retaliation the army fired on the crowd at Bachelors Walk on the Liffey River. The incident helped the Volunteer cause.

There are contradictory accounts about the exact amount of ammunition that was landed. It varies between 25 and 29 thousand rounds. In either case, that’s less than 20 rounds per man. The Volunteers would have to learn to shoot without pulling the trigger.

The M71 was a single shot, bolt action rifle that fired an 11mm, black powder cartridge, roughly .45 cal. This type ammunition was not readily available in the United Kingdom so each round was precious. The .303 cartridge was the standard of the British Empire and would be used by both sides in other weapons.

The M71 was sold to China, Japan, Serbia and the Transvaal (another country that had fought the British Empire, twice).

Krag-Jorgensen

There were only a handful of “Krags” taken from the rebels at the end of the rising in 1916 but how they arrived in Ireland is quite a story. The Krag was designed by Ole Johannes Krag and Erik Jorgensen, two Norwegians, in the late 1880’s and by 1892 it was the standard US Army Rifle. It was produced under license in caliber .30-40 US.  The Krag was the standard rifle of Norway and Sweden (in the Swedish 6.5mm) and would be produced through WWII under Nazi control.

The Krag had a unique feature; the magazine loaded from the side. Where most military rifle used a “stripper clip” of five rounds that loaded from the top with the bolt open, the
Krag could be loaded with loose rounds from the side with the bolt closed and ready to fire. This type side loading meant that soldiers could “top off” the magazine without waiting to run out of bullets.

But how did they end upin Dublin in 1916? One of the buyers for Krags was the government of Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR), commonly known as the Transvaal. You might remember that Major MacBride (who fought at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory) had led
the Irish Brigade in support of the Boers against England in the Second Boer War. Norway had delivered 300 Krags to the Transvaal forces shortly before the war. These rifles were remnants of that lost conflict. In fact, the slouch hats, with the sides turned up, worn by the ICA was in honor of the Boers. The Second Boer War had not been overly popular in Ireland.

Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield

 

The SMLE or Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield No.1 Mark I was officially adopted into British Service in 1902. It was the work horse of the British Army in WWI and up through 1926. It remained in service through WWII and beyond. The No. 1 was made in huge numbers in the Mark III configuration adopted in 1907. The Enfield, as we’ll call it for short, was a mating of the Lee bolt action and magazine (formerly used in the Lee-Metford) and the Enfield rifling system used for small bore smokeless powder cartridges. The “Short” in SMLE refers to the length of the rifle. It is shorter than the old infantry rifle and longer than a carbine. The “magazine” is self-explanatory.

The Enfield was issued in .303 caliber, a rimmed, bottleneck cartridge. This same cartridge was used in the machine guns used by the British army and made resupply easier. Numbers of these weapons could be “bought” from troops stationed in Ireland that had been stolen or “lost” from local armories. During the rising they were taken from the dead and captured. The advantage to these weapons was the availability of the ammunition. The
Enfield was known both for its rapidity of fire and for its accuracy.

Dutch Beaumont-Vitali

Like the Krag above, there were a few Model 1871/88 Dutch Beaumont-Vitali rifle found among the rebels. The Beaumont was originally a single shot rifle like the Howth Mausers. In 1888 the Italian Vitali Box magazine was added to all Dutch weapons to make them repeaters. The strange shape of the box magazine is due to the fact that they used a coil spring under the follower to lift each round into position rather than a leaf spring like
other magazine designs. By 1916 these weapons were on the market as surplus. The Beaumont-Vitali was a black powder cartridge in caliber 11.35 x 52 mm. That meant that  it’s ammunition was not interchangeable with the Howth Mauser. Another problem for people trying to keep the rebels supplied.

The
Lewis Machine Gun

 

The “Gun, Lewis, .303-cal.” was a tremendous innovation. It put the power of a machine gun in the hands of soldiers down to the squad level. It was light (comparatively), could be carried by one man and one or more ammunition bearers. The pan magazine on top held 47 or 96 rounds and was quickly interchangeable. The British made great use of these against the rebels.

The Lewis Gun was invented by a US Army Colonel named Issac Lewis in 1911. Lewis met road blocks from General William Crozier who was head of Ordnance. The two never got along and Crozier didn’t like the idea of a light machine gun. In 1913 Lewis retired from the army and took his invention to Belgium where he got a contract from the Belgian government and set up shop. The Belgian weapon would use the British .303 round. To work out some production issues he worked with the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA). In 1914 the British Government purchased a license to build the weapon themselves and soon there were tens of thousands of them. The Lewis gun was also adapted for use on aircraft as well as for infantry. The US Marines and Navy also adopted the Lewis Gun but never the Army. The Model 1914 was manufactured both by BSA in the UK and Savage Arms in the US. Nations were still using the Lewis through the Korean War. They are now one of the Holy Grails of Class III collectors.

You might remember the Lewis Gun being used by Chewbacca the Wookie in Star Wars as a laser machine gun. Emergency Correction – I have been informed by a reliable source (thanks, Bobby) that Chewy carried a “Bowcaster” and the Lewis Gun was used by the “Imperial Troops” as the “Imperial, T-11 Repeating Blaster”.

 Lewis Gun in action in Dublin 1916

Mauser C96

 The Mauser C96 was the first truly successful semi-automatic handgun. It was originaly manufactured by Mauser in Germany and quickly became popular, seeing action in the Boer War only three years later. By the end of production in 1937 Mauser had made over one million. Add to that the unlicensed production in Spain and China and no one knows what the real numbers are.

The pistol was originally produced in 7.63 x 25 mm. The one shown above has a 9 inscibed on the handle which designates it was produced in 9mm so the ammunition could be shared with the 9mm Luger. The 7.63 cal. was the most powerful pistol cartridge until the introduction of the .357 Magnum in 1935. The most identifiable parts of the pistol are the box magazine forward of the trigger guard, the detachable wood stock that also acts as a holster and the straight blowback action.

This weapon was exceedingly popular with both Winston Churchill, who carried a brace of them in the Boer War, and the Irish Volunteer officer corps. In English Speaking countries the weapon was nicknamed  a “Broomhandle” based on the form of the grip. In Ireland it was frequently called a “Peter the Painter” since a C96 was allegedly used by the anarchist Peter the Painter in the Sidney Street Siege of 1911. The C96 was another star of the Star Wars movies. Han Solo carried one on his hip all the time.

Webley Revolver

The Webley Revolver was the standard sidearm of the British Forces. It was issued starting in 1887 and had the advantage of being a break-top action. That means it opened by folding in half exposing all six chambers in the cylinder at the same time. When it was opened it ejected all the spent cartridges at the same time and could be loaded quickly. It was issued in .455 caliber with a very heavy and effective bullet. It saw minor changes over the years but the Mark VI was the most common in the WWI era.

 

British
18-pounder, Quick Fire Gun

 The Volunteers were at a definite disadvantage when it came to heavier weapons systems. There was a training battery of artillery at Athlone when the Rising started and it was quickly brought into play to put down the rebels. The 18-pounder was actually a light artillery piece that had very limited ammunition choices available. When the Great War started in 1914 the British Army had numerous batteries of 18-pounders. Their only ammunition choice was a Shrapnel round which was anti-personnel not anti-materiel. Major General Shrapnel (1761-1842), an artillery officer of the British Army, designed an artillery round, that , when fired, went down range before expelling hundreds of musket balls toward the enemy. It worked wonderfully on troops in the open, but once in buildings or dug in, this type round was very survivable. As WWI progressed to a trench warfare stalemate it became obvious that High Explosive (HE) and other artillery shells were needed for the 18-pounders. By late September 1914, HE was available, but in true cost saving measures Amatol was chosen as the filler for the shells. While cheap to make (ammonium nitrate and TNT) they lacked explosive power.

The probability is that most of the artillery rounds used against the Volunteers was shrapnel and therefore less than effective. Individual notes by serving Volunteers claim that incendiary rounds were used against them. In this they were undoubtedly incorrect since that type round was not available for 18-pounders until 1918 except in anti-aircraft batteries. What was probably used was HE rounds which surely will start fires, especially
in an urban area.


18-pounder in use in Dublin

 

Gunboat
Helga


The gunboat Helga was used to shell Liberty Hall and was the first heavy weapon used. The Helga had been a fisheries boat before the war and was pressed into service patrolling the Irish waters for German submarines. She was near when the Rising began and because of her shallow draft was able to get up the Liffey and near the rebel positions. The Helga at this time was actually His Majesty’s Patrol Yacht, Helga. She was armed with a 12-pounder
forward in the eyes and a 6-pounder Hotchkiss gun aft. She also had machine
guns.

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This entry was posted in Doyle, Dublin 1916, Holmes, Ireland, Irish Rebels, Watson. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Weapons of the Irish Rebels and the British

  1. Pat McMahon says:

    Hi Kieran,
    Great bit of information on your site, ta.
    Tell me this have you any knowledge of the use of mortars on the 4 Courts in 1922.? There is some evidence that mortars were used, but neither the ‘rebels’ nor the Free State Army were armed with mortars (and in any case hadnt the necessary skills to use such weapons). The word goes that some british soldiers were dressed up in Free State uniforms and tasked with bombarding the 4 Courts. Mortar fire also happened at the barracks in Drogheda during the Civil War..
    Regards,

    Pat

  2. Tory says:

    First off I would like to say superb blog! I had a quick question that
    I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear
    your thoughts prior to writing. I have had a hard time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out.
    I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the
    first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost just trying to figure
    out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips? Thanks!

    • Kieran says:

      Always have the same problem myself. I have to scribble a few notes. What is this subject, how should it flow, is there a logical progression, how do I censor my personal opinon, do I need to extract my personal opinion? I then write an outline, modify it after reading it through then finally write the blog. Next I preview it and usually rewite parts after the preview. It all takes time. Hope this helps.

  3. Ronan says:

    Hey man, great blog. I’m doing a project in college at the moment and was wondering where you scourced your info regarding the weapons. I have tons of info on the guns themselves, what I need is references to them being used in combat in Ireland in the 1916 period. I have some, but it’d handy to know where you got yours. I’m a ‘mature’ student and have a fair bit of experience with firearms myself, which is why i chose the topic i’m doing. My argument in the project is that the Irish could’ve got more suitable weapons from the U.S with less ammo issues and the whole senario woul’ve been easier and cheaper! A few thousand Wincherster 1873’s in 44/40 and colt 1873 army revolvers in the same caliber would’ve helped! Thanks in advance for any help and keep up the good work.

    • Kieran says:

      I notice you have an Ireland email address so you are pretty fortunate. A quick trip to Collins Barracks and you can probably get most of what you need. They have (or had) a display of 1916 that included most of the small arms mentioned. The .32 pocket pistol,of course, was strictly a fabrication for the character of Dr. Watson in my book. Good sources on their use can be found at The Times History of the War Chapter 134, The Rebels by Peter DeRosa, and two good books by Paul O’Brien – Blood on the Streets and Uncommon Valour. These are good starting places when talking about use. As to would they have been better off getting weapons from somewhere else – absolutly, BUT, the problem was cost and smuggling.
      the weapons that were smuggled to Howth and Kilcool were cheap. The Mausers were left over single shot, bolt action rifles from 1871. The majority of M1871s were converted in 1884 to magazine rifles. Time and tecnology had moved on. No-one wanted a rifle that fired an 11mm black powder cartridge that belched smoke. the French had invented smokeless powder in 1886 and the world had moved to a more efficient killing machine – the small calibre,long range quick firing rifle that did not give away your position. That’s the long version. The M71s were cheap and so you could get lots more guns for your money. Also, the trip from the Eurpean mainland to Ireland is much shorter and though the rifles had to be transloaded at sea to the smuggling boats the total time in transit was less with less chance of being betrayed. Remember the bain of all Irish rebellions was the informer. The British were happy to let the Unionists be armed, and they had plenty of money to do it, but letting the Volunteers have weapons, that was a different question. The Irish had a more liberal weapons import law than Great Britain but you still needed an import permit.

      Finally, as to using Colt SAAs, the Webley break top action or the Colt with a swing out cylinder and half moon clips with .45 ammo would be better choices as they were faster to unload or reload. Winchesters were a great weapon for close quarter fighting and both Sitting Bull and the Turks made great use of them. The problem is that in either case you would get far fewer weapons for your money. Hope some of this helps.

  4. Joe says:

    kieran, feel free to comment on the types of arms used during the Easter Rising of 1916
    http://vcrai.com/phpBB/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=1681&start=20

  5. Hello Kieran, I’m trying to identify a rifle type from the irishvolunteer.org website. It is simply entitled irish Volunteer Rifle on the site. I’m using the image with permission, on a book cover but would like to be able to say what kind of rifle it is. I can send you the pic if you like. Thanks for your assistance in advance.

  6. Dar says:

    I taught there were 1911 pistols used by the Irish as well no?

  7. Can you tell me if British Bulldog revolvers were used by the Dublin brigade of the IRA
    in the war of independence 1918 -1921.
    Is there any way to trace a specific gun number to see if it was involved in that war ?

    • Kieran says:

      Interesting question. I have no photographic evidence as to the use of a British Bull Dog revolver being used by the Dublin Brigade but there becomes a question at this point. While the “British Bull Dog” revolver was a specific weapon produced by Webley it was also a generic term used to mean any short barreled, swing cylinder, large bore, 5 shot revolver. Webley had the idea in 1868 but I don’t believe it was patented until 1878 ( in time to be used to assassinate President Garfield in 1881). Anyway, the term Bull Dog or in the States Bulldog became a commen use term for these weapons. They were made in Belgium, Spain, Germany, the US, and Belfast. In the US alone there were at least a dozen manufacturers (such as Harrington & Richardson, and Iver Johnson. In Belgium there were 100 manufacturers!They were inexpensive ($8 -$12) around 1900 so the probability is that they would appear almost anywhere. Remember in 1916 Ireland (treated as a separate entity and not REALLY part of the UK) had different laws than England. It was actually easier to get a permit for a gun in Ireland than the rest of the UK. I know that sounds strange but it was true. As to tracking a particular weapon, well, weapons tended to move without anyone keeping records, so that would be difficult unless it was captured from or by the crown forces, in which case it would be recorded. I know this seems to make it tougher rather than easier for you but I will add that the Webley RIC model was also called a Bulldog and were made in .450 Adams. They were produced from 1872 until 1914. I cannot imagine that these weapons were not to be found in the hands of the Volunteers.

      • Peter says:

        I have a de activated snub nosed Irish Revolver (Trulock and Harris) and I think I read somewhere that these short barreled revolvers were favoured as they could be concealed easily in a great coat, and truth in that?

      • Kieran says:

        Yes. Pocket pistols were very popular for easy concealment. Anything bulky would be cause to be stopped and frisked.

  8. Mary Sexton says:

    HI Kieran, Keep up informative information, Mary would like to know the age of a Webley gun I have received from an elderly family member, and if it was or could have been used during the time of 1916/1921 .The markings are Webley & Scott Ltd Mark IV .38 war finish. It also has other number markings.

  9. siobhan says:

    My uncle found a lee enfield 60 years going walking true a woods , still in attic in ireland

  10. paul says:

    hi
    I would like to know what happened to the weapons used in the 1916 rising and subsequent years.
    Weapons like the colt pocket hammerless?
    Thanks

    • Kieran says:

      The actual weapons used ended up in three places. Hidden for use at another time, confiscated by the British forces and police, and kept as war trophies by soldiers, police and politicians. Many examples can be seen at Collins Barracks and the Curragh, and at other museums. A large number of RIC carbines were sold by the Irish Government in the 1960’s on the US market. I have one of the RIC marked carbines in my collection.

  11. John says:

    Dear Kieran
    I hope you are keeping well.
    My name is John White and I write Sports Books in my spare time.
    Here is a link to some of them:
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1?ie=UTF8&field-author=John+D.+T.+White&search-alias=books-uk&text=John+D.+T.+White&sort=relevancerank
    I am now embarking on a brand new project, and writing about a subject I grew up with in the staunch Nationalist area of East Belfast where I witnessed The Troubles, the Short Strand.
    My new book will be entitled THE EASTER RISING 1916-2016 MISCELLANY.
    I would appreciate your help with some of the entries I wish to include in the book.
    I have had a look at your website which is very professional and has lots of superb information. Congratulations.
    With your express permission, I would like to reproduce some of the material on your website in my book and in return I am more than happy to mention you personally and your website in the Acknowledgments section of my book.
    I would not just go and reproduce material you have spent the time writing without having the common courtesy to ask you first.
    However, if you do not wish to assist me then I will fully understand and say, thank you for taking the time to read my email.
    John White

    • Kieran says:

      Dear John,
      Please feel free to use the materials. Happy to help and glad you thought the effort worthwhile. Please feel free to use what you need. If I can be of any further help let me know.
      Best of luck,
      Kieran

  12. Tim says:

    Hi Kieran, interesting read. One thing – the correct spelling is Kilcoole (I grew up there in the 80’s). It was still a very republican area at the time and there was more than one occasion of buried inflatable boats being found in the beach shingle by the Gardai.

    • Kieran says:

      Hi Tim, Appreciate the correction. I should have caught that but it is tough to correct your own work. I have always wondered why the rest of the country during the rising got so little attention. Galway, Enniscorthy, Dundalk, Ashbourne all had their own fight but like the arms landing at Kilcoole they get little to no attention.

  13. Hello Kieran,
    I was wondering if you could help me with some information that I am trying to uncover. I am studying the weapons used by the British and the Irish rebels during the Easter Rising of 1916. In particular I am looking to uncover what weapons and ammunition was used by whom and when? For instance, what rifles and bullets were used by the British forces during the execution of the 1916 leaders in Kilmainham Gaol? What was the impact of these bullets on the men’s bodies? Do you know of any forensic or ballistics report that may have been carried out on these executions? Or, do you know of any literature or reports that have been made on any of these weapons that were used? My specific interest is the details of the execution, the speed of the bullets, the distance of the shot and the impact made by the bullets on the bodies of those who were executed in Kilmainham Gaol. But I’m also interested if there is any available forensic or ballistic reports or documents on any of the weapons used during the fighting carried out in the Easter Rising. If you have any information regarding this, it would be greatly appreciated. With thanks for any help you may be able to provide me with, or any direction you may point me towards. Looking forward to your response.

    • Kieran says:

      Hi Debbie,
      All good questions. Almost without a doubt the weapons used for the executions were Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) rifles. They were probably SMLE No. 1 Mk III’s, as that was the workhorse rifle of WWI and had been standard since 1907. The ammunition used was the .303 Calibre Mk VII cartridge. The Mk VII had a spitzer bullet (pointed) but was different than most spitzers in the fact that in the front of the copper-nickel jacket that surrounded the core was either aluminum or paper and the back was filled with a lead-antimony mixture. This made the round base heavy and it tended to tumble when it hit resistance. The Mk VII weighed 174 grains, had a range of 3000 yards and a muzzle velocity of 2440 fps. Given the bullet design, high muzzle velocity and the extremely short range that the weapons were being fired from it is highly improbable that any bullets did not pass straight through the bodies of those executed. Tests with a 150 gr .303 cal round and a spitzer bullet have demonstrated 17 – 20 inches of penetration in ballistic gel at 10 paces. Few people are 20 inches deep at the chest unless they are overweight. No forensic or postmortem exams were conducted on any of the martyrs shot other than to determine if they were alive or dead (to my knowledge). Once declared dead by the surgeon the bodies were loaded on a lorrie and taken to Arbor Hill where they were placed in an already dug mass grave. Their position in the grave was noted along with their name by the officer in charge. The bodies were then coverd with quick lime and dirt.
      Hope this answers some of your questions.

      • Thank you Kieran for all of this information. It is excellent work! I’m very grateful for the precision of detail you have included. I recently read an article on the burial of the martyrs, that a brick was placed above their heads with each of their names to allocate the identity of each of the bodies. Do you know if this is true and are the bricks still present in the grave? I’m just trying to get a clearer image and understanding of how they were executed and subsequently buried. Thank you again for all of your help and advice.

  14. Kieran says:

    Never heard or read anything about a brick. I have checked with a number of my Irish- historian friends and none of them have ever come across that claim either. Can you cite the article where you saw this?

    • Hi Kieran, apologies for my slow response, but here is the link to the article. It was written in 2014 by the Irish Times, stating “[He] in a sympathetic description of the events of 1916, stated that he had, on his own initiative, caused a numbered brick to be placed at the head of each of the 14 bodies in the order of burial and has kept a corresponding list of the names from which he allowed me to make the literal copy in the order set out above,” O’Connell wrote.” http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/only-eyewitness-account-of-easter-rising-leaders-burial-is-made-public-1.1659566

      I was incorrect about the names being written onto brick, but not about the bricks being present, although now I am wondering were they just laid down to record the details of the burial, and did not remain on sight..? Yes, it seems odd to me to conclude that, so I will leave it to my imagining that buried in the ground lies numbered bricks to accompany each skeleton remains. It does seem a horrendous act though to not even identity the bodies as they were buried with a name, but a number. The words cold and calculating comes to mind. Nonetheless however this may have occurred, I have all the information that I need, so thank you very much again for your comments, research and tremendous feedback.

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