No. 19 NAI DFA 205/122

Extracts from a memorandum from Peadar MacMahon to Peadar Hughes
(R.M.8C) (Secret)

Dublin, 7 July 1926


[matter omitted]

Location of present balance of Naval power

6. One of the most important features needing attention in the consideration of the Coast Defence and Naval position of Ireland is the transfer of the balance of Naval power in Europe from the North Sea to the Atlantic and Mediterranean as a result of the destruction of the German Fleet with the consequent restoration of our South and West Coast to its old position as a place of first class strategical importance navally.

As a result of the European War and the concentration of British Naval strength in the North Sea both prior to and during it, the average man is inclined to think of Ireland as protected from Continental Naval activities by the actual land mass of Great Britain, but it must be remembered that the seat of concentration of naval power has shifted in Europe from the North Sea to the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and that practically half of the trade of the world pass between the South Irish Coast and the Continent, those directed towards the Western Hemisphere actually keeping within sight of the Irish Coast. Even during the European War when German submarines had to either run the gauntlet of extraordinary difficulties in getting out of the narrow Dover Channel, or else go on a lengthy cruise round the North of Scotland, a considerable number of ships were torpedoed off the Irish Coast. In the event of War between Great Britain and a power with ports on the Atlantic, the position for sea-borne traffic off the Irish Coast would be infinitely worse, and it must be remembered that if the growth of the German Fleet was England's definite menace from 1900 till the European War, there is equally no doubt that she officially regards France's present building of an enormous submarine and an Aerial Fleet as her present menace in Western Europe. Similarly, with the use of that other new weapon of naval war, the mine, it was not until German submarines started laying mines that any activities of this sort (with one exception) took place off the Irish Coast, but in the event of trouble in the Atlantic, ships and submarines would be as free to plant mines off Irish Harbours, and on the trade routes off the Irish Coast as the Germans were to plant them in the North Sea where they were actually responsible for as much destruction of Naval and Commercial shipping as submarines.


Development of Naval Service as continuation of previous policy of independence in defence of Ireland

7. When considering this matter, attention must be paid to the previous suggested trend of our defence policy, that is, of assuming complete responsibility for the defence of Ireland, which, owing to the fact we are an island and also because of our general geographical position, it is impossible to do without a naval as well as a military service. As a matter of fact, consideration of this question brings us to the point at which we must decide in a general way to what extent our future defence development will be Land, Aerial and Naval respectively. Of course, it has been recognised that our development should be as much Aerial and Naval, as Land, but circumstances in the country have so far precluded development or consideration of developments beyond on the Land, and to a very limited extent in the Air.


Position in the event of future wars in which Britain is involved. Advantage of Naval Service

8. Any person who has given consideration to the question must certainly have come to the conclusion that the outbreak of the next war on a large scale in which Great Britain will be involved will produce a very important crisis in this country's history, which will, of course, be caused by political factors whose consideration are outside the sphere of the General Staff. It can be taken as certain, however, that there will probably be three policies suggested by different sections of the population, firstly, a whole-hearted support of Great Britain, secondly, an attitude of neutrality based on the clause on the subject in the constitution, and, thirdly, a policy of hostility to Great Britain based on the old dictum of England's difficulty being Ireland's opportunity. Any executive will probably experience great difficulty in making any decision on this question because of the divergent views which will undoubtedly be held, and will probably be hard pushed to prevent the question becoming the subject of internal strife in the country. Added to this, the Executive will also have to deal with the position in the British Commonwealth generally, which will in all probability be one of actual material support of Great Britain, and with the particular influences which Britain will exercise on this Country because of our proximity to her. The nett result of all those influences will probably be that it will be considered that our maintaining of the Irish Coast Defences will not be a sufficient contribution to the defence of the Commonwealth to which we belong in a time of exceptional crisis, and very great influence will be brought to bear to have this country prepare an Expeditionary Force for use with the British Army abroad, as was done by the Dominions during the recent War.

If, however, we have developed our naval as well as our military side of defence, we can offer to take over a considerable portion of the 'defence by sea' of Ireland and the adjoining trade routes. This would be in keeping with the trend of our defence policy, would add immensely to the national prestige and would not be likely to cause so much internal dissension as a proposal to prepare an Expeditionary Force. The development of this proposal would also tend to make us navally independent of Great Britain, and gradually get over the obnoxious clauses on this subject in the Treaty. Similarly, if we want to preserve our neutrality against all comers, the existence of a well balanced naval and military force will make this more feasible, while, if we have confined ourselves entirely to land and coast defence, any fleet can closely blockade our shores with impunity.

Of course, a prevalent misconception appears to prevail about the question of neutrality of nations generally, apart from our peculiar position in the British Commonwealth. It must be remembered that neutrality depends on force and not declarations, and that if it suits other powers to violate any country's neutrality, they will do so with impunity unless it can put up sufficient force to make it awkward for them to do so. When the European War started, Belgium and Greece declared themselves neutral, and did not mobilise, while Holland and Switzerland also declared themselves neutral, but backed their declarations by mobilisation of all possible military and naval resources with the result that their frontiers were respected.


Aerial Development

9. In considering this question, due consideration should also be given to proposals for the development of Civil Aviation in this country and in particular those bearing on our undoubted position as the most suitable base for a European Air Port for Transatlantic Aerial Traffic. In actual practice, Aerial and Naval Development as the two great means of trans-oceanic communication will, to a considerable extent, mutually depend on each other. In addition, it should be remembered that the influence both in War and Commerce, which formerly belonged to 'Sea-Power' and Aerial Power, and that for commercial and military purposes a common policy must be adopted with regard to those two services.1


Use of Flag at Sea

10. As it is understood that difficulty has arisen in connection with the use of the National Flag at sea, information is required as to the present position of this matter. It should be remembered that the Australian Naval Service has a flag which is definitely recognised as distinct from the British Naval Ensign. It is understood that when this question was raised recently, it was officially stated that the Flag had become recognised by official 'custom and usage,' but while this state of affairs might be alright on land, it will not do at sea. Measures should be taken to have the Flag registered internationally so that if occasion for its use at sea should arise again, there will not be a recurrence of the state of affairs under which poaching trawlers arrested by our boats had to be let away because the Flag our boats were flying had no international status. [matter omitted]



It is to be presumed of course that any kind of Naval Force which would come into existence would undertake the work at present done by the Fisheries Department Patrol Boats. This Department would probably also have something to say as to the advantage of a training in the type of boats used for minesweeping and mine-laying on some of the Western fishermen with whom one of the principal difficulties at present seems to be to get away from the use of their primitive boats. It should be understood that boats of the trawler type are used for mine-sweeping and laying and that this work would probably form one of the main duties of an Irish Naval Service in wartime. A few of those boats could be maintained as a nucleus service on which Reserve men would be trained and then those men would probably, as a result of their training, concentrate on trawlers for fishing afterwards, and form a wartime Reserve while their trawlers would form a Reserve of Boats. Such a scheme would be of mutual advantage both to Fisheries and the Naval Service.


Suggested Lines of Service

12. It is not proposed, as has been generally indicated in the previous paragraphs, that any Scheme should at present involve the obtaining or maintaining of large capital ships or the almost equally expensive Torpedo Boats, Destroyers, and such type of craft. In the event, however, of a naval policy commensurate with the maritime importance of the Nation's geographical position, both for commercial and strategical purposes, being embarked on at a later date, it would be necessary to obtain some craft of at least the destroyer type as well as some larger craft to act as squadron leaders and parent ships. At the moment, for purposes of actual service, it would be sufficient to provide the nucleus of a service on which a war-time establishment of mine-layers and sweepers could be based and trained, in addition to a number of patrol boats that could be used for observation purposes and to some extent to deal with enemy submarines, mine-layers or sweepers, and other light craft in wartime. In war time, the mine-layers would be used to plant mine fields at suitable points for the protection of our harbours, estuaries and coasts generally and the sweepers to move them or alter their position as would be frequently necessary, in addition to sweeping mines planted by the enemy, with a view to damaging both naval and mercantile shipping entering or leaving our harbours or passing on the trade routes adjoining our coast. In peace time, the boats kept in commission would be used for training purposes both for the active establishment and the reserve which it would be necessary at a later date to establish, as well as in the protection of fisheries, revenue, and such other duties as may be allocated them.

Of course, the most effective defensive craft for our purposes would be the submarine and the ultimate acquisition of a few of the smaller type known as 'Coastal' ones should always be kept in view even if we have only a very limited Naval Service.

Although a fairly good general idea of the form the proposed service should take and the nature of its duties has been come to, it is not possible without the assistance of the expert advice (referred to in para. 4)2 to decide the exact type of boats that would be required. The first need of the proposed service would be either a Naval Barracks or a 'hulk' (an old ship) which would serve as a depot to which recruits could be sent for their preliminary training in drill and seamanship, and where provision would also be made for later training in specialist work like gunnery, torpedoes and mines, signalling, etc. [matter omitted]

1 Sentence reproduced as in original. Sense unclear.

2 Not printed

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