What if Hitler had invaded?


Madam, – While the picture Tom Clonan painted (Opinion, June 28th) of what life under German occupation could be like may be true, I feel in the interest of balance he should have considered whether or not such an eventuality could have come about.

The possibility that either Operation Sealion (the invasion of England) or Operation Green (that of Ireland) could have occurred is extremely remote. Both operations were, apparently, envisaged as being mainly seaborne but the Germans had no amphibious capability, that is, the landing craft and support vessels necessary for the seizure of beaches and the creation of beach-heads.

For Operation Green, with a distance of some 300 miles to be covered from the north-west coast of France to the south of Ireland, the only possibility was the making use of such passenger or freight-carrying ships as could be found, and there were very few. One wonders how the initial force of 4,000 was to establish beach-heads from such vessels and unload tanks and other heavy equipment. As for the remainder of the 50,000 earmarked for the operation, it would have required an armada of ships and all the naval support available to transport them, even in successive waves. Such an armada would have had to take either a direct route from northwest France, bringing it perilously near Land’s End and interception by the RAF based in south-west England, as well as by the royal navy, or, in order to avoid air interception, to take a course a couple of hundred miles west, where it would still have been subject to naval opposition.

The ships involved, being unable to use beaches, would have had to dock without fighter protection at whatever quaysides or piers were available, leaving them at the mercy of the land forces guarding such berths. Neither the Stukas nor Dorniers mentioned by Mr Clonan would have had the range to carry out the bombing missions described unless provided with Irish bases It is not surprising that Operation Green met the same fate as Sealion, remaining in suspense but never resurrected.

Mr Clonan makes no mention of an airborne invasion, probably rightly so, since the concept had not been tried at that point. Subsequently it was the great fear, though here again, Germany may have been limited in the airlift that was possible. A general staff estimate here put the figure of 10,000 as the maximum that could be transported by air to Ireland.

While the Defence Forces were in a weak condition due to the pitifully low financial allocations of the 1930s (about £1,500,000 per year) the situation should not be represented as being worse than it was. The weapons inventory for March 1940 showed that we had 497 Vickers medium machine-guns (not 82 as stated by Mr Clonan) and 1,038 light machine-guns, mainly Lewis. The rather disparaging reference to the Lee Enfield rifles as being of first World War vintage is misplaced. The Mark 2 Lee Enfield was the standard British (as well as Irish) rifle in 1939 and was to remain so until replaced well into the war by the Number 4 rifle, not a significantly better weapon. There were 25, not just a dozen, armoured cars, a number that would be brought up to 80 by home production using Ford and Dodge chassis. Some of these Irish-built Fords were sent to the Congo in 1961 where they gave good service.

A further disparaging reference is to the 14 cyclist squadrons of the Cavalry Corps nicknamed “the peddling panzers”. Cyclist troops were used in many armies. In Ireland, they were an imaginative response to the requirement for reconnaissance and mobility in the face of grave shortages of vehicles and petrol. Stationed in sensitive areas, the squadrons could reach any point within a 10 miles radius in an hour – not a bad speed in a combat zone. – Yours, etc,



Moorefield Drive,

Newbridge, Co Kildare.

Madam, – The suggestion by Daragh McDowell (June 30th) that Ireland’s neutral stance was founded on “an historic act of cowardice” requires a response.

This suggestion appears to be based on a contrast between the courageous and skilful defence of their homeland by the fighter command of the RAF in the summer of 1940 and our failure to join the British and later the allies in their struggle against the Axis powers.

The position of the Irish government at the time was to seek to defend Ireland from whoever threatened to invade our country. This threat could have come from either side in the conflict and indeed Mr Churchill had to be dissuaded from seizing our ports by wiser council including the then general Bernard Montgomery, later the hero of El Alamein who had some knowledge of how Ireland would resist occupation.

In 1940 America was neutral and did not enter the war until attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Does anyone doubt Ireland would have resisted any similar attack and would have entered the war, as the Americans did, on the basis that the first to attack us is our enemy?

We would have had little chance of successfully defending ourselves against the massive military machines of the main combatants, but there is no basis for thinking we would not have defended ourselves, shown courage in doing so and resisted any subsequent occupation. It was only 20 years since a massive military occupation by the British had been vigorously resisted.

I knew and spoke to a couple of veterans of the War of Independence, one of them my grandfather, who like many of their former comrades rejoined the Irish Army in 1940 with the intention of defending their country, whose freedom had been so dearly won. I have no doubt that whatever they lacked, it was not courage.

We are indeed in the debt of the “the few” for the part they played in defending a free and democratic Europe and one that values the right to neutrality of small nations. – Yours, etc,


Rathlin Road,

Glasnevin, Dublin 9.-