The Rifles of the IRA

The Provisionals have graduated from the Thompson sub, to a gun that shoots down helicopters. By Kevin Myers


FIFTY-SEVEN years ago, a train full of British soldiers pulling into Amiens Street Station was ambushed by a group of IRA men using a new weapon. The 'tommy gun' - the 'Chicago piano' - was being fired for the first time in action anywhere in the world. The handful of Thompsons available to the IRA caused heavy casualties to the British soldiers packked in the train. The Thomppson was to span Ireland's troubles.

In 1969, a lone IRA man operating with a Thompson (or 'big T' in Belfast parrlance), became a legend durring the street fighting on the Falls Road. Another Thomppson was dug from an Anderrsonstown garden in time for the next night's fighting. People on the Falls Road will tell you that those two guns "saved the Road".

Ireland was the Thompson sub machine gun's first war; it will probably be its last. Allthough still in use, the Big T is only effective as a scare weapon. Inaccurate, heavy and cumbersome, it can only now be used against the Brittish Army at the peril of its operator. It was effective as in 1971, when green British troops were not used to street fighting, and IRA men could jump from behind a street corner and blatter away at a foot patrol from close range. Nowadays, the reflexes of the British soldier have been trained to blast anyone who tries so foolhardy a stunt.

The Thompson was deesigned by General John Talliafaro Thompson during the First World War as a trench-clearing weapon. It arrived too late to see use in that war. Instead, the IRA imported it, with the assisstance of an Irish-American colleague of Thompson, Thomas Ryan. In those days, the IRA paid about 175 dollars per gun, approximately the same amount as a modern Armalite would cost.

Thompson submachine guns have been imported into Ireland ever since. Some of the original Big T's were still in use in Belfast in the early 'seventies. Pitted with age, and equipped with the Cutt's compensator (abanndoned in later models of the gun) to stop it from kicking upwards, they gave the inexxperienced teenager the feel that he was holding a real gun. The ambitions this feelling inspired led many a young man to his grave. Later models had a heavy tendency to drift upwards and to the right when in operation. It was, apparently, very easy to find yourself .shooting into the sky.

As the IRA began to immport guns on a large scale in 1970, a rag-bag collection of different types accumulated in IRA dumps. One of the . most popular of guns was the M1 Garand, a self-loading rifle used by the Americans during the Second World War and in Korea. Weighing less than 12lb., the Garand can dispatch a bullet at over twice the speed of sound. It is more accurate and more reliable than the Armalite Arl5 or 180, the rifles most used currently by the IRA, but it is much bigger (3ft 8ins long) and it does not break down as easily. Like the British Lee Enfield, a weapon with even greater accuracy but slower rate of fire because each bullet has to be worked into the firing chamber by means of a bolt, it is still used on the few occasions when the IRA gets involved in a stand-up fight. Used with sniper sights, the Garand and the Lee Ennfield are still to be found in Border gun battles. Equipped with tugsten-tipped bullets, both can pierce the armour of British vehicles in the North.

One weapon that arrived in large numbers in 1971 was the 'greasegun', which reeplaced the Thompson in US Army service at the latter stage of the Second World War. The M3 had a slower rate of fire than a Big T , and both the Provisional and Official IRA acquired the silenced version of the gun which was originally made for the American OSS (special forces) during the war. In Belfast, this virtually silent weapon is known as "the spitting dummy". It has been used for assassinations. Annother gun imported was the M42, which unlike the M3 and the Thompson, fires a 9mm round rather than a heavier and slower .45. The M42s used in Ireland had a strange history. Originally provided by the Americans to the right wing Greek organizzation EDES during the war, the M42s were subsequently passed on to Eoka , who used them against the British in Cyprus. Eoka then passed them on to the IRA. All of the M42s the IRA possessed have now been captured.

Another Second World War American gun to reach the IRA was the M I carbine, which is a quite different weapon from the Ml Garand. Small and light, it was originnally designed as an officer's weapon. It came to be used as a close combat assault gun, and was standard issue to innfantrymen in both the World War and the Korean War. As is common for American military weapons, a sporting version was introduced. Up to seven million Ml carbines were made in the USA for military use alone. They are still being manufactured for police forces. Last year, seven years after the IRA had accquired them in large numbers, the RUC was issued with MI carbines.

The M I is an excellent street fighting weapon. It is small (only 3ft long) and light (5 Y2 lb-sabout half the weight of an M I Garand). Like the Garand, it is semithat is to say it reloads itself from the magazine by using the gases which drive the preeviously fired bullet from the muzzle. It is also powerful, forcing its bullets out at allmost twice the speed of sound. Up until 1972, most

British gunshot casualties were caused by these weapons. The IRA had also acquired a number of Irish Army FNs and British Army SLRs, which are basically the same design, and submachine guns from the Irish Army (the Carl Gustav) and the British Army (the Sterling). These were held' in small numbers. But in 1972, the British Army got a bad shock. It was called the Armalite.

There are two sorts of Armalite in use in Northern Ireland. The first to arrive was the AR180, a sporting version of the military ARI8, and made under licence in Japan by the Howa Machiinery Company. It fires a light bullet (just .223 inch in callibre), at almost three times the speed of sound. The AR 180 folds into a handy 28 inches and weighs about 6 lb. The AR180, like the MI carrbine, is semi-automatic, but can easily be converted to fully-automatic when it can fire about 800 rounds a minute.

There was only a limited production run oftheAR180, and supplies began to dry up in 1974. A new weapon began to appear in the IRA inventory, the AR 15, the sporting version of the US Army standard issue M 16. Similar in all respects to the AR180, except in its internal mechanism, its great virtue as far as the IRA is concerned is its ready availability' in the USA. Some British soldiers in the North are now equipped with the Armalite.

Something else happened in 1974: the arrival of the Simonov. SKS carbine which confirmed the existence of a working supply route through the Middle East. The appearrance of the RPG 7 rocket launcher the year before was merely the precursor of deadly things to come. Beecause of pressure from American federal authorities, the IRA had successfully sought alternative routes for arms smuggling.

The SKS basically perrforms the same military funcctions as the MI carbine. However, it uses special ammmunition, of 7.62mm calibre, which is only made in Commmunist countries. The Simonovs that have arrived in Ireland have all been of Chinnese manufacture and were originally supplied to Palesstinian guerrillas. Surprisingly, the IRA has so far failed to get large numbers of the standard guerrilla rifle used throughout the world, the Russian AK47 or its successsor, the Kalashnikov AKM. Three large consignments of AKs have been intercepted.

One came from Czechosloovakia, one came from Libya, the third and most recent from Limassol in Cyprus. It is known that the Official IRA possesses some AK47s; but these have mostly been put to ground for a rainy day.

Last year, a new sniping rifle appeared ill the North. The Remington Woodmaster, unlike the guns described above, was never intended as a military weapon. It is a pump-action hunting rifle, and according to type, can fire either the Garand round or the Armalite round. It is highly accurate when in acccomplished hands, something the Provisionals do not seem to have too many of at the moment.

The latest addition to the IRA arsenal is the M60 machhine gun. In the gaudy langguage of journalese it has been called a "super gun". It is noothing of the kind. The M60 started life at the end of the war as the T44, which was based on the German MG42 machine gun and the FG42 automatic rifle. It fires about 600 rounds a minute, with muzzle velocity of about two and a half times the speed of sound. In neither respect is it much different from the Browning 30in and .50in belt-feed machine guns which the Provisionals claimed to possess last year. The fact that the Provisionals have Brownings does not seem to have .rnade much difference to their war potential.

Airey Neave, that omnisccient master of all things Irish, claims that twelve M60s were stolen from a US Army base in Germany and were suppplied to the IRA via the Midddle East. He could, for a change, be right. It is certain that major arms shipments to guerrilla organisations around Europe from the Middle East have begun. Goma 2 highhblast plastic explosive has been supplied to both the IRA and the ETA, the Basque secessionist movement, by Middle Eastern sources.

However, the possession of all the guns in the world does not make an Army. Most of the Remington W oodmasters captured in Belfast have never been fired. Hundreds of Armmalites have been sent to the North at enormous expense, but they have .only been effective when in the hands of good and steady men. These the Provisionals do not have anymore in any great number. In fact, the Proovisionals have in the past months relied on assassinaations, which hardly need sophisticated hard ware.

It is all a far cry from that night in Amiens Street when half a dozen Thompsons wreaked terrible carnage in the crowded troop train arrivving from Kingstown. The illlegal uses of the Thompson saddened General Thompson, who had designed the weapon for slaying the murderous Hun. Shortly before he died, he wrote with unintentional ambiguity: "May the deadly TSMG always 'speak for' God and Country. It has worried me that the gun has been stoolen by evil men and used for purposes outside our motto. 'On the side of law and order'."