Wednesday, March 8, 2017

World War Wednesdays:"More Trouble than it was Worth:" Ireland and WWII

Damage after a bombing raid in Dublin which killed between thirty and forty people, May 30, 1941
     Sometimes we like to get a little geographical with our WWW focus, and for this week's post I decided to venture into territory that's been on the list for a while but not yet made the cut. This one goes out to any Irish readers, or just anyone who likes a good geographical history and/or a pint of Guinness.

     To begin, it is important to point out that Ireland was a divided country during the war, and both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland remained officially neutral. But, Ireland presents a curious case as a neutral country because it did make some contraventions in favour of the Allied cause, such as allowing the use of the Donegal Corridor for Allied military aircraft and extensive co-operation with Allied intelligence including exchanges of information and detailed weather reports of the Atlantic Ocean. Geographically, Ireland's position benefited the Allies more than the Axis, since, for example, British airmen who crash-landed there could go free if they could claim not to have been on a combat mission. However, it also refused to close its German and Japanese Legations, and leader Eamon de Valera signed the book of condolence following Adolf Hitler's death in May 1945 before personally visiting the German ambassador. As a result, then, Ireland is a fascinating study of the complexities of wartime neutrality and international diplomacy in general.

     In the Republic of Ireland, the Second World War was known as the Emergency, which was declared on September 2, 1939 and gave the government sweeping powers until its lapse on the same date in 1946. In the Republic's case, the greatest wartime threat came from inside Ireland in the form of the rebel group IRA, which sabotaged the Irish Army and killed policemen while forging links with German intelligence to plan a German-supported invasion of Northern Ireland.
Some of the devastation caused by the bombing of Belfast, April 1940
     Despite the fact that the invasion never came to fruition, Northern Ireland did experience hardship at the hands of the Germans during the war. Believing itself to be a distant an unlikely target, Belfast did little to prepare for Nazi air raids, but the city's shipyards actually presented a major strategic target for the Luftwaffe. Belfast thus experienced dozens of raids in April and May 1940, with the worst on April 15 when two hundred German bombers pounded the city relentlessly. The onslaught resulted in the deaths of over nine hundred residents, one of the entire war's highest single-day death tolls, in addition to the destruction of factories, infrastructure, and half the city's housing, leaving a quarter of the population homeless.

     Between 1938 and 1939, when the war was just on the horizon, the iconic Irish brewery Guinness was exporting around 800,000 barrels of beer annually. By 1940 and 1941, the figure was closer to the one million mark. This was thanks to the rapidly-growing number of men enlisted in the British military and wartime industries, who had a thirst for the classic drink from the isle. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill recognized Guinness's importance for the preservation of morale, but by the end of 1941 wheat was becoming increasingly scarce. On all fronts, it looked like Ireland's neutrality would be unable to survive the war, and because of the vulnerability of the Irish ports and the British need to supply the neutral country with important goods for the war effort, Churchill decided to further Ireland's economic weakness in the hopes of forcing them onto the Allied side. Throughout 1941, the full onslaught of British economic warfare was thrust upon Ireland, making famine once again a realistic fear. In March 1942, in an effort to preserve the wheat supply for bread for the poor, the Irish government imposed restrictions on the malting of barley and banned the export of beer altogether. This dramatically changed the British attitude and promptly snapped them into drafting an agreement to trade badly needed stocks in exchange for Guinness. When, a short time later, Guinness complained of a lack of coal supply to produce beer for both home and export markets, the Irish government reinstated the ban and British officials once again responded with more aid. The pattern of barter continued repeating itself, resulting in enough supplies to keep Ireland afloat for the rest of the war and the thirst American and British troops in North Ireland well quenched during the lead-up to DDay. The overall result, as author Bryce Evans comments, was that Guinness effectively saved Ireland during the war.

     I hope you enjoyed this little spotlight on the Emerald Isle, and that you'll keep it in mind as St. Patrick's Day approaches. If you're interested in some further reading, here are some interesting links:
On Guinness during the war:
On Northern Ireland during the war:
Research credits to Bryce Evans, "How Guinness Saved Ireland in World War II;", and Irish History Live at Queen's University Belfast,
     Thanks for reading,

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