Saturday, 30 April 2011

Clyde Valley - Gun Running in 1912

Historical information relating to the period of 1912 - an important time in Ulsters History - keep Loughries new banner in mind and read the following!

The ‘Larne’ gun-running was a major gun smuggling operation organised in Ireland by Major Frederick H. Crawford and Captain Wilfrid Spender for the Ulster Unionist Council to equip the Ulster Volunteer Force. The operation involved the smuggling of almost twenty-five thousand rifles and three million rounds of ammunition from Germany, with the shipments landing in Larne, Donaghadee, and Bangor in the early hours between Friday 24 and Saturday 25 April 1914. The Larne gun-running may have been the first time in history motor-vehicles had been used "on a large scale for a military-purpose, and with striking success".

In November 1910 the Ulster Unionist Council formed a secret committee to oversee the creation an army in Ulster to fight against the imposition of Home Rule. It approached Major Frederick Crawford to act as its agent to purchase the guns needed to arm such an army. Major Crawford wrote to five arm manufacturers for the purchase of twenty thousand rifles and a million rounds of ammunition.

In January 1913, the Ulster Unionist Council instituted the Ulster Volunteer Force consisting of people who had signed the Ulster Covenant. This was an attempt to co-ordinate the activities of Ulster’s unionists, as well as to give real military backing to the threats of the Ulster Covenant in resisting the implementation of the Third Home Rule Bill introduced on 11 April 1912 by then Prime Minister H. H. Asquith. These threats had been regarded as a "gigantic game of bluff and blackmail" by Irish nationalist leader John Redmond as well as most Liberal MPs including Winston Churchill.

UVF membership grew to around 90,000 members, led by retired officers of the British army, with the organisation under the charge of Lieutenant-General Sir George Richardson KCB, a veteran of the Afghan Wars. By 1913 the UVF had over £1 million pledged to it, and £70,000 invested in attempts to import arms.

Major Crawford however would convince the Ulster Unionist Council that he could provide the weapons and ammunition needed "to equip the entire UVF".[9] Thus the scene was set for what would become known as the Larne gun-running, with Edward Carson in response proclaiming; ‘I'll see you through this business, if I should have to go to prison for it’.

Crawford secured the services of the SS Fanny to transport 216 tons of guns and ammunition he had purchased - Included in this cache was; 11,000 Mannlicher rifles brought from the Steyr works in Austria; 9,000 ex-German army Mausers; 4,600 Italian Vetterli-Vitali rifles; and 5 million rounds of ammunition] in clips of five — much of which was transported from Hamburg via the Kiel Canal.

On 30 March 1914, these weapons were being loaded onto the SS Fanny on the Baltic island of Langeland when Danish customs officials seized the papers of the ship. The customs officials suspected that the cargo might contain weapons to arm militant Icelandic home rulers who sought independence from Denmark; however the SS Fanny managed to escape into a gale and sailed outside of Danish territorial waters. On 1 April, The Times newspaper had correctly claimed that the guns were destined for Ulster rather than Iceland.

In a bid to evade the authorities as the SS Fanny neared Ireland, Major Crawford purchased the SS Clyde Valley in Glasgow. On 19–20 April off Tuskar Rock, County Wexford, the entire cache of weapons was transported from the SS Fanny onto the SS Clyde Valley. On 24 April, the SS Clyde Valley was renamed the "Mountjoy II", with the use of 6-foot-long (1.8 m) strips of canvas painted with white letters on a black background. This was a direct reference to the Mountjoy that broke the boom across the River Foyle during the Siege of Derry in 1689, which gave it a historic symbolism for unionists.

Captain James Craig was in command of the operations in Bangor, with Adair taking command in Larne. The commander of the UVF, Sir George Richardson, would remain in Belfast on the night of the landings and was kept fully informed of proceedings by dispatch-riders.

On the arranged date that the UVF Motor Corps had been given for their "test" operation, a decoy ship, the tramp steamer SS Balmerino, was intentionally dispatched into Belfast Lough so that the authorities would investigate it for smuggled armaments in what the UVF leadership called the Hoax.

The Hoax involved a large truck waiting at the Belfast docks in an intentional bid to make it appear as if it was awaiting an incoming load. The captain of the SS Balmerino ensured that by making his ship's approach as suspicious as possible, the authorities would be alerted. Once the ship was docked, the captain set about stalling the authorities for as long as possible with excuses, which further convinced the authorities that they had intercepted the real cargo.[10] Eventually the authorities searched the ship's contents and discovered that its papers were in order and that it was only carrying coal.

Whilst this was happening, twenty miles away the "Mountjoy II" brought the real arms cache into Larne harbour unhindered. After the "Mountjoy II" docked a motor-boat sailed up alongside and cranes transported "thousands" of rifles to it. After it had sailed away a second vessel sailed up to take away more arms. These vessels would transport their loads to Donaghadee.

As the weapons were unloaded onto the motor vehicles, each batch was counted and its destination noted by counting clerks. Due to the volume of weapons, temporary arms-dumps had been set up in the surrounding districts so that the vehicles could return as quickly as possible to receive another load. The Belfast Evening Telegraph remarked that all present "put their backs into it" and that it "illustrated the old adage, 'One Volunteer is worth three pressed men'" and they "toiled like galley slaves". The local population of Larne was noted as having lined the streets exchanging salutes and running make-shift canteens to supply the workers with refreshments throughout the night.

At 5 am the ship set sail from Larne harbour for Bangor to unload the rest of its cargo. Three cheers for "The King" and three more for "the Volunteers" were let out by the ships skipper and its crew as they stood to attention, with the cheers allegedly reciprocated by all those ashore.

By 7:30 am the "Mountjoy II" had completed its mission, and a course was set for the River Clyde to confuse any coast-guards. On its way, the canvas sheets that bore the name Mountjoy II were cut, revealing the ship's real name, and it then proceeded down the Irish sea. After offloading Major Crawford at Rosslare, County Wexford, the SS Clyde Valley set sail for the Baltic Sea, travelling along the coasts of France and Denmark. Here it would rendezvous with the SS Fanny to bring back the Ulstermen contingent of its crew. Once this had been done, the SS Fanny was disposed of at Hamburg.


1 comment:

  1. Very interesting.I live near Dramalis House which I know played a massive part in the gun running. Did I read somewhere that Rudyard Kipling was a major funder for this event?