Rathcoole Ambush

1921 Jun 16. A larges ambush took place at Rathcoole, North Cork, between Millstreet and Banteer. Both Witness Statements from the IRA and a report from General Strickland are available.

The IRA had cut the railway line to Millstreet, so the Auxiliaries (L Coy stationed at Mountleader House, at Millstreet) were having to drive twice a week to Banteer to pick up supplies from the railway station there. They appear to have driven the same roads each day. So the ambush was prepared. Captain Dan Vaughan laid six landmines on the untarred road and covered them with dust. The idea being to put them the distance apart of the Auxiliary Crossley tenders, and explode one under each tender. In the event, there were 4 vehicles in the Auxiliaries convoy and 3 of the mines were detonated, but only the last tender was substantially damaged by a mine.

Barricades varying from felled trees to upturned farm carts and implements which were bound together with wire were first constructed to give the ambushers cover. 56 men took part in the actual ambush, and a further 76 worked beforehand on the barricades.

The IRA let the first convoy of the day to Banteer go to the railway station and to return. The second convoy passed later in the day and that too was allowed to pass to Banteer. The IRA then took up ambush positions once it had passed, to await its return. By ambushing the second of the two convoys they would have darkness to cover their withdrawal at the end of the engagement.

The convoy consisted of 2 open Crossley tenders, 1 armoured Crossley and 1 armoured Lancia (leading, and with Crossey, the convoy commander) with 29 personnel of L Company. At 19.30 in the evening these 4 lorries passed through the ambush area on their return journey, three of the landmines which had been placed on the road exploded. One mine detonated as the last of the four lorries (Lorry 4 below) drove over it, a second mine was then detonated under the second vehicle in the convoy Lorry 2 below) , and the final mine then detonated under the leading vehicle (the armoured Lancia, Lorry 1 below) which had turned round to go back to the other vehicles. The armour plate protecting the vehicle

A firefight developed. Most of the IRA positions were to the south of the road, but two sections were to the north to prevent the Auxiliaries using the walls that side as shelter. The engagement lasted till about 21.45, when a stalemate was reached and the IRA withdrew without having sustained any casualties. Two Auxiliaries died and a number were badly injured. Court cases showed that the lawyers expected to bring 16 compensation claims

The compensation lists and inquest statements enables one to say that the following Auxiliaries were involved in the ambush. There were a total of 29 on the 4 lorries. The convoy was under the command of DI1 WE Cossey, who was the Company Commander. The men appear to be a complete Platoon, that of DI3 FG Ferris . There were 4 T/Constables. whom I assume were the drivers of the 4 lorries. Scott was the Intelligence Officer of the Company, and there were the 3 Section Leaders in the Platoon. In addion to these men there were 19 T/Cadets

Inquest report available.

The IRA side is from WS787 by Con Meaney

This was a Brigade operation but being the 1st Battalion Area a large number of men from this Battalion took part both in the actual fight, which extended over a mile of the road, and also, in the erection of barricades of types varying from felled trees to upturned farm carts and implements which were bound together with wire. Each section on barricade work was close to its position and under cover from dawn on that morning until about 6 p.m. that afternoon, when the fight was started. As there was very intense enemy activity in the area at this period the men on the barricades were in as much personal danger as those in the actual ambush. The Battalion Column, consisting of 56 men from 'B', 'C, 'D', 'E', 'F' 'G' 'H', 'I' and 'J' Companies took part in the actual ambush. 'B', 'C', 'D', 'G', 'H', 'I', and 'J' Companies supplied 76 men for the barricades. At the site of the Rathcoole ambush the road runs almost directly East-West. All I.R.A Units to take part in the actual ambush on enemy forces were mobilised before dawn in a wood overlooking the road from the South. This wood's Northern end was less than 400 yards from the proposed ambush position.

Five or six 5 to 7lb. Land mines were laid at different points during darkness on the road over which the Auxiliary R.I.C. used to proceed to Banteer Railway Station once or twice daily for supplies. The G.S.R. West of Banteer Station had previously been rendered impassable by the destruction by fire of the rail bridge over the river Finnow, which is about 11/2 miles East of Millstreet Station. This demolition was carried by I.R.A. forces some weeks prior to June 16th. The Auxiliary convoy passed to and from Banteer twice on that day, but it was only after it went on the second journey to Banter that the I.R.A. forces took up their positions for the actual attack. The attackers were divided into seven or eight sections, plus a number of small groups in position selected to prevent outflanking of the section. The enemy convoy consisted of four Crossley tenders. On the return from Banteer late in the evening, all four travelling from 200 yards to 400 yards apart entered the ambush position. Just as the rear tender entered the position a land mine was exploded under it and the section covering this position were about to rush it when Lewis Gun fire was opened on them by the crew of No. 3 tender which was about 300 yards ahead of the rear tender.

When the fight started all the Auxiliaries leaped from their tenders and under cover of the road fence opened rifle and rifle grenade fire on the I.R.A. positions. The I.R.A. forces opened shot-gun and rifle fire from their positions behind fences which were from 50 to 70 yards South of the road and about 300 yards from the wood where they had been under cover all that day. Some of the occupants of No. 3 tender, about five in number, started to proceed in a Westerly direction along the road until they came in front of an I.R.A. section about a quarter of a mile West of the position of the mine damaged tender when a mine was exploded between three of their number, putting them out of action; the other two kept replying to the I.R.A. fire until both were eventually silenced. Further West a ding-dong exchange of fire went on. Due to some confusion on the Western flank of the I.R.A. forces and the fact that there were hardly any bends on the road capable of being enfiladed by the I.R.A., the I.R.A. forces retired after about half an hour's fight. The LR.A. had not any casualties but the Auxiliaries had their complete transport put out of action as well as an undefined number of killed and wounded. During the fight an enemy plane was seen flying in an Easterly direction and appeared to be not more that a mile distant from the scene of the fighting, but apparently the occupants were unaware that anything like a fight was on.

 

The CO of L Company wrote a report (WO 35/88B at PRO, Kew)

"L" COMPANY AUXILIARY DIVISION, R.I.C. Report on ambush of "L" Coy: by armed rebels at RATHCOOL Co. CORK on the 16th instant.
It is my painful duty to report the facts concerning the above ambush, in which this unit was trapped on the above mentioned date. At 19.00 hours a convoy was at BANTEER station, in order to meet a party returning from CORK, a batch of recruits and the "runner" returning from DUBLIN. The convoy consisted of 2 open Crossley tenders, 1 armoured Crossley and 1 armoured Lancia with 25 personnel of the Company. While on column of route the armoured Lancia was leading. The convoy left BANTEER and when about four miles from BANTEER and half a mile from RATHCOOL bridge, it stopped. A reconnoitring party (acting on previous information) left the tenders and proceeded to skirmish the immediate vicinity of the road, to a depth of 400 yards on the left and right flanks. Nothing of importance or of a suspicious character was discovered during the operation. After this, the convoy proceeded over RATHCOOL bridge on its homeward journey. When about, approximately half a mile beyond the bridge, previously referred to and on the MILLSTREET side of it, the ambush was first encountered. Here, I might point out for your information, in this ambush, the rebels had adopted an entirely new method of attack. Namely, they allowed the 1st: 2nd: and 3rd cars to proceed and then exploded an electrically controlled land mine underneath the rear car. Almost simultaneously with the mining of the rear car, the second leading car was blown up. The leading car (the armoured Lancia) being blown up last of all. The occupants of this vehicle (including myself) on hearing the explosions in the rear were practically blown out of it, when the last mine of all was fired, i.e. after the car had been turned round, in order to go to the assistance of the rest of the convoy.
Therefore it will be easily seen that the only car to escape being mined was the third in column of route. I may say that these mines were timed and fired with the utmost precision. As soon as the mines had been fired, a heavy and concentrated fire was opened up by the insurgents, along a front of 3/4 to 1 mile in length. The fire was notably heaviest, from the direction of the thickly wooded hills on our left. A fairly concentrated fire was also opened up from the railway embankment on our right. The range when the attack first commenced, was between two and three hundred yards and gradually increased to about 700 when the fight ended. I should roughly estimate, that the strength of the attackers was about 300. From the foregoing it will be easily seen that my party, badly shaken as it was by the explosions, was at a very grave disadvantage the rebels occupied a position of great natural strength and it was utterly impossible to locate them.
I believe however that the rebels sustained severe casualties, judging from screams and groans heard coming from their directions. I cannot speak too highly of the way in which my party behaved, outmanoeuvred as they were by twelve to one; not over looking the fact that at the commencement of the action, the occupants of each car had to fight as detached groups, until such time as they were able to concentrate. During the whole of the engagement, the discipline of the cadets was perfect. There not being the slightest sign of panic or nerves as might easily have occurred, owing to the sudden nature of the onslaught.
As soon as I considered it feasible, I sent to MILLSTREET for reinforcements. D.I.3. F. Scott being the first to go on this errand and the first to arrive at his destination some five miles distant. I cannot, find words sufficient, to express my appreciation of his hazardous task. He was single handed and under rebel fire for about a mile of his journey and finally arrived in MILLSTREET without a single round of ammunition; having expended it all on his journey.
This officer gave the alarm and reinforcements were immediately dispatched. Five other members of my party were successful also in getting through to MILLSTREET, but arrived after D.I. Scott. The reinforcements that were dispatched came along at the double. Some in a Ford car and other commandeered jaunting cars. Unfortunately these were delayed by reason of three trees, which had been felled across the roadway just outside MILLSTREET, by the insurgents. A small number of the reinforcements were left at these barriers and the rest proceeded to the scene of the ambush on foot. By the time these had arrived, the rebels (already beaten back) had broken off the fight, which lasted for two hours, the attack itself commencing at about 19.30 hours and ceasing at about 21.45 hours.
Wireless messages were sent out from the billet for assistance and with the utmost despatch "J" Company responded to our signals, arriving at the scene of the ambush at 00.30 hours on the 17th inst., from MACROOM. This unit with the C O . (D.I.I. Williams) in charge did everything possible to assist and help us. After an inspection I found to my regret and sorrow that Cadets Boyd W. A. H. and Shorter F.E. had been killed. Also that S/Ldr : Taylor O.C. sustained three wounds. With regards to M.T, which sustained considerable damage, I found that of the four vehicles that were in the convoy, two, the armoured Crossley and the Lancia are severely damaged. In passing, I may state that the armour plate protecting the engine of this car, was discovered 40 yards away: having been flung that distance by the concussion, that this unit has not suffered the loss of any arms whatsoever, or ammunition, with the exception of the ammunition expended during the engagement. In closing I may state, that I consider the way in which the cadets under my charge behaved, is worthy of the highest tradition of the Royal Irish Constabulary.
(Sgd.) W. E. Crossey, Lieut., & 1st D.I. Commanding "L" Coy Aux. Div. R.I.C.
17/6/21 Millstreet, Co. Cork

No arms were captured during the action, But a reconnaissance party from the IRA column, returned later and recovered 1,350 rounds of ammunition which the Auxiliaries had left behind. They also dug up and removed the undetonated mines.

The compensation claims show that paractically every ADRIC man involved in the ambush claimed for either injury or property. I hae rarely come across such a full legal case that lays the whole thing bare.

Four Constabulary Medals were won during this action including one to a member of the Motor Transport Division. WE Crossey, F Scott, W Kay, Const HWT George

The british Army report is in National Archives WO 35/159A/22

Incidents