#OTD in 1920 – The first ‘Black and Tans’ (auxiliary policemen) officially arrived in Ireland.

Although they would be operational for less than two years, the ‘Black and Tans’ would become one of the most reviled names in Irish history.

The English recruits to the RIC were mainly the unemployed veterans of World War I. Their principal motivation: employment for ten shillings a day. When the first recruits arrived in Ireland on 25 March 1920, after three months of training, they looked like the irregulars which they were. Since there were not enough RIC uniforms for the new men, they were equipped with khaki service dress supplemented with constabulary uniforms, so that they appeared in a strange mixture of khaki and dark green, some with khaki tunic and green trousers, others in all khaki, some with civilian hats, but most with green caps and black leather belts of the RIC. These uniforms led to their being called ‘Black and Tans,’ after a famous pack of hounds. Limerick gets credit for this appellation.

The Black and Tans, although they served in the constabulary, never acted as policemen. Their service experience had been in trench warfare on foreign soil. Absent in their background was the constable’s role as servant to the community in the protection of life and property. The Black and Tans acted as an occupation army. They had signed on for an indefinite period of service with no pension rights and ineffective discipline.

Eventually over 2000 Black and Tans were distributed over Ireland to strengthen police posts, to make Ireland ‘hell for rebels to live in.’

On 17 June 1920, Lt. Col. Smyth was appointed division commander of the RIC for Munster. Below is part of his speech to his constables:

‘….If a police barracks is burned or if the barracks already occupied is not suitable, then the best house in the locality is to be commandeered, the occupants thrown into the gutter. Let them die there – the more the merrier. Police and military will patrol the country at least five nights a week. They are not to confine themselves to the main roads, but make across the country, lie in ambush and, when civilians are seen approaching, shout ‘Hands up!’ Should the order be not immediately obeyed, shoot and shoot with effect. If the persons approaching carry their hands in their pockets, or are in any way suspicious-looking, shoot them down. You may make mistakes occasionally and innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped, and you are bound to get the right parties some time. The more you shoot, the better I will like you, and I assure you no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man …

Image | An ignoble Black and Tan; impiously he stands gazing into the distance with machine gun at hand, as the sweet aromatic smoke from his smouldering cigarette defiles his wicked lungs | Photo credit: 1916 Easter Revolution in Colour



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2 thoughts on “#OTD in 1920 – The first ‘Black and Tans’ (auxiliary policemen) officially arrived in Ireland.

  1. 1. Am I correct in thinking that Ireland was still under martial law when the Black and Tans were introduced?

    2. I’m always surprised to see footage of the Rolls-Royce armoured cars. They had first been used in the Middle East in WW1. I’m not entirely sure why they were preferred over other, cheaper makes; perhaps they were more reliable. And yet their name was made as the ‘best [engineered] car in the world’ carrying the most comfortable coachwork by the best builders.

    1. On 10 December 1920, martial law was proclaimed in Counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary in Munster; in January 1921 martial law was extended to the rest of Munster in Counties Clare and Waterford, as well as Counties Kilkenny and Wexford in Leinster.

      The British Rolls-Royce Armoured Car was developed in 1914 and used during the First World War, the inter-war period in Imperial Air Control in Transjordan, Palestine and Mesopotamia, and in the early stages of the Second World War in the Middle East and North Africa.

      The first three vehicles were delivered on 3 December 1914, although by then the mobile period on the Western Front, where the primitive predecessors of the Rolls-Royce cars had served, had already come to an end. Later in the war they served on several fronts of the Middle Eastern theatre. Chassis production was suspended in 1917 to enable Rolls-Royce to concentrate on aero engines.

      The vehicle was modernised in 1920 and in 1924, resulting in the Rolls-Royce 1920 Pattern and Rolls-Royce 1924 Pattern. In 1940, 34 vehicles which served in Egypt with the 11th Hussars regiment had the ‘old’ turret replaced with an open-topped unit carrying a Boys anti-tank rifle, .303-inch Bren machine gun and smoke-grenade launchers.

      Six RNAS Rolls-Royce squadrons were formed of 12 vehicles each: one went to France; one to Africa to fight in the German colonies and in April 1915 two went to Gallipoli. From August 1915 onwards these were all disbanded and the materiel handed over to the Army which used them in the Light Armoured Motor Batteries of the Machine Gun Corps. The armoured cars were poorly suited to the muddy trench filled battlefields of the Western Front, but were able to operate in the Near East, so the squadron from France went to Egypt.

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