Armoured trucks in the Irish War of Independence

Published in Artefacts, Issue 5 (September/October 2021), Volume 29

By Lar Joye

The Irish War of Independence was the first time that guerrilla fighters attacked trucks and cars, which were becoming more common on Irish roads. After an initial campaign against RIC barracks in 1920, more and more IRA attacks occurred on roads. In this they were greatly helped by the Irish munitions strike from May 1920, when a military boycott by Dublin Port dockers and Irish railway workers forced Crown forces to use the roads.

The most common type of truck used by the British in 1920 was the Crossley tender, but being without armour they were very vulnerable to ambush, as was the case at Kilmichael in November 1920. In response, the RIC and British Army began to armour their vehicles, adding wire-mesh cages to protect them from grenades and adding steel armour to protect them from rifle fire. The Crossley tenders were retrofitted in Britain, Belfast and the Great Southern & Western Railway (GSWR) workshops in Inchicore, Dublin.

In 1921 the Lancia armoured 1.5-ton truck was introduced, carrying 8–10 policemen or soldiers with a Lewis machine-gun and with a maximum speed of 55kph. As the historian Karl Martin has noted, ‘Although they were built to the same design no two vehicles look exactly alike’. The Lancia, however, was not impervious to attack. The addition of armour made it very heavy and more liable to break down, and gave it a very short working lifespan. In response to these new trucks the IRA developed land-mines, which, however, did not always work. The most effective way to stop these trucks was by trenching the roads and cutting down trees. By 1921 it had become very difficult for both civilians and Crown forces to move around the country, as roads were continuously dug up. The IRA even attacked the Inchicore works on 6 March 1921, stealing the steel plates needed for the trucks and dumping them in the Royal Canal.

After the War of Independence, 111 armoured Lancias were handed over to the Free State Army from 1922 and were used as armoured personnel carriers and for transporting 18-pounder artillery guns. Others were handed over to the newly formed RUC, who used them until the 1950s; the example shown here is from the collection of National Museums Northern Ireland.

Lar Joye is Heritage Officer of Dublin Port.

Above: A restored 1.5-ton Lancia armoured truck—deployed by Crown forces in 1921 alongside the more common Crossley tender, in service since 1920. (National Museums NI)

 

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