Articles

Thousands of Irishmen deserted their military to fight Hitler

It's sometimes easy to forget that World War II wasn't originally a world war and that many countries hoped to let continental Europe fight it out against each other (including the United States). Some countries held on to hopes of remaining neutral and passed strict laws to prevent their people from joining the fight.


For those who wanted to take the fight to the Nazis, this was a bit of a problem. A few dozen U.S. pilots defied neutrality laws to join the Royal Air Force while some American soldiers like Lewis Millet ran away to join the Canadian Army.

For Irish soldiers, approximately 4,500 of them, the best option was to run away from the Emerald Isles and join the British Army. Irish Brigades had served well in other conflicts including World War I, the Mexican-American War (against the U.S), and the American Civil War (on behalf of the Union).

Irish soldiers kill time during the first World War. Photo: Public Domain

The men were grouped into the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade which was formed at the request of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The 38th was commanded by Brig. Morgan John Winthrop O'Donovan.

O'Donovan was a World War I veteran who received the Military Cross for bravery. He led the 38th Brigade from soon after its formation in early 1942 to July of that year, overseeing the initial training and preparations to ship out to North Africa.

O'Donovan was later replaced by Brigadier Nelson Russell, another World War I veteran and holder of the Military Cross. Russell got his for leading a daytime raid of an enemy trench as a 19-year-old lieutenant.  He was also known for a stint playing cricket for Ireland.

Under Russell, the 38th Irish Brigade was sent to the invasion of French North Africa. After suffering a bomb attack by the Luftwaffe as they were getting off of their ships, the Irish Brigade fought its way through Africa alongside the British and American forces. The Irish were deployed into the mountains around Tunis during the battle for the capital.

The war in Tunisia was characterized by tank combat and blistering temperatueres. Here, British soldiers practice anti-tank marksmanship in the Tunisian Desert. Photo: British Army Sgt. Loughlin

When the Allies made it into the city, the Irish Brigade was the first to march through the streets. After the celebrations at Tunis, the 38th was sent with other victorious units to prepare for the landings at Sicily in Operation Husky.

The Allies landed on Jul. 9, 1943. The 38th's major objective was a small village at the center of the Axis defenses in the Sicilian mountains. They made it to the objective and, on Aug. 3, began their assault against it. In a single night of fighting, they pushed the Axis our of the village and away from the ridgeline. They continued to push forward, helping other Allied soldiers capture and kill Axis forces.

Soldiers with the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade search houses in Sicily in 1943. Photo: Public Domain

On Aug. 17, after just over 5 weeks of fighting, the Axis had been pushed off the island and forced to return to Italy.

The Irish Brigade was then sent to take part in the invasion of Italy, a task which would occupy them for the rest of the war. They came ashore just a few days after the initial landings and then began pushing the Germans north past one defensive line after another. By this time, the Italian Army had withdrawn from the war and it was only German soldiers holding the peninsula.

Still, the Fuhrer's troops made the Allies fight for every mile with well-established defensive lines that the 38th Irish and the other Allied forces had to break through. The Irish didn't make it out of Italy and into Austria until May 8, 1945, the same day that Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies.

Since the men of the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade were mostly deserters from the Irish Army, they were officially blacklisted in Ireland from any jobs that received any money from the state and were branded as traitors by both the government and the population.

This punishment lasted for nearly 70 years until a 2013 pardon cleared all men of the Irish Brigade of wrongdoing.

For a more detailed account of the Irish Brigade's exploits in Tunisia and Italy, check out the Irish Brigade's campaign narratives and suggested reading.

GEAR & TECH

6 of the most notable pre-M16 military guns

Throughout history, the U.S. Military has used a wide variety of guns to win its battles. Prior to the M16, there were several weapons used across the service throughout some of the most devastating wars the world has ever seen.

Here are some of those weapons:

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
International

China and the US could end up in a war – here's what would happen

It's unlikely that the U.S.-China trade dispute is going to escalate to a full-scale war any time soon — but it's not impossible. Neither side is inclined to go to war with the other, but a war of that scale is what both plan to fight. All it would take is one bungled crisis, one itchy trigger finger, one malfunctioning automated defense system and the entire region could become a war zone.

Keep reading... Show less
Lists

Here are the best military photos for the week of April 20th

The military is always evolving and new things happen every day. With each changes comes a new set of challenges and new opportunities to succeed. Thankfully, there are many talented photographers in the community that capture these struggles and triumphs.

Keep reading... Show less
History

5 ways troops accidentally 'blue falcon' the rest of the platoon

Every now and then, the pricks known as 'Blue Falcons' come and ruin things for everyone else. They break the rules and make everyone else suffer. They rat out their brothers- and sisters-in-arms. They even damage the reputation of others to make themselves look better.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

Why I'm thrilled Brie Larson will play Captain Marvel

Look, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is really lighting my fires when it comes to their female superheroes.

When Marvel Studios announced they would be bringing Captain Marvel to the big screen, I was thrilled. I was also immediately invested and my expectations shot through the roof.

Keep reading... Show less
History

This is how American pilots used drop tanks as bombs during WWII

If you pay attention, you might sometimes see long, cigar-shaped pods firmly attached to the undersides of classic fighter and attack aircraft, sometimes with unit markings on them.

Known as "drop tanks," these simple devices extend the range of the aircraft they're hooked up to by carrying extra usable fuel. Back during World War II, however, attack pilots found a secondary use for drop tanks as improvised bombs, used to bombard enemy ground positions.

Keep reading... Show less

The hilarious ways Chinese police are combating jaywalkers

China is so desperate to stop jaywalkers it has turned to spraying them with water.

In Daye, in the central Hubei province, one pedestrian crossing has had a number of bright yellow bollards installed that spray wayward pedestrians' feet with water mist.

Keep reading... Show less