General Strickland report on Rathcoole Ambush

Lieutenant General Strickland sent on the following report on this ambush to General Headquarters in Dublin on 20th June, 1921:-

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 . (DI.1. 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.

Millstreet, (Sgd.) W. E. Crossey, Lieut.,& Co. Cork. & 1st B.D.L. Commanding "L" Coy. 17/6/21 Aux. Div. R.I.C.


Rathcoole Ambush