T Ryle Dwyer
Historian T. Ryle Dwyer has written several studies of Michael Collins and the War of Independence. In this book, he re-examines the subject in the light of new material from the Bureau of Military History.
Dwyer stitches together these first-hand acccounts from members of 'the squad' into a coherent narrative of Collins' activities as the IRA's director of intelligence.
One thing this reader found striking was how closely Collins methods conformed to the theories of US military strategist John Boyd, which emphasise cutting an opponent off from their environment, and paralysing their ability to make effective decisions.
According to Dwyer, "Collins set out with a plan to to eliminate the most effective British detectives and thus knock out the eyes and ears of the Dublin Castle regime in order to provoke the British to retaliate blindly."
The high-point of this strategy came on November 21, 1920, Bloody Sunday, when the IRA assassinated British agents across Dublin. Collins' men succeeded in killing only 14 of 35 targets, but the effect was immediate. Spies and informers fled to the Castle in droves, and British troops lashed out at Croke Park, killing 15 people.
Such reprisals created a dilemma for the British cabinet, which approved of them in many cases, but did not want to endorse them publicly, a situation which undermined army discipline. Perhaps a later generation of British strategists solved this problem with Frank Kitson's countergangs and collusion.
Collins, by contrast, was able to be relatively discriminating because of his extensive infiltration of the police, and other arms of the British state. He was able to move around Dublin in the knowledge that prudent policemen would leave him alone. The main prerequisite for this state of affairs was the huge support which Sinn Fein enjoyed by this stage.
He was also very effective at infiltrating the main British communication network, the postal service. On a parochial note, I would suggest this had a lot to do with his background and contacts in the London IRB.
Dwyer concludes that the Squad made a vital contribution to the War of Independence, but did not win it. He rightly emphasises that this was not a conventional war, but that surely only intensifies the importance of the Squad's contribution to the intelligence and psychological conflict.
He suggests that Collins would not have made an easy transition to civilian politics. Partly this is based on the role of his associates in the Civil War, the Army Mutiny of 1924, and later episodes of political instability. Collins' own role in kidnapping unionist hostages and in the shooting of Sir Henry Wilson, are also cited as evidence of someone 'not committed to a democratic constitutional process.'
Certainly, Collins never became the 'reformed' figure he has sometimes been portrayed as. While mystery still surrounds many of his actions, he was throughout his short life, remarkably consistent in his aims.
This book is powerful testimony to the fact that he pursued those aims with an effectiveness unequalled in Irish history.