The Cairo Gang

police sheet of murders

Dublin Metropolitan Police Incident Report.

The Cairo Gang was supposed to be a group of British Intelligence agents in Dublin during the Irish War of Independence with a brief to conduct intelligence operations against members of the Irish Republican Army. Originally I had substantial doubt in my own mind as to whether this reference to a "Cairo Gang" is to a central group of Intelligence officers operating out of Dublin Castle, or more probably to the intelligence unit run by F Coy of the Auxiliaries. However I eventually discovered that the term "Cairo Gang" has not actually been used anywhere prior to 1958, and the first mention in an Irish newspaper is 1962 (using Google ngrams). So unless anyone can find a contemporary reference to it in the War of Independence, the conclusion is that it was never actually used then. Further the photos commonly used and labeled "Cairo Gang" was not actually called that by the IRA, instead they called them the "special gang", and they are a named group from F Coy of ADRIC

Thoms Dublin Directory 1921

I used "Dublin" as a control, one can see the number of mentions fairly uniform since 1910. But when you use "Cairo Gang" the earliest mentions are in late 1950s

The British seemed to have frequented 2 cafes in the Grafton St area

There is no findable mention of "Cairo Gang" in books or documents of the 1919-1922 period. The earliest reference found so far is 1958

Fourteen men, a mixture of British Army officers, Royal Irish Constabulary officers and civilians, were assassinated on the morning of 21 November 1920 by the IRA in a planned series of simultaneous early-morning strikes engineered by Michael Collins. There were somewhere between 60 and 100 British intelligence agents trained in London in a unit run by Major C A Cameron, and sent under cover singlely to Ireland. The number targeted by Collins that morning is not known. Supposedly a list of 35 targets was drawn up, pared down by Brugha and/or Collins to around 20. A letter from Collins to Mulcahy confirms that the list was augmented by Dublin Brigade of the IRA, to an unknown number.

The IRA groups met on the evening of 20 November 1920, and were timed to move so that all the killings would be simultaneously taking place at 9am exactly on the following morning. Around 15 hit squads (nobody now knows the exact number), each with around 15 men, arrived at their target addresses. They appear to have about 2 men targeted at each address, so around 30 men were targeted that morning. Why so vague? Well the failures when the targets were not at home, are not mentioned in history. Neither do the addresses where the wrong men were shot attract many candidates for the hit squads.

In the end nineteen men were shot. Fourteen were killed on 21 November, Montgomery died later making fifteen in all. Four more were wounded. 9 of the dead were in their pyjamas.

Ames, Angliss, Baggallay, Bennett, Dowling, Fitzgerald, MacCormack, MacLean, Montgomery, Newberry, Price, Wilde, Smith, Morris, Garniss were killed. Keenlyside, Woodcock, Murray and Caldow were wounded. Peel amongst others escaped. The dead included British Intelligence officers, British Army Courts-Martial officers, the two Auxiliaries, an RIC officer, and a number of soldiers in the wrong place at the wrong time and and 2 civilians.

A new British Administration in Dublin in 1920 reorganised both British Intelligence and British Propaganda. Both the British and the Irish had efficient propaganda organisations and were capable and indeed intent on doctoring the news to gain political advantage. And if they could not do that, then at least to minimise the negative effects of news. The British attempted to portray the men murdered as innocent soldiers just doing their duty, and butchered often in front of their wives by the IRA. While the IRA want to put across that they were all dangerous men who would have brought about the death of a great many Irishmen if they had not been silenced, and that further they were killed because specific information existed against each man killed.

It seems that the truth lies between the two opposing lots of spin. The British had trained around 60 to 100 specially selected men in London. These men were to be infiltrated individually into Irish society, with the aim of breaking the IRA. Collins did draw up a list from his intelligence sources within Dublin Castle, but that list was added to by local Dublin IRA Brigade.

Of those killed by the IRA, Ames, Angliss, Bennett, Dowling, MacLean and Price were Intelligence officers. Baggallay and Newberry were Court Martial officers not involved with Intelligence - had they been murdered on any other day, their deaths would have been unremarked by history. McCormack and Wilde appear to have been incorrectly targeted, and were innocent ex-officers. Fitzgerald was a policeman, who was probably mistaken for someone else. Smith was the landlord of a house that some of the army men were staying at and was probably "collateral". Morris and Garniss were Auxiliaries on their way to warn the barracks and were "collateral", as was Montgomery who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Dr Bowden's poorly researched view

Townshend's conclusions on the list of names and its value in ascribing men to being Intelligence Officers

As Townshend says, the evidence from Collins himself is that "the list" for the 21st November was not his alone, and had been augmented by the local IRA without perhaps the same evidence against the men murdered, as Collins had amassed against the men on his original list.

Cairo Gang

The photo is invariably used for the Cairo gang, one print is in Bureau of Military History and its provenance is IRA papers. A discussion on it here. and this is certainly of named men from F Coy ADRIC. The men are nothing to do with the men who were murdered on Bloody Sunday

ILN Bloody Sunday Victims

The Illustrated London News 4th December 1920

The men murdered were:

In January 1920, the British Army Intelligence Centre in Ireland recruited a special plainclothes unit of 18-20 demobilized ex-army officers and some active-duty officers to conduct clandestine operations against the IRA. The officers received training at a school of instruction in London, most likely under the supervision of Special Branch, which had been part of the Directorate of Home Intelligence since February 1919. They may also have received some training from MI5 officers and ex-officers working for Special Branch. Army Centre, Dublin, hoped these officers could eventually be divided up and deployed to the provinces to support its 5th and 6th Division intelligence staffs, but it decided to keep it in Dublin under the command of the Dublin District Division, General Gerald Boyd, commanding. It was known officially as the Dublin District Special Branch (DDSB) and also as "D Branch".

One by one, they arrived in Ireland, travelling under aliases and using commercial cover, several taking jobs as shop assistants or garage bands to avoid suspicion. Professor Bowden believes that the Cairo Group was directed by two men, Peter Ames and George Bennett. These individuals maintained liaison with three veterans of the campaign, Lt. Angliss, alias McMahon, who had returned from Russia to organize intelligence in South Dublin, an Irishman by the name of Peel, and D. L. MacLean, the chief  of intelligence at Dublin Castle. There is doubt about Bowden's work, see Townsend's view. I would add that Ames and Bennett were relatively junior in British Intelligence in Dublin, Ames being only a Class II agent, and Bennett a Class HH and area commanders like Carew were Class GG. And the senior Intelligence men in Dublin Castle were Class FF. Besides being more experienced intelligence operatives than those earlier working in Ireland, these men increased the threat to the Irish because they immediately reorganized the British intelligence effort, which until their arrival had been decentralized and uncoordinated. They moved quickly to correct weaknesses. Their accomplishments led ultimately to the events of "Bloody Sunday."

Sir Basil Thomson was Director of Intelligence at the Home Office in London.The Intelligence group in Dublin worked under Ormonde Winter. Deputy Police Adviser and Head of Intelligence. They included Capt H B C Pollard and Major Cecil Street . The entire Intelligence team lived in quarters at the Royal Marine Hotel at Kingstown but by September 1921 all had for safety moved inside the thick walls of Dublin Castle itself, address being Number 4 Upper Castle Yard.

Although the IIS was aware that changes were taking place on the British side, it was some time before it ascertained the identities of the group. Their first break came following the execution of John Lynch, by the British. After this episode, Lt. Angliss had been one of the killers, and having had a drink too many had divulged his participation in the execution to a girl in his lodgings, who inadvertently passed this information to an IIS informant. Other members of the group were identified by landladies revealing that the men went out late at night, at the time when Dublin was under a very strict curfew, and only authorized personnel were allowed on the streets. But mainly, names and addresses came from lists typed up in Dublin Castle, and passed on to Collins by an informants within Dublin Castle - like Mernin, Mannix, Neligan.

In May 1920, Lieutenant Colonel Walter Wilson arrived in Dublin to take command of D Branch. Following the events of Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920, when several D Branch officers were assassinated by IRA hit teams, D Branch was transferred to the command of Brigadier-General Sir Ormonde Winter in January 1921. Winter had been placed in charge of a new police intelligence unit, the Combined Intelligence Service, in May 1920, and his charter was to set up a central intelligence clearing house to more effectively collate and coordinate army and police intelligence. The several members of D Branch who survived Bloody Sunday were very unhappy to be transferred from army command to CIS command, and, for the next six months, until the Truce of July 1921, D Branch continued to maintain regular contact with Army Intelligence Centre while undertaking missions for Winter's CIS.

The British undercover men lived in boarding houses and hotels across Dublin, unobtrusively going out to keep tabs on the IRA. While at the same time the IRA Intelligence Department (IRAID) was receiving information from well-placed sources, including Lily Mernin, who was the confidential clerk for British Army Intelligence Centre in Parkgate Street, and Sergeant Jerry Mannix, stationed in Donnybrook. Another IRA source was Constable David Neligan, of G-Division (special branch) of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Strangely both sides appeared to rink together at the Cafe Cairo, Rabiatti's Saloon and Kidds Back Pub. In addition the IRA, once they knew where undercover men were living could get the Irish servants to report on the mens' movements.

The British started to close in on the centre of IRA operations. Three IIS senior officers, Liam Tobin, the senior officer in charge of IRA Intelligence, Frank Thornton Tobin's deputy in IRA intelligence, and Tom Cullen, his assistant, were arrested. Tobin and Cullen were detained only a few hours. Thornton underwent a grueling interrogation for ten days. Shortly after Thornton's release, Collins received information that the British planning more arrests. and as a result met with his staff and formulated the plans for "Bloody Sunday."

Lieutenant "G" who was Michael Collins' agent in the British Military had informed him that he should clear the "Cairo Gang" out by the 21st of this month and a list of 35 suspected members of the "Cairo Gang" had been drawn up together with their photographs. It was given to Cathal Brugha to peruse and he removed 15 men from the list and Michael Collins then informed Richard MacKee of the addresses of all those of the British "Cairo Gang" still listed and that it must be carried out on the 21st. Richard MacKee then informed Peadar Clancy and the "12 Apostles" who had already carried out surveillance on were they were all living. Again this is from Professor Bowden, and derided by Professor Townsend

Surveillance of British suspects was stepped up, and intelligence was gathered from rooming houses. The IRA Dublin Brigade and the IRAID then pooled their resources and intelligence to draw up their own hit list of suspected gang members and set the date for the assassinations to be carried out: 21 November 1920 at 9:00 am sharp.

The operation was planned by several senior IRA members, including Michael Collins, Dick McKee, Liam Tobin, Peadar Clancy, Tom Cullen, Frank Thornton and Oscar Traynor. The killings were planned to coincide with the Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary, because the large crowds around Dublin would provide easier movement and less chance of detection for the members of Collins' Squad carrying out the assassinations. Clancy and McKee were picked up by the British on the evening of Saturday, 20 November. They were interrogated, tortured and shot dead, along with a Gaelic language student, Conor Clune, the nephew of Archbishop Clune. In spite of being tortured, they did not talk, and the British learned nothing of the assassination plot.

On 17 November Collins had written to Dick McKee, Commander of the Dublin Brigade:

Dick . . . have established addresses of the particular ones. Arrangements should now be made about the matter. Lt. G. is aware of things. He suggested the 21st. A most suitable date and day I think. "M"

Early Sunday morning, November 21, 1920, the IRA hit squads went into action. They executed 15 people. The British reaction to "Bloody Sunday" was quick. Carloads of Auxiliaries were almost immediately dispatched to Croke Park, Dublin where a large crowd had assembled to watch a football game. Accounts of what followed are conflicting, but one of the most widely reported stated that the Auxiliaries fired into the crowd, killing fourteen and wounding many others.

Mrs Woodcock, wife of Lt Col Woodcock , who herself witnessed the shootings, writes

It was not until I went back to the military hospital on the afternoon of 21st November that I realised that our house had not been the only one visited by the murderers. The matron there told me that the dead bodies of fourteen British officers lay in the hospital mortuary. Nine of these were in pyjamas. That little sentence shows in what circumstances the majority of them lost their lives. Two officers who had dined at our house on the Saturday night were among the killed. These officers were Roman Catholics, and, I was told, had taken up special service work from a sense of duty. Tale after tale of horror was unfolded to me until my brain reeled,and I felt I could bear no more.

One officer had been butchered in front of his wife. They took some time to kill him.(This refers to Newberry ) Shortly afterwards she had a little baby. It was born dead, and a few days after she also died. .....

The American Consul had dined at our house the night before the murders. His two hosts were among the murdered . They had played bridge till it was very late, and he had been pressed to stay the night. If he had, there would probably have been an American citizen the less,as there is no doubt the men and boys who visited our house were mostly quite incapable, from fright, of distinguishing friend from foe. One of the wounded officers told me he was placed against a wall in the hall, and eight men took, or tried to take, careful aim at him. One man's hand shook so much that a comrade took his revolver away from him, and another supported his trembling right hand on his left arm. This officer also was a regimental officer, and had nothing to do with police or secret service. Like my husband , he too had a most marvelous escape, and none of the shots he received were vital.

I had absolutely no idea until after the murders of 21st November of the awful risks run by our men, when one of the few survivors of the original Intelligence Service opened my eyes to the dangers and difficulties of their lives. He would probably never have spoken then had not the horrors of that day shaken him to the depths. He told me of whole nights spent in lonely railway cuttings when the slightest sound would have resulted in discovery and immediate death. Of long crawls over marshy fields, ending, perhaps,in a sudden dash and a volley of revolver shots. I had seen those men leaving the house, night after night, but I never knew or guessed what their work was, or still less, of the months of training they had had in this special work before coming to Ireland.

Within the context of British Army deaths in Ireland, 261 British Army dead between Jan 1919 and July 1920, the casualties of 21 Nov were not that great (9 of the 15 deaths were actual British Army serving officers). The hit that British Intelligence operations took was probably not that great, only 6 of the men shot that day were Intelligence officers, out of around 60 believed to have been in the field at that time. The British were never going to say exactly the damage caused to their intelligence operations (it was in their interests to put out that they were just "ordinary" officers killed that day anyway). The IRA were never going to talk about their failures, either wrong men shot or empty houses raided.

It is comparatively easy to put together British officers lives and career records from, BMD entries, censuses, London Gazette entries. No effort has been made to cover men's tracks by the authorities. Where men changed names it was genuine rather than contrived, eg with Peel to avoid using a German name in wartime British Army or with Wilde to change from Leonard William Wilde to Leonard Aidan Wilde was to appear to himself more Irish.

It is more difficult to find the records of those who survived that morning, as all that we have is a Surname usually, rather than Christian names or initials. It needs effort to keep digging away to find who they really were, eg with Hardy and King

The IRA men are difficult, some have given their stories to Irish Bureau of Military History. But there is still a lot of work to be done to give colour to the IRA men.

Scenes as the bodied went through Dublin to be put on a destroyer bound for England  

Pathe News clip of funeral


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Men who escaped

Addresses Raided by IRA

IRA men involved

British Intelligence Dublin Castle

British Propaganda Apparatus

Crown Forces killed in Ireland