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Local Defense Force 1941-1945

–  An Fórsa Cosanta Áithúil – 

The LDF was formed in January 1941 from the "A" Group, Local Security Force (LSF). As originally formed in May 1940, the LSF was a single organization. On 22 June 1940 it was split into two groups, A and B. The A group was to be an auxiliary to the Army, while the B Group was to serve the same purpose for the Gardai. This situation lead to some debate as too the status of the A group in the event of war. It would be part of a non-combatant force, the Garda. In the event of an invasion, this would leave them open to being shot as irregulars. This is one reason that in January 1941, the Local Defense Force (LDF) was formed from the A Group in accordance with Emergency powers Order No. 61. The B Group thus became the Local Security Force and remained under the jurisdiction of the Gardai.

The new LDF was organized country wide based on its previous Garda district and division system, with the basic unit being a "Group". Training and administration was provided by military personnel. A member of the Gardai was assigned as 'District Administrative Officer' to assist in the day to day administration of the force. In rural areas the LDF formed into self-contained units of "all arms". In reality this meant rifle platoons but as time went by, the effectiveness increased, within the confines of equipment and organizational deficiencies. At the same time, the greater numbers available in the larger cities and towns allowed specialist units of engineers, signals etc to be formed.

The strength of the LDF stood at over 88000 in March 1941. This manpower was distributed throughout the Command areas as follows at the dates shown:
Year ended 31/03/1941 31/03/1942 31/03/1943 31/03/1944 31/03/1945
Southern Command 30348 32217 17511 28675 26202
Eastern Command 19361 21445 21248 18032 16385
Western Command 23782 28391 30669 32885 26851
Curragh Command 14544 16386 34102 16560 15011

Equipment, where available, for the LDF centered on the Springfield 0.300" rifle, a shipment of which was obtained from the British War Office. As ammunition for the Springfields was in short supply it was difficult for those LDF units which received them to carry out effective shooting practice. This short fall was somewhat alleviated by the use of 0.22 Miniature rifles. Some quantities of handguns and grenades were also supplied. Initially the LDF units were supplied with a brown denim battle dress but this met with universal dislike as it was of poor quality and was not suited to use in inclement Irish weather. As the Emergency entered 1942, some webbing and other military equipment began to make its way to the LDF units. See table below for numbers of basic weaphons recorded as held by the LDF over the 5 years of operation.

Year ended 31/03/194131/03/194231/03/194331/03/194431/03/1945
Springfield 0.300" 19043 19583199621964519540
Lee Enfield 0.303"1630 2006 7727 7364 7758
Shot guns11889 11370 11365 119448218

Training was carried out in the local areas by Army personnel. This training as it progressed allowed the LDF to become a very useful adjutant to the Army. The quality of units country wide differed greatly due to equipment, training and participation.

With the increased effectiveness of the LDF in Spring 1942, in cites and large towns, it was decided that the LDF would be formed into rifle battalions. This reorganization allowed the LDF to take over increased duties from the Army. The reorganization resulted in the following LDF organization on 31st March 1943:


Units
Curragh
Eastern
Southern
Western
Areas 4 5 7 8
Districts 20 17 38 37
Battalions 1 5 3 1
Special Units   1 (Eng) 6 * 2 (Eng) 1 (Eng)

* These 6 units were composed of the following: One field Artillery Battery (41st)
One Cyclist regiment
One Engineer battalion (11th)
One Signals Battalion (11th)
One Transport Battalion and One Field Ambulance.

The rifle Battalions were organized in the following areas:
Dublin		- 5	(41st, 42nd, 43rd, 44th and 45th)
Cork		- 2	(47th and 48th)
Waterford	- 1
Limerick	- 1
Galway		- 1

In Cork City for example, the 47th and 48th battalions formed part of its defense. In Dublin, the 5 Battalions were organized into two areas, North and South city, with staff organizations, In all cases the new battalion Commanding Officers were members of the regular army. The new measures meant that LDF units could take over from Army units' tasks such garrisoning certain points and mounting check points. At this time it was decided that these new LDF battalions would be re-equipped with the Lee Enfield 0.303" rifle to make them common with the Army units they would co-operate with. The new rifles were delivered from surplus Army stocks. With this taking place the old Springfield 0.300" rifles were redistributed to other LDF units thus increasing the number of armed personnel.

Along with the above urban re-organization, the LDF units stationed in the areas of the regular 1st and 2nd Divisions were placed under their operational control. This as above increased the effectiveness of the LDF units in these areas.

There were concerns raised in 1942 in the defense forces about the objections being raised by the clergy in some areas regarding LDF service. Also, the attitude of some employers to men taking service was voiced in the 1942-1943 Annual report. A further change during this period was the removal of Garda officers as District Administration officers. The Garda command was forced to remove their involvement due the increased workload they were experiencing due to the emergency. To replace these Garda officers, regular Army NCO's were appointed as Company Quartermaster Sergeants.

June 1943 seen the LDF reach its highest enlistment numbers. In that month the total number of men in the LDF was 106034. However, as at all times in its existence, the total number of men enrolled never equaled the total number actively taking part in training and operations. There was a continuous series of people leaving the service and new recruitment. Indeed the regular army likely suffered in its attempts to recruit due to the existence of the LDF. Some felt that service in the LDF was preferable to full time service due its low pay and conditions.

Further small changes were made in the 1943 - 1944. The Field Artillery Battery in Dublin was spilt into two units, the 41st and 42nd Batteries. Five additional Field Ambulance Companies were formed. Also, LDF Groups and Sections were re titled Companies and platoons respectively. The Army annual report reported the increasing effectiveness of Army - LDF co-operation. This likely varied countrywide and was best where large army formations were stationed such as the Divisional areas and the cities.

Sources:


Defence Forces Annual General Reports 1940-1945, Military Archives, Cahal Brugha Barracks
John P. Duggan, A History of the Irish Army, 1991
Eunan O'Halpin, Defending Ireland, Oxford UP, 1999
Donal McCarron, Step Together, IAP, 1999