The Cairo Gang

The Cairo Gang was 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 (IRA). Twelve people, including British Army officers, Royal Irish Constabulary officers and a civilian, 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. Apparently there were about 60 men trained in London in a unit run by Major C A Cameron, and sent under cover singlely to Ireland

Nineteen men were shot. Fourteen were killed on 21 November, Montgomery died later making fifteen in all. Four were wounded. Ames, Angliss, Baggallay, Bennett, Dowling, Fitzgerald, McCormack, MacLean, Montgomery, Newberry, Price, Wilde, Smith, Morris, Garniss were killed. Keenlyside, Woodcock, Murray and Caldow were wounded. Peel amongst others escaped. The dead included members of the "Cairo Gang", British Army Courts-Martial officers, the two Auxiliaries, a number of soldiers in the wrong place at the wrong time and a civilian.

Both the British and the Irish had efficient propagana organisations and were cabable 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 shot in error by the IRA. While the IRA want to put across that they were all dangerous men who whould have brought about the death of a great many Irishmen if they had not been silenced.

It seems that the truth lies between the two opposing lots of spin. The British had trained around 60 specially selected men in London. These men were to be infiltrated individually into Irish society, with the aim of breaking the IRA.

Of those killed by the IRA, Ames, Angliss, Bennett, Dowling, MacLean were probably Intellengence officers. Baggallay and Newberry were Court Martial officers not involved with Intellegence - had they been murdered on any other day, their deaths would have been unremarked by history. McCormack and Wilde appear to have been army vets in the wrong place at the wrong time. 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 Auzilliaries on their way to warn the barracks and were "collateral", as was Montgomery and Price.

Cairo Gang

The photo that is invariably used for the Cairo gang, but I am unsure of its authenticity but numbers on back of photo are

  1. Major Dowling at 28 Pembroke St
  2. Leonard Price at 28 Pembroke St
  3. Lewis Maclean at 117 Morehampton Road
  4. Willaim Frederick Newberry at 92 Lower Baggot St
  5. Lt Peter Ashmun Ames at 38 Upper Mount St
  6. Capt George Bennett at 38 Upper Mount St
  7. John Fitzgerald at 28 Earlsfort Terrace
  8. Lt Angliss AKA McMahon at 22 Lower Mount St
  9. Capt Geoffrey Thomas Bagally at 119 Baggott St
  10. not named

The odd thing about this is the inclusion of Fitzgerald (all the rest are serving officers and have CWGC graves. The missing man is probably Montgomery on this reasoning as he is a serving officer, but not named. None of the officers who escaped death for one reason or another are in the photograph. The men murdered were:

In January 1920, the British Army Intelligence Center 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 Bennet. These individuals maintained liaison with three veterans of the campaign, Lt. Angliss, alias McMahon, who had been recalled from Russia to organize intelligence in South Dublin, an Irishman by the name of Peel, and D. L. McLean, the chief  of intelligence at Dublin Castle. There is doubt about Bowdens work, see Townsend instead. Besides being more experienced intelligence operatives than those earlier working in Ireland, the members of the Cairo Group 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."

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 Cairo Group. Their first break came following the execution of John Lynch, an Irish Treasury Official, by the Group. After this episode, Lt. Angliss, drunk and despondent, divulged his participation in the execution to a girl who inadvertently passed this information to an IIS informant. The remaining members of the group were identified after an unwitting landlady revealed to another IIS informant that several of her British guests regularly went out very late in the evening. At the time Dublin was under a very strict curfew, and only authorized personnel were allowed on the streets. The individuals in question were taken under observation by the surveillance and enforcement arm of the IIS -- called the Twelve Apostles5 -- which determined that they were in contact with previously identified members of the Cairo Group. To the Twelve Apostles, this meant that they were instrumentally involved with the Cairo Group.

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 Center while undertaking missions for Winter's CIS.

The Cairo Gang was so named by the IRA because its members met in the Cafe Cairo. Its members lived in boarding houses and hotels across Dublin, where they lived unobtrusively while preparing a hit list of known republicans. However, the IRA Intelligence Department (IRAID) was one step ahead of them and was receiving information from numerous well-placed sources, including Lily Merin, who was the confidential code clerk for British Army Intelligence Center in Parkgate Street, and Sergeant Jerry Mannix, stationed in Donnybrook. Mannix provided the IRAID with a list of names and addresses for all the members of the Cairo Gang, but Michael Collins's case officers on the intelligence staff—Liam Tobin, Tom Cullen and Frank Thornton—were meeting with several D Branch officers nightly, pretending to be informers. Another IRA penetration source participating in the nightly repartee with the D Branch men at Cafe Cairo, Rabiatti's Saloon and Kidds Back Pub was Detective Constable David Neligan, one of Michael Collins's penetrations of G-Division (secret police) of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Additionally, the IRA had co-opted most of the Irish servants who worked in the rooming houses where the D Branch officers lived, and all of their comings and goings were meticulously recorded by servants and reported to Collins's staff.

The Cairo Group however begun to close in on men surrounding Collins. Three IIS senior officers, Frank Thornton, one of the Twelve Apostles and the man responsible for maintaining the surveillance of the Cairo Group, Liam Tobin, the senior officer in charge of the IIS "Brain Center," and Tom Cullen, his assistant, were arrested. Unable to break the cover stories of Thornton, Tobin, and Cullen, the British interrogators released them. Tobin and Cullen were detained only a few hours. Thornton, however, underwent a gruelling interrogation for ten days. These arrests alarmed the IIS. Shortly after Thornton's release, Collins received information that the Cairo Group was planning more arrests. Fearful that additional interrogations would be successful and reveal IIS personnel and installations, Collins 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 Mac Kee of the addresses of all those of the British "Cairo Gang" still listed and that it must be carried out on the 21st. Richard Mac Kee 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

From then on, all the members of the gang were kept under surveillance for several weeks, and intelligence was gathered from sympathisers (for example, concerning people who were coming home at strange hours, which would indicate that they were being allowed through the military curfews). 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, while most of Dublin slept, eight groups of IIS officers including the Twelve Apostles went into action. They executed eleven British intelligence officers. As many more marked for extinction escaped. McMahon and McLean were among those executed. Of the leaders of the Cairo Group, only Peel escaped. Most of the others who escaped had not been direct participants in the British plan.

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. Despite the confusion, Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy, who both had participated in the liquidation of Bloody Sunday, along with an innocent visitor to Dublin were arrested and taken to Dublin Castle, where shortly thereafter they were executed.

Mrs Woodcock, wife of Lt Col Wookcock , 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 must refer 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 marvellous escape, and none of the shots he received were vital.

Charles Grant

CIA Studies in Intelligence, V13:1-69-78 (Winter 1969)