1920-1939 | Churchill's crimes

Churchill recommends strafing crowds of Irish nationalists

Winston Churchill c. 1920 ( J. Guthrie – Scottish National Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia) and Sir Hugh Trenchard (via Wikimedia.)
Winston Churchill c. 1920 ( J. Guthrie – Scottish National Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia) and Sir Hugh Trenchard (via Wikimedia.)

24 September 1920

On 24 September 1920, Secretary of State for Air Winston Churchill urged the Chiefs of Staff to seriously consider the use of fighter aircraft against gatherings suspected of protesting or plotting against British rule. In Churchill’s view, strafing attacks would be ‘a great deterrent to illegal drilling and rebel gatherings.’1 General Sir Nevil Macready, commanding British troops in Ireland, was in complete agreement, noting that there were ‘undoubtedly cases where fire from aeroplanes would materially assist the forces on the ground’ adding that there was no risk of anti-aircraft fire.  He urged the War Office to look at the proposal favourably, arguing that ‘a few rounds fired from the air would have a great moral effect.’2

However, the Chief of Air Staff, Sir Hugh Trenchard, was more sceptical; not because he thought the plan was wrong in principle but because it would be ‘ineffective and highly dangerous’ to the pilots themselves. ‘Friendly’ crowds might be targeted by mistake and that was a problem because it would incite ‘a great popular outcry against the unfortunate pilots.’  He didn’t however see any reason why similar tactics could not be deployed to strafe gatherings suspected of being potentially hostile to British rule in the Middle East.3


  1. Charles Townsend, The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence, Penguin Books, London, 2014, pp. 153-154.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.

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