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Irish Defense Forces Commanders 1939 - 1945

– The higher commanders of Branches, Commands and other arms. – 

The following is a list of the Commanders of the Irish Defense Forces during the period of the Second World War. Scroll down for short biographies for the senior leaders.

  • Chief of Staff:
    • Maj. Gen. M. Brennan (10/1931 to 01/1940)
    • Lt. Gen. D. McKenna (01/1940 to 01/1949)
  • Assistant CoS:
    • Col. J. Costello (05/1937 to 11/1939)
    • Maj. Gen. McNeill (08/1940 to 06/1941)
    • Col. L. Archer (06/1941 to 01/1949)
  • Western Command:
    • Aug. 39 - Col. S McCabe
    • Dec. 39 - Maj. Gen. J Sweeney
    • Dec. 40 - Col. F McCorley
  • Southern Command:
    • In Sept. 39 - Col. J Hanrahan
    • Nov. 39 - Col. M Costello
    • May 41 - Col. J Hanrahan
  • Curragh Command:
    • In Sept. 39 - Maj. Gen. A Sweeney
    • Jan. 40 - Col. J O'Higgins
    • Aug. 40 - T McNally
    • Nov. 44 - Col. S Collinspowell
  • Eastern Command:
    • In Sept. 39 - Col. S McGoran
    • 1940 - Col. L Hoolan
  • Irish First Division "Thunderbolt"
      From May 41  Lt. Gen. M. J. Costello
  • Irish Second Division "Spearhead"
      From June 41  Lt. Gen. H. MacNeill
  • Intelligence (G2)
      Col. Dan Bryan
  • Quartermaster General
    • Col. E V O'Carroll (Jun. 1935 - Oct. 1940)
    • Col. L Egan (Oct. 1940 - Oct. 1949)
  • Aer Corps:
    • Maj. P Mulcahy - 1935
    • Col. W Delamere - 1943
  • Naval Service:
    • Col. J O'Higgens - Sept. 1939
    • Col. A Lawlor - Jan. 1940
    • Comm. S O'Muiris
  • View a group photo of Army Officers, 19 January, 1943

Lt. General Dan McKenna

Lt. General Michael Joseph Costello (1904 - Oct 1986)
General Costello commanded the 1st Division of the Irish Army during the Emergency, based in the Independence of the country with the mission of meeting an enemy landing on the Southern coast of Ireland. Born in Tipperary in 1904, Costello was active with the IRA in Tipperary during the War of Independence. He was a member of the team sent to the US in 1926 to attend US Army military college and also was part of MacNeills Temporary Plans Division (TPD) following their return. He was involved as editor of the An t-Òglàch journal of the NDA until its removal in 1930. He served variously as Military College Commandant, head of General Staff G1 (Training) and as Assistant C of S. Costello had traveled to the US in spring of 1939 on a mission to purchase arms for the army, which unfortunately the government thought were too expensive and so did not buy! He prepared his division to a high state of readiness. Various sources report Costello as a down to earth soldier with none of his 2nd Division counterparts eye for intrigue. Post war he had a successful business career. His grandaughter advised that he passed away in October 1986

Lt. General Hugo MacNeill (1900 - 1963):
The nephew of Eoin MacNeill, one time Chief of Staff of the IRA, Hugo commanded the 2nd Division of the Irish army which was stationed along the border with Northern Ireland during the Emergency following its formation in 1941. As Assistant Chief of Staff in 1925, MacNeill attended training with the US Army in order to broaden the outlook of the Irish Army. upon his return a temporary plans division was set up in Dublin and MacNeill appointed as its director. It was a vehicle bey which the Army could formulate future organsation changes and operational plans. based on this experience, the Military college was set up in the Curragh in 1930 with MacNeill in charge, to teach the doctrines that had been drawn up in the TPD. He was also involved with the National Defence Association and its journal An t-Òglàch. This group caused some stirrings with the government due to its topics of discussion and it was ordered to be dissolved in October 1930. Following his time in the US, MacNeill had become known as a forward thinker, and coming from the Northern part of ireland, he became one of the leading army figures in calls for a war with Britain in the mid 1930's.

MacNeill appeared to be so concerned about a possible British invasion in December 1940 that he went to and spoke with a member of the German legation. What was discussed remains unknown, but it is believed that he discussed Irish Army plans and possible German weapons supplies. What is also not known is whether he had official sanction to do this. MacNeill is described as very anti British and was considered a 'buccaneer' by some of his officers. It appears that he had his intelligence officer, Niall MacNeill - his cousin, meet with the German spy Herman Goertz, prior to the Germans arrest. Throughout the war MacNeill was associated with various intrigues involving the German legation and its officials.
In the aftermath of the war. MacNeill was appointed the first president of the Organization of National Ex-Servicemen (ONE)


Irish Sword, No. 75/76, Vol. XIX 1993

John P Duggan, Neutral Ireland and the Third Reich, Lilliput, 1989

John P Duggan, A History of the Irish Army, 1991

Donal McCarron, Step Together, IPA, 1999

Eunan O'Halpin, Defending Ireland, Oxford UP, 1999