Here is the report by the IRA’s Belfast Battalion Adjutant on the attempted arms raid at Campbell College in December 1935. The text was quoted in full by the Belfast Newsletter in May 1936 after it was captured during the Crown Entry Raid. The Belfast Adjutant was Jimmy Steele, while the IRA’s Adjutant General was Jim Killeen. The report expands significantly on the information given in various other accounts of the raid.
Adjutant, No. 1 Area Ulster to Adjutant-General, I.R.A., Headquarters
The Report of the Campbell College Raid
On 27th December arrangements were made to seize 200 rifles lying in the armoury of the college. Around the front of the college three gate-lodges are situated, whilst at the rear is another gate-lodge. The gate of the rear gate-lodge is a wooden gate, about 12ft or 14ft high and is always closed, except during the day, when it is used as a goods entrance, &c. The lodge itself is a fairly good distance away from the armoury. The three front lodges however, are about 200 yards from the armoury and are linked up by telephone to the main building and armoury. It was found necessary to take and hold these lodges in order to carry out the raid successfully.
Three squads of men, with six m each squad, were selected to take over each lodge. Three of them would enter each lodge, tie up the occupants, dismantle the telephone, &c. This done, two of them would remain on guard, whilst the other four of each squad would close in on the armoury, surround it and, having got into it, seize the rifles and tie up anyone who may be in same.
The squads were to report at the different lodges at 8-10 p.m., and, all well, to make into the lodges at a given signal at 8-15. Numbers 2 and 3 Squads would arrive on foot at No. 2 and 3 Lodges, No. 1 Squad were to arrive in a commandeered car and turn up a road almost opposite to No. 1 Lodge. A check-up car had been arranged also to be hovering around the vicinity.
Immediately it noticed the arrival of No. 1 Squad it was to proceed to Nos. 2 and 3 Squads and inform them that everything was ready.If in the event of any one of the squads not arriving it was to inform the other squads.
The check-up car, on everything being right, was then to proceed to a road leading out of the college, and await the coming out of the commandeered car with the rifles.
After the armoury had been seized, the commandeered car, which was to have been lying handy inside No. 1 Lodge, having moved in after the lodge was taken, was to move up to the armoury and there transport the rifles to their future destination.
The officer in charge of this car was then to exchange places with the officer in the check-up car, proceed around the lodges, dismiss the squads, and lift their guns. So much for the plans.
The check-up car arrived at the appointed place at 8-8 p.m. and patrolled the lodges.
No. 3 Squad arrived at 8-15 p.m., and the officer in charge, being inattentive during the time instructions were given, at once proceeded to take over No. 3 Lodge. The check-up car had passed the spot a minute previously.
Three men entered the gate. One knocked at the door: a woman came to the door and, seeing the masked man. she screamed. The men entered, however, and lined the occupants up. This done, the officer came to the door to inform the other three that everything was all right.
He was met by a policeman, who rushed into the house firing. The three men inside replied to the fire and succeeded in getting past him.
His first shot, however, knocked the gun completely out of the hands of one of the men.
The three men outside, thinking they had been trapped, retreated down the road. The whole six of them escaped, and in the evidence given by each of them at the subsequent inquiry, all were unanimous in stating that not more than one policeman was there, and that if there had been more they would never have got away. No. 2 Squad arrived at their place at 8-35 p.m., twenty minutes late and after the shooting had taken place. The officer in charge, along with two other men, stopped at No. 2 Lodge to await the checkup car. He instructed the other three men to move off down the road and be readv to follow him into the lodge as soon as they noticed the check-up car.
They moved off down the road and stopped at the corner where No. 3 Lodge is situated. One of them noticed about four policemen, and he informed the other two men. The officer in charge said: ‘Don’t run; walk on quietly.’ Immediately they moved they were seen and called on to halt.
They then began to run, McCartney, the captured man, being one of them. The three men at the lodge also retreated, firing as they retreated. All got away safely except McCartney.
Each of these men stated at the inquiry that they never at any time saw more than four policemen; that it would have been impossible for any of them to escape had there been more, or had they been waiting on them.
Their late arrival was due to the late arrival of the guns for the job.
No. 1 Squad commandeered a car, but owing to a misunderstanding as to the place of meeting, the volunteer to drive same turned up at the wrong place. They waited until 8-30 p.m., when they reported to the battalion adjutant and the battalion commanding officer.
These staff officers, under the changed circumstances, decided to call off the raid, and immediately they proceeded by tram to Campbell College, arriving there at 9-5 p.m., having to wait fifteen minutes on a car.
On arrival there they noticed about four police outside No. 3 lodge. They also met one of the men of No. 2 Squad, who seemed to have lost himself, and who informed them of the shooting. They directed him how to get home. On their way home they noticed tenders of police going- out to the scene.
The check-up car hovered about the scene until 8-30 p.m. in the hope of picking up some of the men. They stated also that the first tender of police to arrive, arrived at 8-50 p.m., also that if there had been information beforehand they never would have’ got patrolling around from 8-8 p.m. until 8-50 p.m. without being stopped.
According to information received from a reliable source by the battalion intelligence officer the 200 rifles alleged to have been shifted were not shifted; that it is the usual procedure to have a small guard on the armoury at holiday times.
That the Press reports of the raid, especially ‘the information beforehand’ and the ‘shifting of the rifles’ statements were only published with a purpose to cause suspicion and distrust among the members of the organisation.
This has had a bad effect on the outside public. The ‘Irish Press’ was very prominent with this publication. ‘An Síol‘ has published a leading article on the matter this week.
We have decided to defend Second-Lieut. B. Rooney, D Company, as this is purely a frame-up so far as he is concerned, and considering there is a police notice published in the Press concerning eight young men who were supposed to have boarded a Belmont tram that night, there is every possibility that further frameups may take place if no effort is made to comhat them.
A large number of houses have been visited by the police, the persons wanted interrogated, and all volunteers, of course, refused to make statements.
There is still the possibility of a round-up, and so most of the men are sleeping out of their houses. The Battalion O.C. and Adjutant and a number of other volunteers have managed so far to elude the police. Battalion and company work is going on as usual, and shadow staffs have been arranged in the event of any arrests.
p style=”text-align:justify;”>This report now gives a much clearer picture of the organisation and sophistication of the Campbell College raid. More than twenty IRA volunteers participated in the operation, including eighteen volunteers in three squads, a mobile unit in a patrol car and the Battalion O/C and Adjutant back at a command post.
The raid itself involved the three squads (number 1 to 3) of six IRA volunteers. Each squad would assemble at a gate lodge at 8.10 pm (only the rear gate lodge was not be seized). Squad 1 (which was to commandeer a car and seize Lodge 1). They were to park up in the Old Holywood Road (roughly opposite Lodge 1). Squads 2 and 3 were to arrive on foot at Lodge 2 (at the junction of Hawthornden Road and Belmont Road) and Lodge 3 (on Hawthornden Road). A second car was going to be present patrolling the perimeter of Campbell College from 8 pm. Once it had observed that Squad 1 was in position, it would move down Belmont Road and signal to Squads 2 and 3 to proceed.
Three volunteers would then seize each lodge at 8.15 pm, secure the occupants and dismantle the telephone line. Two volunteers would remain to guard each gate lodge while the other four volunteers were to proceed to the Campbell College armoury. The assembled twelve volunteers were then to surround the armoury and remove its contents in the commandeered car. The officer in charge of the commandeered car was then to exchange places with the officer in charge of the patrol car, he would then advise Squads 1, 2 and 3 to withdraw.
When Squad 3 arrived at the Hawthornden Road at 8.15 pm, it immediately took over Lodge 3. As the squad leader left the gate lodge to join the rest of Squad 3 he met an RUC constable coming into the gate lodge. After the exchange of fire in the gate lodge, the three volunteers escaped and all of Squad 3 managed to leave the scene.
Due to the late arrival of their weapons, Squad 2 didn’t arrive at Lodge 2 until 8.35 pm where it awaited the patrol car to give the signal, sending three volunteers ahead to be ready to take Lodge 2. The three volunteers who had awaited the patrol car, headed down towards Lodge 3 only to encounter the RUC following up the shootout with Squad 3 at Lodge 3. The RUC gave chase, exchanging fire with Squad 2, and pursued all six of the squad back towards Belmont Road capturing Eddie McCartney.
Squad 1 commandeered a car but the intended driver missed their rendezvous and the Squad had to report to Tony Lavery (Belfast O/C) and his Adjutant Jimmy Steele at 8.30 pm to advise them of the problem. Deciding to call off the raid, they took a tram to Campbell College. Meantime the patrol car withdrew from the scene as RUC tenders began to arrive. Lavery and Steele then arrived at 9.05 pm at Campbell College. Noting the RUC presence at Lodge 3, they met one of Squad 2 who was disorientated by the shooting but informed them as to what had happened. McCartney was to be the only IRA volunteer arrested at the scene.