Ireland was neutral in WW2, however it was never invaded (by either side). How come? Why wasn't Ireland invaded by the UK to prevent the Germans invading? Why didn't germany invade ireland? It would have allowed them to open a new front for the British, or given a staging post to invade UK. Why didn't this happen?

  • As Steven notes below, there was little to gain from Ireland - a poor country without significant resources. Oct 17 '11 at 15:10
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    Britain had just lost Ireland through a civil war. The idea of recapturing it and the resulting conflict would have been ridiculous to contemplate while at war with Germany. Oct 18 '11 at 15:47
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    I think you need to be more specific with your question. Are you talking about the whole island, Northern Ireland, or the Republic of Ireland? The battle for the North Atlantic was fought in part from Northern Ireland, US forces were staged there, ships operated from Lough Foyle etc. There are also many other ways to look at this given the frought history. Jul 3 '12 at 16:29

11 Answers 11


Neither side really saw enough of a strategic advantage. The UK was already spread thin trying to defend their own island, so going out and trying to take control of Ireland didn't make sense, even if it meant preventing Germany from doing so. Given the long history of turmoil between England and Ireland, I believe they were content that Ireland didn't side with Germany.

As for the Germans, they were already fighting a war on two fronts. Once they took control of France, they had just as good a staging post as they would have had in Ireland (and maybe better). Also, Ireland would have been more difficult to defend and supply, whereas France was a lot easier on both accounts.

  • Good summary, I'd say. I've attempted to provide more detail/background info in my answer though, in addition.
    – Noldorin
    Oct 17 '11 at 22:18
  • I always understood that it suited both sides for the Republic to be neutral.
    – TheHonRose
    Dec 25 '17 at 13:27
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    The only strategic advantage Ireland had was as a base for air patrols to protect the Atlantic convoys. Given how close Britain came to being starved by the U-Boat campaign, this is not a small issue. But my guess is that the UK judged that the cost of a successful invasion was high enough that it wouldn't pay off.
    – Mark Olson
    Dec 24 '20 at 21:34

Neither the Germans nor the British were even remotely interested in what Ireland had to offer at the time. It was a neutral country tucked away in the NW corner of Europe. Its military was not particularly strong by any means, although the Irish Republican Party and Eamon de Valera had gained independence from the British largely by military force in the 20s.

To be more specific, the Germans were not interested in Ireland because:

  1. the fledgling country did not pose a threat, militarily or politically or otherwise.

  2. the Nazi ideology was not particularly opposed to the Irish people, many of whom were considered "Aryans",

  3. invading and occupying would require a lot of naval/manpower for negligible gain,

  4. the British would likely have helped defend it given its potential to stage a second attack front on Britain.

Furthermore, though Ireland was completely independent from Great Britain by 1939, there were still close ties between the countries and indeed many Irish soldiers were hired as mercenaries to fight for the British Empire -- on a volunteer basis. In this sense, they were unofficial allies of Great Britain. The enmity of the Irish Independence movement had certainly quieted by then.

All in all, you can think of it as a business decision if you will. The potential profit was very low, while the initial costs were very high. Britain couldn't care less about Ireland, unless it came to defending it, and Germany was much more focused on defeating the superpowers of the age: Britain, Russia, and later the United States.

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    More on the close ties: during "The Emergency", German airmen in the Republic would end up in the Curragh, whereas Allied airmen would find their way across the border into Northern Ireland. Indeed the D-Day landings were decided by a weather report from Blacksod Bay, Co Mayo. See Irish neutrality during WW2 on Wikipedia and JP Duggan, Herr Hempel at the German Legation in Dublin 1937–1945, ISBN 0716527464 for more. Feb 22 '12 at 0:46
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    The Irish troops weren't mercenaries an more than the Free-French or Polish troops allied to the British army were. These volunteers were later treated badly by the irish government bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16287211
    – none
    Dec 15 '12 at 16:53
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    @Noldorin - I think mercenary implies that they fought for whichever side paid more and didn't care about the issues. they deserted the Irish army because Ireland refused to fight Hitler. Calling them mercenaries is like calling Americans who went to Britain to fight before Pearl Harbour "terrorists". ( A British politician had to apologise to Polish WWII vets after saying that foreign fighters in wars - meaning Afghanistan - were all terrorists)
    – none
    Dec 15 '12 at 17:17
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    @FelixGoldberg: Fair enough. We'll just agree to disagree then. I'll accept it's a slightly subjective term, and it's not always clear-cut who's a mercenary and not! :)
    – Noldorin
    Dec 19 '12 at 15:14
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    @Noldorin: Agreed :) Dec 19 '12 at 17:43

Germany was not particularly capable of mounting an amphibious assault, especially to a destination on the opposite side of Britain.

The UK/America was not in the habit of invading neutral countries without justification. Doing so may have jeopardized their support from many other less powerful nations.

Also, Ireland didn't have much that was worth fighting for. The biggest advantage would have been shortening the Atlantic crossing, but that was hardly worth an invasion.

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    The UK and then US invaded neutral Iceland though...
    – Nikko
    Oct 17 '11 at 17:32
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    The UK/US occupation of Iceland was non-threatening and was not an attempt by either party to expand their territorial boundaries. There is more on that here: history.stackexchange.com/questions/215/… Oct 17 '11 at 17:44
  • @Nikko Iceland had an important strategic position mid-Atlantic. For refuelling, refitting, weather reporting etc, at some distance from Britain. Ireland, being so close to Britain, had none of those attractions for either side. Oct 17 '11 at 19:52
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    hawbsl - Not quite true. The treaty ports in Southern Ireland which were under British control ( Berehaven, Queenstown (modern Cobh) and Lough Swilly ) were handed back to to Ireland in 1938. Winston Churchill agitated both as First Lord and Prime Minister for renewed access but to no avail. It would have saved a lot of losses for refueling rights there. Oct 18 '11 at 11:36

There was a plan for an invited British invasion of Ireland IF the Germans invaded, called Plan W.

And although officially neutral Ireland did give some assistance to Britain in terms of allowing overflights by Atlantic patrol aircraft and returning British and allied aircraft and crew that were forced to make emergency landings.

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    Reminds me of the quote I heard about it "We were neutral, but we knew who we were neutral to" Dec 10 '11 at 17:04
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    Similarly, there was a German plan to invade Ireland, although it is believed to have been "designed only as a credible threat, a feint, not an actual operation": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Green_(Ireland)
    – Gaurav
    Dec 11 '11 at 19:45
  • @Gaurav shame that the only link or mention to Operation Green is in your comment. it would be good to have something more prominent in a standalone answer or an edit to an existing answer Jul 25 '13 at 10:30

Both Germany and Great Britain had plans to invade Ireland.

Germany couldn't launch such an attack as they lacked the naval power to do it, as they knew that the Royal Navy would intervene. For the same reason they never tried to invade Great Britain, an invasion of Ireland would have been even more difficult due to the distances involved, they would have had few aircraft capable of operating at the distances required while the British would have been able to send forces from Wales and South West England for example.

Britain's plans to invade would be in response to any German invasion, so they were never required to actually invade.

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    They be stupid not to make plans. Plans dont mean that you intend just that should you need to - e.g. They allied themselves or were invaded by the Germans - then you have an analysis prepared. Oct 27 '14 at 13:19
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    The creation of "plans" is often just a training exercise for junior staff officers. It is pointless in any training to hand out the same exercise every year, for obvious reasons, so a militaries naturally look for varied examples that will emphasize the skills believed most desirable (ie amphibious landings) but for a deliberately unlikely target so that a real plan will again not just be a rehash of an old one. Dec 5 '15 at 16:27
  • "Germany couldn't launch such an attack as they lacked the naval power to do it." Exactly correct. A German invasion of Ireland simply was not in the cards at any point in the War and a successful invasion was completely beyond German's power. Had Germany subdued the UK, then an invasion might have been doable--but then it would have been unnecessary.
    – Mark Olson
    Dec 24 '20 at 21:31

Germany did in fact attempt to stir up unrest in Ireland, as seen by this BBC article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3264257.stm

The MI5 documents show that three men who landed on the southern coast of Ireland in 1940 were found with four bombs hidden inside cans labelled "French peas".

The saboteurs claimed they were for use against Buckingham Palace.


The three agents were landed by dinghy near Cork, but their exploits were shortlived.

Their tactic, of asking the first person they met if they could be taken to the IRA, did not work.

The man took them to the police instead.

The plot was dismissed as amateurish by MI5.

Unfortunately, the first Irishman they approached (whom they hoped would lead them to the IRA) handed them over to the police instead.

They also had plans of using the IRA as proxies/allies to invade Northern Ireland, but the plotters were also arrested.

So, they didn't get to invade Ireland, but not for lack of trying.


Ireland was a de facto ally of Britan. It had heavy trade ties with Britain and supplied it with volunteer soldiers and mercenaries. Irish industrial production came to Britain and ships under Irish flag transported British goods without a risk of being attacked. Conversely, forcing conscription of Irish population could lead to a pro-Germany unrest.

That said Britain was very much interested to have Ireland as a formally neutral country.

On the other hand, Germany simply had no means to attack Ireland because Britain had a strong fleet and any attack on Ireland was impossible without sea superiority.

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    I remember reading The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat (a fiction, but written by a man of action), and he was very disappointed about Ireland's neutrality and lack of help to the UK. I think Ireland was not an ally of Britain, neither was of Germany.
    – Voitcus
    Jun 24 '13 at 21:37
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    -1 I am afraid. The first sentence is very strong and not true, as far as I know. You'd need to back it up with significant sources to make it convincing. As for the Irish volunteers who served in the British army, they were in no way "supplied" by their government. On the contrary, they were treated as deserters and court-martialled when they returned to Ireland: theworld.org/2011/12/irelands-debt-to-its-world-war-ii-soldiers Jul 24 '13 at 8:43
  • @FelixGoldberg -check the room...
    – user2590
    Jul 24 '13 at 18:23
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    Have to agree with felix here. The policy on treating Volunteers as deserters and mistreating their families is not the actions of an Ally. Oct 27 '14 at 13:16

If Hitler had conquered Great Britain, I think that they would have also invaded Ireland afterwards. Germany, despite its promises, did have plans to invade Switzerland and Sweden after defeating all other European countries, so I think Ireland would have suffered a similar fate. During the War, however, it simply did not have any importance or significance (exept for providing volenteer troops to Britain), so neither Hitler nor Britain would have bothered to attempt any kind of amphibious invasion.

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    Hi, welcome to the site! However, could you provide some sources about German plans of invading Switzerland and Sweden?
    – Voitcus
    Jun 24 '13 at 21:31
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    Most nations have plans for invading pretty much everywhere. The US had plans for invading Canada in the 1930s...and the Canadians had plans for the reverse!
    – Oldcat
    Oct 23 '14 at 0:19
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    @Oldcat: To reiterate your point for emphasis - that is how junior staff officers get their training, and learn to stretch their imaginations. Dec 5 '15 at 16:29

Northern Ireland Prime Minister Lord Craigavon had asked Churchill in 1940 to invade the Republic of Ireland at the height of the war, as he felt that Valera was coming under the influence of Hitler.

Churchill did not move at that time but later prepared detailed plans for an invasion of southern Ireland.

Field Marshal Montgomery stated in his memoirs: “I was told to prepare plans for the seizure of Cork and Queenstown in southern Ireland so the harbors could be used as naval bases.”

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    Churchill, in his memoirs, also expresses much bitterness about de Valera. He says had it not been for the loyalty of the people of Northern Ireland, we should have had to come to a very close quarter with Mr de Valera. (or words to that effect). Whether he means that British tanks would have rolled into Dublin I'm not clear about; perhaps a blockade of Irish ports. I think MI6 were all over the Republic. Any sustained use of Irish ports by German U boats would have been picked up. Always remember, many tens of thousands of Irishmen fought for Britain against Hitler
    – WS2
    Dec 7 '15 at 9:23

Well, Germany was going to give aid to the Irish during the Easter Rebellion of 1916. They were not able to give them aid because of World War I raging on. Now for the British.. they were already still fighting the Irish in North and South Ireland, plus Ireland went through a civil war in the early 1920's so leadership was all jacked up. Eamon De'valara (Dev), also agreed somewhat with what Hitler was doing. NOT THE WHOLE HOLOCAUST PART, but after Hitlers death, Dev was quoted being upset with his death. Hope this helps :))

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    Good information - it would be vastly more useful if you could cite sources.
    – MCW
    May 29 '13 at 14:33
  • De Valera even "protested the death penalty for the Nuremberg Nazi war criminals". de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Éamon_de_Valera
    – jjack
    Dec 26 '17 at 19:11
  • ... which somewhat is at odds with your statement about him not agreeing with THE HOLOCAUST PART.
    – jjack
    Dec 26 '17 at 20:15

After fighting Great Britain for their independence, I don't think they wanted another war. Especially after Hitler lied to the Soviets with the N.A.P., Hitler couldn't be trusted. Ireland's hate for the English is so much more than the Germans. So Ireland played both sides.

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