Col. Fred Crawford  - UVF

 By 1914 , Frederick Hugh Crawford was aged over 50 and had been the mastermind of gun-running to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) for many years.

Up until then, many small consignments  had been smuggled into Ulster and it was largely down to the zeal and persistence of Crawford that the  numerous operations were successful. His smuggled weapons were hidden in furniture deliveries, barrels of pitch and the petrol tanks of vehicles.


His official title read Director of Ordnance of the HQ Staff of the UVF.

Crawford had first rate Protestant credentials  for he bad been one of those who signed the Ulster Covenant in his own blood. He had travelled the world, fought for a time in South Africa and returned to throw himself tirelessly into the fight against Home Rule for Ireland.

He was ex-military, an artillery officer born in 1861.

In 1894 he rejoined the Artillery Militia and served in South Afrlca where he was mentioned in dispatches.

He opposed Home Rule for Ireland and via the offices of the establishment Reform club placed an advert in French, Italian, German and Austrian newspapers asking for the supply of 10,000 second hand riles and 2 million rounds of ammunition.

By 1911 he was on the Ulster Unionist Council.

The British had repealed the arms legislation   concerned and it was now legal to import guns into Ireland, a situation which Crawford intended taking great advantage of.

He purchased guns from the Birmingham trade and played a constant 'cat and mouse' game with the authorities and customs. In Birmingham at this time  it was recorded that there were 50,000 rifles, 100 Maxims, 1500 Webleys on the open market for sale.  

From August 1913 to September 1914 records show that 3 million rounds of .303 ammo and 500 rifles were smuggled from Manchester alone. Weapons included Martini Enfield carbines, Lee Metford rifles, Vetterlis and BSA .22 miniature rifles, all accompanied by their respective bayonets. One of his first audacious exploits was to purchase six Maxim machine guns from the Vickers Company in London for 300 each.      

He was instrumental in forming a secret society called 'Young Ulster' whose members qualified by the possession of one of a given list of firearms.  

His greatest acheivement was the smuggling of a large consignment of arms into Ulster in April 1914. He arranged with Benny Spiro, a Hamburg arms dealer, to purchase 30,000 assorted rifles with ammunition and bayonets and ship the lot to Larne and Donaghadee on the east coast of Northern Ireland. The plan was that each rifle would be wrapped up with 100 rounds of ammo, and that five rifles would be packed together with bayonets  to facilitate off loading and dispersement upon arrival. This consignment consisted brand new Mannlicher  M1904 rifles, Mauser Gew 88 rifles ex German Army, and  Italian Vetterlis 






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Crawford travelled to Hamburg where he met up with Spiro and actually test fired a machine gun on a German Army firing range unknown to the German Military command!

The whole operation went smoothly and due to to the work of Col. Crawford, the UVF  were armed overnight and transformed into a force to be reckoned with.

He also used Belfast gunsmiths and dealers to disguise the importation of small consignments, particularly handguns.

Years later, Crawford refused to accept a 1,000 gift which his grateful countrymen offered him for his gun-running efforts. In 1921 he was included in the Royal Honours List and decorated with the C.B.E


30 years after the crisis , Fred Crawford wrote his memoirs entitled 'Guns for Ulster'.

An accomplice Robert Adgey, one of the Belfast gunsmiths recruited, also recounted his days as a gun-runner in his book entitled 'Arming the Ulster Volunteers 1914'.          

Fred Crawford died in 1952.

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