The Lilac Gloves Gunmen- A Story of Weapons Proliferation

The Lilac Gloves Gunmen- A Story of Weapons Proliferation

In this piece I'll go over the famously amusing "lilac gloves" Irish dissident image(s) and attempt to determine the militant's probable sources of arms, their age and condition.

Note: This is an expansion of an earlier Twitter thread, with additional detail. It's more shorter than my other work, and goes into less depth.

This is the famously amusing "lilac gloves" Irish dissident image, of which there was actually 2 released. It was released by Irish Republican Movement. The group is understood to be made up of a breakaway section of the dissident republican organisation Óglaigh na hÉireann, which announced a ceasefire early in 2018. Óglaigh na hÉireann itself is a splinter of other IRA-style groups, so it is possbile that the 5 members shown consist of the bulk of the organisation. (For this articles' purposes I will henceforth refer to the Provisional Irish Republican Army as the IRA)

The images were released on the 13th of April of this year to much mirth, and mockery, but this image is an interesting opportunity to attempt to learn about what the groups' supply chains and abilities are. We can learn interesting things about armed groups from only or two reasonable definition pictures with good lighting.

Please note that this is intended as an exercise, and not a professional attempt to verify exactly these groups' supply chain and abilities.

Firstly, let's try and ID the weapons in the images.

The first weapon sitting on the table is a chromed revolver that appears to be a S&W .38 Police Model- the Pistol on the right is given as a "Smith & Wesson Military & Police Revolver" and looks highly similar. The IRM's revolver is likely to be a very similar type to this. This could also be a S&W "Victory" revolver, a model of which was widely used and exported around the world around the time of WWII, including across Europe, America and the UK. It does appear to be in a rather used condition.

What is mildly confusing is the group has a number of 9x19mm rounds sitting on the table next to the revolver, when this ammuntion wouldn't fit or function in the .38 revolver. One of the other handguns could utilise it, however.

The next two pistols appear to be both semi-automatic handguns, neither of these weapons are look very new, but appear to be functioning. This can't be verified, due to the low quality of the images available.

One that looks like a Beretta 92, a very common pistol which was first introduced in 1975. It's been made famous by the US Military use of it, with the designation of M9.

Another pistol that resembles a Colt 1903 is also shown:

These images are low-resolution, however, so I can only assess with medium confidence that the handgun above is a Colt 1903.

The third weapon is an AK-47 variant- this weapon does not appear to be one of the IRA's well known Romanian AKs - the Pistol Mitralieră model 1963 or model 1965, which were supplied by Colonel Gaddafi in the 1980s to the IRA, because it doesn't have the distinctive wooden foregrip as seen in the third picture that the huge bulk of Romainian AKs have. It's a milled, not stamped AK, which is likely to mark it out as early production- it appears to be a Type 3 AK, produced between 1953 and 1959 by Russia, and later by Bulgaria as the AKK. It could also be a late production of the milled Chinese Type 56 rifle, though the appearance of the rifle in this case doesn't exactly match that.

This would mean that this rifle is quite possibly not one of the shipments from Gaddafi in the 1980s, instead being an earlier import- Libyan imports seem to have almost exclusively been Romainian AKs and Chinese Type 56 in the 1980s. As time went on, stamped AKs such as the AKM or PM md. 63 became much more common than older milled AKs.

Above is the most interesting weapon- which could be mistaken for the classic M16A1 and is related to it, but is actually an early model AR-15/M16. We can tell this from the "duckbill" style muzzle device (Sometimes known as 3 Prong). Later AR-15/M16 models would have a different muzzle. This is very like to be a Colt 601 or 602 if a fully select fire rifle, or a Colt R6000/SP1 if it's a original civilian rifle. The image below is a 1964 example Colt SP1, that's extremely similar.

What can also be observed about this gun is that it must either have no magazine  or a 20rnd, further indicating an early AR-15 variant. We can also see some measure of water markings/residue on the front sight block, and light rusting on the barrel, indicating long time storage in damp enviroment, such a underground or buried arms cache. This doesn't mean that the rifle is non-functional at all, but certainly indicates lack of maintainance and some measure of corrosion from storage.

With these deductions in mind we can take a look at early IRA Arms imports; this is a great resource:

  • 1970-71, "Armalite AR-15 rifles" were imported from the USA
  • 1970: "Revolvers" were imported from Spain
  • Early 1970s: "M-16s and AR-15s" were imported from the Harrison network in the USA
  • In 1972, the first shipment from Libya is said to have arrived, this contained "Small arms". This not the same shipment(s) as Gaddafi's infamous support in the 1980s.

Gaddafi used thousands of AKs, highly likely to include Type 3 as well as AKM & AIMS, but the age of the Type 3 AK is likely to indicate pre-1980s importation. What's more, 1980s' Gaddafi AKs would be extremely likely to have foregrips or be Chinese Type 56, which the rifle shown doesn't seem to be.

So we can speculate that based on the model/condition of these small arms and the comparative lack of ammo shown that these militants have access to a small stash of Provisional IRA small arms from the very early to mid 1970s (Or even prior to 1970, in the case of the AR-15/M16), which may have been abandoned for a large period of time. It doesn't appear as if this group has imported or otherwise gained access to more modern weapons, and we can't tell if the weapons are entirely functioning or they have ammunition available apart from 9x19mm. It's likely that they have access to a buried arms cache that didn't actually include  any ammunition (Or little), just small arms, with the ammunition being stored elsewhere or otherwise inaccessible.

The Beretta may be from a later import, being as it was first produced in 1976, and some reports indicate that Gaddafi included Taurus (Beretta Clones) and Beretta pistols with his imports, and could be from a separate source. However, the S&W Revolver and Colt 1903 would easily able be to be from pre 1970's imports or much earlier. The finish on the S&W appears to me to indicate a civilian model that has been imported from the USA, and both were widely available in the US pre 1970.

Of course it's 100% possible these are later imports or recently aquired but given the collective characteristics of the small arms it's an interesting thought exercise. If there was a larger or newer cache, we could expect to see perhaps later M16A1 or AR18 variants, or AKM/AIMS, and perhaps Glock or Hi Power pistols. This assessment is inconclusive but the weapons do seem to date to the same era to me. These images are a a clear (If somewhat amusing) example of how state support in the form of equipment from decades ago can stick around for a long time, and leak into new and dangerous hands.

"Blue barrel" arms cache remains

Incidently, notice the pipe bomb that looks new and viable?

A former UK marine, who was sentenced in July 2017, is known to have manufactured Pipe Bombs- Law Inforcement have claimed some are still floating around and that they have not all been secured. It's possible that this is one of his products or that the men pictured made it, but it's hard to tell anything from these pictures.