“I would immediately go to Hamburg and see B.S. [the Hebrew dealer in firearms with whom he had been in communication for some six or seven years, and whom he had found perfectly honest, and not at all grasping], and consult him as to what he had to offer. I would purchase 25,000 to 30,000 rifles, modern weapons if possible, and not the Italian Vetteli rifles we had been getting, all to take the same ammunition and fitted with bayonets. I would purchase a suitable steamer of 600 tons in some foreign port and load her up with the arms, and either bring her in direct or transfer the cargo to a local steamer in some estuary or bay on the Scottish coast. I felt confident, though I knew the difficulties in front of me, that I could carry it through all right."
The sub-committee accepted Crawford’s proposal, and, when it had been confirmed by Headquarters Council, he was commissioned to go to Hamburg to see how the land lay. On arriving there he found that B.S. had still in store ten thousand Vetteli rifles and a million rounds of ammunition for them, which he had been holding for Crawford for two years. After a day or two the dealer laid three alternative proposals before his Ulster customer: (a) Twenty thousand Vetteli rifles, with bayonets (ammunition would have to be specially manufactured).(6) Thirty thousand Russian rifles with bayonets (lacking scabbards) and ammunition, (c) Fifteen thousand new Austrian, and five thousand German army rifles with bayonets, both to take standard Mannlicher cartridges.
The last mentioned of these alternatives was much the most costly, being double the price of the first and nearly treble that of the second; but it had great advantages over the other two. Ammunition for the Italian weapons was only manufactured in Italy, and, if further supplies should be required, could only be got from that country. The Russian rifles were perfectly new and unused, but were of an obsolete pattern; they were single-loaders, and fresh supplies of cartridges would be nearly as difficult to procure for them as for the Italian. The Austrian and German patterns were both first-rate; the rifles were up-to-date clip-loaders, and, what was the most important consideration, ammunition for them would be easily procurable in the United Kingdom or from America or Canada.
But the difference in cost was so great that Crawford returned to Belfast to explain matters to his Committee, calling in London on his way to inform Carson and Craig. He strongly urged the acceptance of the third alternative offer, laying stress, among other considerations, on the moral effect on men who knew they had in their hands the most modern weapon with all latest improvements. Carson was content to be guided on a technical matter of this sort by the judgment of a man whom he knew to be an expert, and as James Craig, who was in control of the fund ear-marked for the purchase of arms, also agreed, Crawford had not much difficulty in persuading the Committee when he reached Belfast, although at first they were rather staggered by the difference in cost between the various proposals.