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A Mission for the Führer

Joe Carroll writes: In the early hours of May 5th, 1940 a parachutist landed in a field in Co. Meath near the village of Ballivor. His name was Hermann Goertz and he was a German air force officer. Although he was on a spying mission, he was wearing his Luftwaffe uniform. The reason may have been that if he had landed by mistake in Northern Ireland he could deny being a spy and avoid execution. Goertz was also carrying about $26,000 in cash, a Browning pistol and a knife.

A second parachute followed him down with a radio set and a tool for burying his parachute but Goertz could not find it so he had to hide his own parachute in a hedge. Later in the morning he was discovered by two farm labourers. Goertz gave them some money and asked the way to Co Wicklow.

His contact there was Iseult Stuart, who lived at Laragh Castle, Glendalough. He had been given her name and address by her husband, the writer Francis Stuart, who had met Goertz in Berlin where the Irishman was teaching English. Francis was soon to begin broadcasts to Ireland from a German propaganda station. Iseult was the daughter of the famous Maud Gonne MacBride. She was also the half-sister of Seán MacBride, who was briefly chief of staff of the IRA in the 1930s but was then a practising barrister.


Goertz set off for Laragh after dumping his air force tunic, leaving him dressed in a white sweater, riding boots, riding breeches and a black beret, an unusual outfit in the Ireland of the 1940s. He swam the Boyne to avoid a guarded crossing but the water ruined the invisible ink he had hidden in shoulder pads. He walked through Newbridge and even called into the Garda station at Poulaphuca to ask directions. Arriving at Laragh  in a bedraggled state after four days walking about eighty miles, he had trouble convincing Iseult Stuart who he was. But she eventually admitted him and gave him a bed to rest. .

Goertz asked Iseult to get him some proper clothes, so she drove to Dublin, met her mother, Maud Gonne, and the two women went to Switzers to buy some men’s suits. Iseult also arranged for someone to take Goertz away from Laragh. That someone was Jim O’Donovan, whose activities in the IRA help explain why Goertz was in neutral Ireland as a Nazi agent.

We have to go back just over a year to January 13th, 1939. On that day a letter to the British foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, announced that his government had four days to agree to withdraw all British armed forces stationed in Northern Ireland. If there were no such announcement then the IRA would take military action in Britain. The letter from the government and army council of the IRA had been largely written by O’Donovan, who by day was in a permanent job in the ESB but in his own time was drawing up the so-called S-Plan for a bombing campaign in England. Not surprisingly, there was no response from the British government and four days later IRA bombs designed by O’Donovan, who used teach chemistry in Clongowes College, began to go off all over England. Brendan Behan was among the IRA bombers who were rounded up, leading to his spell in Borstal.

Although Germany and England were not yet at war, German military intelligence, the Abwehr, sent an agent to Dublin to contact the IRA. The Germans asked the IRA to send someone to Germany. O’Donovan was the obvious choice, and during three visits to Hamburg and Berlin right up to the start of World War II he filled in the Abwehr about the strength and aims of the IRA and sought German arms and financial assistance for their campaign.

The arrival in Ireland of Hermann Goertz in May 1940 was evidence of the Abwehr’s positive response. Hence O’Donovan’s quick reaction when told Goertz had made his way to Laragh. But what exactly was Goertz’s mission to neutral Ireland while the German army was over-running Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium and France and threatening to invade England? Goertz’s mission was principally to persuade the IRA to concentrate its activities on military targets in Northern Ireland. By then the bombing campaign in Britain had petered out. Another aim of his mission, which seems strange to us today, was to see if the IRA could be reconciled with the Irish government. The Germans thought that since Fianna Fáil, led by Éamon de Valera had the same aim as the IRA – the unification of Ireland – perhaps they could work together against Britain. At the same time Goertz was told not to get involved in Irish politics. It would not take long for him to discover that this was Mission Impossible, and now he had no radio to tell his masters how he was getting on.

There was of course an official German legation in Dublin under the minister, Edouard Hempel. His main task was to try and ensure Irish neutrality in the war and deter Ireland from throwing in its lot with Britain. Hempel was not told about the arrival of Goertz and the last thing he wanted was a German agent wandering around Ireland and trying to influence the IRA, which was then an illegal organisation: indeed some days the Special Branch and the IRA were having gun battles in the streets of Dublin and two IRA men had recently died on hunger strike.

Goertz himself had an interesting background. He was born in Lübeck in northern Germany in November 1890 into a middle class family. His father was what we would call a solicitor. Goertz fought in World War I, first on the Russian front, where he was wounded and decorated. Then he transferred to the air force as an observer and later served as an interrogator of captured English and American airmen. He got married in 1916 to Ellen, the daughter of an admiral, and they had three children.

After the war. Goertz worked in his father’s firm as a lawyer and spent some time in the United States specialising in international law. He was also an all-round sportsman who could ride, sail, swim and box, And he was artistic: he could sketch, paint, play music, write stories and poetry. He was almost six feet tall, had brown hair going grey and grey eyes. He also had some scars. (He and his wife spent a holiday in Ireland in 1927 and were there for the funeral of Kevin O’Higgins, the minister for justice, who was murdered on Booterstown Avenue by maverick IRA members. Goertz noted how strongly political passions were running in Ireland at that time, just a few years after the Civil War.)

He joined the Nazi party in 1929 but his legal career was going downhill and in 1935 offered his services to the Abwehr to spy in England on RAF installations while pretending to research a book. He brought along an attractive nineteen-year-old secretary from his office, Marianne Emig, whom he referred to as his niece but who was also his mistress. After a few months travelling around southern England, the couple went back to Germany but Goertz, who planned to return later, made the mistake of leaving a suitcase behind with a landlady to whom he owed rent. When he delayed his return she opened the case and found notes and sketches of airfields and RAF installations. She called in the police and soon MI5 had a watch out for Goertz, who was duly picked up when he arrived in Harwich. His trial for peacetime espionage caused a sensation in England and was widely reported as the “Flying spy” case. He was sentenced to four years in prison and was released in 1939. In view of how he had bungled this first spy mission, it is perhaps strange that the Abwehr was ready to entrust him with a new one, this time to Ireland.

So here was Goertz at age fifty on his second spying mission, again facing failure. He had lots of cash but no radio, no secret ink and no contact with the IRA and was stuck in remote Glendalough. With the arrival of Jim O’Donovan and his car, this was about to change. O’Donovan drove Goertz to his home in Shankhill, an elegant period house called Florenceville. A day later, four IRA men called demanding money from Goertz. He gave them $16,500 but kept $10,000 for his own use. They brought him to another safe house in Winton Avenue, Rathgar and he had his first of several meetings with the chief of staff of the IRA, Stephen Hayes. At first he admired Hayes, although finding it hard to understand his Wexford accent, but he later came to despise him. IRA members retrieved Goertz’s parachute from Ballivor where he landed but could not find the radio set. Goertz was later moved to the home of Stephen Held, a dealer in sheet metal who had a large house in Templeogue called Konstanz. Held was half-German. The IRA had sent him on a recent mission to Germany to renew contact with the Abwehr. Held brought with him a plan for German landings in Ireland by parachute and by sea preparatory to invading Northern Ireland. It was called Plan Kathleen and was to haunt Goertz in the years ahead. Goertz was lucky to escape over a back wall when the Garda Special Branch raided Held’s house on May 22st, but Held himself was arrested. The search of the house revealed a room in which there were new suits from Switzers, a parachute, some German military medals, coded messages, $20,000 in a safe and Plan Kathleen.

Held spun a yarn that the incriminating material belonged to a German called Heinrich Brandy who had been a lodger. He said the money was part of a collection to build a retirement home for elderly IRA members. But the Irish authorities now knew that there was a German spy on the loose and that there was what looked like a German plan to invade Ireland. There was panic in the Government as rumours flew about an imminent German parachute landing – this was at a time when Germany seemed invincible and the defeat of Britain almost inevitable. Several hundred IRA suspects were quickly rounded up and interned in the Curragh.

Goertz was on the run again. He headed once more for Iseult Stuart and Laragh but it took him several days and he almost starved on the way. When he got to the Stuart home, there was no Iseult. The Switzer suits had been her undoing. The police had found out from the shop that she was the purchaser and she was arrested. But luckily for Goertz, the house and children, Ian and Katherine, were being minded by Helena Moloney. She was a well-known 1916 veteran under Countess Markievicz and later an Abbey actress who had become a trade union activist. She sheltered Goertz in an outhouse. Ian, then about ten, later recalled that he used to bring Goertz food. (Ian after the war married the German sculptress Imogen Werner, now known as Imogen Stuart.)

Iseult was held in custody for six weeks. Her trial for harbouring a person unknown who was threatening the security of the state was held in camera, but she was acquitted for lack of evidence. She apparently began a romantic relationship with Goertz after her release according to her husband, Francis, in an interview with his biographer, Kevin Kiely. Held was not so lucky and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Goertz, with the help of Helena Moloney, was brought back to Jim O’Donovan’s house in Shankhill. Now began a period during which the spy decided to cut his links with the IRA, which he now distrusted. He moved from house to house, usually helped by admiring women with strong Republican backgrounds. Among the places he stayed was 1 Charlemont Avenue, Dun Laoghaire, on the sea-front, near the station, owned by a retired nurse, Mary Coffey. Goertz was called Mr Robinson and to explain his comings and goings he was said to be a commercial traveller.

Helena Moloney and a woman named Maura O’Brien then rented a house for Goertz called St Alban’s, on Nerano Road, Dalkey, from where he may have sent wireless messages to Germany with the help of an ex-post office technician called Anthony Deery. Goertz also received visits at St Alban’s from political figures with pro-German sympathies, such as Dan Breen. He also stayed with two sisters, Marie and Bridie Farrell, who lived at 7 Spencer Villas, Glenageary. They were devoted to him and he returned there to live for a while after the war. Another branch of the extended Farrell family lived at 43 Cross Avenue, Dun Laoghaire and ran the Ideal Creamery at 88 Lr George’s Street.

Another devoted woman was Maisie O’Mahoney whose mother ran a bed and breakfast in Gardiner Place where Goertz sometime stayed. Maisie acted as a chauffeur for Goertz and there was also a romantic interest. He referred to her as “Golden Queen” because of her blonde hair. She worked for Dr Andrew Cooney, a former IRA chief of ctaff – yet another one ‑ who was then running the Hospitals Commission linked to the Irish Sweepstakes.

A much more significant contact of Goertz, and one which could have had disastrous consequences was Major-General Hugo MacNeill, then the second most senior officer in the Irish Defence Forces. Like many others in the Army and politics as the Germans were over-running Europe in 1940, MacNeill worried about what would happen if the British forces in Northern Ireland felt obliged to come across the Border to try and seize the Treaty ports at Cobh and Berehaven and forestall a possible German invasion.

After the war, the plans for a German invasion of England in September 1940, called Operation Sea Lion, were discovered, but also plans for a supporting invasion in Ireland called Operation Green. This would have involved German landings in the Waterford-Wexford area, seizure of bridgeheads, advancing towards the line Dublin-Kildare etc. There has since been speculation that this was never meant to happen but was a diversionary tactic to confuse the British. General MacNeill was worried by the unpreparedness of the Army to oppose a British invasion from the North. He first sounded out the number two in the German legation, Henning Thomsen, about getting German arms and equipment in such a scenario. When he got no response, MacNeill decided to approach, Goertz whom he knew was the contact between the German military and the IRA. MacNeill’s unofficial contacts with Goertz only emerged after the war when the telegrams between the legation and Berlin were captured and published.

MacNeill was probably unaware that the German foreign minister, Von Ribbentrop, had actually offered British equipment captured at Dunkirk to the Irish Army. The offer was made through ambassador Hempel, who passed it on to de Valera. The latter feared this offer was a poisoned chalice which the British would almost certainly hear about and then use as a pretext to accuse Ireland of having only a pseudo-neutrality and to invade themselves. The German offer was ignored by de Valera, to the annoyance of Ribbentrop.To complicate matters further, plans were drawn up in the summer of 1940, with de Valera’s approval, between the Irish Army and the commanding officer in Northern Ireland for British forces to help the Irish repel any German invasion in the South. The fact remains that MacNeill’s action in discussing German help with the embassy and then with a Nazi agent was extremely reckless and could have compromised Ireland’s attempts to remain neutral.

Goertz put the German ambassador into a very difficult situation with the Irish government. Hempel was not told in advance that Goertz was coming on a secret mission to the IRA to get them to carry out sabotage in Northern Ireland. But he was belatedly filled in by Berlin after the spy was nearly captured in the raid on the Held house. Hempel was horrified at the idea of Goertz at large making contacts with the IRA, politicians and even senior Army officers while he was trying to convince de Valera that Germany would respect Irish neutrality. Hempel reluctantly arranged to meet Goertz. This would happen under cover of a cocktail party at the ambassador’s residence in De Vesci Square/Terrace, Monkstown, a large Victorian house since pulled down and replaced by an apartment block. When Goertz arrived he gave the pre-arranged signal that he wanted to go to the toilet. He was brought to the ambassador’s study where Hempel joined him but had to keep interrupting the meeting to return to his guests. Hempel was impressed by Goertz’s bravado but was relieved to hear that he planned to leave Ireland and return to Germany as he believed he was wasting his time with the IRA.

Goertz made several attempts to escape from Ireland by using small boats. The first was in February 1941 from Fenit, Co Kerry, but the IRA men scouting the area for a suitable craft were spotted and arrested. One of them, called Crofton, was actually a member of the Garda Special Branch, which he had infiltrated. Goertz escaped yet again back to Dublin. Another escape bid by boat from Inishduff in Co Donegal also failed. Goertz was getting to see quite a lot of Ireland; he also stayed in Co. Cavan for a week near Belturbet. In August 1941, he lived in a holiday chalet in Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow, while he prepared to sail in a collapsible boat with outboard engine to France. For cover there were also some of the Farrell women and a young girl who would sometimes sail with Goertz as he practised his getaway. Sean McEntee, then a cabinet minister , also had a holiday home nearby so there would have been police around. Goertz’s two efforts to sail down the Irish Sea to France were thwarted by bad weather, so it was back to Dublin again.

He was eventually arrested on November 27th, 1941, nineteen months after he landed in Co Meath. He was hoping that his Army contacts would supply him with a plane to fly to France and he was staying in an IRA “safe house” in Blackheath Park, Clontarf belonging to a Patrick Claffey. His move to the Northside was not a good idea. The Special Branch, which had been arresting and questioning the Farrells and Jim O’Donovan, were closing in on him. Following a tip-off, Superintendent Gantly and his men raided the house in Clontarf. Goertz was found in a passageway between the house and a garage. As he was being led to the police car Goertz shouted: “You are arresting the best friend Ireland has …your government know why I am here, there is no room for a military attaché – that’s why I am here.” In the car bringing him to the Bridewell, he told the police that the IRA had let him down but that he had meant no harm to southern Ireland.

Goertz’s nineteen-month spell of freedom raises the question of how or why he was at large for so long. The other German spies, about a dozen, who had landed in Ireland had been picked up, in some cases within hours and usually within weeks. Goertz met so many people, five hundred according to himself, that it is hard to believe that he was not being left free by the authorities so that they could observe whom he was contacting. Col. Dan Bryan, the head of military intelligence, called G2, later denied this and blamed Garda incompetence for failure to arrest Goertz sooner ‑ but one has to wonder. It is interesting that the authorities only discovered Goertz’s real name shortly before his arrest. Until then neither they nor Britain’s MI5 knew that the German spy at large in Ireland was the same man who had been convicted of spying in England back in 1935.

Goertz was held for a year and a half in Arbour Hill military prison and was frequently interrogated by military intelligence. One officer was Commandant Éamon de Buitléar, who spoke fluent German (he was the father of the well-known director of nature programmes Éamon de Buitléar). Another interrogator was Dr Richard Hayes, director of the National Library, who was on part-time secondment to G2 as a code-breaker, a task for which he had excellent skills. He was anxious to break the code messages discovered with Goertz’s belongings when the Held house was raided. Dr Hayes succeeded in this, much to the admiration of the British MI5 to whom the information was passed on as part of the close wartime cooperation between the two intelligence services.

The news of Goertz’s arrest was reported in the Irish and British press and caused headaches for Hempel. Goertz wrote to him from jail: “I ask you urgently to get in contact with me as I feel the honour of the German Wehrmacht is involved. Heil Hitler.” Hempel was trying to work out with Berlin a statement which would appease Irish suspicions about what exactly Goertz had been up to. Goertz was sticking to his story that his mission was to persuade the IRA to stop causing trouble in the South and concentrate on sabotage actions in Northern Ireland. He denied that he had anything to do with Plan Kathleen’s German invasion scheme although the minister for justice, Gerry Boland, several times spoke in the Dáil to the effect that Goertz was behind a German plot to invade the country.

The Irish authorities were naturally intrigued at what Goertz had been up to during his nineteen months at liberty. The rumour mill had it that he was meeting dozens of influential people. Some of these were alleged to have been government ministers, such as Frank Aiken, Dr Jim Ryan and PJ Little. He was also believed to be arranging a meeting with Cardinal McRory as part of his futile idea of incorporating the IRA into the Irish Army.

Berlin told Hempel about Goertz’s last radio contact, in which he suggested a German proclamation for “Irish freedom and reunification of the occupied North with the South on the principle of Irish neutrality”. But Berlin added that this was “a complete misunderstanding of his mission” by Goertz and said it could only be explained by the fact that “he had lost his nerve and perspective in the previous 18 months and that he had been attempting all possible means of returning to Germany”. When Hempel met the secretary of the Department of External Relations, Joe Walshe, he stuck to this line and insisted that “if Goertz was active in a political way it could only be because he had acted on his own responsibility or through personal anxiety and a disturbed state of mind”. There was probably some truth in this suggestion concerning Goertz’s mental state.

While in Arbour Hill and later, when transferred with the other captured German spies to Custume Barracks in Athlone, Goertz kept up contact with his network of friends outside. For this he bribed a Corporal Lynch, who would smuggle letters to people like Mrs Austin Stack, widow of the Kerry IRA man; a Mrs Maeve Kavanagh McDowell who worked in Lees drapery shop in Rathmines, and the Farrell sisters. He asked them to supply a hacksaw blade, a glass cutter, a wire cutter and £3 to be left in Del Rio’s café, South William Street, owned by a sympathetic Italian fascist. By this time the authorities had discovered what was going on and were intercepting these clandestine letters so it was an Army sergeant in civvies who turned up at Del Rio’s to collect the escape material.

Another Goertz contact was Dr PJ Brennan, the Dublin County coroner who lived in Mellifont Avenue, Dun Laoghaire and may have treated Goertz medically while he was at large. Goertz also sent messages to Dr Kathleen Lynn, well-known as the medical officer to the College of Surgeons garrison in 1916 under Countess Markievicz. Another well-known Republican family which got involved in German espionage was the widow of Cathal Brugha, Kathleen and her daughters. Mrs Brugha, who owned the Kingston’s shirts business with its shop in O’Connell Street, is believed to have helped Goertz when he ran short of cash.

The biggest coup for the Irish intelligence service was to break Goertz’s code and to then send him replies, supposedly from Germany, to messages which he continued to smuggle out from prison. In this way they fooled him into giving a lengthy account of his movements from the time he arrived in Ireland. As a consolation for his efforts, the Irish spycatchers pretended to Goertz that he had been promoted from captain to major as a reward for his bravery on the Irish mission. A fellow-internee, Van Loon, recalled that when he got this news, Goertz “looked at me, then began to cry and sank onto his bed”.

Goertz found his imprisonment very hard and he went on several hunger strikes. He did not get on well with all his fellow spies, some of whom he did not trust. He kept devising escape plans, which with time became more outlandish. He once appealed to outside helpers to get him a bicycle and a few trusted men who “must darken their faces and have gloves on”.

He made pathetic appeals to the Irish character of his contacts: “I would not dare ask you if it were only for me. I am convinced it is for Ireland and for the friendship and the unbelievable kindness of hearts I have found here. It has become for me a kind of a second home … nobody expects that you slip out of neutrality but you must show that there is an Irish spirit, not only by Irish dancing. I know it is there.”

When the war in Europe ended in May 1945, the German sailors and airmen who were interned at the Curragh camp were sent back to Germany. As regards the spies held in Athlone things were more complicated. The British representative told the Irish government that it would be “most undesirable that these agents should be released and allowed to be at large in Eire after the war”. The Irish government at first took up a strong position and refused to deport the spies back to the Allied-controlled areas of occupied Germany. Goertz and the others were allowed to walk around Athlone and meet locals but had to report back to their prison quarters each evening. Goertz applied for political asylum but this was blocked by G2, which still saw him as a “dangerous person”. Col Bryan of G2 said he believed that Goertz would resume his contacts who would “lead straight to certain groups in this country who were pro-German in the war years and are interested in the project to bring German children here … a certain clique in the group seeks to give it an anti-British and almost pro-Nazi basis”. This is a reference to the Save the German Children Fund, called Operation Shamrock, which aimed to bring four hundred German Catholic children to Ireland for foster placement. Goertz was eventually employed as secretary to this scheme at £2 a month. A friend of mine, Fergal Mulloy, who lived in Idrone Terrace, recalls Goertz visiting their house to report on the German child staying there.

Then in April 1947, the Irish government yielded to the demands of the Allies and ordered the deportation to Germany of Goertz and the other spies. Goertz appealed against this decision to the courts but lost. He now became deeply depressed and told fellow spy Gunther Schutz: “Whatever happens they will never get me. My phial of cyanide will be my last resort”. Goertz feared that he would be handed over to the Russians, who might be aware of his anti-communist activities after World War One. He was assured by the Irish government and Hempel that he would be released after interrogation by the British authorities in Germany but he remained distrustful. When he went to the Aliens Office in Dublin Castle on May 23rd, 1947, to renew his parole, he was told that a plane was waiting to fly him back to Germany.

Goertz sat in the waiting room smoking his pipe but then slipped a cyanide phial into his mouth and bit down on it. The Garda in the room shouted “That man is taking something” and tried to get it out of his mouth. Goertz said “That is none of your business” and collapsed. He was taken to Mercer’s Hospital where he died soon afterwards.

Goertz’s funeral on May 26th attracted a lot of attention. A military funeral was refused. Crowds gathered along some of the route to Dean’s Grange cemetery where an estimated six to eight hundred people were gathered. There was a swastika around the coffin and a number of people gave the Nazi salute. The faithful Farrell sisters, who used to call him “the Doc” wore Goertz’s military medals in his honour. Hempel asked to attend the funeral but was advised by officials not to. It was probably the last time the swastika was displayed in public in Ireland.

Pictures of the funeral went around the world and the Irish ambassador in Rome said that “they gave the impression that Dublin is a Nazi stronghold and the only country outside perhaps of Spain where the Nazi emblem is publicly displayed and honoured. People who had persistently refused to believe Anglo-American propaganda about Ireland’s pro-German sentiments are somewhat perplexed by incidents such as this.” An official in Dublin replied to the ambassador that the press had exaggerated the numbers at the funeral, which “consisted of IRA sympathisers whom Goertz had met during his period of liberty rather than Goertz’s own compatriots in this country. In fact the whole German colony – including the former German minister (Hempel) were conspicuous by their absence.”

In 1974, the body of Hermann Goertz was exhumed and reburied in the German war cemetery in Glencree. On the simple grave stone his rank is given as “Major”, the promotion he had been accorded by the Irish intelligence service as part of their efforts to deceive him while in prison in Athlone.

Note on sources
Following my book Ireland in the War Years 1939-1945, I collected material on the activities of German spies which I did not deal with in the book. Enno Stephan’s Spies in Ireland is valuable because he interviewed many of the live actors when he was doing his research in the 1950s and used German military archives. Carolle J Carter, in The Shamrock and the Swastika, made extensive use of German archives on microfilm then only available in the United States. Eunan O’Halpin’s Spying on Ireland and Mark M Hull’s Irish Secrets made extensive use of the more recently available Irish Military Archives and the Irish National Archives and MI5 files on Ireland. I also researched the full Goertz files in the Irish Military Archives.

31/8/2018