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The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking

Goertz & Mainau

Abwehr agent Dr Herman Goertz

Abwehr agent Dr Hermann Goertz

Political Backdrop

(The Usual Needlessly Verbose Inquisition Preamble)

Given Ireland’s geographic location, it is logical to assume that compared to the Nazis, the Allies, and the British in particular, would have had more to gain, and less to lose, from establishing an illicit foothold in Ireland. However, given the long-held links between the Irish independence movement and Germany, these links were easier to establish. The IRA had been in contact with, and supplied by, Germany since the first decades of the twentieth century. Casement had tried to bring in German arms board the Aud, and Sean Russell had openly gone to Nazi Germany, and ended up dying on a U-boat. The links were obvious and visible, to the point of the Irish army wearing a bastardised version of German military attire.

Map mocking the poor knowledge of would-be invaders, making Ireland seem as unappealing, militarily speaking at least, as it probably was.

Map mocking the poor knowledge of would-be invaders, making Ireland seem as unappealing, militarily speaking at least, as it probably was.

More generally, Irishmen and women were not especially disposed towards nazism. Instead, the majority who became personally involved in the war did so as part of the British war machine. Germany had antagonised the Irish government by sinking neutral Irish shipping, creating a large antipathy towards the nazis, even in the absence of evidence of the horrors that would be come apparent later in the war. It was established at the time, that the sinkings of Irish shipping were not in error. Although accidental, aerial bombings of Irish urban sites further strained diplomatic relations.

At the time, Ireland was under sustained diplomatic pressure to join the Allied effort. The Allies’ wishes were tempered with a dose of “better the devil you know” as they sought to control Ireland, who they felt was harbouring German agents and supplying information. With a relatively open border between neutral, or southern, Ireland and the north the Allies were tempted to go down the route of direct intervention.

Ireland was not harbouring these phantom agents, but as detailed below one agent was put up by IRA outlaws for an 18 month period and sent reports to Germany at this time. The IRA were angling for German assistance of their efforts, and had been liaising with Germany to this end. At the insistence of the IRA representative, Sean Russell, Germany believed the numbers of IRA members to be substantial. These figures, as they would find out, were optimistically over-estimated and accepted as a result of their chummy mutual contempt of the British.

The Mission

(The Interesting Bit You are Looking For)

Imagine you are looking to recruit a spy to your evil empire. You might not choose one who had already been at the centre of publicised international diplomatic scandal and had served time as a result. On the otherhand, you might regard the new mission as being to a neutral backwater, peopled by rural incompetents. In that case you might have sent Hitler himself, for all the notice you imagined they would take.

Dr Hermann Goertz was a 50 year old german lawyer, from a seemingly moneyed background, who convinced the German secret service, the Abwehr, that he should be sent to Ireland to observe and plan a joint operation and plan an invasion of the North. The problem was that he was a recognisable face, having performed a similar role in pre-war England and getting caught by leaving his espionage notes on his kitchen table. His spell at his majesty’s pleasure had also curtailed his available funds. His picture had been in the papers all over Europe.

Operation Mainau was approved by the Abwehr head, Canalis, with the aim of evaluating Ireland, and the Irish, as potential invasion allies. Goertz was given an Afu transmitter, a 9mm Browning, and some invisible ink (“G-Tinten”), although later accounts not this pistol was actually a 32 automatic rifle.

The German-based IRA representative, Sean Russell, was to have met Hermann Goertz. In the manner of the how the hapless, and informationally worthless nature of the mission, Russell was stood up when Goertz’s plane departed early.

MISSING: One radio transmitter, never used.

MISSING: One radio transmitter, never used.

The incipient spy landed in Ballivor, County Meath on the 6th of May 1940. This was the ideal place to land an agent. The area is rural and relatively sparsely populated, with large fields where a parachutist can land safely, without the risk of hitting tress, and can then get his bearings and hide his parachute. Unfortunately for Goertz, it was also a perfect place to irretrievably drop your transmitter before landing.

Goertz circumnavigated Dublin from northwest to southwest. He marched the 80 miles to Laragh, to stay at Francis Stuart’s house. Having gotten lost along the way he asked directions at a Garda station, while dressed in Luftwaffe regalia. Iseult Stuart (Maud Gonne’s daughter) answered her hall door to find a tall man with a gun and a German accent who claimed that her husband said he could stay there. Scared, she rang her husband’s accomplice, Jim O’Donovan, to take this weirdo away. Using his own hidden petrol supplies, Jim O’Donovan was able to get around rationing.

Over the following 18 months Goertz was dragged from pillar to post. He stayed in various well-appointed locations including Laragh Castle and 254 Templeogue Road, a fantastic modernist edifice which would surely have been condemned by true neo-clssicist Nazis. In his reports he maintained that he chose these safe-houses, and not the IRA owners, displaying the megalomania that had convinced him that, even though he was already a failed spy, he was the man for the Irish job.

$20,000 was found in Goertz’s safehouse, which goes some way to suggesting his mission was highly regarded by Germany. Interestingly, from an Irish historical perspective, Goertz was able to bend some of the right ears. He was an acquaintance of a high ranking member of the military establishment – Major General Hugo McNeill.

“Plan Kathleen” involved working with IRA members to plan their actions if the German military were to come ashore on the northern shores, around Lough Swilly. Essentially they foresaw a campaign of IRA sabotage, as the British were doing so effectively themselves against Germany, with SOE.

The doctor was scathing about what he saw as IRA amateurism saying, “You might know how to die for Ireland, but you have no idea how to fight for it.”

Goertz was something of a dupe. While berating Irish amateurism, he was himself fooled by the outward appearance of the activities. No joke, he used the Swastika laundry in Dublin, as did his fellow spy, Unland. This Unland was even more a rank amateur – when arrested he was found to have in his possession a book detailing how to be a spy.

Having made illicit contact with Dr Hempel, Germany’s representative in Ireland, Goertz assured he now had a way to get his correspondence out to Germany, without having to find a new transmitter. However G2, the Irish secret service, intercepted the letters and made their own responses. Goertz believed these to be legitimate letters in return from Hempel. Someone in G2 couldn’t resist a joke at the hapless Germans expense, and assured him in a letter that his mission was such a success he would be secure an instant promotion on returning to the fatherland.

The promise of his new social elevation urged Goertz to attempt escape from Ireland at least twice. In Fenit, County Kerry, he was foiled doubly – Gardai seized his IRA comrades as the British waited three miles out sea to intercept, were his boat to head out into the ocean. Later Goertz got away at Brittas, Wicklow but his engine failed, forcing him back to land. He tried again later that year, equally unsuccessfully. Herman sank into depression.

G2 were closing in, and his accomplices and protectors began to disappear. Jim O’Donovan was interned without charge as a result, although no evidence against him was found.

In 1941 Goertz was arrested at Blackheath Park in Clontarf, a well-to-do north Dublin coastal suburb. He was apprehended in the home of a known IRA member of German descent, Stephen Carroll Held, who was being observed closely at that time.

Dr Hermann Goertz' misspelled headstone in Glencree German Cemetary

Dr Hermann Goertz' misspelled headstone in Glencree German Cemetary

Legacy of Goertz’s Espionage

Reviewing the evidence

There was an Irish section in the Abwehr. Goertz’s superior there, Veesemayer, decided that essentially his efforts came to nil, “his communications are mostly one-sided and therefore of a relatively valueless nature.” He also felt he was too exposed, lacking and espionage craft and guile, “both the Irish and the English police are informed to his whereabouts.” In short, “the value of his activity in Ireland has sunk to nil.”

In the end Goertz’s ineffectiveness was an irritation to both countries involved. After the war Ireland tried to send him back, but fearing capture by the allies, he swallowed the vial of poison that German spies were supplied with and died in hospital two days later.

Goertz was buried first in Deans Grange Cemetery, on May 26th 1947, in a swastika-draped coffin. During the funeral the wind blew this flag away, confounding the efforts of an un-named young woman to keep it there. 200 mourners wearing nazi ephemera. Dan Breen, the ex-IRA man, Hitler fantasist and Fianna Fail TD, attended the funeral, after his return from a spell running a speakeasy in the USA.

Ironically, the icon chosen to show a corpse’s birthdate on the uniform headstones in the Glencree cemetery, where Goertz now lies, is the Star of David.

Entrance to Glencree German Cemetary

Entrance to Glencree German Cemetary

Herman Goertz on Wikipedia
Hideout is on the market
Francis Stuart on Wikipedia
Sean Russell on Wikipedia
Ronan O’Donnell on Dr Herman Goertz
The Irish Times reported on Goertz’s funeral
The “Emergency”
National Library records for Herman Goertz
Jim O’Donovan’s son talks about the old IRA
Operation Mainau
The Abwehr
Florence Donoghue in History Today on Axis Espionage in Ireland
Ireland in World War Two – Neutrality and Survival, Dermot Keogh and Mervyn O’Driscoll, Mercier Press, 2004
Ireland in the Second World War – Politics, Society and Remembrance, Ed. by Brian Girvin and Geoffrey Roberts, Four Courts Press, 2000
Germany and Ireland – 1000 Years of Shared History, Martin Elsasser, Brookside, 1997
The IRA, Tim Pat Coogan, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002

This article was posted by on Wednesday, June 1st, 2011 at 21:57.
It is archived in Dublin, History, Ireland, Wild Places and tagged , , , , , , , .

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