Behind a secret web of spies
MI5 files reveal the extent to which supposedly neutral Ireland co-operated with the British against Germany, writes Joe Carroll
Hans Marschner was supposed to be one of the best German spies sent to Ireland. He had excellent English, had already spied in England, had maps and even tubes of Macleans and Colgate toothpaste in his kit, which also included a powerful radio transmitter. He was to be a human weather station for the German Luftwaffe.
But within hours of parachuting into what he assumed was Co Kildare, he was picked up by two gardaí on bicycles. The trouble was that he was in Co Wexford.
He told the gardaí his pre-arranged story, that he was South African and had been on his way from Dublin to Naas when his car broke down and he was now walking back to Dublin. He was asked to open his suitcase and there was the incriminating wireless set.
This was March 13th, 1941. It would be another six years before Marschner, whose real name was Günter Schutz, would see Germany again when he was handed over to the US military for interrogation.
But news travels fast and someone in the RAF's Northern Ireland headquarters, with Southern contacts, got on to MI5, the spycatching agency in London, with what he believed was vital information. The fact that the spy was intending to go to Naas, he wrote, "may have a bearing on the fact that there is a Baron Livonius staying as a paying guest with Mr Barton, Straffan House, five miles SW of Celbridge. He would appear to be the most likely person to be contacted around Naas.
"The Baron, at one time, stayed with Lord Headfort, Headfort House, Kells. He has an English wife and slipped over to Ireland when the war commenced and I am told was a great friend of Dr FitzRandolph, who was Goebbels's direct representative in England, at one time. Mrs Barton is the daughter of the later General Leckie. Her husband was in the 17th Lancers, but is now believed to be in the Éireann Army. He is one of the Barton Bros of Bordeaux Wine Shippers. They are all extremely eccentric, being Oxford Groupers and so on."
This piece of intelligence was stored as "secret" in one of MI5's bulky files on the German spies in wartime Ireland now being opened up by the British National Archives. It is just 60 years since the last German spies parachuted into neutral Ireland and, like most of the 10 agents who preceded them, they were picked up within hours. German espionage on Irish territory, and indeed in Britain, was so amateurish that historians now wonder if it was not meant to fail. The spies sent to Britain were soon arrested and either hanged or "turned" as part of the famous double-cross scheme to feed misleading information back to Germany.
Admiral Canaris, who headed the German intelligence service, was himself hanged before the end of the war for plotting Hitler's death. It is now being asked if he also wanted Hitler to lose the war.
The 12 spies who arrived in Ireland were luckier than those in Britain and sat out the war as internees in Mountjoy Jail and later in Custume Barracks in Athlone, where they had less access to IRA allies and Irish sympathisers than in Dublin.
Now that the British files on these spies are being opened, a surprise is how much information was supplied by Irish military intelligence, called G2, even though Ireland was supposedly neutral. What MI5 called its "Dublin Link" was arguably the best-kept secret of that period.
There was also a secret link between the Garda Special Branch in Dublin and the RUC in Northern Ireland. This was mainly to swap information on the IRA, which had launched a bombing campaign in Britain and was now trying to link up with Nazi Germany on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The files show that the RUC was also well informed about the interrogations in Dublin of the captured German spies.
The RUC man who passed on to MI5 the stream of intelligence coming from Dublin was Capt Roger Moore. His Garda contact, Supt O'Reilly, was so good that MI5 sometimes had better information from police circles in Dublin via the RUC than through the Dublin Link. Col Liam Archer, the head of G2, was the first Dublin Link, followed by Col Dan Bryan.
Cecil Liddell was MI5's man dealing with the Dublin Link. Liddell had his own Dublin connections as he was related to Lord Revelstoke, who owned Lambay Island, off the Dublin coast. Liddell later wrote that Archer, at times of crisis, was "a friendly and unofficial channel for an exchange of views on a political matter which went far beyond the normal scope of an Intelligence liaison".
Liddell said that Archer, "though at all times friendly and absolutely straight in his dealings, was a strong Irish nationalist and inclined to limit his co-operation rather strictly". With regard to Col Bryan, who took over in May 1941, Liddell said that "while just as mindful of his duty to his country, \ was wrapped up in Intelligence work for its own sake". Bryan's "enthusiasm for the work produced a degree of co-operation from the Irish side, which increased steadily as the war went on".
Capt Roger Moore, the RUC link, loved the Dublin gossip. He wrote to Liddell about his day in Dublin on May 15th, 1941. There was much interest there about Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, who had arrived unexpectedly in Scotland, "but it only took second place to why somebody had not backed the winner of the 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh, where they were in the middle of three days excellent racing". This seems to be a reference to Seán Lemass, then Minister for Supplies, who, according to Capt Moore, "would appear to be short of the essential, i.e. money. It is said he owed the bookmakers £900, and had it not been for Joe McGrath, who runs the Hospital Sweep, coming to the rescue, he would have been up before the Cunningham Club. He is not allowed credit in any of the shops."
Capt Moore reported that "there is absolutely no restriction on food, with the exception of bread, and there also seems to be plenty of everything except onions and oranges. Most people have great grievances about the quality of coal they are receiving from Great Britain. One person told me you can't use the coal because it puts the fire out."
The arrival of Schutz, alias Marschner, was causing a panic in government circles, where it was seen as the forerunner to a full German invasion, according to the British representative in Dublin, Sir John Maffey. Eight IRA suspects who were working in the Department of Defence had just been arrested and there were rumours of an IRA coup d'état with help from their German allies.
Maffey was keeping a cool head, however. He reported to London that "the official view is that the number of active extremists in the IRA at large is very small, not more than 200 at the outside. Success in rounding them up is very marked and I think we can regard the IRA situation as being well in hand".
Maffey said that "the authorities here are surprised at the apparent stupidity of such efforts as have already been made to put German agents down in this country. The man, Marschner, when arrested was walking about carrying his wireless set. You will remember the case of the party with the suitcase of explosives who attempted to travel up by bus from the coast. It looks as if Ireland were regarded [by the Germans\] as a very wild and unadministered country. In fact, from my experience, the police and detective agencies work with considerable intelligence and promptitude."
The capture of another German spy, Hermann Goertz, threatened at one point to destroy the Dublin Link, the MI5 files reveal. Goertz parachuted into Co Meath in May 1940 with the mission of linking up with the IRA for sabotage in Northern Ireland, and he narrowly escaped capture when visiting a contact, the Irish-Nazi businessman, Stephen Carroll-Held. The latter was arrested. The police seized the German spy's secret codes, his uniform, $20,000, a transmitter and Plan Kathleen, a plot for a German invasion of Northern Ireland with help from the IRA. Carroll-Held lied to the police that all this belonged to a Heinrich Brandy, to whom he had let a room recently.
Goertz, alias Brandy, managed to escape and remained free for 18 months, during which he was helped by the IRA and pro-German Irish families while meeting some highly placed politicians and a senior Army officer, Maj Gen Hugo MacNeill, who inquired about German help if Britain should invade. This was a time when Germany had conquered most of Europe and seemed unstoppable.
Plan Kathleen, a very amateurish affair, was handed over to Archer and Bryan in G2. They sent copies along with the German codes to MI5. The RUC also got a copy through its Dublin contact.
Plan Kathleen, which was drawn up for the Germans by the IRA, envisaged 50,000 German troops landing in Derry and conquering Northern Ireland with the help of the IRA which would be massed in Co Leitrim. But the Germans dismissed the plan as "childish".
As the Irish police were closing in on the spy they knew as Brandy, in the autumn of 1941, they learned that he might really be Dr Hermann Goertz and that MI5 might have some interesting information on him. The police asked the RUC to help and the RUC passed the request to Liddell in MI5.
Liddell was now in a quandary. He was able to confirm that the writing in Plan Kathleen was indeed that of Hermann Goertz, who had served a sentence for espionage in England before the war. Liddell expressed his concern in an internal memo: "I stated [to the RUC\] that it was obviously important that this information should be passed to the Éire authorities at the earliest moment but that I was faced with the difficulty that if this were done through O'Reilly (a Superintendent O'Reilly of the Dublin Garda who is Captain Moore of the RUC's contact in Dublin) it would reveal to the Dublin Garda that we were in possession of Plan Kathleen and if this were done it might lead to very serious repercussions as far as my own Éire contact is concerned."
Through this contact, Archer and Bryan, "important and delicate negotiations are now going on concerning matters connected with Germans in Eire and it has been an important and valuable channel of information on many other occasions".
Writing frankly, Liddell went on: "The position of the Eire Government in matters of this kind is obviously a delicate one. Although certain members of the Garda may be quite reliable, it is by no means certain that certain elements might not pass information concerning my contact with the Ministry of Defence to the IRA and even to the Germans. This might have the most serious consequences and if the fact of the close co-operation between Éire and British Intelligence came to the knowledge of the Germans, they might well consider it as a breach of neutrality." This worry reached up to the highest circles.
Liddell continued: "It is known to me that de Valera, who is aware of this contact, has on more than one occasion, expressed the gravest concern as to the safety of any communications which may pass between me and the Ministry of Defence \ and as to any possible risk of their falling into the hands of the IRA."
This was, indeed, the hidden side of so-called Irish neutrality. De Valera had in 1940 authorised joint planning by the Irish and British military to oppose a likely German invasion; he allowed flights over Co Donegal from the RAF seaplane base on Lough Erne; he allowed Irish radio messages about German plane and ship movements to be picked up by the British and now he was authorising the intelligence services in Dublin and London to work together on German spies. No wonder Liddell was worried what might happen if Berlin found out how Irish neutrality really worked.
But the Germans also had their secrets to hide about how much the legation in Dublin under Dr Edouard Hempel was, albeit reluctantly, giving covert assistance to the spies. This included supplying money and transmitting messages back to Germany.
When the war was over and Schutz, alias Marschner (now married to Una Mackey, who he met at a dance in Athlone), was being interrogated in Germany by the Allies, he told his American interrogator why he thought the Irish government had delayed his repatriation until 1947, although he had requested it as soon as the war ended in May 1945. MI5 was given a copy of the interrogation.
Schutz claimed that he was told by Maj Eamonn de Buitleir of G2, to whom he had appealed for help to get back to Germany, that de Valera feared that Schutz would reveal to the Allies how Hempel and the German Legation had helped the spies. De Valera had publicly defended Hempel's conduct as always "diplomatically correct" and cited this as one of the reasons he had visited him to offer condolences on the death of Hitler.
Churchill, in his post-war victory speech, had praised the "restraint" by which his government "never laid a violent hand" upon Ireland when Britain was in great danger. Instead, "we left the Dublin Government to frolic with the Germans and later with the Japanese representatives to their hearts' content". MI5 knew that far from frolicking with the Germans, de Valera had authorised the greatest assistance to Britain to keep them neutralised.
Gunter Schutz eventually moved back to Ireland where he became a successful businessman. He opened a hotel in Co Wicklow and lived in Avoca. He died in 1991.
Joe Carroll is a former Irish Times Washington Correspondent and author of Ireland in the War Years 1939-1945
Undercover: the Irish factor
Between February 1940 and December 1943 some 12 German agents were sent to Ireland. They were all arrested and interned. Three of them were actually Irish who fooled the Germans into smuggling them into Ireland for espionage. In fact, they just wanted to get home from wartime Europe, where they had been stranded. They were Joseph Lenihan, John O'Reilly and John Kenny.
The spies were given various missions. These included co-operation with the IRA, but only in connection with attacking Northern Ireland, weather reports, sabotage in England and reporting on the Allied build-up to D-Day.
Lenihan, after visiting his family in Athlone, crossed the Border and gave himself up to the RUC. He was sent to London and gave much valuable information to MI5 about German espionage methods.
John O'Reilly had broadcast propaganda for a while from Germany, where he went after working in the Channel Islands. He was arrested at his home in Kilkee after parachuting into Co Clare on December 16th, 1943. He escaped from Arbour Hill prison in Dublin the following July and headed for home again, but was turned in by his father for the £500 reward. His father had also helped arrest Roger Casement in Co Kerry in 1916. After the war, O'Reilly used some of the reward to buy the Esplanade Hotel on Dublin's Parkgate Street. He later emigrated to Nigeria and died in 1971, his MI5 file records.
Britain also had spies in wartime Ireland. The three military attachés had diplomatic status to allow them do their intelligence gathering. The MI6 spy was Capt Collinson, whose cover was the British permit office in Dublin. MI6 also had a network of informants, but its files on them may never be opened.