There is spy fever at the moment what with Putin infiltrating the UK and Chinese PLA members in mufti being sought or hiding in consulates in the US. Eighty years ago of course the bogeyman of the world was Germany and pre WW2 its spies were on the loose in Ireland.
BBC2 Northern Ireland has a documentary this evening about Professor Ludwig Mühlhausen. Ostensibly an academic studying the Irish language and ‘fairy tales’ Mulhausen scoured the Donegal Gaeltacht looking for suitable bases for submarines and a possible invasion of Ireland later termed Operation Green:
He wasn’t alone before World War 2 a plethora of ‘academics’ popped up in Ireland studying everything from Irish and Folklore to turf production. For the most part their antics were chaotic and inept and after the outbreak of war between the allies and Germany their activities were monitored diligently by the G2 section of Irish army intelligence:
In Mühlhausen’s case he was hardly discreet on arrival at Teileann (Anglicised Teelin) in Donegal in 1937 he proceeded to put a picture of Hitler on the wall of his lodgings then plumbed the depth of the local harbour with a line and weight as the locals looked on. He compiled a glossary of photographs of inlets, possible landing sites etc and the deadly intent of his work is apparent as a book by German Military intelligence produced in 1941 (Military Geographical Data on Ireland) contained much of his work. Even after returning to Germany Mühlhausen was hardly subtle broadcasting in Gaelic to Ireland he broadcast ‘greetings’ to his Irish academic friends naming them and bringing them under G2 scrutiny for a time.
Mühlhausen was not alone in his ineptitude. Abwehr agent Günther Schütz applying pre war for a visa to study Synge in the Gaeltacht implied he knew the playwright and asked how he was. The head of the Irish legation in Berlin William Warnock wearily pointed out the Synge had been dead since 1909! Schütz was refused a pre war visa but parachuted into Ireland later only to be scooped up by G2 and spent the war in Mountjoy and Portlaoise Jails. The most extraordinary of the Abwehr agents was Hermann Görtz who was parachuted into the country but insisted on wearing full army uniform. Lost in the countryside after a mismatched drop he proceeded on a marathon walk across Ireland in uniform calling at Garda stations on the way to ask directions. G2 let him run for a while but eventually he ended up in the ‘spies’ section of Portlaoise. Görtz is still ‘in Ireland’ as terrified of being repatriated and handed over to the Russians despite reassurances he committed suicide in 1947 and is buried in the German war cemetry at Glencree in Co Wicklow.
Some of the academics returned to work with Irish colleagues after the war. Spies like Schütz were also successful. He married an Irish girl and became a successful businessman and eventually ran a hotel at Avoca in Wicklow not far from where his colleague is buried. He died in his sleep in 1991.
As for Mühlhausen he died of ill health after spending several years as a POW he had spent the war broadcasting to Ireland on the Irish language propaganda arm of the Irland-Redaktion. During his initial captivity he appealed to Irelands President, Douglas Hyde, to intercede on his behalf – his request went unanswered.
‘Operation Green’ was never really a goer. It depended very much on the use of airborne troops of the Luftwaffe parachute arm and after their savaging in Crete they spent the rest of the war with their feet on the ground. The plans however tied up Irish Army resources which at that time were sparse covering both the SE and NW as possible invasion sites. It also caused the UK to commit military units to the six counties it badly needed elsewhere.
The programme about Mühlhausen is on BBC2 N Ireland at 10:00 pm this evening Freesat channel 102 (NI) 969 (rest of UK).
The story of the German Radios propaganda service produced as a thesis by David O’Donoghue and later published in book form as ‘Hitler’s Irish Voices’ can be found at the pdf link below. It contains a wealth of information on the period and the characters.
Footnote: If you think the Isle of Man was immune from this jiggery-pokery think again. No one has ever explained why the Reich’s top man in Dublin in 1939, Adolf Mahr, turned up over here as a guest of Tynwald and the Lt Governor just days before he packed his bags in Dublin and returned to Germany!
David O’Donoghue’s thesis:
Image: Teileann – Inset: Professor Ludwig Mühlhausen studying fairy tales there in 1937.
Assistant General Secretary Celtic League (26th July 2020)