The Ballivor spy

Given the fates of the respective counties on the football fields there was little chance of mistaking Meath for Tyrone in 2003, but that's exactly what happened when German spy Hermann Goertz landed his parachute close to Ballivor in May 1940.

Goertz had been sent to Ireland on an information gathering exercise by German Military Intelligence and after landing near the south county Meath village, the 48-year-old made his way on foot to Laragh, County Wicklow where he met Iseult Stuart, daughter of Maud Gonne and sister of Sean McBride.
Stuart put him in touch with the IRA and republican sympathisers. Goertz was later put up in Templogue by a Nazi sympathiser and escaped capture.

Goertz held the rank of Major and his purpose was to act as German High Command Liaison Officer with the aim of getting the IRA’s assistance during a possible German invasion of Britain. But, he was to be sorely disappointed with what he found.

"Rotten at its roots … an occasionally willing but generally unreliable guerrilla movement that caused more concern to the Irish government that it did to the British", was Goertz’s frank assessment of the IRA.

On May 22, 1940 the Gardaí raided the home Stephen Karl Held, an IRA member and adopted son of a German father where they found evidence of Goertz’s presence. In addition they seized equipment, including a radio transmitter and receiver.

They also found files on Irish airfields, harbours as well as other possible targets. There was also the basic outline of a plan to invade Northern Ireland with the support of IRA members in the south, the so-called ‘Plan Kathleen’ initially proposed by Held himself but rejected as unfeasible by the German authorities.

Most of the German spies who landed in Ireland during the Emergency were captured and interned within a matter of days. However, Goertz evaded capture for almost 18 months.

While on the run he stayed with republican sympathisers in a number of locations around Dublin, including Dun Laoighaire, Dalkey and Clontarf. In November 1941 he was captured by the Gardai and interred for the rest of the War.

He was initially detained in Mountjoy jail, but following the escape of a comrade in 1942, Goertz and nine others were transferred to a small prison in Athlone Military barracks and continued to be held there after hostilities ceased.

"This detention centre was miserable, small and cold", wrote Goertz of his new abode, "During the British occupation it was a military prison. Its twelve cells had normally been used for locking up soldiers for a few days for drunkenness and other minor offences against military discipline."

This was not Goertz’s first time to be detained on foreign soil while spying for his country. In 1936 he was the central figure in an espionage trial at the Old Bailey in London.

The previous year he arrived in England with his 19 year old secretary Marianne Emig and spent sometime in Mildhenhall, Suffolk but moving to Broadstairs, where they rented a house and posed as ‘uncle’ and ‘niece’.

There they befriended a young airman, named Kenneth Lewis who was home on leave. Goertz and Emig invited him to tea during which the conversation turned to the RAF and in particular its Manston air base.

Lewis was amazed at the extent of the pair’s knowledge of the RAF and Marianne asked him to write to her and on Air Force crested notepaper preferably.

She was interested in acquiring pictures on the ‘flying machines’ as well as aerial views of Lee-on-Solent. The German pair continued to prise information out of their English friend on subsequent visits and exhibited a willingness to pay for photographs of RAF aircraft.

When Lewis appeared to be concerned about passing on information that might be useful to an enemy, he was assured that Britain and Germany would be on the same side in the next war.
All went well until their six-week tenancy was due to expire. The owner arrived one morning to do some gardening and noticed an opened bottle of milk on the doorstep and what proved to be a telegram to her from Dr. Goertz in the letter box.

It read, "Two days for Germany, back Saturday. Take care of my combination and photo.". A couple of days later he sent a post card from Ostend, Belgium with further explanations.

"I had on account of news I received to hurry to Germany. I will be back on Saturday to deliver you your home, clean and in order. I left my bicycle combination behind the door of the little house. Please take care of it. Sincerely yours, Hermann Goertz."

The owner, a Mrs Johnson, thought the ‘combination’ referred to was his motorbike. She checked the outhouse and found many things including a small intricate camera, but no motorcycle. After informing the estate agents that the tenancy was up she reported the disappearance of the motorbike.

The police were unsuccessful in tracing the motorbike but found sketches and documents in Goertz’s overalls concerning RAF Manston, as well as other bases at RAF Mildenhall, Hawkings, Hornchurch and Feltwell.

It was then that Mrs. Johnson realised that the ‘combinations’ were his overalls and not the motorbike which Goertz had taken with him to Germany. Thus his simple error led to his arrest, trial and imprisonment on spying charges. A few weeks later he was stopped by police at Harwich on his return to England.

The specific charges were "that he made a sketch, plan, or note of Manston RAF Station, calculated to be useful to the enemy, and conspired with Marianne Emig, a young German woman, to commit offences against the Official Secrets Act."

Goertz pleaded not guilty and in his defence outlined how he spent two years in England (1929-31) as a lawyer to fight a lawsuit on behalf of Siemens company. Having lost the case he returned but he was refused his fee.

Under pressure from creditors in Germany, he claimed he returned to England to write a novel and it was while researching the novel that his efforts turned to writing an essay on "The Enlargement of the British Air Force", hence the need for sketches and enquiries.

During the course of his trial it emerged that he interrogated Allied prisoners during the latter stages of World War I. Having been turned down by the German Intelligence Service, it appeared that with bankruptcy looming he came to England on a solo run to impress the German Authorities.
The trial in March 1936 was a major news story. Marianne Emig declined to come to Britain and give evidence in his favour for fear she too would be tried. On conviction he was sentenced to four years penal servitude at Maidstone Prison.

Despite the war that commenced a few months previously, Goertz was deported to Germany on his release. Happily for him his efforts hadn’t been wasted and impressed by his loyalty and efforts the German authorities offered him undercover work and thus he was dispatched to Ireland.

Following his capture in late 1941, Goertz spent almost six years behind bars in Ireland. In 1946, the ten German prisoners held in Athlone were granted right to apply for asylum, but only one was successful.

Following his release the following year Goertz went to live with his friends, the Farrell sisters, Bridie and Mary. However, his stay was short-lived. On May 23, 1947 he reported as required to the Aliens Office in Dublin, where he was told an aeroplane was ready to return him to Germany.

Fearful of what awaited him on his return to his homeland, he took a cyanide capsule and despite the best efforts of staff to revive him, Goertz died at Mercer’s Hospital a short time later.

Crowds lined the streets for his funeral to Deans Grange Cemetery three days later. In 1974 his remains were exhumed and re-interred at the German Military Cemetery at Glencree, Co. Wicklow.

Taken from Royal County
December 2003