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 IRAs assistance during a possible German invasion
of Britain. But, he was to be sorely disappointed with what
"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 Goertzs frank assessment of the
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 Goertzs presence. In
addition they seized equipment, including a radio transmitter
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
This was not Goertzs 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
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 pairs 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
"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,
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
The police were unsuccessful in tracing the motorbike but
found sketches and documents in Goertzs 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
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
Despite the war that commenced a few months previously,
Goertz was deported to Germany on his release. Happily for
him his efforts hadnt 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 Mercers 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,
Taken from Royal County