Herman Goertz had worked as an interrogator of allied prisoners in 1918. When the war was over he returned to law, studying at Heidelberg, Paris, Edinburg and Kiel, specialising in international law. In 1935 Goertz was convicted of spying on the RAF at the Manston airbase in England and served a four year prison sentence. Released in February 1939 he was deported to Germany. The following year Goertz was parachuted into Ireland to liaise with the IRA. His intended landing site was Tyrone.
When Goertz landed outside Ballivor on 12th May he was wearing his Luftwaffe uniform and medals in the mistaken belief that he would be shot if caught in civilian attire. Goertz who was in his late 40s asked a startled local if he had landed in Northern Ireland. The farmer asked the German agent “You wouldn’t happen to know Ballivor?” Goertz made an unsuccessful search for the ‘Ufa’ radio transmitter which was attached to the second parachute. The IRA sent out a team of men to try to discover the radio. Local people reported of men looking like ‘detectives‘ searching the fields in the vicinity during the hours of darkness.
Goertz 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’s mission was to act as a liaison officer to the IRA in order to secure their support during an invasion of Britain. Historians suggest that Goertz was deliberately allowed to wander around the country so the Irish army and police could find out who his contacts were. He remained at large for a total of eighteen months.
In May 1940 the Gardai raided the Templeogue home of IRA member, Stephen Carroll Held, who was working with Goertz. Led by a Special Branch officer, Michael Wymes, they discovered a parachute, papers, Goertz’s World War I medals, and a number of documents about the defence infrastructure of Ireland. Papers included files on possible military targets in Ireland, including airfields and harbours and plans of the so-called “Plan Kathleen”, an IRA plan for the invasion of Northern Ireland with the support of the German military. Held had brought this plan to Germany prior to Görtz’s departure but his superiors had disregarded it as unfeasible. Plans for the German invasion of Ireland and codes were captured with Gthe Taoiseach Eamon de Valera was immediately informed.
Goertz went into hiding, staying with sympathizers in the Wicklow area and purposefully avoided contact with IRA safehouses. Goertz was arrested in Clontarf on November 12, 1941. 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 until the end of the war.
While interned in Athlone Goertz practised suicide techniques with a fellow prisoner, carved an elaborate tombstone for his own grave and, according to his diary and dreamed of taking over the leadership of the IRA. The Irish military intelligence milked him for any useful information. A message smuggled into Athlone informed him that he had been promoted to the rank of major, Goertz cried on receiving the message. He sent out coded messages which were read and decoded by the Irish forces.
When he was paroled in 1947, he went to live with his friends, the Farrell sisters, Bridie and Mary, in Dublin but was soon informed he would be deported to Germany. Goertz was terrified of being sent home to Germany, where he feared he would be tortured or executed by Allied or Soviet investigators. Frustrating the Allies attempts on a number of occasions though the High Court it was decreed that he would be extradited. On May 1947 Goertz reported to Aliens Registration Office in Dublin. Terrified that he would be turned over to the Soviets, he then swallowed a cyanide capsule right in front of the Garda Officer, Michael Wymes. He died at Mercer’s Hospital soon after.
His funeral took place to Deans Grange Cemetery three days later but in 1974 his remains were exhumed and re-interred at the German Military Cemetery at Glencree, Co. Wicklow.
Mr. Wymes went on to become Garda Commissioner and father of Michael Wymes, of Bula mining company and Bective House.
Books which tell the story of the German spies in Ireland include “Spies in Ireland” by Enno Stephan and “Irish Secrets: German Espionage in Wartime Ireland, 1939-1945” by Mark M. Hull. James Scannell wrote an interesting article in the Greystones journal of 2004 entitled ‘Major Hermann Goertz and German World War 2 Intelligence Gathering in Ireland.’