Journal Volume 5 2006
John Francis O'Reilly and John Kenny: Irishmen sent by the Germans to spy in Ireland during World War 2 (continued/3)
Once free of the Abwehr, O'Reilly returned to Berlin with the intention or rejoining the Irland-Redaktion team but it appears that he did not exert himself to return to work and received a mildly threatening telephone call from Sonderfuhrer Kurt Haller. In a subsequent telephone conversation with Nora O'Mara, who worked for the Irish Service, O'Reilly received an offer from her to return to Ireland and subsequently received a call from S.S. Oberstrmfuhrer Geisler who offered himself with the S.S. Thereafter O'Reilly underwent training with the S.D. and although some of his instructors had previously worked with the Abwehr, the procedures used by the S.D. were different to those used by the Abwehr. The Luftwaffe, which was to drop him by parachute, expected a 'quid pro quo' and he was now additionally required to provide the Luftwaffe with air intelligence information and to assist him in this task, he was shown captured Allied aircraft at a Luftwaffe airbase as well as R.A.F. rank markings and unit flashes.
The S.D. element of the O'Reilly mission was very subtle in parts - the S.D. wanted him to collect political intelligence in England with special emphasis on the inter-party political conflicts within the British government which was an all-party one of national unity, make contact with the Scottish and Welsh nationalist movements, travel to Northern Ireland and report on the state of relations between American and British troops, British convoys and destroyers, shipping and the American Air Force. During his mission preparation in Germany, he met Oscar Pfaus who had travelled to Ireland in early 1939 to set up links between the Abwehr and the I.R.A. which eventually resulted in James O'Donovan from Shankill undertaking this role as liaison between these two organisations. O'Donovan later sheltered Captain Herman Goertz in his Shankill house for a week before he moved on to Stephen Held's house in Templeogue. A subsequent Garda raid on this house revealed the presence of Captain Goertz in Ireland but he was able to evade capture and was forced to go on the run, being sheltered in a variety of safe houses until captured nearly 18 months later.
During his training period, O'Reilly assisted the S.S. in selecting another Irishman, John Kenny, for an intelligence gathering mission, who I will progress to in a few moments.
The initial German plan was to drop O'Reilly and Kenny by parachute into Ireland on 16th December 1943 but the pilot in charge of this operation expressed doubts about being able to drop them on target due to the narrow drop zone selected. These agents were being dropped blind as there was no-one on the ground to mark the proposed landing zone for their arrival. On 15th December 1943, O’Reilly was flown to Ireland by Luftwaffe Specialist Group 123, normally based in Brest, Northern France, with his aircraft timed to arrive in Kilkee to coincide with the arrival of the transatlantic flying boat in Foynes so that the sound of the twin-engine German aircraft would be masked by the sound of the larger 4-engine aircraft. O'Reilly was required to jump from an altitude of around 1000 feet with his suitcase weighted so that he and it would descent at the same time on their separate parachutes. He was also supplied with a coloured signal light to indicate that he had made a safe landing to the aircraft crew.
O'Reilly was dropped about 1 mile from his family home around 2 a.m. on 16th December 1943 and made his way home where he received a very warm and welcoming reception from his family. News of his arrival spread locally by word of mouth and in due course rumours of his arrival reached the Garda Siochana who were aware his activities. They also received reports about a stranger with a suitcase stopping at Moveen seeking directions to Kilkee. Despite all this information, the local Garda Siochana took their time about contacting O'Reilly and when thy did get around to calling at the family home to arrest him, his mother informed them that he had gone on a shopping trip to town. Instead of waiting for him to return, the Gardaí concerned left a message asking him to call into the local Garda station which he did at 11 p.m. that night. O'Reilly was questioned and then released and was not taken into custody until 11.30 a.m. the next day – 17th December 1943. When searched, he has £143 left of the £300 he had dropped with on his person.
The subsequent search of his landing site revealed the presence of two parachutes, one with harness and one without, spades and eight shock absorbent pads. He was also equipped with an Abwehr a.c. main transmitter / receiver, a battery powered transmitter / receiver, Morse key and a code wheel for enciphering and deciphering messages. O'Reilly was brought to Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin where conditions were not as spartan as those in nearby Mountjoy Prison or the Athlone Internment Camp.
O'Reilly's passport was subjected to a thorough examination by the Irish authorities due to the presence of what appeared to be an exit visa sighed by William Warnock, the Irish Charge d'Affair. O'Reilly admitted that the visas for Spain and Portugal were forgeries but that the Irish stamps were genuine. The passport was subjected to a very detailed forensic examination using ultra violet light and infra-red photography. This detailed examination revealed that the passport was genuine but that page 12 had been cleverly replaced and that visa stamp No. 213 / 39 issued on 15th May 1939 had been altered to read No 213 / 43. There were 2 further errors – the German forgers failed to notice or had not been informed that William Warnock's 1939 title of Secretary to the Legation had changed to Charge d'Affair by 1943 and used his 1939 title under the forged 1943 stamp. The second was the use of a code number with the visa stamps as these had been discontinued since the outbreak of World War 2.