Journal Volume 5 2006

John Francis O'Reilly and John Kenny: Irishmen sent by the Germans to spy in Ireland during World War 2

By James Scannell

During World War 2, or Emergency as it is called in Ireland, the Germans sent twelve individuals to Ireland on various intelligence gathering missions and to liaise with the I.R.A. Landed by a variety of means, from a small boat, a submarine or by parachute, eleven were captured by the Irish authorities and eventually wound up in the Athlone Interment Camp. The twelfth, John Lenihan, after landing in Ireland by parachute, travelled to Northern Ireland, surrendered to the British authorities and was accepted into the British Double Cross system, a British deception operation run by the XX Committee of M.I.6, sending back false information to the Germans, joining other captured German agents who had been accepted in it, without the Germans being aware that these agents were operating under British supervision and control.

The 11 German secret agents captured by the Irish authorities were:

Werner Unland

Ernest Weber Drohl

Herman Goertz

Walter Simon

Wilhelm Preez

Henry Obed

Dieter Gaertner

Herber Tributh

Guenther Schutz

John Francis O'Reilly

John Kenny

Of these eleven individuals, two stand out - Herman Goertz and Guenther Schutz. Herman Goertz landed by parachute on 12th May 1940 in Co. Meath. He was the most serious minded German intelligence gatherer sent to Ireland. He remained at liberty for 18 months, being sheltered in a series of safe houses operated by Republican sympathisers until finally captured on 12th November 1941. Guenther Schutz, the most ingenious of the spies, was arrested on 12th March 1941 within hours of landing in Co. Wexford, later managing to escape from Mountjoy Prison and remaining at liberty for a number of weeks. He was also sheltered in houses owned by Republican sympathisers until re-captured in Rathmines on the eve of moving to another safe house located in the Bray area.

A thirteenth individual, Jan Van Loon, a Dutch seaman with German sympathies, jumped ship in Belfast, travelled to Dublin, presented himself at the German Legation at 58 Northumberland Road, Dublin 4, and then astonished the staff by candidly offering to engage in intelligence gathering for them. The Germans, fearing that he was an agent provocateur sent by the British, declined his offer and turned him out of the Legation. He was subsequently detained by the Irish authoritative and sent to the Athlone Interment Camp for the duration of the Emergency.

The Abwehr (German Military Intelligence) sent eleven of these twelve German secret agents while the remaining was sent by the S.D. (Nazi Party Foreign Intelligence Service). Remarkably two of the twelve secret agents were native-born Irishmen: John Francis O'Reilly and John Kenny, and how these two individuals came to be working for the German intelligence services are the subject of this paper.


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