Two German spies caused controversy in the Kerry countryside in the summer of 1940. Getty images

Many in Britain were convinced that Ireland was secretly aiding the Germans during World War II, all thanks to the imagination and yarn-spinning of a few Kerry natives.

Guy Liddel, counter-intelligence chief of Britain’s MI5, wrote in October 1939, “Éire’s neutrality is rapidly becoming a farce. German sub sailed into Dingle for repairs.” This was followed by “Frequent reports coming about submarine bases on the west coast of Éire,” and “A submarine comes in three times a week and is camouflaged with a canvas screen,” a few days later.

There was, in fact, no truth to these stories, but the British were eager to believe them, especially after the German sub U-35 sank a Greek ship off the English coast. The Germans rescued the 28 sailors and landed them at Ventry, Co. Kerry. The story even featured on the cover of the popular American magazine, Life.

Hugh Wren was an official coast-watcher during the Second World War, working at various points in Kerry from Ballybunion to Dingle. He dismissed many of the stories told about U-boats being seen off Kerry saying, “Most of the submarines had been seen in pubs.”

It appears that there may have been a tall tale or two spread to English journalists by the people of Kerry to keep the charade going and many of them may had, in fact, begun in pubs. A Daily Mail correspondent who traveled to Ireland told of how he heard about dealings between the Irish and the Germans that “would make any Briton’s hair stand on end.”

German submarines. Image: Public Domain

German submarines. Image: Public Domain

The correspondent reported that he had been shown a pub in Dingle where a U-boat captain had proposed a toast to the downfall of Great Britain and had met a man in another pub who told him about submarines coming to one of the islands to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.

These tallt tales apart, there were two instances where German spies found their way to Ireland and landed in Kerry. These incidents gave the British some right to be suspicious.

In June 1940 Walter Simon was spotted coming ashore at Dingle and burying his radio. While waiting for a bus from Dingle he was invited to the pub by local Michael Nelligan. After drinking three glasses of whiskey and buying a full bottle for the bus journey to Tralee, where he could catch the train to Dublin. Simon was spotted, obviously drunk, by two Garda (police) detectives, James Colley and Bill Walsh. The pair had been staking out the station as part of a widespread search for the man who had come ashore.

They followed Simon to Dublin before stopping and questioning him. Simon gave his name as Karl Anderson and said that he had been visiting family but was returning to Dublin after having an argument with them. He was arrested as soon as he stepped off the train. His fingerprints were checked and it was confirmed he was Simon and that he had been deported from Britain in July 1938.

In July 1940 he was convicted of illegal entry to the country and sentenced to three years.

The second German spy arrived just 12 days later, this time coming ashore at Minard, Co. Kerry.

Willi Preetz was brought to the coast by U-boat and fared slightly better than Simon. He evaded arrest until August and succeeded in transmitting some weather messages to Germany.

Preetz’s one big advantage was that he was married to an Irish woman and so, although a foreigner, did not attract as much suspicion. He married Sarah Reynolds from Tuam, Co. Galway in Germany in 1935 and had previously visited the Reynolds family in Ireland on two occasions.

US men on a firing range in Ireland. Image: Public Domain.

US men on a firing range in Ireland. Image: Public Domain.

Once the war began he fled to Ireland from England. The Reynolds family said that he had arrived in Ireland before the outbreak of war, and, so, he was allowed to stay.

Preetz slipped out of the country and returned to Germany in December 1939 at which time he joined the Abwehr, Germany’s military intelligence arm.

He was trained to use the radio to transmit weather information and sent back to Ireland in June 1940. He lived in a flat on Westland Row in Dublin and took note of barometer readings displayed in shop windows.

However, the demon drink was also to be the downfall of this spy as he was much more interested in partying than transmitting his notes back to the Germans and got on the wrong side of his wife’s family by getting her younger sister “into trouble.”

There were other reports of suspicious behavior, and one instance, in particular, where the alarm was raised following reports of a man coming ashore near Inch Strand near Dingle in September 1940.

Those reports were unfounded, however, as no other German spy was found. “A thorough search of the peninsula from Dingle Bay to Tralee Bay was carried [out] on the 29th inst by 250 military accompanied by gardaí and local security forces but no trace of the man alleged to come ashore was found,” said Garda Superintendent Michael Ó Laoghaire of the affair.

H/T: The Irish Examiner

* Originally published in June 2015.