by ehistoryadmin on October 2, 2014

‘The Germans are coming – head for Kildare!’

James Durney

When another war broke out in Europe in September 1939 Éamon de Valera announced that he was determined to keep Ireland, or rather Éire, neutral.  Although Ireland’s policy was described as neutral it should more appropriately be described as non-belligerency, because as de Valera explained to the German minister in Dublin, Ireland had been ‘prepared to show a certain consideration to Britain’. Many Allied airmen who crash-landed in Ireland were quietly repatriated to the UK across the border with Northern Ireland, while German air crew who crash-landed were interned for the duration of the war. Over-fly rights were also granted to the Allies and tens of thousands of Irish men and women served in the British armed forces.

In August 1940, with the Wehrmacht in control of much of Western Europe and the British army back in the UK, the 4th and 7th German Army Corps were ordered to prepare detailed plans for an amphibious invasion of Ireland. Army Group B, having distinguished itself in Poland, Belgium and France, was entrusted with the western flank of Operation Sealion – the invasion of England. General Leonhard Kaupisch’s 4th and 7th Army Corps offensive against Ireland, was to be an integral part of the attack on England. The codename for the invasion of Ireland was ‘Operation Green.’ However, the Germans made a practice of coding military operations by colour and ‘Green’ does not appear to have been chosen for any symbolic reason.

The Irish expedition was to have been a divisionary one while the mass of German troops invaded south- east England. Only three divisions were to take part in the first stage of the invasion of Ireland, while forty were scheduled to participate in Operation Sealion. The German High Command planned to occupy the entire British Isles and Dublin was included as one of six administrative headquarters which were to be set up on both islands. Gen. Kaupisch continued his preparations for the Irish invasion from September until mid-October when Sealion was postponed. The Irish invasion plans were continued, though at a much slower pace and really only as a pretence to keep pressure on the British armed forces.

In the following month, after German Intelligence intercepted British radio traffic suggesting a British invasion of Ireland, plans for an Irish expedition were again forwarded. On 3 December 1940 Adolf Hitler said, ‘The occupation of Ireland might lead to the end of the war.’ However, Admiral Erich Raeder ruled out an occupation of Ireland as far too risky and said it was only permissible if it coincided with an invasion of Britain. Yet the idea was not dead and was considered on two more occasions. Fear of an occupation of Ireland as a means of an invasion of England led to a British offer of Irish unity in return for Éire’s participation in the war, an idea rejected by de Valera. After the invasion of neutral Holland and Belgium, the British seemed convinced that Ireland would be attacked from the air and secret plans were hatched between the British and Irish Armies to repel a German invasion of Éire. However, much to their annoyance, British forces in Northern Ireland would not cross the border into the south until requested to do so by the Dublin government.

The idea of the British army occupying the twenty-six counties had been a topic of conversation in Britain since the beginning of the war and there was a likely possibility that an invasion of Éire might come from Northern Ireland rather than German-occupied France. Within the British army, an attack on Southern Ireland was being actively considered in the summer of 1940. Winston Churchill, however, was wary because of possible American repercussions. In the event of an attack by Germany, or Britain, the Dublin government had an emergency evacuation plan in place. Nine large houses within fifty miles of Dublin were discreetly vetted by the Office of Public Works for emergency government headquarters. All of the houses selected could accommodate the entire Cabinet. Two of those chosen were in Co. Kildare – Ardcaen House, Naas, and Bert House, Athy.  

Ardcaen House, Tipper Road, Naas, was the home of General Eric de Burgh. It was an equal distance from a transmitter system at Straffan, run by Radio Éireann’s chief engineer, Ed Slowey, and the Curragh military camp. Gen. Sir Eric de Burgh, K.C.B., D.S.O., O.B.E., was born at Oldtown, Naas, in 1881 and had retired as Chief of the General Staff, India, (1939-41) on reaching the age limit. (He died in February 1973, aged ninety-two.) Eric de Burgh was the only full general resident in Ireland at the time. He was on friendly terms with Irish army officers and contributed articles to An Cosantoir, the journal of the Irish Defence Forces. Bert House, outside Athy, was owned by Major Geogeghan, who assumedly, was also friendly towards the Dublin government.

Documents had been discovered on IRA members, which indicated there was a plan for an invasion of Ireland. The Germans were expecting the IRA to act as a fifth column and assist their invasion. Dominions Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, pressed de Valera to avoid neutrality as the Irish Army was in danger of being overrun, Dublin captured and an IRA government installed. However, de Valera empathically rejected any idea of Éire abandoning neutrality or giving access to the Treaty ports. As Robert Fisk wrote, ‘Britain … reassumed her imperial eye, viewing Ireland  as a bulwark against England’s enemies.’

Hitler, however, had other plans and moved on to discuss the invasion of Gibraltar and Malta, British possessions of equally strategic importance to the Germans. Ireland was soon forgotten. In June 1941 the Wehrmacht invaded Russia and the threat of a German invasion receded. The United States entered the war in December 1941 and the first American troops arrived in Northern Ireland the following month. The defense of Ireland from a German invasion became an Anglo-American responsibility, but the threat of an Allied invasion – to seize the Treaty ports – still remained. The Treaty ports had been transferred in 1938, but the British argued that the agreement did not prevent the Irish Government of according facilities to the Royal Navy, but de Valera was unmoved.

As the Allied navies gradually broke the U-boat stranglehold on the Atlantic sea lanes, Éire’s strategic significance began to dwindle. The Treaty ports were no longer an issue of life and death and while a few senior British naval officers still believed that the Germans might attack Éire, by mid-1942 any chance of that had disappeared. Éire remained neutral throughout the war, but ‘friendly’ towards the Allies.

My thanks to Mario Corrigan and Charlie Bergin who brought this subject to my attention.

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