People living in the southern coastal counties from Kerry to Wexford, had frequent reminders of the Second World War with warplanes making forced landings, or bodies being washed up on our shores. The survivors of aircraft that landed were great curiosities.
All of the German airmen were interned, as were some of the Allied airmen, for a time at least, but all of the Allied airmen were secretly released between October 1943 and June 1944.
In his book Luftwaffe — Eagles Over Ireland, Justin Horgan tells the story of those German airmen. It is a fascinating story to which he has devoted meticulous attention, illustrating it magnificently with pertinent documents and lavish photographs.
Many Germans were killed in the course of crash landings, or ditching at sea. I remember older people talking about the horror of the bodies being washed up on beaches around the southern coast.
The author identifies the bodies of the Germans airmen washed up and investigates their deaths, providing information about their various missions, and how they ran into difficulties.
In many cases, the aircraft were damaged in combat, and they decided to head for neutral Ireland, where they would be interned as guests, as opposed to being held as prisoners of war in Britain.
Luftwaffe landings in Cork involved eight different crews, six in Wexford, four in Kerry, and two in Waterford. Those aircraft carried a total of 44 survivors, all but one of whom were interned at the Curragh.
Eight men from a Luftwaffe bomber that landed near Portroe, Co Tipperary, were also interned. The only survivor not formally interned was Max Hohaus, the first survivor to arrive in Cork.
The bomber in which he was flying crashed at Dunbeacon while flying in low cloud on February 5, 1941. Hearing the crash, Mary Nugent a local nurse, rushed to the scene and found Hohaus crawling away from the burning wreckage.
She helped him and treated his facial burns. He was moved to St. Brichin’s Military Hospital, Dublin, where he was detained for almost two years before being handed over to the British for immediate repatriation in prisoner exchange of the severely incapacitated British and German servicemen arranged by the Red Cross.
The Germans expressed their appreciation of Mary Nugent’s help by awarding her a medal, with a citation personally signed by Adolf Hitler. A facsimile copy of this citation is reproduced in the book.
At least 19 German airmen landed, or were washed up on the Cork coast. The author names those men and each of the planes’ crew members.
During the first two weeks of May 1941, the bodies of three members of one Luftwaffe crew were washed up on Cork beaches. Their aircraft had crashed into the Irish Sea after they were shot down near the south coast of Wales.
Two of the crew survived and were picked up by a British vessels and detained as prisoners of war, while the other three perished. One body was washed up at Galley Head, another at the Old Head of Kinsale, and the third body at Ballyfeane.
The authors provides biographical details on all 44 Germans at the Germany Military Cemetery in Glencree, Co Wicklow.
Most of the survivors refused to talk about their missions when they were taken into custody, but Justin Horgan has examined available German records and interviewed many of the survivors over the years. He provides a real service in explaining the movements of the various aircraft.
The book tells the story of Walther Hollborn, set down outside Irish territorial waters off the Wexford coast on the night of May 5-6, 1942. He claimed that he “could have landed in Ireland but decided to come
down without infringing our neutrality so that he could be looked upon as a shipwrecked mariner.” Distressed seamen were not supposed be interned, but he and his colleague, Josef Emmerich, came ashore and were therefore interned, while their other two colleagues drowned. Later, 166 German sailors, rescued in the Bay of Biscay by the Irish ship Kerlogue, were also interned, even though there was no question of those men having violated Irish territory. It was just one of many ways Irish neutrality was twisted in favour of the Allies.
Prior to the arrival of those sailors, the German airmen were housed at K Lines internment camp at the Curragh, beside Allied airmen in an adjoining compound. The internees were allowed out on parole each day, provided they promised not to try to escape and agreed to stay within the area bordered by the towns of Naas, Kilcullen and Kildare. Once a week, they could go to Dublin for a day.
The camp was more like a holiday camp than a prisoner-of-war camp, because they had great freedom of movement. Within the camp they were allowed to have their own radios and phonographs. They even had bars run by the camp authorities in each of the compounds, where they could buy beer and spirits at duty-free prices.
At the end of the war, most of the German internees wished to remain in Ireland longer. Four Austrians were given political asylum, but the remainder were compelled to return home, including the four German airmen who married Irish girls they met while interned here.
Those German survivors retained fond memories of their time in Ireland, unlike their Allied counterparts, who tended to resent their internment. When I was writing Guests of the State about the internment of the Allied and German servicemen, the Allied airmen explained that they were very frustrated in the Curragh and resented the suggestion that the camp was more like a holiday camp than a concentration camp.
“Would you go to the Curragh for the winter for your holidays?” the lone American internee asked me. He wished to fly, and he explained that he the other Allied pilots felt that they were missing out on the adventure of a lifetime.
While the book is really about the German airmen, the author does relate the story of pilot officer Paul Mayhew, the first British airmen interned here.
All previous British airmen who arrived here were secretly let go, but Mayhew had shot down a German bomber and its five crew members were killed before he landed near Oulart in Co Wexford.
He landed because he was running low on fuel and thought he was over Wales. He escaped from the Curragh on the night of the Irish Derby in 1941 and made it across the border with the help of Irish friends. He went back into action, only to be killed in the war shortly afterwards.
The beauty of this book, which was clearly a labour of love, is its photographs. They give real life to the story. It also contains a wealth of facsimile reports of what happened in relation to all of the German landings.