On the 75th anniversary of the internment of German airmen in Ireland, Ryle Dwyer looks back at one of the strangest, most welcoming prison camps of the Second World War
There was little for the men to do at the Look Out Post at Brandon Point, Co Kerry on August 20, 1940. The area was shrouded in thick fog and visability was down to only a matter of yards.
Suddenly they heard an aircraft approaching. Although it was obviously flying low, nobody could see it from the ground.
The crew of the Focke-Wulf Condor had left their base in Abbeville, France, before dawn on a weather reconnaissance mission. Dr Eric Kruger, their meteorologist, took three hours of readings at different heights off the west coast of Ireland. The commander, Oberleutnant Kurt Mollenhauer, then asked the navigator, Ludwig Wochner, for a course home. Wochner suggested they climb to 5,000 feet and hold that course for 30 minutes, by which time they should be clear of the mountains on the west coast of Ireland.
Thinking they were out over the ocean south of Ireland, they descended to 1,000 feet in the hope of attacking some Allied shipping. The clouds suddenly broke and they saw the Maharees peninsula, forming the western boundary of Tralee Bay, off their port wing.
Mollenhauer ordered the pilot to head west back into the mist and away from the Irish coast. He had no idea they were over Brandon Bay and were turning towards Mount Brandon, then shrouded in thick fog.
At the last moment the pilot, Robert Beumer, saw the mountain as it loomed out of the mist. He instinctively raised the nose of the plane, but as he did, a large rock tore off the under turret. Had he planned it, he could hardly have done better. The rock slowed them and by sheer luck the aircraft, with its nose up, was moving almost parallel to the mountain slope, making a belly-landing on the treacherous slope.
Only two of the six-man crew were injured. Mollenhauer fractured his right ankle, and Beumer suffered a painful back injury.
While the two injured men were taken to the County Hospital in Tralee, their colleagues were taken to Collins Barracks, Cork, where they were held for 10 days.
The exterior of K-Lines
“You need have no anxiety about me, since we are here removed from the vicissitude of the war,” Kruger assured his mother in a letter. “I have here a lazy life, and perhaps the abundance of sleep and good food will have a good affect even on me.”
“The people are very friendly and put everything at our disposal that we need,” Kurt Kyck, 20, wrote to his parents in Allenstein. “When the war is over I shall probably come home again. I hope it won’t be long now.”
The six men were interned in Ireland for just four days short of five years, but they were housed in what must have been one of the strangest concentration camps of the war. Kyck actually got married while interned and he spent most of the next 70 years in Ireland, where their son, Wolfgang Kyck, became a senior pilot with Aer Lingus.
On August 31, 1940, Mollenhauer and Beumer were transferred from Tralee to the Curragh Military Hospital, and the four others were moved from Cork to ‘K Lines’, or the No 2 Internment Camp, as it was officially called. It was a newly constructed camp at the Curragh, about a mile from Tintown, the No 1 Internment Camp, where members of the IRA were held.
The guards there were not initially as friendly to the Germans as the soldiers in Cork. Guards at the Curragh did interchangeable duty between the K Lines and Tintown, and this inevitably affected their attitude towards the internees, who complained to the German minister that they were being treated like prisoners of war.
Strictly speaking, they were not prisoners, but guests of the State, which was merely obligated to insure that they took no further part in the war. Colonel Thomas McNally, the officer in charge of the Curragh command, considered them prisoners, however, and he ordered stringent security.
“These prisoners in my opinion are the type who consider it a duty to affect escape at the first available opportunity,” McNally wrote. “As a race they are very tough and methodical and I feel will avail themselves of any laxity in the regulations which govern their internment.”
The camp authorities were in a quandary when the German minister arrived at the camp with six bottles of wine. The men had been permitted to drink alcohol, read Irish newspapers, and even listen to the radio while in Cork. Now these facilities were being denied for no good reason.
Mollenhauer complained about not even being able to get enough fresh air in the military hospital. Large nails had been driven into the window frames to prevent the windows in his room being opened more than a few inches for fear he might try to escape. There was already an iron grill on the window, and his leg was in plaster.
Thus he welcomed his transfer to K Lines, where he was able to get all the fresh air he desired. The six internees were housed in two separate wooden bungalows — the officers in one and the NCOs in the other. All ate together in the same mess, at their own request.
The German minister asked for a relaxation of the prison-like conditions, but the Army authorities moved slowly until the internment of the first British airman on September 29, 1940, added a new dimension to the internment question, especially as Pilot Officer Paul Mayhew was the son of prominent British businessman Basil Mayhew.
Kurt Myck with Lillian White, who he met while a prisoner of war and who he married while still interned
Mayhew’s aircraft was actually the seventh British warplane to land in Ireland, but no effort was made to detain any of the crew of the others — even after the pilot of one plane went into the Garda station in Skerries to make a phone call after he set-down just off Dublin coast. Following the internment of the Germans, however, Irish authorities felt Mayhew had to be held.
As a separate compound was being prepared at K Lines for Mayhew, Frederick Boland, the assistant secretary of the Department of External Affairs, warned the Army that the internment of the British airman was going to give rise to more difficult issues.
“What we must be sure of,” Boland wrote, “is that we do not withhold reasonable and usual amenities which it might later be deemed to be expedient to grant to military internees of another nationality to obviate, for example, attacks in the British press.
“We are under international obligation to keep these men in this country and to ensure that they do not escape and return to Germany. Once their safe custody is assured the men should be granted every facility and amenity calculated to soften their captivity and relieve their monotony.” He thought there were no grounds for denying the men a radio, newspapers, or magazines.
The German government gave permission for the men to sign out of the camp on parole, promising on their honour not to try to escape, or take part in any activities relating to the war. The officers were given an allowance of £3 per week and the NCOs £2 per week, which compared favourably with the wage of less than £1 a week being paid to their guards. All of the internees were also given £5 each to purchase civilian clothes.
The limited freedom granted on parole was quickly expanded. They were allowed to sign out each day within a 12-mile radius of the camp, and they could go to Dublin once a week.
As the war continued, K Lines expanded with the addition of 45 other German airmen and 47 more Allied airmen. Within each compound, the internees were allowed to have a bar in which the Army sold drink duty-free.
In October 1943 the Allied internees were moved to separate camp in Gormanston, Co Meath, and most were secretly freed. In a gesture towards the Germans, Mollenhauer and 19 of his colleagues were allowed to move to Dublin and enroll at University College, Dublin, or the College of Technology in Bolton Street. They stayed in groups of three or four in rented houses.
The Garda Special Branch kept an eye on the students and their contacts. People who rented them accommodation were investigated, and the Special Branch informed the Army that some of the men had amorous involvements with their Irish landladies.
Meanwhile, back at the Curragh, Kyck had fallen in love with Lilian White, who lived with her parents in the married quarters in Kildare Army Barracks. Her father — a sergeant in the Army — had served in Germany with the British army of occupation after World War One. That was when he met and married Lilian’s German mother.
Thus Kyck looked on the Whites’ quarters as a home from home. He married Lilian while he was still interned.
Mollenhauer married Dr Paula Mecklenburg from Dolphin’s Barn, Dublin, in 1947. They courted while he was attending UCD. Her parents were Germans who had moved to Ireland many years earlier.
The students in Dublin were able to buy duty-free alcohol at K Lines, and they exploited this to supplement their incomes. In just one week in December 1944, the seven German internees living in two houses purchased over £352 worth of wine and spirits, even though their per diem allowance only amounted to two shillings and two pence each. Thus, in that week leading up to Christmas, they actually spent more than their total combined allowances for sixteen months.
Shortly after the war ended in Europe, the Germans internees were repatriated. It took Kyck more than four years to get back and settle in this country, where he died in 2010, some 70 years after his initial arrival.
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