WW2 – The Nazis and the IRA

Before the outbreak of war, tentative contact was made between the Abwehr and the IRA in Ireland. The Germans were hoping that the IRA might be able to cross the border and disrupt British military operations in the North; the IRA was seeking finance and arms from the Germans. There was something of a contradiction in all this, as the Irish fascist movement (the Blueshirts) was organized by General Eoin O’Duffy, who supported the Nazis but had no time for the IRA. The IRA, for the most part, had no truck with the Nazis’ anti-Semitism. Cooperation with the Nazis was strictly on the basis of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.

The IRA director of chemicals (i.e. the chief bomb maker) at that time was a man called Jim O’Donovan. As a result of an accident while training volunteers, Jim was missing several fingers from his right hand. He taught chemistry in Clongowes Woods College in the 1920s, where he met my father, who was a pupil there. Teacher and pupil maintained a lifelong friendship. In the 1950s, we used to visit the O’Donovans in their home at the weekends. I remember him well.

Oscar Pfaus was chosen by the Abwehr to establish first contact with the IRA, and he travelled to Ireland via England in February, 1939. Surprisingly, he was allowed to pass through England and catch the mailboat to Ireland, although he later claimed he was carrying a .45 Smith and Wesson revolver.

Pfaus’s English was excellent. He had worked in USA for a number of years. But he was something of a Walter Mitty character, dramatising every account of his activities, and claiming at one point that he had been short-listed for a Nobel Prize.

His only contact in Ireland was an embezzler called Liam Walsh who was close to the fascist leader O’Duffy. Walsh set up a meeting with O’Duffy, who (reluctantly) arranged for Pfaus to meet with three senior IRA leaders, O’Donovan included.
Pfaus had some difficulty proving who he was, and (by his own account) came close to being shot as a spy. However, he managed to complete his mission, which was to suggest to the IRA that they should send a representative to Berlin to discuss matters of mutual interest. 

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8 thoughts on “WW2 – The Nazis and the IRA

  1. David Prosser says:

    The English seem to have had no skills at intercepting spies which means they were either incompetent or that forged papers from the Abwehr were excellent.
    The Germans seem to have had no skills at setting up in Ireland which shows either a lack of planning on their part or the incompetence of those they sent. Life could have been so much different in Britain now if things had been just a little better planned on the German side so early on. The U.S. might never have made their move had the UK fallen.

  2. JJ Toner says:

    All true, David. My contention is that the Abwehr were working actively to undermine the Nazi regime. I imagine the spies they sent to Britain were just as hopeless as the ones that went to Ireland. But I’m not sure what was going on in British Intelligence at the time.

  3. Nawab Barkat says:

    Quite interesting information about Third Reich and IRA relation. My question is this Scottish people also struggled for an independent homeland. Nazis did not try to make any relationship with them?

  4. Nawab Barkat says:

    It is interesting information about relationship between Third Reich and IRA. Scottish also struggled for an interdependent homeland so, Nazis did not approach to them?

  5. JJ Toner says:

    No Nawab, all of Britain stood squarely together against the Nazis. Ireland was independent and neutral, although many Irishmen enlisted and fought for the Allies during WW2.

  6. John W says:

    The UK may have had problems dealing with Nazi spies in Ireland, but at home, they were super-masters. MI-6 was running the entire German apparat in Britain, and the Germans never caught on.

  7. JJ Toner says:

    Hi John W. I saw a book on Amazon about that the other day and wondered if it was fiction or non-fiction. Sounds interesting. Must find that book again!

  8. Mason Cross says:

    Scots aren’t “struggling for an independent homeland” – a small and vocal minority of Scots want to secede from the UK, which is really not the same thing as carrying out terrorist atrocities against civilians the way the IRA did.

    It’s also kind of offensive to suggest any Scots, no matter how nationalistic or parochial, would have found common ground with the Nazis against their fellow Brits.

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