No. 42  NAI DFA Secretary's Files A2

Memorandum from Joseph P. Walshe to Eamon de Valera (Dublin) concerning German air raids on Belfast

DUBLIN, 17 April 1941

The German Minister came to see me by appointment this morning.

He was clearly distressed by the news of the severe raid on Belfast and especially of the number of civilian casualties.1

I said to him that it was a pity that the German Government had departed from its policy of leaving the Six-County Area alone. I was afraid that the casualties were very heavy and that the bombing had been indiscriminate.

Dr. Hempel replied that he felt quite sure that his Government would not have ordered a raid on Belfast if it had not become absolutely essential for the prosecution of the war. Belfast has become a very important port, especially for the transhipment of foodstuffs, and to abstain any longer from bombing the port and the industrial area around it would have greatly handicapped the German blockade of Great Britain.

However, he would once more tell his Government how we felt about the matter, and he would ask them to confine the operations to military objectives as far as it was humanly possible. He believed that this was being done already, but it was inevitable that a certain number of civilian lives should be lost in the course of heavy bombing from the air.

2. Dr. Hempel then went on to refer to the serious condition of two of the German airmen. They were quite definitely maimed for life and could never again be employed on active service. The British had now agreed that 200 of their prisoners of war, owing to a similar incapacity, had come under Article 68 of the Convention of 19292 and could therefore be repatriated to Germany. Dr. Hempel enquired whether we would be ready to apply the Article to the two internees mentioned.

I told him we should certainly be very glad to do so, but it would be necessary for us to secure the goodwill of the other belligerent, and I suggested that the proper course for the German Government would be to discuss the matter with the British Government through the Swiss Legation in London.

Herr Hempel went on to say that, if we were willing, the German Government would suggest to the British Government through the same channel that the 200 prisoners due for release owing to complete disablement should be transferred to Ireland, and from there immediately transported back to Germany in a German Red Cross plane.

I said that I felt sure that my Minister would accept both suggestions once the two belligerents had come to an agreement. As far as we were concerned, we could see no infringement of our neutral position in either suggestion. I told Dr. Hempel I would inform him of the Taoiseach's decision in the course of a few days.

[initialled] J. P. W. 17/4/41


The Taoiseach approved and I accordingly informed the German Minister3

[initialled] J. P. W. 23/4/41

1 German aircraft bombed Belfast on the night of 15-16 April 1941.

2 Article 68 of the Geneva Convention (1929) concerns the repatriation of prisoners of war who were seriously ill or wounded. Hempel erroneously referred to it as 'the Convention of 1927.'

3 Handwritten note by Walshe.

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