No. 218  NAI DFA Secretary's Files A47

Confidential report from Leopold H. Kerney to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
'Conversation with a German'
(SPC 19/4)

MADRID, 24 August 1942

The following is an account of a conversation which I have had with a German, who told me that this was the first visit which he had made to Spain for the past 12 years; he was here under an assumed name, but his real name is Veesenmayer1 , and I was mindful of the fact that I was in the somewhat delicate position of talking to a gentleman who, if I had looked under the table, might have been capable of disclosing something in the nature of a cloven hoof;2 however, it seemed to me that some information of value could be obtained by me, and that it was equally important to leave him without any doubt as to Ireland's position of very decided neutrality; I give his statements and my own observations as fully and faithfully as it is possible for me to record them, depending of course on my memory for naturally I did not take any notes.

Veesenmayer is in the confidence of von Ribbentrop, with whom he had business associations before the war; he is a Doctor of Economics, perhaps about 40 years of age, and is a specialist in transport problems, which he says are tremendously difficult; he has no official connections with the Foreign Office, but is one of the original members of the Nazi party; he spoke with every appearance of doing so authoritatively, and I believe that he came to Madrid with the deliberate purpose of making known Germany's attitude in regard to Ireland, and of completing or correcting as far as possible such knowledge as he himself had already obtained in regard to Ireland.

He began by explaining how certain it was that Germany would cut the Russian armies in two by reaching the Caspian, thereby depriving Russia of 30,000,000 tons of oil from Maikop, Grosny and Baku; they expected to make the Caspian route impossible; he said that Germany had 400,000 tons of oil annually from the Hanover district, and had increased the output in the Vienna region from 37,000 to 600,000 tons, whilst they had rich sources at their disposal in Estonia and Poland, to say nothing of Roumania, and that, when they entered France, they found there twice as much as they themselves had at the time; they were also certain to get control of the Black Sea; the political situation in Iran and Iraq was none too safe for England, whose supremacy there was all the more vulnerable because of the withdrawal of the 9th Army to reinforce the 8th in Egypt; he expected the Russian economic system to be completely upset by the shortage of oil, seeing that agriculture had been mechanised on such a large scale; he thought Germany would achieve her aims in Russia possibly by the end of the year, and it was their custom to make preparations for the next task before the one in hand was actually completed; one main cause of the Führer 's military successes was that he believed in the principle of concentrating all his strength on one particular object at a time; he deemed it to be folly on the part of their enemies to waste their strength in efforts on a small scale here and there instead of uniting their forces and striking in a big way at a given point; he did not believe the English would create a second front, as otherwise they would not be wasting good pilots and machines in raids on German cities and sending convoys through the Mediterranean with the inevitable loss of badly-needed ships.

Whilst they were engaged in Russia they did not want to have to deal with operations elsewhere, but, once the Russian campaign was over, they would turn their attention to England; he thought this would be early in the coming year; his personal opinion, he said, was that they would not invade England; the Führer did not want to sacrifice unnecessarily the lives of good Germans who would be much needed afterwards and an invasion would occasion big losses; he thought they would depend on the action of their submarines and aviation; he believed that by using 15,000 or 20,000 aeroplanes they could completely destroy and make unserviceable British ports.

The position, as he saw it, was that, with the collapse of Russia, England would be forced to consider two alternatives; either she would decide to discuss peace with Germany, or else take the resolution to fight till she was crushed; in either case the position of Ireland called for consideration. He summarised his thoughts for me, in the following way, at the close of our conversation. Hitherto the chances in the war might be considered 50-50; now, in view of the situation in Russia, he was not merely certain, he was absolutely convinced of German military victory (and economically the crisis was over; they were already turning the immense productivity of the Ukraine to good account, and, consequently, there would be no necessity for further restrictions in the rationing of the German people this year or next); he compared the German and English position to that of a boxing match between two men more or less equal in strength, in which one of the two, after a tough fight, began to feel himself inferior to his opponent, this knowledge having a psychological effect and bringing about a rapid decision; it was, in this war as in others, England's constant policy to get others to fight for her, but, in this case, Russia – England's last chance in Europe – was about to be knocked out, and it was quite conceivable that England would then find it necessary to think in terms of peace; but, if she did not, she would be crushed; and so Ireland came into the picture.

He told me that he had been studying Irish history as best he could and read Mr. de Valera's speeches; they had great admiration in Germany for his attitude and believed that neutrality was the only possible policy for Ireland under present circumstances; he said he had met Frank Ryan for the first time about 6 weeks ago and had spent 5 hours with him, that he was ‘a fighting man' – he said this with a smile – but felt himself in full agreement with the attitude adopted at home so far, giving the impression that his views had been modified somewhat by the years spent in prison in Spain and at liberty in Germany.

Referring then to the question of ‘Ulster ', he thought that, whatever political differences there might be, the men of ‘Ulster ' would, when things came to a climax, remember that they were Irish after all and come out on the side of Ireland; he wondered what the reaction would be in Irish opinion in the U.S.A. if English or American troops were to invade the 26 counties.

He described the mentality of the German people which, because of the sacrifices they had voluntarily accepted for years past, found it difficult to understand any people that would not make sacrifices to attain a desired prize, and that any prize obtained without a struggle and given as a present would not be held for long (and these remarks made me interject – ‘like Spain and Gibraltar '); it would, he thought, be unwise to wait until a final victory was at hand before taking other decisions – which again made me think of German- Spanish relations at the moment. The policy of neutrality, like every policy, must play itself out in time, and he believed that a moment would come when it would have to be followed by a more positive attitude. Frank Ryan held the opinion that Mr. de Valera, notwithstanding his record in the past, might no longer be a man of action after so many years of peaceful parliamentary and political life.

Germany, he said, was looking towards the East for her own future development and economic independence; it was her interest to have in the West of Europe independent countries which, having fought for their independence, would not readily sacrifice it; she wanted Ireland to be territorially united and to be completely independent of England, her geographical position on the far side of England being in that case a guarantee for Germany; Germany intended to destroy English predominance in India, Egypt and elsewhere; she was looking to the new order of the future, and believed that mutually advantageous economic relations could be developed between Germany and Ireland and that she could substantially help latter in her economic development.

I told him that public declarations of the Taoiseach proved clearly that Ireland would resist the violation of her neutrality by Americans, English or Germans, and that he lost no opportunity of warning the people that they must be ready at all times to find themselves suddenly at war, of which no previous declaration would be made; that he had also expressed publicly the view that, if Germany were to be the aggressor, England would, in her own interest, come to Ireland's assistance – and, I added, we would scarcely be in a position to refuse that help, even if we wanted to – and that the position would be some- what similar if aggression were to come from the English or American side. There could be no question for us of abandoning neutrality in exchange for concessions of any kind. We believed that if either of the belligerent sides attacked us, this would be playing into the hands of the opposing side. Irish opinion in the U.S.A. was well informed as to the position at home, and it was doubtful whether the American Government would run the risk of alienating it by taking strong action against Ireland. I had no doubt at all that Mr. de Valera had visualised every conceivable development of the situation, and had made up his mind, as far as could be done before the actual happening of events, as to what his attitude should be in determined eventualities; as I had had time and opportunity during the past 25 years to form a fairly reliable opinion of him, I was absolutely convinced that neither the years that had passed nor the life of a parliamentarian which he had led during recent years would lessen in any degree his power of decision, his readiness for action or his spirit of sacrifice in the face of new dangers which might arise; the expression of this opinion, which is no more than what I believe to be true, visibly impressed and satisfied my listener, and, I think, removed any doubts he had.

As regards the view that neutrality was of necessity a policy which some day would have to be succeeded by a more active decision, I could not venture to express any opinion, but Ireland's ambitions were limited to the recovering of territorial integrity, securing complete independence for a united Ireland, friendly relations with all nations and, more particularly – because of our geographical situation and our economic necessities – with our immediate neighbour, England, even if latter were to be reduced to her most simple expression as a result of the war. Any active decision which might ever be reached at some future date would never be actuated by a feeling of hatred towards England or a desire for anything in the nature of revenge; but no opportunity would be lost to secure in the most practical and in the least costly way the unity of Ireland.

I expressed the view that, if England or the U.S.A. were to violate Irish neutrality, this would suit German interests; his reply was that at the present moment they would regret it very much as they were too busy elsewhere.

If Germany was sincerely desirous of helping Ireland economically, it was a great pity, I said, that she had sunk some of the ships, such as the ‘City of Bremen' and no doubt the ‘City of Limerick' and others, of our budding merchant navy – ‘it's all very well to dissemble your love, but why did you kick me downstairs?' I threw out the suggestion that, if Germany were to offer, voluntarily, in part compensation, one or more of their ships blocked in Spanish ports, this would be a practical proof of friendship, and would lessen the danger of economic pressure by Germany's enemies.

If there were to be peace negotiations, I knew that it would be Germany's interest to have an independent Ireland, but that it was also possible that Ireland might be sacrificed in the making of peace; he was positive that this would not be the case.

I reminded him of certain incidents, such as the dropping of parachutists in Ireland, which must of necessity have served to put Ireland on her guard as much against Germany as against anybody else, for what else could they mean but an attempt to form contacts without the knowledge or consent of the Government; and the Seán Russell affair must also have raised grave doubts.Seán Russell (1893-1940), Chief of Staff of the IRA (1938-9). Russell died at sea on 14 August 1940 on board German U-boat U-65 whilst attempting to return to Ireland with Frank Ryan (Operation Dove). Russell had trained in sabotage techniques in Germany and was returning to Ireland to undertake sabotage activities at the behest of the German military intelligence services.

He knew nothing of Seán Russell and had never heard of him – apparently because it is since Russell's death that he has turned his attention to Ireland. He explained that the military authorities had sent those other men to England and that it was without the knowledge of the Foreign Office that the men had tried to reach their destination via Ireland; he said that there had been no incidents of the kind for the past year or more, that the military were now definitely and absolutely under the control of the political authorities and that there would be no repetition of such incidents; very definite instructions had been given.

The Foreign Office (i.e. Ribbentrop, representing the Führer) was in complete control, and they had not entered into relations with any organisation of any kind – the I.R.A. or any other – in Ireland; he repeated that assurance solemnly when I ventured to express a doubt, and said that the last thing they wanted to do was to make things more difficult for Mr. de Valera, whose policy they thoroughly approved of and admired, and he added that the only channel used by the Foreign Office was Hempel.

In reply to questions of mine, he said that Germany had no intention whatever of invading Ireland; ‘to be candid, we haven't got the ships, even if we wanted to do so'; Ireland was out of the way geographically. Germany would help Ireland militarily, but only if such help were requested; otherwise she would not intervene; if they were to act, it would only be in agreement with the Irish Government, and they would not stay one day longer than that Government wished; they had no claims of any kind against Ireland and did not want her ports or anything else; he was very definite on these points. When I suggested that it might suit Germany's purpose at some time to act without our knowledge, he said that his conversation with me was the best proof that they did not intend to take independent action, as otherwise such a conversation would be unnecessary. And he repeated the assurance that never at any time under any circumstances would Germany invade Ireland.

Promises for the future are usually, even when sincere, merely a declaration of present intentions under present circumstances, but their interest in this case is that the man who made them was, without a doubt, reflecting the views of his friend and master, Ribbentrop.

I asked him to make and let me have a memorandum of the German position in the war and of the arguments which might go to prove that victory for Germany was as certain as he believed it to be; I told him that, of course, the whole world would like to know which side, if either, would come out on top; he told me that he would do so, that he would let me have it in a couple of months' time when he would return to Madrid, and that I would be able to judge then whether the views which he had expressed now were well- founded.

I also made the suggestion that, even supposing the war in Europe were to be terminated by the collapse of England, there still remained the U.S.A., and that, in such an event, Ireland's geographical position might be a bigger temptation for Germany; he laughed at the idea of a war across the ocean and said it was an impossibility.

I took the opportunity to enquire about Frank Ryan and asked what was the position with regard to him; he said that Ryan was an active man forced to lead a life of inactivity and felt that very much and would, he thought, like to be back in Ireland; they were willing to make any arrangements that might be desired. I said that, personally, I would like to know that he was outside Germany, but that, if he were to return to Ireland at any time, I thought that it would be mere prudence on the part of the authorities to have him watched, and that it might even be desirable to have him interned as, otherwise, his return from Germany to Ireland might be misinterpreted in certain quarters and cause unnecessary complications. If he were transferred to some neutral country, such as Sweden, Switzerland or Portugal, this would probably make Ryan a burden on his family, for at present he is taken care of where he is; if he were allowed to go to Portugal (and, incidentally, I learn that a condition of his leaving Spain was that he should not set foot in Spain again), he would no doubt be carefully watched by others there, and, in any case, I did not believe the Portuguese authorities would give him a residence visa; all things considered, it seemed to me that the best thing for him to do was to remain as at present; in any case, I said, he should never be allowed to return to Ireland or be sent there without our knowledge and consent.

[signed] L. H. KERNEY

1 See No. 213.

2 A possible reference to Josef Goebbels (1897-1945), Reich Minister for Propaganda (1933-45)

3 Seán Russell (1893-1940), Chief of Staff of the IRA (1938-9). Russell died at sea on 14 August 1940 on board German U-boat U-65 whilst attempting to return to Ireland with Frank Ryan (Operation Dove). Russell had trained in sabotage techniques in Germany and was returning to Ireland to undertake sabotage activities at the behest of the German military intelligence services.

4 Seán Russell (1893-1940), Chief of Staff of the IRA (1938-9). Russell died at sea on 14 August 1940 on board German U-boat U-65 whilst attempting to return to Ireland with Frank Ryan (Operation Dove). Russell had trained in sabotage techniques in Germany and was returning to Ireland to undertake sabotage activities at the behest of the German military intelligence services.

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