No. 349  NAI DFA Secretary's Files A26

Memorandum by Joseph P. Walshe

DUBLIN, 29 November 1943

  1. About the middle of the summer 1942, the German Legation began making enquiries about reports they had received of British and American 'planes landing here and being released.
  2. Early in August 1942, Herr Thomsen1 asked whether it was the case that the crew of a British bomber which had crashed North of Dundalk, near the Border, had been released. He was told that the Department would have to make enquiries in order to reply to him. In October 1942 the German Minister, referring to a report he had received of the landing of a British military aircraft near Strokestown, asked to be informed what was our policy about the internment of belligerent aircraft. He was told that we regarded the question not as one of policy but as one of international law. We interned aircraft which landed here when we were obliged by international law to do so, but we could not intern aircraft if we could not point to a clear and decisive authority in international law for our so doing.
  3. The German Minister returned to the question again in January 1943 saying that he had received further reports of British and American aircraft landing here and being released. On that occasion, we gave him verbally particulars of three landings to which he had referred, pointing out that in each of the three cases there was no question of internment because the 'plane concerned was engaged in purely passenger duties as evidenced in one case by the fact that the occupants were actually all in civilian clothes. On this occasion, Herr Hempel left the impression that he had the whole matter before his Government.
  4. On the 4th May 1943, Herr Hempel brought up the matter again and, referring to the case of an American bomber which had landed at Collinstown about a fortnight previously, said he was afraid he would have to address an official note to us on the whole question. He said he would have done so previously only that he had been awaiting official instructions from his Government. In a conversation a few days later on the 10th May with the Secretary of the Department, the German Minister was told that we were only interning crews who were actually on an 'operational' flight at the time of the forced landing. American 'planes on ferry flights and British 'planes on training flights were much more likely to come within this category of exemption than German 'planes who could only find themselves over our territory in the course of an operational flight. The German Minister did not dispute this.
  5. On the 21st May, the German Minister sent us an official note setting out particulars of six specific cases in which it had 'come to his ears' that British or American 'planes which had landed here, had been released with their crews. The note requested that we should furnish at an early date 'information regarding the circumstances and reasons which led to the release of the 'planes, crews and, in the cases concerned, their passengers.' An official reminder to this note was received on the 7th July. On the 27th July, not having received any reply in the meantime, the German Minister sent us a further official note saying that
  6. 'the Government of the German Reich considers the release of British and American aeroplanes, as well as their military crews and passengers in all the cases mentioned in my note of the 21st May, as infringing the obligations of neutrality, so long as Germany is not treated on equally favourable terms.' The German Minister said that he had been instructed to 'protest' against these releases and to 'request for the future the strict execution of internment unless equally favourable treatment be meted out to both sides.' The note added that as reparation to Germany for the damage she had sustained by the releases, a corresponding number of German airmen interned in Ireland should be released.

  7. The German Minister had a conversation with the Secretary on the 15th September last about these notes.2 He said that unless he received a reply within the next few days he intended to report to his Government that, notwithstanding all his efforts, he had been unable to obtain any answer to his protest. Mr. Walshe told him that he was free to do that, but in doing so he should remind his Government about the much more serious matters on which we had received no reply from them. When the German Minister said that nothing could be more serious than that a neutral country should release the 'planes and crews of a belligerent to drop bombs on the civilians of another belligerent, Mr. Walshe said that the release of non-operational 'planes and crews was now a part of the policy of every neutral Government. We had now definitely adopted the principle of releasing non-operational craft and crews.
  8. This latter principle was enunciated by the Taoiseach when he answered a Parliamentary question by Deputy Flanagan in the Dáil on the 3rd November.3 Speaking of the 'planes which had crashed or made forced landings within our territory during the war, the Taoiseach said 'Those which were engaged on operational flights were detained and their crews interned. The others were released.'
  9. In the course of a visit on the 6th November, the German Minister enquired whether it was true that a number of British airmen who had been interned at the Curragh Camp had been released either in the course of, or subsequent to, their transfer to Gormanston. The Minister said that, if this were so, he would like to know the reasons for the releases. He was told that we understood that a number of men had been released because the aircraft in which they had landed in this country were not engaged on operational duties at the time and were therefore not internable. The Minister said that this raised again the whole question of our failure to reply to his notes of May and July and he would have to report this new development to Berlin at once.

1 Henning Thomsen, Counsellor at the German Legation in Dublin.

2 See No. 327.

3 The reference is in fact to a question answered by de Valera on 4 November 1943, see Dáil Debates, vol. 91, col. 1555.


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