No. 277 NAI DFA Secretary's Files A20/4

Confidential report from Leopold H. Kerney to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(M.10/11) (Secret)

Madrid, 26 August 1940

Frank Ryan

My only justification for not giving you a full and detailed report immediately and for notifying the main facts in veiled language was the desire not to compromise or expose to possibly serious danger a friend (whom I shall refer to as Mr. B.)1 without whose help I would probably have achieved no success, and also out of consideration for Ryan's own chances of getting clear of new friends and old enemies.

Mr. B. now assures me that he fears no danger from Spaniards, is indifferent to any British action and only wishes not to be compromised with his German friends; on the other hand Ryan is in the U.S.A. I can now write more freely, with the knowledge that, if my report were to be read by those for whom it is not intended, no evil could result therefrom, the only risk being that, if it were to fall into German hands, Mr. B. might incur their pleasure.

Mr. B. was in the Spanish Secret Service during the civil war and formed close contacts with the German intelligence service; he is on friendly terms with certain Germans in Madrid;2 being aware of my concern for Ryan and having helped us in many efforts, he suggested some time ago that the Gestapo3 might serve to secure Ryan's liberation. About the middle of May (see my report 23rd May)4 I decided to fall in with this suggestion; I was beginning to doubt the likelihood of my direct petition to the War Office meeting with success; all our other appeals had met with a deaf ear; for some unaccountable reason, Franco himself was the stumbling bloc, and it appeared likely that Ryan's imprisonment would last as long as his own life or that of the regime itself.

Mr. B. spoke to his friends here and told them casually of Ryan's case in which he was taking a professional interest; in other conversations he aroused their interest in Ryan and convinced them that, if he was kept in prison after all Americans and British had been liberated, it was because the British Intelligence Service had been active; he induced them to take up the case; this they agreed to do, laying down the condition that I was to know nothing of their intervention; there has been no communication direct or indirect, between me and the Gestapo, and, as far as latter organisation is concerned, the only information given to me by my professional adviser (Mr. B.) is that Ryan has reached the U.S.A., having succeeded in effecting his escape with the help of American friends. The facts are as follows:

June 11 B's friends were pursuing the matter actively and with continued interest; they were following it up daily with Generals Martinez Campo and Vigón (in charge of the Spanish Secret Service), and would employ direct contact with Franco if present channels failed.

June 27 As there were no developments, I requested B. to press his friends to use 'direct contact' in question.

June 30 I learned that it was General Vigón who had been informed that Franco had a personal interest in Ryan, and it was suggested to me (but this was only a suggestion and nothing more) that there might be some personal bargain with the English at the back of it. The 'direct contact' was about to be resorted to, as the Spanish Secret Service had not succeeded in obtaining satisfaction for their German colleagues.

July 1 The 'direct contact' (a German) saw Franco this day; Franco believed the matter could be arranged and told him to come back in a couple of days.

July 3 Franco was again seen and this time said definitely 'yes'; he was giving instructions to Finat, Chief of Police. (Finat owes his position to Serrano Suñer, whose secretary he formerly was.)

July 4 Finat telephoned Burgos to obtain information ('antecedentes')5 of Ryan's case, for identification purposes, but without success.

July 5 B. saw Finat and showed him a copy of Ryan's sentence, from which he took extracts; Finat said that the only legal way of securing the liberation of Ryan was by means of a pardon ('indulto'); his orders were to hasten the pardon ('activar el indulto'). This meant that he would take up with the War Office, where the ground had already been completely prepared by me, and gave me the hope that the 'indulto' would be notified to me, through regular channels, in due course.

July 9th I learned that Finat had taken the necessary steps with the War Office, and also that he had made the statement that 'it was incredible that Ryan should have been kept prisoner, although English, Canadians and Americans had been released'.

July 12 B. saw Finat and was told that Franco found it impossible for him to sign the 'indulto', but had given orders for Ryan's 'escape' to be officially organised as a solution; he would be put into France and the Director of the Prison would be ordered to report that he had escaped. I saw Ryan the same evening in Burgos as reported at the time.6

July 15 Some hitch seems to have occurred.

July 23 Still no news, but B. had been congratulated by some German friends a couple of days previously on his success; they turned the conversation when they saw he was surprised; B. also told me that there appeared to be an impression amongst his friends that I was 'pro British Empire', and this might account for great caution.

Wed. July 247 Thinking Ryan might have already 'escaped', I sent him a pre-paid wire but got no reply; at 6 p.m. B. got in touch with me and told me that all was arranged; I gave him 1,500 pesetas on account of expenses, as he was carrying out his promise to me to be an eyewitness; he was borrowing a Packard car and petrol alone would cost that amount – 1,000 km using 30 litres per 100 km at 5 pesetas per litre.

Thursday July 25th At 9 a.m. a trunk call from B. reported simply that 'everything had gone off satisfactorily'.

At 2 a.m. on that date B. stopped his car on the roadside a short distance away from the prison. Half an hour later two cars drove past; in the first were Finat's secretary and a German; in the second there were two armed uniformed Falangistas, members of Serrano Suñer's personal bodyguard. About 20 minutes after entering the prison, they emerged with Ryan; this additional passenger was seen to be in one of the two cars as they again passed in front of the stationery car. B.'s larger car then returned to Burgos and, getting ahead of the others, reached Irun about 7.30 a.m.; B. left his car in the town, and proceeded on foot to the international bridge; about 8.30 a.m. the two cars arrived at the bridge, papers were quickly produced and the barrier lifted almost at once, but B. saw Ryan in his car and Ryan gave a quick glance showing he recognised B., but without betraying the fact to those beside him (B. had already seen Ryan on one occasion in prison).

At 3.30 p.m. the same day in San Sebastian B. was handed by his German friend, who had accompanied Ryan in one car, a letter addressed to him by Ryan and headed 'Saint Jean de Luz 25th July 1940'; before the letter was left with B., however, the part showing the place and date was cut away with a scissors; this was a letter of thanks, saying that everything had gone off without a hitch, that he was not returning immediately to Ireland but was going on a journey that would take some weeks; B. suggested to me that his destination might be the U.S.A. via Siberia, and I presumed that there were some grounds for his making the suggestion.8

I heard nothing further until the night of 22nd August when B. told me that Ryan had now reached the U.S.A. and B.'s German friends had agreed to his informing me that Ryan had escaped with American help; they assured him that Finat would give this explanation if he were to be questioned; above all there must be no knowledge of German participation in the 'escape'.

In view of Ryan's letter of 25th July, there is no reason for doubting the truth of the statement that he was in the U.S.A. by 22nd August. Is he there under an assumed name? Does he hold a false passport – British, American or Irish? If he entered the country illegally, will he be deported? Is it possible for him to remain in the U.S.A., even under an assumed name, without the fact becoming known?

Before the Gestapo in Madrid busied itself on Ryan's behalf, they referred the matter to Berlin and got a prompt reply to go ahead; they must have known a good deal about Ryan in Berlin; if certain Irish elements in the U.S.A. or elsewhere had been in contact with Berlin and had been anxious to secure Ryan's liberty instruction would have been given from Berlin in the first place and the initiative would not have been taken in Madrid.

It is worth noting that Franco was unable to give any definite assurance on 1st July; he had, apparently, to consult with somebody else and, as a result of this consultation, he was able to give his consent two days later; I think he may have talked the matter over with his brother-in-law Serrano Suñer, in the interval; then, instead of instructing the Minster for Foreign Affairs, who had so often brought the matter to his notice previously, he instructed the Chief of Police, Serrano Suñer's protégé. It is strange that, whereas on July 5 Finat made it known that his orders were to hasten the conclusion of formalities for the granting of a pardon, by July 12th Franco found himself unable to give his signature to the pardon; what had happened during these seven days? Had Franco at some earlier date given a formal promise, in return for some consideration, never to release Ryan? Did he think on July 3 that the bargain might have been forgotten with the passage of time? Did some other secret service find out, say at the War Office, what was about to take place? Is this why the signature had to be withheld?

It also has to be noted that Franco rejected all Irish appeals in favour of Ryan, even when precedents had been created by the release of others; if he had granted a pardon, Ryan would have remained under Irish control and supervision; he authorised and ordered a very unusual procedure, as a concession to Germany and not as a concession to Ireland; he authorised the placing of this alleged dangerous Communist at Germany's disposal – a gesture which could conceivably have unpleasant consequences for the Irish government, and therefore anything but a friendly gesture towards Ireland.

It is natural enough that relations between the German and Spanish intelligence services should be very close; there are apparently certain services which the Head of the State is ready to render to Germans even if this means exposing himself to reproaches from other friends.

If Frank Ryan is alive and at liberty today, we have no reason to thank the Spanish Government, and the result has been secured in spite of opposition from the highest quarter.

[signed] L.H. Kerney

P.S.9 B. has been referred to in different reports of mine; see that of 23rd December 1939 re Frank Ryan; 1st and 2nd paragraphs.10

1 Marginal note: 'B = Champourcin'.

2 This sentence to this point has been highlighted in the left-hand margin.

3 Kerney may have meant the Abwehr, the German intelligence service. The Gestapo was the name applied to the German secret police.

4 Not printed.

5 'Historical records'.

6 See No. 246.

7 This paragraph has been highlighted in the left-hand margin by a line in blue pencil.

8 A subsequent account, based on Kerney family sources, explains that Kerney personally observed the handover from a further vehicle parked at a distance from the border (see (accessed 12 June 2008)).

9 This postscript has been highlighted in the left-hand margin by a line in blue pencil.

10 See No. 99.

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