Dr Hoven, who was studying anthropology in Ireland, was tasked to become friendly with Frank Ryan, the former editor of the I.R.A. weekly paper An Phoblacht, who was a student of “Celtic” philology and archaeology. It was Ryan who in 1934 took over leadership of the splintered left-wing Congress Group and fought on the side of Republican Spain in the Spanish Civil War. When the Second World War broke out, Dr Hoven should have been classified as not “suitable for service” and therefore not enlisted, being adjudged to the outside world as “politically unreliable”.
Yet as an associate of Captain Dr. von Hippel, the Commanding Officer of Special Duty Construction Demonstration Company 800, of the subsequently famous Brandenburg Division, he was able to don the field-grey uniform as a member of Admiral Canaris’s Abwehr (German military intelligence) organisation. In Brandenburg circles Hoven was a well-informed expert on matters concerning the I.R.A. And at the secret headquarters of Admiral Canaris on the Berlin Tirpitzufer, it eventually fell to Dr Hoven to play an important part in the Abwehr’s Irish operation and the destruction of Belfast.
In 1930 Helmut Clissmann – then also outwardly a member of the Young Prussian League – made his first trip to Dublin as a student. He also made friends among leaders of the I.R.A. and got to know Sean Russell best of all. In 1933 Clissmann, who was continuing his studies in Germany, was able to return as an exchange student to Trinity College, Dublin. For him, Ireland was to be a land of opportunity. Not only did he establish branches of the Spy Unit, the German Academic Exchange Service, in Dublin, Cork and later Galway, but he became the director responsible for these branches.
In late 1936 Frank Ryan had travelled to Spain with about 80 men he had succeeded in recruiting to fight in the International Brigades on the Republican side. Ryan’s men are sometimes referred to as the “Connolly Column”. He served in the Lincoln-Washington Brigade, rising to the rank of Brigadier. He was attached to the staff of the 15th International Brigade in charge of publicity – writing, broadcasting and visiting the front line to see conditions first-hand. He fought in a number of engagements – at the Battle of Jarama (February 1937) he took over command of the British Battalion (the Irish were split between this and the Lincoln Battalion) after it suffered heavy losses.
He was seriously wounded in March 1937, and returned to Ireland to recover. He took advantage of the opportunity of his return to launch another left-republican newspaper, entitled The Irish Democrat. On his return to Spain, he again served in the war until he was captured by Italian troops fighting for the Nationalists in March 1938. He was accused of murder, court-martialled, and sentenced to death before being committed to Burgos Prison in 1938. He was under the death sentence for 16 months. During this time he expressed his disagreement with the IRA bombing campaign in England. His sentence was later commuted to thirty years hard labour in January 1940.
To be continued