The Hidden History of Herr Hoven: Part 3

To quote Clissmann: “In order to obtain suitable people for the Abwehr’s special tasks Ryan and I visited the camp dressed as civilians. We were both very sceptical as to whether our mission could have any possible success. As a matter of fact Frank Ryan was immediately recognised by several of the prisoners and greeted with a friendly ‘Hallo Frank’.” However, Dr Hoven flatly contradicts this: “Ryan was called Francis Richards in Germany and no one greeted him with his own name.”
Dr Hoven’s recollections about his task at Friesack are not happy: “It produced nothing but irritation and annoyance.” There were certainly a variety of ways these Irish could be employed: as road guides for German troops in the event of an invasion of Great Britain; as saboteurs or agents in Ulster and England; as guerrillas in the event of Anglo-American occupation of Southern Ireland. But with each of them a personal reservation had to be taken into account from the very beginning. For example, the few Irish officers involved made it clear that they could only be counted on in the event of an invasion of Ireland by British troops.

So, in the Second World War, the “Irish Brigade” consisted, after careful weeding out, of a derisory ten men. In order to keep their employment on Germany’s behalf secret from their comrades, the subterfuge of an attempted break-out was staged, and succeeded as planned. The ten Irishmen ear-marked for special tasks were all taken to Berlin and accommodated in a house there – they all wore civilian clothes. “Then,” Dr. Hoven tells us, “they were given instruction, at the Abwehr training establishment on the Quenzgut, in the improvised manufacture and use of explosives, incendiaries and such like. Also, in the district of a troop training area in western Germany, they were instructed in Abwehr radio procedure.”

In the early summer of 1942 Dr. Hoven, who was tired of his thankless task, left the Abwehr service and went to a parachute unit. About the Irishmen selected, he said: “As a result of ‘unsatisfactory circumstances’ they were without exception never employed.” But the information he had supplied about Belfast had already caused enormous damage in the Blitz of April and May 1941.

It is obvious that, during the Second World War, the Government of Northern Ireland lacked the will, energy and capacity to cope with a major crisis when it came. And come it did in April and May, 1941. James Craig, Lord Craigavon, who was Prime Minister of Northern Ireland since its inception in 1921, until his death on November 24, 1940, had become very frail. Richard Dawson Bates was the Home Affairs Minister. According to Sir Wilfred Spender, the cabinet secretary was “incapable of giving his responsible officers coherent directions on policy” Only Sir Basil Brooke, the Minister of Agriculture, actively pursued his duties and successfully performed with the task of making Northern Ireland a major supplier of food to Britain in her time of need.

John Clarke MacDermott, the Minister of Public Security, after the first bombing, initiated the “Hiram Plan” to evacuate the city and to return Belfast to ‘normality’ as quickly as possible. MacDermott was the person who sent the telegram to de Valera seeking assistance. There was unease with the complacent attitude of the government, and resignations followed:
• John Edmond Warnock, the parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, resigned from the Northern Ireland government on 25 May 1940. He said “I have heard speeches about Ulster pulling her weight but they have never carried conviction.” and “the government has been slack, dilatory and apathetic.”
• Lt. Col. Alexander Robert Gisborne Gordon, Parliamentary and Financial Secretary at the Ministry of Finance (i.e. Chief Whip), resigned on 13 June 1940, explaining to the Commons that the government was “quite unfitted to sustain the people in the ordeal we have to face.”

Lord Craigavon died on Sunday, 24 November 1940 and was succeeded by John Miller Andrews, then 70 years old, who was no more capable of dealing with the situation than his predecessor. The minutes of his cabinet meetings show more discussion on protecting the bronze statue of Carson than the provision of air-raid shelters and other necessities for the civil defence of the population..
On 28 April 1943, six members of the Government threatened to resign, thus forcing him from office. He resigned on 1st May.

To be continued

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