Adolf Hitler planned to use the IRA to invade Northern Ireland with 50,000 troops during the War, secret papers sensationally revealed today.
But the covert Nazi plan collapsed because of the incompetence and treachery of republican leaders during World War II, according to the MI5 files made public today.
Wartime documents released to the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office) show that a German agent was sent to Ireland to co-ordinate an operation which would see thousands of Nazi troops land at Larne, Londonderry and Coleraine.
But the agent found that the IRA was riddled with informers and led by a drunk.
In May 1940, Hermann Goertz, who had been jailed for four years in Britain for spying before the war, was parachuted in to assess the prospects for ‘Plan Kathleen’, as the operation was codenamed.
It followed the visit to Germany earlier that year of an Irish go-between, Stephen Held, who told German army chiefs that the IRA could assist in an invasion.
“Held painted a rosy picture of a powerful IRA, numbering about 5,000, ready in southern Ireland to give the Germans immediate assistance, provided they procured arms,” a subsequent RUC report noted.
“The plan of campaign was that the Germans should land 50,000 troops at about five different points – Larne, Coleraine, Derry and Sligo were mentioned.”
However, when Goertz landed he did not know whether he was in Northern Ireland or the south and the first person he asked for help turned out to be the local “village idiot”.
Within two weeks of his landing, Held was arrested by police at his Dublin home where they seized Goertz’s radio transmitter, 20,000 US dollars and his hand-written notes for Plan Kathleen. Goertz blamed “treachery within the small circle which surrounded me” for the setback.
The MI5 files reveal how he found republicans divided on whether they wanted the Germans to invade Northern Ireland or just to provide the weapons, and whether they should even be attacking the British or concentrating on the overthrow of Eamon de Valera’s Dublin government.
He said he did not know whom he could trust.
He wrote: “There was something dangerously rotten in the organisation of the IRA. Immediately beside the idealistic Irish fighter for freedom, man or woman, who are ready to die the martyr’s death for their country, stands the completely corrupted betrayer.”
The three-man team of saboteurs, including one Briton, were captured after they landed on Ireland’s south west coast in July 1940 and interned in Dublin’s Mountjoy jail.