German internees at the Curragh Camp

Published in Features, Issue 2 (March/April 2017), Volume 25

As the Battle of Britain raged across the skies following the capitulation of France in June 1940, the Irish state had not prepared for the possibility of paratroopers, spies and belligerent aircraft crash-landing on its soil

By Luke Diver

On 20 August 1940, the lack of preparedness of the Irish state was highlighted when a German four-engined Focke Wulf Condor, with a crew of six, crashed into Mount Brandon, Co. Kerry, following a meteorological and reconnaissance mission along the south coast. The government, unsure where to detain the Germans, discussed the issue for several days until it was decided that any belligerent that made landfall in the Irish Free State would be interned at the Irish army’s Curragh Camp. On 31 August 1940 the airmen were transferred to the Curragh and would remain interned until 13 August 1945. Throughout the conflict, the Irish government applied the 1907 Hague and 1929 Geneva conventions and two emergency decrees in order to legally intern each belligerent.

Above: German Luftwaffe personnel at the Curragh in 1945, with ‘Tintown’ internment camp in the background. (Curragh Military Museum)

Precedent
There was a historical precedent; at Easter 1916, in the wake of the Rising, the British authorities detained seventeen men in Hare Park Camp, the Curragh, prior to deportation to Wakefield, England. In 1921 the Rath Camp in the Curragh was established by the British in order to intern IRA members, whilst between the 1920s and 1950s the Irish government imprisoned thousands of suspected members of the IRA in Hare Park and ‘Tintown’, the Curragh.

In order to accommodate the belligerent servicemen, the Army Corps of Engineers constructed an internment camp that consisted of two separate sections—‘B’ for the British and ‘G’ for the Germans. The camp was constructed on the east side of the Curragh, just a mile away from ‘Tintown’ or No. 1 Internment Camp, which housed hundreds of Irish republicans. Although the Allied and Axis camp was officially acknowledged as No. 2 Internment Camp, it became known as K-Lines, taking its name from the original alphabetically named squares of the Curragh Camp. Interestingly, following recent research conducted by the Curragh Military Museum, it appears that the site of the internment camp was actually on the original I-Lines as delineated by Royal Engineer Major H.W. Lugard in 1855 (adjacent to ‘K’). The German internees were accommodated in bungalows that once housed the army married quarters.

Department of External Affairs in charge
To prevent the escape of the internees, the camp was surrounded by 14ft-high fences and barbed wire, and defended by four elevated machine-gun posts. The German compound consisted of five bungalows (20ft by 120ft), with an officer entitled to his own room and enlisted men assigned two to a room. The complex included electricity, stoves, hot and cold showers, indoor latrines, a kitchen, recreation room and anteroom. Naturally the internment camp’s security was under the direction of the Department of Defence and Curragh Command, but with diplomatic pressure from both the British and the German government concerning the incarnation of the internees it was decided that the Department of External Affairs should be in overall charge. Within the camp itself a rank system was maintained, and Oberleutnant Kurt Mollenhaurer of the Luftwaffe was officer-in-command until he was succeeded by a naval officer, Kaptaenleutnant Joachim Quedenfeld, in 1944.

Like other neutral countries across Europe, particularly Switzerland and Sweden, the Curragh Camp adopted a relatively liberal parole system, and life as an internee was reasonably good. At first conditions were restrictive but became relaxed following complaints from the German representative to the Irish state, Herr Eduard Hempel. Over time, the relaxation of the parole system allowed internees to attend religious services, the cinema, dances, public houses and horse-races. The Germans were able to use the army recreational facilities and to compete against local and army sports teams.

Above and below: Models crafted by German servicemen during their internment at the Curragh Camp. (Curragh Military Museum)

Moreover, eighteen German internees were allowed to attend classes at University College Dublin and a further three at the College of Technology, Bolton Street. Throughout their education, the students were housed in a number of private residential houses in areas such as Glenageary, Mount Merrion, Merrion Road, Rathmines, Lower Baggot Street and Sandymount. This was all under the condition that the internees would not ‘seek or accept any assistance’ to escape or ‘engage in any material activity or activities contrary to the interests of Eire’.

Some married locally
During their incarceration, German officers and enlisted men received an income from the German Legation in Dublin. With constant Allied air attacks on German industrial and urban areas, the Allied ground offensive in the East and West and the subsequent territorial losses of the Third Reich, however, the German economy began to struggle in the latter stages of the war and became mostly directed towards the military production of vital goods. Payments from Berlin to the internees became erratic and ceased completely from March 1945. The families of the internees would also have been affected, with Hitler excluding them from state financial support if their relative had been captured without being critically wounded. In an effort to raise money and replace their lost income during the last year of the conflict, many Germans sought the opportunity to gain employment outside the camp. Although there were government and trade union concerns regarding the impact that this might have on Irish citizens seeking employment, it was generally agreed that the Germans should be allowed a source of income through casual employment. Throughout the local area surrounding the Curragh, Germans worked as labourers, tailors, stable hands, gardeners, painters, chefs, butchers, farmers and turf-cutters. Consequently, many Germans integrated well into the nearby communities and developed friendships with locals from the neighbouring towns of Kilcullen, Newbridge and Kildare; some even married local girls.

As displayed at the Curragh Military Museum, another form of income was generated by the manufacturing of model aircraft, ships, military vehicles and barrack buildings from scrap plywood found around the camp. These were sold as gifts to members of the Irish army, their families and locals, and the Germans raised hundreds of pounds.

By the end of the conflict, the Curragh had interned 54 Luftwaffe officers and 210 German sailors. Of these sailors, 164 were rescued by an Irish coaster, the MV Kerlogue, following a disastrous engagement against the British navy’s HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise in the Bay of Biscay on 27 December 1943. Despite orders from the British to bring the sailors into Fishguard, Wales, the Kerlogue, with a fresh cargo of oranges from Lisbon, refused and berthed safely in Cobh Harbour.

With the increased numbers of German internees and the quiet repatriation of British internees in 1943 and 1944, K-Lines was eventually closed down. A new, poorly built camp was constructed adjacent to ‘Tintown’ to house all German internees together. The changes were met with disappointment and annoyance on the part of the Luftwaffe internees, who had spent years making K-Lines a comfortable home. In contrast, the comforts at ‘Tintown’ were meagre and the men were housed in cramped and damp conditions for the remaining months of the war.

Following the military collapse of Germany in May 1945, the process of repatriating each German serviceman interned at the Curragh began. The Irish government had gained assurances from the Allies that no internee would be forced to return to the Russian zone of occupation. Restricted as to what they could bring home, the Germans held an auction to sell various items in their possession, including the toys and models they manufactured. On 13 August the majority of the Germans were removed, under armed escort, from the Curragh Camp to McKee Barracks and finally to Alexander Quay, Dublin, for embarkation.

Despite their incarceration, many Germans retained happy memories of their time in Ireland, subsequently returning on many visits to County Kildare, with a few managing to become Irish citizens. Importantly for the heritage of the Curragh Camp and the Irish state, two of the bungalows that housed the Germans at K-Lines still remain and are in residential use. The corrugated-iron-clad chalet-style bungalows are considered a unique and rare artefact.

Luke Diver is researcher of military history at the Curragh Military Museum.

Read More:
Curragh Military Museum

FURTHER READING
P. Cummins & J. Horgan, Luftwaffe eagles over Ireland: the story of German air crashes over neutral Ireland, 1940–1945 (Kerry, 2016).
T.R. Dwyer, Guests of the state: the story of the Allied and Axis servicemen interned in Ireland during World War II (Kerry, 1994).
B. Kelly, Military internees, prisoners of war and the Irish state during the Second World War (Hampshire, 2015).

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