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Irish Volunteers in German Service

– by Adrian Weale. – 

This article was kindly supplied to me by Adrian Weale,  the author of 'Renegades: Hitler's Englishmen' and is itself derived from Brady and Stringer's court-martial papers in the Public Records Office in London, and from other files in the PRO. The material about O'Neill came from former SS-Standartenfuehrer Karl-Heinz Buhler, who wrote to Adrian a few years ago. 

Adrian has kindly let me include this information on my web site.

 


There were no Irish units in the Waffen-SS or Wehrmacht, although there were Irish volunteers.

In the spring of 1941, the Abwehr trawled through 'British' POWs that they held in the hope of finding Irish Republicans who would be prepared to act as the nucleus of an 'Irish Brigade' modeled on Casement's concept from the First World War. In May 1941, about 50 Irishmen were concentrated at a special camp at Friesack where they were to be subjected to propaganda and persuasion. It says much about the mentality of the Irish prisoners - all regular soldiers of the British Army, whether from Ulster or Eire - that they elected a 'Senior British Officer' to represent them. This was initially a Lieutenant Bissell, but subsequently Major John McGrath of the Royal Engineers.

The Irishmen were subjected to intense psychological pressure and eventually, in December 1941, five of them were removed to a safe-house in Berlin. Their names were Brady, Cushing, Walsh, O'Brien and Murphy. Instead of being formed into a military unit, as the Germans had originally envisaged, the five then began training as Abwehr spies; in early 1942, a sixth man, Frank Stringer, also joined this process.

It is worth mentioning at this point, that all of the 'volunteers' had actually discussed the matter with Major McGrath and that at least four of the men (Cushing, Walsh, O'Brien and Murphy) had no intention of genuinely changing their allegiance but were seeking a means of escape. As a result, none of the Irishmen were actually dropped as spies, and both Cushing and Walsh ended up as inmates of Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

Brady and Stringer continued to work, on and off, for the Abwehr, but eventually their services were dispensed with and, rather than doing agricultural work as POWs, both opted to join the Waffen-SS. They reported to Sennheim in October 1943 and were posted to 'Jagdverbande Mitte' in March 1944, under the aliases 'Charles Strength Lacy' and 'Willy Lepage'.

Brady certainly took part in operations in Rumania, as well as 'Operation Panzerfaust' - the arrest of Admiral Horthy, whilst Stringer appears to have had a quieter time, working as a cook. In early 1945 both were fighting on the Eastern Front as members of Otto Skorzeny's ad hoc division at Schwedt an der Oder. By this time, Brady was an Unterscharfuehrer. As the war came to an end, Stringer escaped westwards and gave himself up to US forces, who handed him over to the British, whilst Brady, who was wounded, was in an SS hospital. He escaped after the Russians had taken it over and spent more than a year 'on the run' with other Waffen-SS 'special forces' soldiers before giving himself up to the British in Berlin. He received a fifteen-year sentence at a court martial in London in 1946.

One other Irishman is reported as having served in the Waffen-SS: 'Patrick O'Neill' was supposedly a doctor in SS-Bewahrungsverbande 500, a penal unit. I have seen no documentary evidence that this was the case but it is quite possible.

Other Irishmen worked for the Germans as spies and radio propaganda broadcasters, but their numbers weren't huge and probably came to less than ten or fifteen. 

Contrary to popular supposition, no Irishmen served in the 'British Free Corps'.

Adrian Weale