With the Battle of Britain about to begin following the fall of France, the arrival of a German spy on the Dingle Peninsula in June 1940 sparked enormous security concerns both in Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Walter Simon was trained at the Abwehr branch in Hamburg, who were responsible for subversive activities against the United Kingdom. Walters was known to British security officiers, having completed three successful espionage missions in England.
He was arrested by MI5 in 1939, and spent three months in Wandsworth Prison, after being found guilty of illegal entry. He was subsequently deported back to Germany and warned never to return. While identified as a spy, he avoided harsher punishment because the British authorities could not prove it. Trained by Nilolaus Ritter, an Abwehr agent in Britain under the name "Dr. Rantzau", he refused to crack under close interrogation. MI5 returned all his notebooks containing coded information that he had amassed. He had collected information on British air defenses — material invaluable to Operation Sea Lion, the planned invasion of Britain.
The Abwehr decided to send him to Ireland to collect intelligence on the disposition of British naval ships.
He was seen landing and burying his AFU radio transmitter on a beach, intending to recover it later.
Then he walked toward Dingle on a railway line and asked some people what time the next train was due. It was fourteen months since the last passenger train had run on the line.
Arriving in Dingle around 7am, he asked Michael Nelligan, the time of the next bus for Tralee. As the bus did not leave until 9am, Nelligan invited him for a drink in a local pub, where Simon consumed three glasses of whiskey and bought a full bottle of whiskey.
On the bus, he proceeded to drink from the bottle and even offered the whiskey to other passengers. He was clearly drunk when the bus dropped him at the railway station in Tralee.
He immediately attracted the attention of two Garda detectives, James Colley and Bill Walsh. They were staking out the station, as part of a widespread search of the Dingle Peninsula for the mysterious stranger.
The detectives were suspicious, seeing sand on Simon’s shoes. When he boarded the train for Dublin, they accompanied him and engaged him in conversation. He said he had been visiting his sister-in-law in Annascaul but got into an argument with her during the night and had decided to return to his family in Dublin.
One of the detectives telephoned Garda headquarters during a scheduled stop to warn of their suspicions. As a result, Simon was arrested on stepping off the train at Kingsbridge (now Heuston) Station. Upon arrival in Dublin, the police were waiting for him. He spun several different stories to explain how and why he had arrived in Ireland. The story that the Irish police found most convincing was of a Swedish national sickened by German-occupied Europe who traveled from the Netherlands in search of ‘peace and quietness’ on a British trawler.
He gave his name as Karl Anderson, but he was quickly identified as Walter Simon when the gardaí checked his fingerprints with the British. Walter Simon’s true identity was established. On 8 July 1940 he was charged and pleaded guilty to illegal entry. He was sentenced to three years in jail at the Central Criminal Court on July 8, 1940.
Simon’s period as an agent in Ireland lasted 26 days, almost all of those in police custody. His belongings included $2,000 and some English money.
Sources of information
- Behind the Green Curtain : Ireland' s Phoney Neutrality During World War II - T. Ryle Dwyer's (Gill & Macmillan).
- The Spy Who Spent the War in Bed: And Other Bizarre Tales from World War II - William B. Breuer (2011).
- Double Agent Snow - James Hayward (2013).
- Irish Secrets - Mark M. Hull (2003).
- U-boats in bogholes and other WW2 tales from Kerry.
- German spy landings made Britain question Irish neutrality.
- WW2 – German Spies in Ireland #2