The Sinking of the HMS Courageous

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On September 15 1939, a convoy contact was made due west of the English Channel, in an area the British called the Western Approaches. The sea lanes were abuzz with traffic and some successes against British shipping had occurred in the early days of the war. To provide at least some form of protection for these ships, the Admiralty had deployed the old aircraft carrier HMS Courageous with a destroyer escort screen to conduct anti-submarine patrols.

Launched in February 1916 and commissioned in January 1917, the HMS Courageous was originally laid down as a Battle Cruiser,

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being converted into an aircraft carrier between June 1924 and May 1928. A hangar and flight deck were installed aft of the hull with the original armament of two twin 15-inch guns being removed and replaced with 4.7 inch anti-aircraft guns. The light armament meant that she had to rely on her screening escorts for protection against surface ships.

When Donitz received word of the convoy contact, he ordered all boats in the Western Approaches to converge on the convoy. That included Otto Schuhart in U-29 and Ernst-Gunther Heinicke in U-53.

Searching for the convoy on September 17, Heinicke found and attacked the 5,000 ton British freighter, Kafristan with a combination of gunfire and torpedoes. The ASW fleet of the HMS Courageous was close by. Two of her destroyer escorts (out of four) and Swordfish biplanes from the Courageous were dispatched to the area of the Kafristan sinking to hunt Heinicke.

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Meanwhile to the east, Schuhart in U-29 was still searching for the convoy. While running submerged, he spotted a Swordfish biplane instead.

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A Swordfish 300 miles out in the open sea could only mean one thing – that an aircraft carrier had to be close by. Keeping a sharp watch, at 1800 hours a puff of smoke was spotted on the horizon. It was the carrier Courageous. Schuhart sent his crew to battle stations and adjusted for an interception course.

But he could not mount an attack. Planes were circling over the carrier and the two remaining destroyer escorts were clearly visible. He later wrote in his log “At that time it looked like a hopeless operation. Because of the aircraft, I could not surface and my underwater speed was less than 8 knots while the carrier could do 26. But we were told during our training to always stay close and that is exactly what I did, following him submerged”.

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Schuhart trailed on for another one and a half hours, all the while losing distance with the carrier. Then suddenly at 1930 hours, the carrier turned into the wind to launch aircraft, inadvertently placing the ship in perfect position for a torpedo attack. By 1940 hours, U-29 was in position and Schuhart fired all three forward torpedoes from less than 3,000 yards. Schuhart logged “the vast size of the target upset all normal calculations and in any case, I was looking straight into the sun”

Just 500 yards away, while the torpedoes were still making its run, Schuhart observed through his periscope lens as one of the destroyers sailed by, still unaware of the impending attack. To evade, he dived deep – to a depth of 180 feet, the deepest he had ever dived. Then, in the creaking silence of U-boat’s pressure hull, the crew heard two resounding explosions. Two torpedoes had it the target and exploded with such force that Schuhart thought he had been attacked. The crew cheered, although they all knew what was to follow next – an impending depth charge attack.

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They braced themselves for the attack and minutes later, one of the destroyers picked up the U-29 on sonar. The second destroyer rushed to the location to join the hunt and both attacked with such fury and ferocity that during the pounding, Schuhart thought he had lost the U-29. The boat reeled and creaked under the force of the explosion which lasted for hours. Then at 2340 hours, the last depth charge exploded. Both destroyers had expended all depth charges and were now weaponless in attacking the enemy down below. Silently easing away, Schuhart in the U-29 made good his escape. As soon as he surfaced, he radioed to Donitz, “Courageous destroyed. U-29 homebound”.

Meanwhile, back at the sinking of the Courageous, a Dutch passenger liner Veendam was passing nearby.

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Eye witnesses account that a huge white cloud had engulfed the Courageous. They thought it was a smoke screen and paid little attention until two tremendous explosions ripped through the carrier. Pieces of steel and dismembered aircraft shot upwards as with the flames and oil slick which soon followed. The Courageous sank in less than 15 minutes with the loss of 519 lives, including her commander Captain W T Makeig-Jones. Her total complement was 1,260 officers and ratings (including air group), and two squadrons of Fairey Swordfish aircraft (48 planes). The Veendam and a British freighter Collingsworth participated in the rescue, fishing survivors from the oily waters.

By the next morning of September 18, news of the sinking had been broadcast worldwide. The sinking of the HMS Courageous was the first U-boat offensive against the Royal Navy, and more importantly, Schuhart’s victory prompted the Admiralty to withdraw all three remaining carriers from the Western Approaches. The first naval engagement turned out to be a resounding victory, as carriers were not to be seen in those waters for another four years.

This was precisely what Donitz had wanted, as the withdrawal of ASW vessels allowed his U-boats to continue with their sinkings unabated. Politically, Hitler was neither pleased, nor displeased. He was still hopeful of a diplomatic solution with Great Britain and did not want to further antagonize the Western Powers by sinking a major capital warship. However, no specific orders had been issued otherwise and in fact, the Kriegsmarine was ecstatic. Donitz noted gleefully in his diary “A wonderful success”.

Schuhart was awarded the Iron Cross First Class and the entire crew the Iron Cross Second Class. In tonnage sunk for a single patrol, his tally was 41,905 tons which was to stand as a record high for a very long time.

The U-29 was a Type VIIA U-boat, an oceangoing boat which had four bow and one stern torpedo tube.

HMS Courageous was sunk on September 17 1939 at 1940 hours at the Western Approaches (Southwest of Ireland), Grid BE3198, 150nm WSW of Mizen Head, Ireland.

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Her sister ship, the HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers, Ardent and Acasta was to suffer the same fate on June 8 1940, during an attack by two German battle cruisers, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst

 

German invasion of Ireland

Before you all start telling me I should look back at the history books, I know that Ireland was never invaded by the Germans during WWII. Except for the Belfast Blitz(pictures above) the island of Ireland remained unscathed during the war. The republic of Ireland was neutral, but I believe more due to it’s geographical location it wasn’t invaded rather then it’s political neutrality. Had it been between France and Britain I think Ireland would have been occupied by the Germans.

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However, this doesn’t mean the Germans had no plans for Ireland. There were several planned operations foe the invasion of Ireland the main ones being ‘Operation Green’ and Operation Dove'(sometimes also referred to as ‘Operation Pigeon’) .

Hitler loved the idea of Ireland and was a great admirer of Irish Folk music, in fact in 1936 he had invited Sean Dempsey ,uileann pipe player, to play for him in Berlin.

Dublin was earmarked by the Nazis as one of six regional administrative centers for Britain and Ireland right after Dunkirk when an Allied collapse seemed imminent.

Had the occupation taken place, the Germans thought it crucial that their advancing units reach Ireland as soon as possible after the initial invasion.

The plan would have seen the fourth and seventh infantry divisions of the Germany Army being deployed to Ireland. The German 4th army corps in particular had a brutal reputation in battle and inflicted many civilian casualties as they secured the Polish corridor to Warsaw during the invasion of Poland in 1939.

Their advance, had the fourth and seventh been deployed to Ireland, would have been rapid – up to 100km a day – and their brutality would have been beyond doubt.

Fifty thousand troops in total were allocated for the Irish invasion with an initial batch of 4,000 crack engineers, motorised infantry, commando and panzer units to reach the Irish shore after having launched from France.

Operation Dove (“Unternehmen Taube” in German) also sometimes known as Operation Pigeon, was an Abwehr sanctioned mission devised in early 1940. The plan envisioned the transport of IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell to Ireland, and on the arrival of Frank Ryan in Berlin three days before the launch of the operation, it was also decided to transport him during the operation.

Seán Russell had arrived in Berlin on 5 May 1940, four days after arriving in Genoa from the United States.Russell was informed of Operation Mainau, the plan to parachute Dr. Hermann Görtz into Ireland. Russell was asked to brief Görtz on Ireland before his departure that night, but missed his takeoff from the Fritzlar airfield near Kassel.

By 20 May, Russell had begun training with Abwehr in the use of the latest German explosive ordnance. This training was conducted at the Abwehr training school/lab in Berlin-Tegel, which specialised in the design of explosives as everyday objects. Russell also visited the training area for the Brandenburg Regiment, the ‘Quenzgut,’ where he observed trainees and instructors working with sabotage materials in a field environment. Because he received explosives training, his return to Ireland with a definite sabotage objective was planned by German Intelligence. His total training time with German Intelligence lasted over three months.

While Görtz had landed successfully, the capture of the German agents from Operation Lobster I did not prevent Abwehr chief Wilhelm Canaris allowing the transport of Russell to continue. Both Russell and Frank Ryan departed aboard U-65 from Wilhelmshaven on 8 August — the mission was dubbed Operation Dove.

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Russell became ill during the journey and complained of stomach pains. U-65 was not staffed with a doctor and he died on 14 August 100 miles  short of Galway. He was buried at sea and the mission aborted.

Operation Green (German: Unternehmen Grün) often also referred to as Case Green (Fall Grün) or Plan Green (Plan Grün), was a full-scale operations plan for a German invasion of Ireland in support of Operation Sea Lion (the plan to invade the UK). Despite its detailed nature, Green is thought to have been designed only as a credible threat, a feint, not an actual operation. Plan W, a planned occupation of all of the state by British forces, was drafted by the British military in secret liaison with the Irish government to counteract any German invasion.

German interest in Green and Operation Sea Lion must always be understood in the context of their overall strategic plan. That, first and foremost, was Operation Barbarossa, the invasion and destruction of the Soviet Union. They had little interest in tying up military resources in England or France, other than doing what was necessary to prevent the British and French from interfering with the invasion of the Soviet Union. During Britain’s darkest hour, the Germans were, in fact, secretly marshalling most of their resources to attack their ally in the occupation of Poland: the Soviet Union.

Implementation of Green was the responsibility of General der Flieger Leonhard Kaupisch, commander of the German Fourth and Seventh Army Corps, Army Group B. The originator of the idea for Green is thought to be newly promoted Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, Army Group B.

Bock had operational command for the western flank under Operation Sea Lion. Once collated, thirty-two copies of Green were distributed as “Top Secret” on 8 August 1940 to the German High Command; a number of copies survived World War II.

Green was conceived in early- to mid-1940 and the plan was drawn up in August 1940, under three weeks after Hitler issued his initial warning order for Operation Sea Lion on 16 July 1940. The plan was widely circulated and even publicised during the period 1940–1941. By 1942 Green had even made its way into the hands of the Irish military via the British military and was subsequently translated into English by Irish Military Intelligence G2 Branch. This has raised suspicion that intercepted ‘chatter’ about Green may have been aimed at creating a ‘bogeyman’ in the minds of British military planners on their western flank. There was some truth to this; one example is General major Walter Warlimont’s recollection from 28 June 1940 of an operational instruction issued by the High Command. The directive was to mislead the enemy on a possible invasion of neutral Ireland using “all available information media”.

Walter Warlimont

The intention was to spread rumours that German forces were preparing a landing in Ireland to place a further stranglehold on Britain, reinforcing the current “siege”.It is possible that these efforts heightened the state of alert and were a cause of alarm in Britain, leading to the British expending significant effort in trying to convince the Irish government to abandon neutrality and side with the Allies.

Despite the propaganda, Green was an actual military plan that was given real consideration. Although Hitler had postponed Sea Lion on 17 September 1940, he took up a personal interest again on 3 December 1940 after hearing of radio reports alluding to a British invasion of Ireland. Hitler then ordered Raeder’s naval staff to investigate the feasibility of occupying Ireland to pre-empt any British attempt. However, at the time Hitler seemed already convinced that any landing should be by invitation only:

“..a landing in Ireland can be attempted only if Ireland requests help. For the present our envoy [assumed to be Dr. Eduard Hempel of the German Legation] must ascertain whether De Valera desires support and whether he wishes to have his military equipment supplemented by captured British war material (guns and ammunition), which could be sent to him in independent ships. Ireland is important to the Commander in Chief, Air, [Göring] as his base for attacks on the north-west ports of Britain, although weather conditions must be investigated. The occupation of Ireland might lead to the end of the war

The operatives were initially to land on Ireland’s South-East coast where they expected to be met with only token resistance, and then to aerially bomb targets throughout the Irish Free State as it was then known.

After this initial landing and advancement phase, ground troops of the 4th and 7th army corps would have begun so-called “probing attacks” on the Irish Army based in Cork and Clonmel, followed by a push through Laois-Offaly towards the Army’s Curragh Camp base in Co. Kildare.

Some units would have reached the outskirts of Dublin just 48 hours after having landed in the South-East, such would have been the pace of their progress.

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The Nazi politburo in Dublin was to have far reaching executive powers and would have had instructions to dismantle, and if necessary, liquidate, any of Ireland’s remaining indigenous political apparatus, intellectual leadership and any non-Aryan social institutions. The GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) would have been closed and Irish Jews would have been murdered en masse.

Beach-heads considered in Green included the Waterford-Wexford sector (favoured), the estuary of the River Shannon near Limerick,

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Galway Bay, Donegal Bay with Killala, Ballina and Sligo,Lough Foyle with Derry, the ‘Bay of Belfast’ (Belfast Lough), and Cobh in Cork.

The landings were to be effected by sea craft available in occupied France at the time, but there were few in existence and Operation Sea Lion was to have priority- further reasons why Raeder was not happy with Green. Green was expected to utilise over 50,000 German troops and Sea Lion was expected to use 160,000 but for Green the Germans only found two steamships available around the north-western ports of France- the French Versailles and the German Eule together with three small coasters: Mebillo, Clio and Franzine.

It is also worth pointing out that to get to Ireland the departing ships would have had to circumnavigate the British coastline at Cornwall. Every vessel taking part in Green was to carry anti-aircraft weaponry indicating that the planners expected the Royal Air Force (RAF) to intercept them, although air cover from the Luftwaffe’s West of France Air Command was to be provided as part of Sea Lion.

Ireland would have been ruthlessly subject to German martial law, with curfews also being imposed on the local population, as well as plans to commandeer resources from locals. To this end an annex was added to the plan listing all petrol stations and garages in Munster and the Midlands. Nothing wasn’t planned for.

Livestock, food, fuel, and forced labor would all have been used by the Germans in their advance northwards, which would have pitted them squarely against the civilian population.

Ireland’s army at the time of 7,600 regulars and 11,000 reserves would have been completely unable to handle the onslaught from the invading force.  The army was also incapable of mounting large-scale maneuvers and was poorly armed. Many companies even traveled by bicycle!

There was no involvement or prior knowledge of Green by the IRA in Ireland.

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It is likely, however, that the possibility of such planning was on the mind of Sean Russell and his acting Chief of Staff Stephen Hayes. Russell is known to have reached out to the German Foreign Ministry and Abwehr during his time in Berlin, and Hayes is known to have sanctioned Plan Kathleen before it was delivered to the Abwehr in Berlin in August 1940. However, no operational instructions were issued to Abwehr agents to gather data on Ireland in preparation for Green. This is possibly because the planners felt they had enough militarily useful data already, but likely because Green, although thorough, was created in a hurry. Later editions contained no data from the IRA.

When Winston Churchill got wind of the German plans, he drafted detailed plans for a counter-attack to be launched from Northern Ireland. The plan, codenamed Plan W, envisaged the Irish and British armies fighting side by side to repel the intrusive German forces.

Ireland’s neutrality was respected and they emerged largely unscathed from the war, but had the invasion taken place, there could well have been large-scale casualties.

 

Hugh O’Flaherty-WWII Hero

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I did not call this blog Forgotten History since his story is quite well known in some parts of the world,nevertheless it is a story that needs be re-told especially nowadays where we need to hear about heroes.

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, CBE (28 February 1898 – 30 October 1963) was an Irish Roman Catholic priest and senior official of the Roman Curia, and significant figure in Catholic resistance to Nazism. During World War II, he was responsible for saving 6,500 Allied soldiers and Jews. His ability to evade the traps set by the German Gestapo and Sicherheitsdienst, earned O’Flaherty the nickname “The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican”. He was the first Irishman named Notary of the Holy Office.

This ingenious priest was the mastermind of an underground movement to house and save over 6,500 jews and allied soldiers. He was so audacious that the nazi germans painted a large circle around the vatican saying that if O’flaherty crossed that line he would be killed. This did not hold him back. Instead he would disguise himself as a nun, a street cleaner, a beggar, etc. in order to get into travel incognito throughout Rome to help refugees. He was so daring that he even dressed up as a German general in order to go into a German prison and give last communion to a fellow priest who was to be exectuted.

The stunts and risks that he took were amazing. For example, they housed many Jews and refugees in a house next door to the gestapo offices. They seemed always to be one step ahead of them. However, what is most unique about this man’s story is what he did after the war. Herbert Kappler, the head of the Nazi occupation force, who was determined to kill O’flaherty recieved a sentence of life in prison. For the next months and years that followed rarely did anyone ever visit Kappler, no one that is except for O’Flaherty who monthly visited his old nemesis. A few years later, O’Flaherty baptized Kappler into the catholic faith. This is an amazing story of someone who followed the teachings of Jesus of loving his neighbor as himself even when that neighbor used to be an enemy.

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Shortly after O’Flaherty’s birth in Lisrobin, Kiskeam, County Cork, his parents, James and Margaret, moved to Killarney.The family lived on the golf course where James O’Flaherty worked as a steward.By his late teens, young O’Flaherty had a scratch handicap and a scholarship to a teacher training college.

However, in 1918 he enrolled at Mungret College, a Jesuit college in County Limerick dedicated to preparing young men for missionary priesthood.

Normally, students ranged from 14 to 18 years of age. At the time when O’Flaherty came in, he was a little older than most of the students, about 20.The college allowed for some older people to come in if they had been accepted by a bishop who would pay for them.

O’Flaherty’s sponsor was the Bishop of Cape Town, Cornelius O’Reilly, in whose diocese he would be posted after ordination,a big step for a young man who had never stepped foot outside of Munster. At the time when O’Flaherty was in Mungret, the Irish War for Independence was ongoing.He was posted to Rome in 1922 to finish his studies and was ordained on 20 December 1925. He would never join his diocese. Instead, he stayed to work for the Holy See, serving as a Vatican diplomat in Egypt, Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Czechoslovakia. In 1934, he was appointed Monsignor.

In the early years of World War II, O’Flaherty toured prisoner of war (POW) camps in Italy and tried to find out about prisoners who had been reported missing in action. If he found them alive, he tried to reassure their families through Radio Vatican.

Monsignor O’Flaherty got his start in smuggling and hiding refugees in the fall of 1942, when the Germans and Italians cracked down on prominent Jews and aristocratic anti-Fascists. Monsignor O’Flaherty had socialized with these people before the war; now he hid them in monasteries and convents, and in his own residence–the German College.

In the spring of 1943, his operation broadened to include escaped British POWs; and he acquired a most improbable partner, Sir Francis D’Arcy Godolphin Osborne, British Minister to the Vatican. The POWs would be safe in the Vatican, but as internees they would be unable to rejoin their fighting units. Sir D’Arcy’s status prevented him from leaving the Vatican, so Msgr. O’Flaherty developed a network of apartments in Rome in which they could hide.

In September the Germans occupied Rome. The Italian game of “forgetting” to round up Jews was over.

According to Msgr. O’Flaherty’s biographer, J.P. Gallagher, Vatican officials who had inclined to prudence and ordinary Italians who had been indifferent to the plight of the Jews were radicalized by the Gestapo. “Even the most conservative men in the Vatican were prepared now to give the trouble-shooting Monsignor quite a bit more rope.”

Monsignor O’Flaherty hid Jews in monasteries and convents, at Castel Gandolfo, in his old college of the Propaganda Fide, in the German College and in his network of apartments. Every evening, he stood in the porch of St. Peter’s, in plain view both of the German soldiers across the piazza and of the windows of the Pope’s apartments. Escaped POWs and Jews would come to him there. He would smuggle them across the piazza and through the German Cemetary to the college. Sometimes he would disguise them in the robes of a monsignor or the uniform of a Swiss Guard.

One Jew,made his way to St. Peter’s and, coming up to O’Flaherty at his usual post on the steps and drawing him deeper into the shadows, proceeded to unwind a solid gold chain that went twice around his waist. ‘My wife and I expect to be arrested at any moment,’ said the Jew. ‘We have no way of escaping. When we are taken to Germany we shall die. But we have a small son; he is only seven and is too young to die in a Nazi gas chamber. Please take this chain and take the boy for us too. Each link of the chain will keep him alive for a month. Will you save him?'”

Monsignor O’Flaherty improved upon this plan: he accepted the chain, hid the boy and procured false papers for the parents. At the end of the war, he returned the boy and the chain.

 

When Mussolini was removed from power by the King in 1943, thousands of Allied POWs were released; however, when Germany imposed an occupation over Italy, they were in danger of recapture. Some of them, remembering visits by O’Flaherty, reached Rome and asked him for help. Others went to the Irish embassy to the Holy See, the only English-speaking embassy to remain open in Rome during the war. Delia Murphy, who was the wife of the ambassador and in her day a well-known ballad singer, was one of those who helped O’Flaherty.

O’Flaherty did not wait for permission from his superiors. He recruited the help of other priests (including two young New Zealanders, Fathers Owen Sneddensnedden and John Flanagan), two agents working for the Free French, François de Vial and Yves Debroise, and even communists and a Swiss count.

One of his aides was British Major Sam Derry, a POW escapee.

Derry along with British officers and escaped POWs Lieutenants Furman and Simpson, and Captain Byrnes, a Canadian, were responsible for the security and operational organisation. O’Flaherty also kept contact with Sir D’Arcy Osborne, British ambassador to the Holy See and his butler John May (whom O’Flaherty described as “a genius … the most magnificent scrounger”).

O’Flaherty and his allies concealed 4,000 escapees, mainly Allied soldiers and Jews, in flats, farms and convents. One of the first hideouts was beside the local SS headquarters. O’Flaherty and Derry coordinated all this. When outside the Vatican, O’Flaherty wore various disguises. The German occupiers tried to stop him and eventually they found out that the leader of the network was a priest. SS attempts to assassinate him failed. They learned his identity, but could not arrest him inside the Vatican. When the German ambassador revealed this to O’Flaherty, he began to meet his contacts on the stairs of the St. Peter’s Basilica.

Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler, the head of the SS Sicherheitsdienst and Gestapo in Rome learned of O’Flaherty’s actions; he ordered a white line painted on the pavement at the opening of St. Peter’s Square (signifying the border between Vatican City and Italy), stating that the priest would be killed if he crossed it. Ludwig Koch, head of the Fascist police in Rome, often spoke of his intention to torture O’Flaherty before executing him if he ever fell into his hands.

Finally Colonel Kappler complained to Berlin. Monsignor O’Flaherty received an invitation to a reception at the Hungarian Embassy, with an implicit safe-conduct. There Baron von Weiszacker, the German Ambassador, told him:

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“Nobody in Rome honors you more than I do for what you are doing. But it has gone too far for us all. Kappler is waiting in the hall, feeling rather frustrated.I have told him that you will of course have safe-conduct back to the Vatican tonight. But…if you ever step outside Vatican territory again, on whatever pretext, you will be arrested at once. Now will you please think about what I have said?”

O’Flaherty smiled down at von Weiszacker and replied: “Your Excellency is too considerate. I will certainly think about what you have said– sometimes

Several others, including priests, nuns and lay people, worked in secret with O’Flaherty, and even hid refugees in their own private homes around Rome. Among these were the Augustinian Maltese Fathers Egidio Galea, Aurelio Borg and Ugolino Gatt and Brother Robert Pace of the Brothers of Christian Schools. Another person who contributed significantly to this operation was the Malta-born widow Henrietta (Chetta) Chevalierwho hid some refugees in her house with her children, and was lucky to escape detection.Jewish religious services were conducted in the Basilica di San Clemente, which was under Irish diplomatic protection, under a painting of Tobias.

When the Allies arrived in Rome in June 1944, 6,425 of the escapees were still alive. O’Flaherty demanded that German prisoners be treated properly as well. He took a plane to South Africa to meet Italian POWs and to Jerusalem to visit Jewish refugees. Of the 9,700 Jews in Rome, 1,007 had been shipped to Auschwitz. The rest were hidden, 5,000 of them by the official Church − 3,000 in Castel Gandolfo, 200 or 400 (estimates vary) as “members” of the Palatine Guard and some 1,500 in monasteries, convents and colleges. The remaining 3,700 were hidden in private homes.

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At the time of the liberation of Rome, O’Flaherty’s and Derry’s organisation was caring for 3,925 escapees and men who had succeeded in evading arrest. Of these 1,695 were British, 896 South African, 429 Russian, 425 Greek and 185 American. The remainder were from 20 different nations. This does not include Jews and sundry other men and women who were in O’Flaherty’s personal care

After the war O’Flaherty received a number of awards, including Commander of the Order of the British Empire and the US Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm.

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He was also honoured by Canada and Australia. He refused to use the lifetime pension that Italy had given him. In the 1950s, the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, in the form proposed by the now-canonised Mary Faustina Kowalska, was under a ban from the Vatican. It was O’Flaherty who, as Notary, signed the document that notified Catholics of the ban.

O’Flaherty regularly visited his old nemesis Colonel Herbert Kappler (the former SS chief in Rome) in prison, month after month, being Kappler’s only visitor. In 1959, Kappler converted to Catholicism and was baptised by O’Flaherty.

In 1960, O’Flaherty suffered a serious stroke during Mass and was forced to return to Ireland. Shortly before his first stroke in 1960, he was due to be confirmed as the Papal Nuncio to Tanzania. He moved to Cahersiveen to live with his sister, at whose home he died on 30 October 1963, aged 65. He was buried in the cemetery of the Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church in Cahersiveen.

There is a monument in Killarney town and a grove of trees dedicated to his memory in the Killarney National Park.

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O’Flaherty was portrayed by Gregory Peck in the 1983 television film, The Scarlet and the Black, which follows the exploits of O’Flaherty from the German occupation of Rome to its liberation by the Allies

 

Colonel Kappler

Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler was head of The Gestapo in Rome during the occupation.

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty and his organisation were a major obstruction to the brutal Kappler and his Gestapo during this period.

Kappler was responsible for many cruel deeds in Rome as well as the massacre at The Ardeatine Caves, which were personally supervised by Kappler.

Despite this O’Flaherty assisted in helping members of Kapplers family in escaping from Rome at Liberation.

At his trial in 1948, after six hours, the head of the five-judge military tribunal gravely pronounced the stiffest sentence he could give under Italian law: “life imprisonment, including four years’ solitary confinement, for “repeated and premeditated murder.”

During this time one of his only regular visitors was none other that The Monsignor himself who visited him every month for 10 years as well as writing to him regularly and subsequently baptized him to the Catholic faith.

In 1977 he escaped from a Rome Prison hidden in a laundry basket, and was spirited away to Germany, by his recently wedded wife, whom he had married in Prison in 1972. He died of cancer in 1978, never having been returned to Prison.

 

Whether you are Christian,Jewish,Muslim,Budhist or Atheist ,one most admire Father Hugh O’Flaherty for his ability to forgive this cruel man.

Fr O’Flaherty a hero in the purest sense of the word.