James Brady- A Roscommon man in the German Army
Rónán-Gearóid Ó Domhnaill
While the activities of William Joyce and Francis Stuart have been well documented over the years, very little is known about the handful of Irishmen who fought on the German side in the Second World War. These men were not part of the Legion of St George, a group of English men in the Waffen SS, as is often believed, but more specialised commandos. The most prominent of these were James Brady of Strokestown, Co Roscommon and Frank Stringer from Gravelstown, County Meath. It is also believed that one Patrick O’Neill served as a doctor with a SS penal battalion though this has never been satisfactorily confirmed.
Brady was born in Strokestown in 1920. His mother died when he was very young and in 1938 he went to Liverpool and enlisted in the Royal Irish Fusiliers. He was stationed on the Island of Guernsey, where he and Frank Stringer were involved in a fracas in a pub. After hitting the policeman who had come to arrest them they were both sentenced to a term in the local jail. When the regiment pulled out of Guernsey it seemingly forgot about Brady and Stringer. They were still in jail when the Germans took possession of the island in July 1940 and were subsequently transferred from the prison to a prisoner of war camp in France.
In May 1941, about fifty Irish POW's including Brady and Stringer were segregated from the other prisoners and sent to a camp at Friesack in Northern Germany under the supervision of the Abwehr or the German counterintelligence. It was intended that they were to form the nucleus of an Irish Brigade. It was not a new idea and just as Roger Casement had sought to form an Irish Brigade in the First World War so too did Seán Russell. He was not alone with this idea. Eoin O’Duffy also wanted to raise a brigade from Ireland to fight to Russia as he had done in Spain, though his plan was not taken seriously by the German authorities.
Other Irish men to receive specialised training in bomb making at Friesack included Sergeant John Codd from Dublin, William Murphy from Enniscorthy, Patrick O'Brien from Nenagh and Andrew Walsh from Fethard, County Tipperary.
The brigade was intended to appeal to Irish Nationalists, but as with the previous German Irish brigade it met with very limited success and it was decided to train them as spies instead. Helmut Clissmann, who later dropped into Ireland, was involved in their training.
That was not entirely successful either. They had been told that they were being transferred to a camp with better conditions for the Irish. This is all some of them wanted and had no intention in serving the Germans. The men were put under immense psychological pressure to cooperate and when the idea of dropping them into Ireland was deemed unworkable those unwilling to further cooperate were sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
The espionage side of things had little appeal for Brady and Stringer and in September of 1943 they both transferred to the Waffen SS where they received further training along with other European volunteers at Sennheim in Alsace. Brady adapted the alias De lacy and would reach the rank of SS-Unterscharfuehrer (Sergeant) before the war was out, while Stringer who became known as Le Page never rose above the rank of private.
It was in France that they received their blood groups tattooed on their left arms, which was common to all members of the SS. Their in-depth training there lasted until March of 1944. They were not satisfied being normal infantry men and sought more of a challenge. They were sent to a special camp at Friedenthal, near Berlin and became part of the elite commando SS-Jaegerbatallion 502, which had been set up by the Otto Skorzeny. Skorzeny was famous all over Europe for his daring rescue of Mussolini and would move to Ireland after the war. From there they were then posted to SS-Jagdverbande Mitte.
It was this unit that infiltrated the American lines dressed as Americans during the battle of the Bulge which spread panic through the American lines. While Brady and Stringer didn’t participate in this operation they did take part in Operation Mickey Mouse. The operation was a cunning plan to kidnap the son of Hungary’s regent Admiral Horthy, who had been planning to surrender to the Russians. The regent did not initially sway when his son was kidnapped but did when the SS kidnapped him as well and the operation in October 1944 was a success.
In spite of this success the Third Reich was collapsing. In January 1945 Brady was wounded during a Russian attack on the river Oder and had to be hospitalised. He fled from the hospital shortly before the Russians overran. At the war’s end he avoided captivity by going underground with other SS men. He did not seem content with a life on the run however and he turned himself into the British Authorities in Berlin in September of 1946. From there he was brought to London where in Mayfair in December of that year he was court –martialled and received a 12 year sentence.
Stringer had surrendered to the Americans, who handed him over to the British. He too faced court martial; when it was proven that he was that he had been a serving member of the British army when he had joined the German army. He was released from prison in 1950.What became of Brady after his prison sentence or indeed any of the Irish men mentioned in this article is not known.