Operation Osprey

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Operation Osprey ("Unternehmen Fischadler" in German) was a plan conceived by the German Foreign Ministry and Abwehr II. mid-1942.[1] The plan was an enlargement of Operation Whale ("Unternehmen Wal" in German). Planning took place in the context of American troops landing in Northern Ireland 26 January 1942, and Hitler's immediate fears surrounding this.

Figures and groups involved[edit]

Planning for Osprey began after conversations between German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Führer Adolf Hitler in the weeks following the arrival of a contingent of 4,508 US troops and engineers in Belfast commanded by Major-General Russell P. Hartle, the Commanding General of the 34th Division. The German command feared that these forces could set up bases in neutral Ireland.[2] US forces had already compromised the neutrality of both Iceland and Greenland the previous year and it was known by the Germans that pressure had been placed on Éamon de Valera to cede the port in Cobh, and/or side with the British in World War II. German forces had already considered the occupation of Ireland in "Plan Green" but with the German failure during the Battle of Britain, the launching of Green alongside Operation Sea Lion was still a distant prospect.

Osprey envisioned the use of volunteer commando troops trained in sabotage and British weaponry to go to Ireland in the event of an American invasion and train "Irish partisans", volunteers of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and any Irish Army units resisting the invasion. Abwehr II. was to have only technical input into the planning and training of this new unit; the Foreign Ministry was to dominate via the Reich's Security Headquarters (RSHA) and have overall control.

Mission plan and training[edit]

Walter Schellenberg as an SS-Oberführer

The mission plan and training schedule for Osprey was drawn up by Director of Amt VI, Walther Schellenberg, who held his brief with the Foreign Political Information Service.

Training took place at the Totenkopf Barracks in Berlin-Oranienburg and consisted of the selection of around 100 volunteers from various SS troop sections. The unit was designated Sonder Lehrgang Oranienburg and consisted of seventy NCOs and thirty private soldiers under the command of Dutch SS Hauptsturmführer Van Vessem. Brandenburg regiment NCO Helmut Clissmann was to test the suitability of these volunteers against Abwehr set benchmarks of foreign language skills and cultural awareness of Ireland/Britain.[3] Each volunteer was given English language training, and British weaponry, sabotage, and explosives training. Clissmann did believe that on the whole the unit would be able to fulfil its mission of providing close tactical support and training for any parties resisting an American invasion.

The Waffen-SS unit was to be inserted into Ireland by parachute using a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 'Condor' once the American invasion began. In addition, as part of Osprey, consideration was given to using selected regular 'Brandenburgers' and two captured Irish Prisoners of War recruited from Friesack Camp. The unit and plan was not put to the test in Ireland because the feared American invasion of Éire territory did not occur.[4]

Despite being cancelled this mission did mark the first entrance of the SS's intelligence service, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) into Irish affairs.

Involvement of the IRA[edit]

There was no involvement or prior knowledge of Operation Osprey by the IRA in Ireland, although it is almost certain that Frank Ryan, an ex-IRA volunteer captured by Franco's forces and handed over to the Abwehr, was aware of the mission. His input is thought to have been minimal as ill health on his part had prevented him from taking part in Operation Whale – the precursor to Osprey.[5]


  1. ^ Osprey was the operational name given to the plan by the Abwehr; the Foreign Ministry knew the plan as Operation Dove II ("Unternehman Taube II" in German).
  2. ^ The Republic of Ireland was also known as Éire during the period.
  3. ^ Clissmann later recalled that the volunteers were all decorated, seasoned veterans but felt that they were not suitable for "combat requiring initiative", and that the majority had poor English language skills making them unsuitable as instructors. See Stephan P.235
  4. ^ Instead the unit later came under the command of Otto Skorzeny and formed the core of SS-Jäger-Bataillon 502 which effected the rescue of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini
  5. ^ Cronin, Séan (1980). Frank Ryan: the search for The Republic. Repsol Pub., p. 208. ISBN 0-86064-019-1

Further information and sources[edit]

Abwehr operations involving Ireland[edit]

See also[edit]