Why I breached Irish neutrality

Cleary's farmhouse in Ballymore, Ventry, where a Greek crew found refuge during World War II. Pictured with Sean Cleary is Werner Lott, the captain of a German submarine which breached Irish neutrality to land the Greeks and in so doing saved their lives.
THE CAPTAIN of a German submarine breached Irish neutrality during the second World War when he landed 28 Greek captives at Ventry harbour.
Forty five years later in an exclusive interview with The Kerryman, Werner Lott explains why "in the interests of humanity," he did this.
Captain Werner is at present enjoying a three week holiday in West Kerry. This week he met Jimmy Fenton who in 1939 was an 11 year old boy who with a large crowd of locals rushed to Ventry harbour to see the strange sight of a German submarine landing men.
"We lived at the Paddock, Ballymore, overlooking Ventry Harbour and Dingle Bay," said Mr. Fenton, owner of The Forge Restaurant in Dingle and a retired teacher.
"I was about 11 at the time and I remember we had just come home from school when the excitement began. I had to run about a quarter of a mile to the harbour when I spotted the sub. I think the first person there was a local customs man called Browne."
After all this time the German captain heard this week how grateful the Greeks were to him. "Their English was bad but they kept saying 'German gut man'," said Jimmy.
The Greeks were brought to a local farmhouse owned by Thomas Cleary and his mother Joan.
In a major interview, Captain Lott who was reared in an African colony where his father was one of the first white doctors, described how he came so close to Dingle shore during World War II, how he was shortly afterwards taken prisoner himself and how a life long friendship with Lord Louis Mountbatten began.
His first ever visit to Ireland ends this weekend. Cleery's farmhouse in Ballymore, Ventry, where a Greek crew found refuge during World War II. Pictured with Sean Cleary is Werner Lott the captain of a German submarine which breached Irish neutrality to land the Greeks and in so doing saved their lives.

U-boat captain explains his Oct 1939 Ventry visit
ON a stormy evening in October 1939 the realities of World War 2 reached the shores of the Dingle Peninsula.
A crowd of local people was amazed that evening when they saw a German submarine coming within 10 yards of the shore at Ventry. What they didn't know at the time was that they were witnessing a most humane and unwarlike act by the German captain on board the submarine.
Twenty-eight Greek sailors whose ship had been sunk by the Germans were landed at Ventry - two at a time in a small lifeboat.
The submarine pulled away, none of the German crew having set foot on neutral Irish soil. Two weeks ago the captain of that German Sub-marine U 35, Werner F. R. Lott, made a nostalgic first trip to Dingle and even met Jim Fenton, Ballymore, one of the locals who had witnessed the drama of that night.
WERNER F. R. Lott, the man who said this week, "I have been everywhere in the world except the North and South Pole," had never been on Irish soil until two weeks ago. The 77 year old German admitted that he had often planned to come and see the countryside and meet the people to whom he had entrusted his captives during the Second World War. He still remembers every detail of that night and the decision he had to make which involved getting a severe reprimand from Hitler's Third Reich Government for breaching Irish neutrality and saving the lives of the 28 Greeks.
"I had stopped a Greek ship in the waters round Lands End," he recalled. "Under the Geneva Convention I could stop it and if it was carrying provisions for the enemy I could destroy it. "In the rough weather I would not have been able to examine the ship's papers so I gave it a signal to follow me," he recalled. "I wanted to go to the Irish coast where I knew there would not be such rough weather. It did not follow me so I fired a shot from my gun at the bow of the ship. This had the result that the crew panicked and jumped into the small boats. One could foresee that with the rough seas they would overturn."
The life boats did overturn and the German captain decided to try and pick up the Greek crew. "It is almost unbelievable but we picked them all up," he said.
An examination of the Greek ship's papers showed that they were in fact carrying Iron ore from South Africa to England so the 8,000 tons ship Diamantis carrying 4,000 tons of iron ore was sunk 50 miles from Lands End.
Captain Lott now had a problem. He had 43 Germans on the submarine "but I now had 28 Greeks and we did not have so many provisions."
He decided to go to the South West coast of Ireland and let his prisoners chance their luck with the Irish.
"I submerged because British planes were in the air already," he said. "We waited until it was dark and then I surfaced. I had made up my mind to land in Dingle peninsula and went to Ventry harbour. We went 10 yards from the shore. We had one little boat and one of my men rowed the Greeks two at a time ashore. He made the trip 14 times and a crowd gathered to watch.
On this spot 45 years ago ... Werner Lott the man who commanded a German submarine which landed 28 Greek sailors at Ventry harbour pictured with local man Jimmy Fenton who was an 11 year old boy witnessed the drama.
Exclusive picture by Kevin Coleman
"When the Greek sailors said goodbye to me on the conning tower they went on their knees and kissed my wedding ring as if I was a bishop. I did not want this but they said we owe our lives to you. You have treated us very nicely."
In The Kerryman of Saturday, October 7, 1939, a report was carried of the event under the heading "German Submarine in Ventry Harbour."
The report continued: "The wrecked crew were treated hospitably at Maurice Clery's in Ballymore. Five of them are suffering from shock in Dingle hospital but are well enough to accompany the remainder of the crew to Dublin today."
The German captain was later severely reprimanded for what he had done. "It was clear to me that when I entered Irish waters I was breaching Irish neutrality but I did it for humanity's sake," he said. "I thought this would be understood. Of course the Irish Government protested to the German government and I got a severe reprimand. Of course this clearly was justified," remarked Werner Lott during the week.
He also recalled that even though the British government protested to the Irish Government at the time they too broke Irish neutrality around the same period. "They broke it daily or almost daily," he said recalling in particular one incident when a British warship disguised as a fishing trawler also had to land because an officer was badly in need of hospital treatment. "One of the people on the harbour at the time was a guard and he knew nothing." A book published by Brandon Publishing in Dingle "In Time of War" by Robert Fisk claims that there were rumours at the time that Captain Lott had been to Ireland several times before the war and had sent his regards to a Michael Long of Dingle when he landed the Greeks, but the German says he had never been there, until he arrived two weeks ago.
While he definitely had a very adventurous life Captain Lott was to spend most of the war in captivity because just two months after the Dingle episode his submarine was sunk by British destroyers off the Norwegian coast. "I ran into a trap. The Royal Navy used a big tanker as a bait guarded by destroyers with the latest anti-submarine devices. Before I got near the tanker they discovered me and there began a five hour chase. It was three against one which was two too many. After five hours I got hit."
He and his crew got out of the submarine in life belts and ironically received the same mercy they had shown to the Greeks. They were picked up by the British. "Their rescue efforts were extraordinary," recalls Captain Lott.
He was the second last to be saved and after 45 minutes in the freezing water he was so numb he could not grip the rope they threw between his hands. He was picked up with a life boat and his rescue was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the German captain and Lord Louis Mountbatten whose fleet had destroyed his submarine.
He was taken to the Tower of London and put in what he described as "a medieval cell." Because of his rank he objected strongly to the dire conditions and began a hunger strike. On the second day the misunderstanding was cleared up, he was moved to more comfortable surroundings and received a personal apology from Lord Mountbatten himself. "I thanked him for the extraordinary efforts his destroyer made to pick us up and he said 'that is how life is. You were extraordinary picking up the Greeks'."
Werner who on Friday leaves Ireland for London and hopes to visit his old cell in the Tower of London, wrote frequently to Lord Mountbatten for many years after the war. "I had 70th birthday greetings from him. Yes, I thought it a great tragedy when he died," he said.
Life was by no means boring because he was a prisoner. Soon there were so many Germans in London that the authorities feared them and sent them to Canada. "We had 250 young officers in London and after the British lost weapons in Dunkirk, they feared us," he said.
The Germans did have a code in the Tower through which Captain Lott sent messages via letters to his wife, and this code was never discovered by the British. He was transferred to Canada, first to East Coast and later to a log cabin in the Rockies.
A comment on his command of the English language is greeted with a smile. "I spent so many years behind barbed wire I had plenty of time to learn."
After the war the professional naval officer had to change his career and his lifestyle. His wife had been injured in a bomb blast in Berlin and was to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. He became involved in social work and has been director of a large Rehabilitation centre in Germany for the past 10 years.
He seems genuinely impressed with Ireland. "It is one of the loveliest countries in the world. The people are very lovable and very friendly."
He said that the thing he finds most strange is the high ditches and walls which block the beautiful views when you are driving through the countryside.
While in Dingle he went to the hospital where he knew the Greek soldiers had been taken and he also paid a visit to the clergy. "I knew that if I wanted to contact someone who had been on the harbour that night the Padre would be able to help me."
The priest did in fact put him in touch with Jim Fenton from Ballymore who was 12 years old the night the submarine came in.
After the war the Greek Government wanted the man who had been reared in an East African colony (his father was one of the first white doctors there at the end of the last century) to be decorated for his humane act but his own Government would not have this. "I suppose what I did was not a good example."
Last Monday Werner Lott was on his way to Killarney to take out a jaunting car. He had another week to spend in Ireland having spent most of his time around Castlegregory. "I have been to Dublin to see the Book of Kells, I have been to Cork. As a sailor I love the sea and I have done your circle of Kerry. It was a beautiful experience."
By Marese McDonagh
The Kerryman, Friday, September 21, 1984
Minor corrections and editing by