Seán Ua Cearnaigh pays tribute to Karl Spindler, the German skipper of the Aud, a brave hero of 1916 whose name stays largely forgotten.

Last year’s 1916 centenary celebrations in various parts of Ireland were highly acclaimed. Yet, sadly, they all failed to commemorate one of the bravest heroes of 1916. The person in question was Captain Karl Spindler, the German skipper of the ill-fated arms ship, ‘The Aud’.

Karl Spindler was born in Konigswinter near Cologne in southern Germany on 29th May, 1887. Joining the German Navy as a cadet in 1906, where he soon attained the rank of lieutenant, he was promoted to captain in 1916 and given the command of ‘The Aud’, a vessel bound for Ireland, with arms for the insurgents. The huge cargo, should it have reached Ireland without mishap, would have been sufficient to arm thousands of Volunteers.

spindler033Karl Spindler and his crew sailed from Lubeck on 9th April, 1916, bound for Fenit, Tralee, Co. Kerry. Spindler was instructed to time the arrival of ‘The Aud’ in Kerry for 20th April.

However, as the Rising was not due to commence until Easter Sunday, 23rd April, an urgent communication was dispatched by Count Plunkett to Berlin, requesting that the arrival of the arms be deferred to that later date, but the message was either undelivered or mislaid, with tragic results for Spindler and Ireland.

‘The Aud‘ had on board ten machine guns, thirty thousand Russian rifles, several million rounds of ammunition and a quantity of explosives. The arms were cleverly concealed beneath a camouflage cargo of pit props and other sundry articles, while the ship itself was disguised as a tramp steamer.

It was a perilous voyage, with hostile British vessels patrolling much of the route taken by, ‘The Aud’. Somehow, the ship managed to evade suspicion, but the good ship was almost wrecked off the coastal waters of the Rockalls.

Finally, following many lucky shaves, the ship arrived at Tralee Bay on Holy Thursday, 20th April, in accordance with the instructions given to Spindler…but from an Irish point of view, three days too soon.
Following his arrival in America, he was invited by a number of Irish-American groups to embark on a lecture tour, speaking of his ill-fated trip to Ireland and his connection with the Easter Rising. He was hailed as a hero by Irish-Americans and received several awards. In 1921, he wrote a splendid book on his ‘Aud mission, which was translated into several languages. An English translation under the title, “The Mystery of the Casement Ship‘’ was published by Anvil Books, Tralee, in 1966. Sadly, this book has been long out of print and a re-issue would be welcome.

Karl Spindler remained a true friend of Ireland throughout his life. Ardently sympathising with Ireland’s struggle for independence, he maintained a deep interest in the affairs of our country to the end of his days.

Sadly, although he remained aloof from American politics and rarely involved himself in controversy, he was shabbily treated during the years of World War 11. He was detained in an internment camp as an enemy alien and was released in wretched health at the end of the war, amd this, despite many angry protests from various Irish-American groups.

Karl Spindler died on 29 November, 1951, in Bismarck, North Dakota, U.S. A., revered and respected by German and Irish people the world over. Surely we in Ireland should do something to perpetuate the memory of this valiant and noble German.