Documentary on One

Richard Hayes, Nazi Codebreaker

There are few individuals it can be said altered the course of World War Two on their own - but one was a Dublin librarian. And he did it, not on the battlefields of France or Japan but, in a room in McKee Barracks on Dublin's North Circular Road. (2017)

Rate this doc
  • 4.3/5 (113 ratings)
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
4.3/5 (113 ratings)

Richard Hayes, Nazi Codebreaker

During WW2, one of Nazi Germany’s most notorious communication codes was broken by a mild mannered librarian and family man from West Limerick, Richard Hayes. His day-job was as Director of the National Library of Ireland - but during wartime Europe, he secretly led a team of cryptanalysts as they worked feverishly on the infamous "Görtz Cipher" - a fiendish Nazi code that had stumped some of the greatest code breaking minds at Bletchley Park, the centre of British wartime Cryptography. But who was Richard Hayes? He was a man of many lives. An academic, an aesthete, a loving father and one of World War Two’s most prolific Nazi Codebreakers.

At the outbreak of WW2 Hayes, being highly regarded for his mathematical and linguistic expertise was approached by the head of Irish Military Intelligence (G2) Colonel Dan Bryan with a Top Secret mission. At the behest of Taoiseach Éamon de Valera, Hayes was given an office and three lieutenants to decode wireless messages being covertly transmitted via Morse code from a house in north Dublin owned by the German Embassy. The coded messages posed a huge threat to Irish national security and the wider war effort. As Hayes team worked to break the code, it was all academic until he met his greatest challenge yet. The man who was to be his nemesis, Dr. Herman Görtz, a German agent who parachuted into Ireland in 1940 in full Luftwaffe uniform in an attempt to spy and transmit his own coded messages back to Berlin.

Hayes the academic was soon to find out the true meaning of war. He stared at the enemy and saw the whites of his eyes. The events that transpired were a battle of wits between the mild mannered genius librarian and his nemesis, the flamboyant Nazi Spy.

Hayes has been referred to by MI5 as Irelands "greatest unsung hero" and the American Office of Strategic Services as "a colossus of a man" yet due to the secret nature of his work he is virtually unheard of in his own country.

Now, forty-one years after his death, the story of Dr. Richard J. Hayes, the National Librarian who kept Ireland neutral and helped turn the tide of World War Two will be told for the first time.

Documentary On One: Richard Hayes, Nazi Codebreaker is narrated by Marc McMenamin

Produced by Marc McMenamin with Donal O’Herlihy

First broadcast: Saturday, October 21st, RTÉ Radio 1 at 2pm

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One, the home of Irish radio documentaries.

If you have an Idea?

If you want to suggest a subject or you want to make a documentary? Let us know