At 6 p.m. April 9, 1916, the Aud left port, disguised as a Norwegian freighter. Almost every detail had been seen to, down to the authentic buttons on the sailors’ merchant marine uniforms, except for one major detail. There was no wireless radio onboard ship.
Tom Clarke and the others planning the uprising had decided on Easter Sunday, April 23 as the date for the Rising. They requested that the guns be delivered to Fenit, in Tralee Bay on the west coast of Ireland between Good Friday and Easter Saturday – April 21 or 22 – or no later than Easter Sunday. This information had been carefully sent through couriers and encrypted code, from Ireland, to New York, to Washington, and eventually to Germany.
However Clarke and the others realized that landing the guns shortly before the uprising might tip off the British. It would be better to land the guns no sooner than Easter morning, to avoid alerting the British. They sent this new information by courier to Devoy in New York, who frantically sent it on to the German embassy. But it was too late – the new information did not reach Germany until ten days after the Aud had sailed.
The Aud, meanwhile, laden with 20,000 rifles, 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition, 10 machine guns, and explosives, made its dangerous way past British war-time patrols and through treacherous northern waters. Surviving violent storms off the coast of Rockall, the ship finally arrived on the west coast of Ireland.
On April 20 the ship entered the peaceful waters of Tralee Bay on the west coast of Ireland. They had successfully passed through the British blockade thanks to some judicious advance planning: armed with several bottles of the British captain’s favorite whiskey – scarce during war time – they had invited the captain on board and returned him, legless and congenial, to his own ship.
They were now at their destination. The Irish rebels would be waiting on shore with a green flag by day and a green lantern by night. As the ship sailed into the bay, the crew marveled at the impossibly green fields that faded into the distant purple hills of County Clare. But aside from the black and white cows dotting the fields and an occasional whitewashed cottage, there were no signs of life. Spindler suppressed his unease as they traveled along the coastline, seeing no sign of either a green flag or a green lantern.
The day passed slowly as Spindler guided the ship along the coastline, aware that his behavior was becoming increasingly suspicious. With no radio contact with the rebels, they could only guess what to do next. Hugging the shoreline, they drifted slowly until sunset, relieved when the darkness gave them cover. But in a few hours the full moon would rise, exposing them again to British surveillance ships.
Six miles away, the car carrying the rebels with the green lantern raced towards the mountaintop overlooking the bay. As night fell, a fog rose off the river and thickened until visibility was no more than a meter. The driver turned off the main road onto the side road, accelerating. But in the fog and darkness, he had made a wrong turn, heading toward the river instead of the mountaintop. The car sailed over the end of a pier, flipped over, and sank.
A full moon rose over Tralee Bay. Ordinarily a beautifully serene sight, it caused Spindler anxiety. Scanning the shoreline futilely for sign of a green lantern, he alternately kept an eye on the waters of the bay. Sometime after midnight, he saw what appeared to be a ship over the western horizon. Hope rose as he watched its approach, straining to see which flag it flew. Surely, it was the rebels, at last. He raised his binoculars to watch, and the smile on his face faded.
To be continued.