NAZI SABOTEURS CAME
TO BLOW UP AMERICA
On June 13 and June 17, 1942, two groups of German sabotage agents landed from U-boats on shores of Long Island and Florida, as part of a German Abwehr mission, codenamed Operation Pastorius. The mission was named by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of Abwehr, the German military intelligence organization, a sardonic reference to Francis Daniel Pastorius, leader of the first organized settlement of German immigrants to America.
Subsequent events of the sabotage attempt were summarized later in a 1943 report written by British Secret Service agent Victor Rothschild who was sent to United States to be briefed on the incident. His report covered the Nazi mission's objectives; The German personnel sent on the mission; information about the training the German agents received at sabotage school; and the equipment to be used during the operation.
During the first few months after the United States officially entered World War II, America's major contribution to the war was industrial. America was able to produce and supply weapons, ammunition, equipment, and supplies to Britain and other nations already fighting against Germany. This infusion of U.S. arms production so stung the Nazi war machine, that the German high command ordered direct aggressive action to reduce American war supply output. However, with the Atlantic Ocean separating Germany from U.S. facilities, the enemy's ability to use conventional military tactics was limited. So German Intelligence decided that sabotage would be the most effective means available to interrupt American production.
"The task of the saboteurs was to slow down production at certain factories concerned with the American war effort," Rothschild wrote in his report. "The sabotage was not to be done in such a way that it appeared accidental," he noted. "The saboteurs were however told that they must avoid killing or injuring people as this would not benefit Germany."
The saboteurs selected for the mission were eight Germans who had spent time in the United States, and two were American citizens. They were trained at a sabotage school near Berlin, where they studied chemistry, incendiaries, explosives, timing devices, secret writing, and concealment of identity. The U.S. targets planned for their mission included: hydroelectric plants at Niagara Falls, Aluminum Company of America's plants, Ohio River locks, the Horseshoe Curve railroad pass near Altoona, PA, Pennsylvania Railroad's rail yards, a cryolite plant in Philadelphia, Hell Gate Bridge in New York; and Pennsylvania Station in Newark, New Jersey.
The first batch of saboteurs arrived by U-Boat U-202, at Amagansett, Long Island, New York. They wore German military uniforms, so that if caught they would be handled as POWs and not as spies. The second batch came aboard U-boat U-584 and landed at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
The first group included George John Dasch. Victor Rothschild perceptively wrote in his report, "It is abundantly evident that the leader of the first group of saboteurs, George John Dasch, had every intention of giving himself up to the American authorities and compromising the whole expedition, probably from the moment it was suggested to him in Germany that he should go to the USA on a sabotage assignment."
Dasch did exactly as predicted, promptly going to Washington, DC, to turn himself in to FBI headquarters. He simply telephoned FBI headquarters from his Washington hotel room and waited for Federal agents arrived to take him into custody. The FBI at first treated Dasch as if he was mentally unstable, until he showed them $84,000 he was given to fund the operation. His co-operation helped lead to the other seven saboteurs being taken into custody over the next two weeks.
They were put on trial before a secret military tribunal comprised of seven U.S. Army officers appointed by President Roosevelt. The trial was held in the Department of Justice building in Washington. The prosecution team was lead by Attorney General Frances Biddle and the Army Judge Advocate General, Major General Myron C. Cramer. The Defense team was lead by Colonel Kenneth C. Royall, who later became Secretary of War under President Truman, and Major Lausen H. Stone, the son of Harlan Fiske Stone, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
All eight would-be sabotage agents were found guilty of espionage and sentenced to death. However, because of their cooperation, President Roosevelt commuted the sentences of Peter Burger to life in prison and George Dasch to 30 years in prison. On August 8, 1942, the other six were executed in an electric chair on the third floor of the District of Columbia jail. Their bodies were buried in a cemetery potter's field called Blue Plains in the Anacostia region of Washington.
In 1948, President Truman granted Burger and Dasch executive clemency, and they were deported to the American Zone of then still-occupied Germany.