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Mainland USA During WWII

Operation Pastorius

Foiled Nazi Sabotage on US Shores

Operation Pastorius
In June of 1942,German operatives lurked off the east coast of USA in submarines. Under the cover of darkness, four men landed on a Long Island, NY. beach. Another four landed on Ponte Vedra Beach, near Jacksonville, Florida. They came with explosives meant to cripple US defense production and terrorize the American people. The Long Island team was spotted by a Coast Guardsman and one German ended up turning himself in and ratting the others out. They were all caught before anything happened.

Six of the eight saboteurs were executed in Washington DC for spying. The other two (who disclosed the plot to the FBI) were imprisoned.

Posted Friday November 3rd 2023

WWII Operation Pastorius
Nazi Sabotage on US Shores
The FBI, U-Boats, and Lucky Luciano
On June 13, 1942, under cover of darkness, four men landed on a beach near Amagansett, Long Island, NY. Four days later, another four landed on Ponte Vedra Beach, near Jacksonville, FL. They were German operatives - saboteurs - who arrived on German submarines lurking off the coast. Led by Lieutenant Walter Kappe, they came with explosives meant to cripple US defense production and terrorize the American people. They were all arrested by June 27, before performing a single act.

The men initially wore German uniforms, so they could claim to be POWs rather than spies if caught, but once onshore they buried the uniforms and explosives. The Long Island team were spotted after changing by Coast Guardsman John C. Cullen, who they attempted to bribe and then threatened. He left but reported it to the officer in charge. A party returned to the site, but the men were gone. They watched, hidden, as a U-202 surfaced and sailed away. In the morning they found German cigarettes as well as the uniforms and explosives, and they called the FBI. Each of the German operatives had spent time previously living in the US, and they intended to blend in under their assumed identities before retrieving their supplies for the mission. However, one of them, George John Dasch, decided not to go through with it.

Dasch called the FBI, first the NY office and then Headquarters in DC, where he later turned himself in. He was interrogated and gave the FBI all the information about his mission and his fellow saboteurs. Tried by a military commission, all eight were convicted, and six were executed. J. Edgar Hoover appealed to President Roosevelt to commute Dash's and Ernest Burger's sentences. Hoover had announced the story in the press, though not Dasch's confession, so the Nazis would know their plans were thwarted.

WWII Operation Pastorius The Nazi intelligence service did not attempt another sabotage mission in the US again. In 1944, the FBI arrested two other Germans who landed via submarine off the coast of Maine on an intelligence mission, however. The FBI investigated many allegations of sabotage during the war. They even went so far as to strike a deal with mobster Lucky Luciano to watch for sabotage in the shipyards, especially if Italian operatives infiltrated Italian-American fisherman and dockworkers. Luciano also allegedly guaranteed no dock worker strikes during the war.

Operation Pastorius

The operation was staged in June 1942 and was to be directed against strategic American economic targets.
  • The operation was named by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the German Abwehr, for Francis Daniel Pastorius, the organizer of the first organized settlement of Germans in America.
  • The plan involved eight German saboteurs who had previously spent time in the United States.
  • The plan quickly failed after two of the agents, George John Dasch and Ernest Peter Burger, defected to the Federal Bureau of Investigation shortly after being deployed, betraying the other six.
  • A military tribunal – whose constitutionality was challenged to the Supreme Court in Ex parte Quirin – sentenced all eight to death later that year. President Franklin D. Roosevelt commuted the sentences of Dasch and Burger, while the other six were executed.
  • In 1948, Dasch and Burger were pardoned, conditional on their permanent deportation to the American occupation zone in Germany by President Harry S. Truman.
  • Sixteen other people would be charged with aiding those in charge of the operation.

The Agents
Recruited for Operation Pastorius were eight Germans who had lived in the United States. Two of them, Ernst Burger and Herbert Haupt, were American citizens. The others, George John Dasch, Edward John Kerling, Richard Quirin, Heinrich Harm Heinck, Hermann Otto Neubauer and Werner Thiel, had worked at various jobs in the United States. All eight were recruited into the Abwehr and were given three weeks of intensive sabotage training in the German High Command school on an estate at Quenzsee, near Berlin, Germany. The agents were instructed in the manufacture and use of explosives, incendiaries, primers, and various forms of mechanical, chemical and electrical delayed-timing devices. Considerable time was spent developing complete background "histories" they were to use in the United States. They were encouraged to converse in English and to read American newspapers and magazines to improve their English and familiarity with current American events and culture.

The Mission
Their mission was to sabotage American economic targets: hydroelectric plants at Niagara Falls; the Aluminum Company of America's plants in Illinois, Tennessee, and New York; locks on the Ohio River, near Louisville, Kentucky; Pennsalt Chemicals (then the Pennsylvania Salt Manufacturing Company) in Cornwells Heights (Bensalem), Pennsylvania; the Pennsylvania Railroad's Horseshoe Curve, a crucial railroad pass near Altoona, Pennsylvania, as well as their repair shops at Altoona; the Pennsalt cryolite (a raw material in the production of fluorine and aluminum) plant in Philadelphia; Hell Gate Bridge in New York; and Pennsylvania Station in Newark, New Jersey. The agents were also instructed to spread a wave of terror by planting explosives on bridges, railroad stations, water facilities, public places, and Jewish-owned shops. They were given counterfeit birth certificates, Social Security cards, draft deferment cards, nearly $175,000 in American money, and driver's licenses, and put aboard two U-boats to land on the east coast of the U.S.

Before the mission began it was in danger of being compromised as George Dasch, commander of the team, left confidential documents on a train, and one of the agents when drunk announced to patrons in a tavern in Paris that he was a secret agent.

On the night of 12 June 1942, the first submarine to arrive in the U.S., U-202, landed at Amagansett, New York, about 100 miles east of New York City on Long Island, at what is now Atlantic Avenue beach. It was carrying Dasch and three other saboteurs (Burger, Quirin, and Heinck). The team came ashore wearing German Navy uniforms so that, if they were captured, they would be classified as prisoners of war rather than spies. They also brought their explosives, primers and incendiaries, and buried them along with their uniforms, and put on civilian clothes to begin an expected two-year campaign in the sabotage of American defense-related production.

When Dasch was discovered amidst the dunes by unarmed Coast Guardsman John C. Cullen, Dasch offered Cullen a $260 bribe. Cullen feigned cooperation but reported the encounter. An armed patrol returned to the site but found only the buried equipment; the Germans had taken the Long Island Rail Road from the Amagansett station into Manhattan, where they checked into a hotel and a manhunt began.

The other four-member German team commanded by Kerling landed without incident at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, south of Jacksonville on 16 June 1942. They came on U-584. This group came ashore wearing bathing suits, but wore German Navy hats. After landing ashore, they threw away their hats, put on civilian clothes, and started their mission by boarding trains to Chicago, Illinois and Cincinnati, Ohio.

The two teams were to meet on 4 July in a hotel in Cincinnati to coordinate their sabotage operations.

The Betrayal
Dasch called Burger into their upper-story hotel room and opened a window, saying they would talk, and if they disagreed, "only one of us will walk out that door-the other will fly out this window." Dasch told him he had no intention of going through with the mission, hated Nazism, and planned to report the plot to the FBI. Burger agreed to defect to the United States immediately.

On 15 June, Dasch phoned the New York office of the FBI to explain who he was, but ended the call when the agent answering doubted his story. Four days later, he took a train to Washington, DC and walked into FBI headquarters, where he gained the attention of Assistant Director D.M. Ladd by showing him the operation's budget of $84,000 cash. None of the other six German agents were aware of the betrayal. During the next two weeks, Burger and the other six were arrested. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover did not mention that Dasch had surrendered himself, and claimed credit for the FBI for discovering the spy gang.

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