midnight on the morning of June 13, 1942, four men landed on a beach
near Amagansett, Long Island, New York, from a German submarine, clad
in German uniforms and bringing ashore enough explosives, primers, and
incendiaries to support an expected two-year career in the sabotage of
American defense-related production. On June 17, 1942, a similar group
landed on Ponte Vedra Beach, near Jacksonville, Florida, equipped for
a similar career in industrial disruption.
The purpose of the
invasions was to strike a major blow for Germany by bringing the
violence of war to our home ground through destruction of America's
ability to manufacture vital equipment and supplies and transport them
to the battlegrounds of Europe; to strike fear into the American
civilian population, and diminish the resolve of the United States to
overcome our enemies.
By June 27,
1942, all eight saboteurs had been arrested without having
accomplished one act of destruction. Tried before a Military
Commission, they were found guilty. One was sentenced to life
imprisonment, another to thirty years, and six received the death
penalty, which was carried out within a few days.
of the euphoric expectation of the Nazi war machine may be judged by
the fact that, in addition to the large amount of material brought
ashore by the saboteurs, they were given $175,200 in United States
currency to finance their activities. On apprehension, a total of
$174,588 was recovered by the FBI -- the only positive accomplishment
of eight trained saboteurs in those two weeks was the expenditure of
$612 for clothing, meals, lodging, and travel, as well as a bribe of
So shaken was
the German intelligence service that no similar sabotage attempt was
ever again made. The German naval high command did not again allow a
valuable submarine to be risked for a sabotage mission.
On September 1,
1939, World War II opened in Europe with the invasion of Poland by
Nazi Germany. The United States remained neutral until drawn into the
world conflict by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7,
1941. War was declared against Japan by the United States on December
8, 1941; and, on the 11th, Germany and Italy declared war against the
early months of the war, the major contributions of the United States
to oppose the Nazi war machine involved industrial production,
equipment, and supplies furnished to those forces actively defending
themselves against the German armed forces. That industrial effort was
strong enough to generate frustration, perhaps indignation, among the
Nazi high command; and the order was given, allegedly by Hitler
himself, to mount a serious effort to reduce American production.
intelligence settled on sabotage as the most effective means of
diminishing our input. In active charge of the project was Lieutenant
Walter Kappe, attached to Abwehr-2 (Intelligence 2) who had spent some
years in the United States prior to the war and had been active in the
German-American Bund and other efforts in the United States to
propagandize and win adherents for Nazism among German Americans and
German immigrants in America. Kappe was also an official of the
Ausland Institute, which, prior to the war, organized Germans abroad
into the Nationalsozialistiche Deutshe Arbeiterpartei, the NSDAP or
Nazi Party, and during the conflict, Ausland kept track of and in
touch with persons in Germany who had returned from abroad. Kappe's
responsibility concerned those who had returned from the United
Early in 1942,
he contacted, among others, those who ultimately undertook the mission
to the United States. Each consented to the task, apparently
willingly, although unaware of the specific assignment. Most of the
potential saboteurs were taken from civilian jobs, but two were in the
about twelve in all, were told of their specific mission only when
they entered a sabotage school established near Berlin which
instructed them in chemistry, incendiaries, explosives, timing
devices, secret writing, and concealment of identity by blending into
an American background. The intensive training included the practical
use of the techniques under realistic conditions.
the saboteurs were taken to aluminum and magnesium plants, railroad
shops, canals, locks, and other facilities to familiarize them with
the vital points and vulnerabilities of the types of targets they were
to attack. Maps were used to locate those American targets, spots
where railroads could be most effectively disabled, the principal
aluminum and magnesium plants, and important canals, waterways, and
locks. All instructions had to be memorized.
On May 26,
1942, the first group of four saboteurs left by submarine from the
German base at Lorient, France, and on May 28, the next group of four
departed the same base. Each was destined to land at points on the
Atlantic Coast of the United States familiar to the leader of that
Four men, led
by George John Dasch, age 39, landed on a beach near Amagansett, Long
Island, New York, about 12:10 a.m., June 13, 1942. Accompanying Dasch
were Ernest Peter Burger, 36; Heinrich Harm Heinck, 35; and Richard
On June 17,
1942, the other group landed at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, south of
Jacksonville. The leader was Edward John Kerling, age 33; with Werner
Thiel, 35; Herman Otto Neubauer, 32 (no photo available); and Herbert
Hans Haupt, 22. Both groups landed wearing complete or partial German
uniforms to ensure treatment as prisoners of war rather than as spies
if they were caught in the act of landing.
unobserved, the uniforms were quickly discarded, to be buried with the
sabotage material (which was intended to be later retrieved), and
civilian clothing was donned. The saboteurs quickly dispersed. The
Florida group made their way to Jacksonville, then by train to
Cincinnati, with two going on to Chicago and the other pair to New
The Long Island
group was less fortunate; scarcely had they buried their equipment
and uniforms, in fact, one still wore bathing trunks, when a Coast
Guardsman patrolling the shore approached. He was unarmed and very
suspicious of them, more so when they offered him a bribe to forget
they had met. He ostensibly accepted the bribe to lull their fears
and promptly reported the incident to his headquarters. However, by
the time the search patrol located the spot, the saboteurs had
reached a railroad station and had taken a train to New York City.
resolution to be a saboteur for the Fatherland faltered -- perhaps
he thought the whole project so grandiose as to be impractical and
wanted to protect himself before some of his companions took action
on similar doubts. He indicated to Burger his desire to confess
evening of June 14, 1942, Dasch, giving the name "Pastorius" called
the New York Office of the FBI stating he had recently arrived from
Germany and would call FBI Headquarters when he was in Washington,
D.C., the following week. On the morning of Friday, June 19, a call
was received at the FBI, Washington, from Dasch, then registered at
a Washington hotel. He alluded to his prior call as "Pastorius" (of
which Headquarters was aware) and furnished his location. He was
immediately contacted and taken into custody.
next several days he was thoroughly interrogated and he furnished
the identities of the other saboteurs, possible locations for some,
and data which would enable their more expeditious apprehension.
remaining members of the Long Island group were picked up in New
York City on June 20. Of the Florida group, Kerling and Thiel were
arrested in New York City on June 23, and Neubauer and Haupt were
arrested in Chicago on June 27.
were tried before a Military Commission, comprised of seven U.S.
Army officers appointed by President Roosevelt, from July 8, to
August 4, 1942. The trial was held in the Department of Justice
Building, Washington, D.C. The prosecution was headed by Attorney
General Frances Biddle and the Army Judge Advocate General, Major
General Myron C. Cramer. Defense counsel included Colonel Kenneth C.
Royall (later Secretary of War under President Truman) and Major
Lausen H. Stone (son of Harlan Fiske Stone, the Chief Justice of the
U.S. Supreme Court).
were found guilty and sentenced to death. Attorney General Biddle
and J. Edgar Hoover appealed to President Roosevelt to commute the
sentences of Dasch and Burger. Dasch then received a 30-year
sentence, and Burger received a life sentence, both to be served in
a federal penitentiary. The remaining six were executed at the
District of Columbia Jail on August 8, 1942.
The eight men
had been born in Germany and each had lived in the United States for
substantial periods. Burger had become a naturalized American in
1933. Haupt had entered the United States as a child, gaining
citizenship when his father was naturalized in 1930.
joined the Germany army at the age of 14 and served about 11 months
as a clerk during the conclusion of World War I. He had enlisted in
the U.S. Army in 1927, and received an honorable discharge after a
little more than a year of service.
Heinck had returned to Germany prior to the outbreak of World War II
in Europe, and the six others subsequent to September 11, 1939, and
before December 7, 1941, apparently feeling their first loyalty was
to the country of their birth.
debriefing of German personnel and examination of records confirmed
that no other attempt was made to land saboteurs by submarine;
though in late 1944, two persons, William Curtis Colepaugh and Erich
Gimpel, were landed as spies from a German submarine on the coast of
Maine in a rather desperate attempt to secure information. They,
too, were quickly apprehended by the FBI before accomplishing any
part of their mission.
1948, President Truman granted executive clemency to Dasch and
Burger on condition of deportation. They were transported to the
American Zone of Germany, the unexecuted portions of their sentences
were suspended upon such conditions with respect to travel,
employment, political, and other activities as the Theater commander
might require, and they were freed.
allegations of sabotage were investigated by the FBI during World
War II, not one instance was found of enemy-inspired sabotage. Every
suspect act traced to its source was the result of vandalism, pique,
resentment, a desire for relief from boredom, the curiosity of
children "to see what would happen," or other personal motive.