World War II: German Saboteurs Infiltration of America - British Intelligence MI5 Files
93 pages of British Security Service MI5 files copied from material held at the British National Archives, covering the infiltration of the United States during World War II by German saboteurs. Because of the practice of British secrecy involving security matters, these files were not released to the public until April 2011.
On June 13, and June 17, 1942 two groups of German sabotage agents landed on Long Island and Florida as part of a German Abwehr operation. Operation Pastorius was the codename for the failed operation. The mission was named by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the chief of Abwehr, the German military intelligence organization. Canaris named the mission after Francis Daniel Pastorius, who was the leader of the first organized settlement of Germans in America.
The files consist of a 1943 report written by British agent Victor Rothschild who was sent to United States to be briefed on the incident. The report covers the sabotage 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 nations already actively engaged in fighting against Germany. This infusion of American production stung the German war machine. German high command ordered action to reduce American war production. However, with an ocean separating Germany and U.S. facilities the ability to use conventional military tactics was limited. German intelligence decided that sabotage would be the most viable means 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, two were American citizens. They were trained at a sabotage school outside of Berlin where they studied chemistry, incendiaries, explosives, timing devices, secret writing, and concealment of identity. The 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, the U-202, named the Innsbruck, at Amagansett, Long Island New York. They wore German military uniforms, so that if caught they would be handled as POW's and not as spies. The second batch came in on the U-boat U-584 and landed at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
The first group included George John Dasch. Victor Rothschild 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 went to Washington DC to turn himself in to FBI headquarters. He phoned FBI headquarters from his Washington D.C. hotel room and agents arrived to take him into custody. The FBI agents at first handled Dasch as if he was mentally unstable, until he showed them $84,000 he was given fund the operation. The other seven were 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 were found guilty and sentenced to death. Because of their cooperation, President Roosevelt commuted the sentences of Peter Burger to life in prison and George Dasch to 30 years. 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 potter's field called Blue Plains in the Anacostia region of Washington.
In 1948, President Truman granted Burger and Dasch executive clemency. They were deported to the American Zone of occupied Germany.