Can you imagine a submarine manned by a Nazi command entering the coast of New York, in the middle of World War II, with the aim of wreaking havoc through a series of devastating attacks? As if it were the battle of Stalingrad, the landing of Normandy or the attack on Pearl Harbor, but in the United States. Can’t imagine it? Well it happened in June 1942, in a curious operation full of nonsense that we did not know until 70 years later, when several documents of the British MI5 were declassified and published by “The Times”.
The idea to bring the conflict into enemy territory was from Adolf Hitler himself, who transferred the order to the German military intelligence organization, the Abwehr, four days after formally declaring war on the United States. It was then that he ordered Operation Pastorius, named after a famous German settler from the mid-17th century. An ambitious plan that included blowing up power plants, aluminum factories, railroad stations, bridges, canals, and even the entire New York City water supply system.
The mission was entrusted to Walter Kappe, a German lieutenant who had lived 12 of his 37 years in the United States. He had emigrated there in the 1920s and founded the National Socialist Association in Detroit with his brothers. He later campaigned to support Hitler among German immigrants and created a newspaper in which he attributed all the ills of Germany and abroad to the Jews. After Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, he was elected spokesman for the Third Reich in his host country. And in 1936 he finally returned to Berlin holding different positions in the Nazi regime, until he was recruited by the Wehrmacht at the start of World War II and, in 1941, transferred to the intelligence service.
In planning, Kappe envisioned a series of semi-annual landings in the Big Apple. To organize them, he established his base of operations in a chalet in the woods near Brandenburg. A sabotage and special operations school was established there. He then sought out his men at the Ausland Institute, the institution that had financed the return to the homeland of German immigrants when the war began.
Kappe searched for those who had lived in the United States and selected the 12 most capable, energetic, and loyal to the Nazi cause. Most were workers and two were affiliated with the German National Socialist Workers Party (NSDAP). From this team he quickly discarded four and divided the remaining eight into two teams. In April 1942, he appointed the oldest veteran, George John Dasch, 39, as head of the first. This was the command that had to land with the U 202 submarine on the New York coast, Long island to be exact, on June 13, 1942.
Dasch was a veteran of the German Army. An affable, talkative man who had worked in Chicago as a waiter. He knew the slang of American workers to perfection and spoke English without a German accent. In a fit of patriotism he had returned to Germany as soon as war broke out, in 1939, to join the NSDAP. As a second, kappe named another German who had been a Nazi for as long as “Führer” himself, since he had participated in the Munich Putsch, the failed coup d’etat carried out in 1923 by Hitler and Rudolf Hess. In 1927, however, he fled to the United States to avoid jail and worked for years as a mechanic, until the Nazis came to power and returned to his country as lieutenants to Ernst Röhm, the dreaded head of the SA.
Let’s see: a high position of the militias that helped Hitler win the elections and a convinced Nazi who could pass himself off as an American without any problem and mix with the citizens without raising the slightest suspicion. Both, in command of other Germans who had lived in New York, Detroit or Chicago, with a submarine to penetrate hidden in a city that the White House thought the enemy could not reach. In short: nothing could go wrong … or so they thought at first.
After a period of instruction on the shores of Lake Quentz, on the outskirts of Berlin, Kappe detailed the mission to the two teams in May 1942. As Carlos De Nápoli and Juan Salinas list in «Ultramar Sur: The last secret operation of the Third Reich ”(House Editorial Group, 2018), the first group had to fly no less than the Niagara Falls hydroelectric plant, the aluminum factories of Illinois, Tennessee and New York, a cryolite plant in Philadelphia and a consignment in Ohio . If this phase went well, the Second Command would reduce the Pennsylvania Railroad Station to strategic rubble and ashes, strategic points of the road that connected Chesapeake and Ohio, a bridge in New York, the locks and canal complexes of Saint Louis, Cincinnati and Ohio and the entire Big Apple’s water supply, the city where 13 million people lived at the time.
Both teams would also attack Jewish shops and railway terminals on the East coast. The objective was to unleash a wave of panic among the population, at a crucial moment when the authorities already had their eyes on other parts of the world where the great battles of the Second World War were being fought.
Dasch’s team arrived at Amagansett Beach on Long Island at 12 midnight on the scheduled day. Four men got out of the submarine and got into a rowboat. As soon as they set foot on the ground, they were discovered by an officer. “The Coast Guard named John C. Cullen could not believe the scene: four individuals emerging from the water and discarding their military uniforms (he could not identify that they were Wehrmacht uniforms) to dress as civilian as usual. Nor did he fully understand that they tried to bribe him with a wad of bills and then threatened him to forget what he had seen, “said the historian José Luis Caballero in his book” Impossible Missions: Anecdotes and secrets of extraordinary actions. of boldness and courage »(Historia Bélica, 2017).
This coastguard, as expected, reported the surreal event and the FBI operation was immediately launched. Kappe’s “brilliant” plan of Hitler soon began to leak. First of all, because one of the command members, Herbert Haupt, had an excessive liking for alcohol and soon revealed, at a dinner at the Hôtel des Deux Mondes with former United States battle companions, a drunk man who was a spy. The thing about not attracting attention seemed like it wasn’t in the manual I’d given him.
The main problem, however, was the head of the first team, the good man of George John Dasch, who was more interested in going into the ranks of the enemy than in the success of the sabotage. His fidelity to the Third Reich had faltered for some time and he wanted to establish his residence in the United States to fulfill his own American dream. And what he did? He asked for an appointment with the director of the FBI in Washington. To the interlocutor who picked up the phone, he said that he was the head of a Nazi command with the mission to attack in his country and that he wanted to speak with the almighty John Edgar Hoover. The latter, however, did not pay much attention to that murmur, since it must have been a nut, and he transferred the interview to his second, D. M. Ladd.
When he explained Operation Pastorius to him, he did not believe what he had just heard. To persuade him that he was serious, the German was forced to open his briefcase and show the $ 84,000 he had received from the Third Reich to bring to fruition the attacks that had been committed to him. When Ladd was convinced, he ordered the arrest of everyone, including the informer, who also reported when the second team was going to land on the Florida coast. It wasn’t too difficult for the FBI.
Shortly after, they were all arrested and the plan was filed under summary secrecy, so as not to show the world that the United States could be vulnerable in its own territory. They were then tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Dasch, however, was placed in prison with a thirty-year sentence for services completed, but in the end he only served six and was allowed to return to Germany when the war was over and they could not retaliate against him. .