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New files reveal bungled Nazi submarine mission to US

The Local · 4 Apr 2011, 13:40

Published: 04 Apr 2011 13:40 GMT+02:00

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The Germans planned to bomb roads, railways and factories on "Operation Pastorius" in June 1942, according to new details in files from Britain's MI5 domestic intelligence agency.

But even before it got under way the plot descended into a farce worthy of a comedy film.

One of the saboteurs, Herbert Haupt, got drunk in a Paris bar after a farewell dinner and declared to his drinking companions that he was a spy.

When the submarine arrived in the US, it ran aground on a sandbar as it dropped off the four agents on the coast of Long Island, New York.

A US coastguard discovered the Germans as they buried their supplies on the beach - but he was given $300 and persuaded to leave the men alone.

In a report on the mission, Victor Rothschild, head of MI5's counter-espionage division, wrote: "It was only owing to the laziness or stupidity of the American coastguards that this submarine was not attacked by USA forces."

The plot was only foiled when the leader of the spies, George Dasch, rang up the FBI, announced he was a saboteur and demanded to speak to the bureau's then director, J. Edgar Hoover.

His confession was initially dismissed but after a lengthy interview he was arrested and his fellow agents were rounded up, the files showed.

Story continues below…

Despite the clumsiness of the mission, MI5 still regarded it as a serious threat.

"This sabotage expedition was better equipped with sabotage apparatus and better trained than any other expeditions of which the security service has heard," Rothschild wrote.


The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

14:37 April 4, 2011 by Landmine
This is only part of the story, they also landed in Ponte Vedra Florida near where I lived. Some of the story is mixed up as parts of what is written happened in Florida and not in Long Island.
15:24 April 4, 2011 by DOZ
As long as you learn from the mistakes.
16:21 April 4, 2011 by Altdude
While there might be some news in the MI5 report, no news made it into this story. Nothing here that hasn't been repeated on the History Channel for years and years.
17:22 April 4, 2011 by DoubleDTown
Altdude: you are so right.

Sea also (get it?) Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Pastorius
18:36 April 4, 2011 by wood artist
While I'm sure there are "new details" within the MI5 files, I remember reading about this in a "Landmark Book" about the FBI, and that was in the mid 50's. The group of four was rolled up almost immediately, with nothing accomplished.

As I recall there were two groups of four, and all eight ended up caught within a few days. Several were executed and a couple, as I recall, were sentenced to Life.

Even in that "kids" version of things, the whole affair came across as being poorly executed. However, while I can't speak for the people who put this mission together, we need to remember that Hitler had a very strange view of the US, and his diplomats continued to feed him information that supported his preconceived notions, so it's not terribly surprising to find the intelligence apparatus of the Third Reich underestimated the US, especially early on.

19:12 April 4, 2011 by michael4096
Remember the context. The US was neutral and safely 3000 miles from any real danger; many Americans sided with the 'strong' - Germany. Rumours of death camps were not taken seriously in the US, Britain or Germany.
20:38 April 4, 2011 by bernie1927
@wood artist

Okay, so the Germans bungled this one very badly. but to say that the Germans "underestimated" the US intelligence service is a bit of a stretch, don't you think? - by your own admission. These two groups were keystone cops.

And I do object to the magazine's description of the U-Boat as being a Nazi U-Boat. It was a German U-Boat and part of the German navy.
21:35 April 4, 2011 by zeulf
@Michael4096 Please remember the USA was not Neutral in 1942 . even before Dec 1941 . Search about "Ruben James"
23:14 April 4, 2011 by wood artist

I think Hitler's view of the US was colored by many notions, some of which were simply his own views of things he knew little about. I can't speak to specifics about the "US intelligence service" because I've never seen much of anything separated that way. However, Hitler believed that the Jews and the Freemasons ruled the US, that the US was "soft" and unlikely to be effective in war, and generally just dismissed the whole country as irrelevant.

That might seem odd, given the effect the US had at the end of WWI, but, of course, the US failed miserably at tempering the Versailles Treaty, so perhaps that was part of the picture.

It seems likely that Hitler was unaware of any specifics with regard to how much the US was actively helping the British in breaking the Enigma and other "secret intelligence" things, so it's possible he did underestimate that. He often spoke openly of his disdain for the US soldiers, and even said as much when he planned the winter offensive of 1944. The minutes of the conference where he revealed his plan include several statements to the effect that the US line will crumble, whereas the British line would be tougher.

Personally, I suspect that the whole German intelligence apparatus had little feel for the state of things inside the US, and that undoubtedly crippled their ability to plan operations well. That may or may not be accurate, but it is my sense from my readings. You, of course, may disagree, and that's fine with me. I respect differing opinions.

05:03 April 5, 2011 by rfwilson
I assume that, after this fiasco, the coast guard must have gone on to greater things, such as planning the Bay of Pigs invasion! (grin!)
05:09 April 5, 2011 by richard27
Another version of this article refers to the Black Tom explosion of munitions waiting to be loaded on ships to England during World War I before the U.S. declared war on Germany. The article said the explosion was caused by German actions. That was never proven. It was a time of intense anti-German propaganda by the British to shift what had been pr-German public opinion in 1914 to being pro-British.

After the explosion, charges were made against the railroads that served the Black Tom pier about unsafe handling of the explosives. The actual cause was never determined. There were other explosions at munitions factories near the port of New York that were simply accidents about that time. But Black Tom was enough to build up the anti-German hysteria and the U.S. entry into World War I a year later.

Explosions get attention. The explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine led to the Spanish American War in 1898. The sinking of the Lusitania along with Black Tom set the mood for the U.S. in World War I. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 brought the U.S. into World War II. Even after all these years, it is unknown if anyone knew enough to have prevented the incidents - or - if they were intended to happen for the necessary "incident" to go to war.

10:05 April 5, 2011 by michael4096
@zeulf - my bad - it states 1942 quite clearly :(
10:52 April 5, 2011 by Angry Ami
@ Bernie1927

You object, yeah and, it was Nazi Germany, so that makes it a Nazi U-boat,

what are you a revisionist or what?

na sauer weil dein Uhropa verloren hat oder was?

oh yeah I can speak German

Get a life.
16:25 April 5, 2011 by bernie1927
@Angry Ami

Well, I guess your name says it all. You make me out to be a monster. I object to the term about the U-Boat, number one because of semantics. Nazi is not a country, it is a state of mind, maybe, but in reality it is a political party or better, it was a political party. It is a typical broad brush stroke and implies that the crew of the U-Boat were a bunch of Nazis. That is not correct and very unfair to the honorable men having served on these boats. Why are you so proud to be "angry"? Loosen up a bit, will you? Secondly, it is a term used so generously by Germans when they want to isolate themselves from those bad old days. Oh yeah, those were the Nazis !! I wish they would have the guts to own up to their past, once and for all.
16:24 April 6, 2011 by fatherknowsbest
Bernie1927 is correct in that the german sailors were not all nazis although they served Adolph and had a propaganda deputy on board whose job it was to reinforce the party line.
03:41 April 7, 2011 by wood artist

A couple of things I'd suggest. Picking nits a little bit, I know, but the headline speaks of a Nazi submarine mission. It was a Nazi mission, even if the actual spies weren't members of the party. Literally, it doesn't speak to the submarine beyond the idea that it was used for the mission.

The second thing, which deals with your last sentence. Read Karl Jaspers. I think you'd learn a great deal about the subject. You could also read Ursula Helsh, if you can find her Doktorarbeit. More interesting ideas.

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