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Operation Pastorius: Failed Nazi Espionage mission in The United States during WW2

Operation Pastorius: Failed Nazi Espionage mission in The United States during WW2.

Failed German Espionage mission in The United States during WW2: Operation Pastorius. Operation Pastorius: Failed Nazi Espionage mission in The United States during WW2.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Adolf Hitler was looking to show that the reach of his Nazi war machine was limitless. Determined to attack The United States on her home soil, Hitler ordered Nazi High Command to devise a plan capable of delivering multiple blows to civilian targets in America.

It was hoped the attacks would sabotage the American war effort and demoralize the American civilian population inside the United States.

Operation Pastorius

Leadership of the mission was handed to Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the German Abwehr. In 1916 Admiral Canaris was responsible for organizing the sabotage of French installations in Morocco, and other German agents who entered the United States to plant bombs in New York arms factories, including the destruction of munitions supplies at Black Tom Island, in 1916.

The operation was named by Admiral Canaris, for Francis Daniel Pastorius, the leader of the first organized settlement of Germans in America.

Admiral Wilhelm Franz Canaris in command of operation Pastorius.

Recruited for the operation were eight German residents who had previously lived in the United States. Two were American citizens, with the other six having worked various jobs inside the United States.

The eight men were given three weeks of intensive sabotage training 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.

A considerable amount of the agents time was spent developing complete background stories to use in the United States. The men were instructed to speak in English at all times and to read American newspapers, to sharpen their English language skills and get them familiar with current American events and culture.

The Objective of Operation Pastorius

The objective of the mission was simple, to spread a wave of terror across the United States by planting explosives on bridges, railroad stations, water facilities, and other public places.

They were given $175,000 in American money, birth certificates, social security cards & driver’s licenses.


In two teams of four, the men were loaded onto a pair of U-boats, one destined for Jacksonville, Fla., and the other for a beach near the tip of Long Island.

On June 13, 1942, the New York group reached shore and was immediately discovered by an unarmed member of the Coast Guard who was out on foot patrol. The men escaped, but by morning, the Coast Guard had unearthed supplies the Germans buried, including fuses, pre-made bombs and four crates of TNT.

Betrayal by the Team Leader

George John Dasch, who was the leader of the eight man spy team, never intended to unleash devastation on America’s homeland for Hitler & his Nazi Regime. When the group reached New York City, he and Ernst Burger decided to turn the other six members in to the FBI.

Dasch made a phone call to the FBI and explained the predicament he’d gotten himself into. However, the FBI mistakenly took his phone call for a poorly planned prank and hung up. Four days later, Dasch carried the $82,000 in cash he’d been given for the operation (more than $1 million in today’s money) and boarded a train for Washington. There, he met with FBI agents, whom he expected to welcome him as a hero.

He Was Wrong!

Richard Quirin, Heinrich Harm Heinck, Hermann Otto Neugbauer, and Werner Thiel, Edward John Kerling, Ernst Burger,  Herbert Haupt, George John Dasch
1. Werner Thiel – 2. Richard Quirin – 3. Herbert Haupt – 4. Edward John Kerling – 5. Herman Otto Neubauer – 6. Ernst Peter Burger – 7. Heinrich Heinck – 8. George John Dasch

J. Edgar Hoover sees an Opportunity!

J. Edgar Hoover, the infamous head of the FBI, recognized an outstanding opportunity when he saw one. With all eight men apprehended, Hoover announced their capture in New York, claiming credit for himself and his agency.

With no mention of George John Dasch!

“The country went wild,” Francis Biddle, then attorney general, later wrote in a memoir.

Hundreds of German aliens were rounded up and others, suspected of spying, were arrested. German and Italian barbers, servers and busboys were banned in Washington, DC by the Justice Department. Due to three of the would-be saboteurs having previously worked as waiters in America.

The Trial & Sentences for the participants of Operation Pastorius

Due process be damned, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered all eight men tried in secret before a military tribunal.

The German Agents of Operation Pastorius Were Charged With…

  • Violating the law of war;
  • Violating Article 81 of the Articles of War, defining the offense of corresponding with or giving intelligence to the enemy;
  • Violating Article 82 of the Articles of War, defining the offense of spying; and
  • Conspiracy to commit the offenses alleged in the first three charges.

In mid-summer 1942, seven U.S. Army generals found the eight men guilty and all eight were sentenced to death. Roosevelt later commuted Burger’s sentence to life in prison and Dasch’s to 30 years because they had turned themselves in and provided information about the others.

At 12:01 p.m. on Aug. 8, one by one, the six men were led to the electric chair. By 1:04 p.m. all six had been pronounced dead by electrocution.

Three days later, they were secretly buried in a seldom visited area known as the Blue Plains neighborhood in the Anacostia area of Washington.

The Aftermath of Project Pastorius in Germany

Hitler, Failed German Espionage mission in The United States during WW2: Operation Pastorius. Operation Pastorius: Failed Nazi Espionage mission in The United States during WW2.

The failure of Operation Pastorius led Hitler to rebuke Admiral Canaris and there would never again be a sabotage attempt made on United States soil.

During the remaining years of the war, the Germans only once more dispatched agents to the United States by submarine. In November 1944, as part of Operation Elster, the German submarine U-1230 dropped two RSHA spies off the coast of Maine to gather intelligence on American manufacturing and technical progress.

The FBI captured both men shortly after. These Nazi agents benefited from the calmer state of public nerves in the later years of the war and received prison sentences rather than execution.

The Fate of Dasch and Burger

In 1948, after spending six years in prison, President Harry S. Truman granted executive clemency to Dasch and Burger on the condition that they be deported to the American Zone of occupied Germany. The pair was not welcomed back in Germany, as they were regarded as traitors.

Dasch died in 1992 at the age of 89 in Ludwigshafen, Germany. Burger died in 1975.

With that I’ll wrap this fascinating piece of history up in a nice neat little bow. Please share it on your social media pages. You can easily do so by clicking the logo of your favorite social media site below. Thanks in advance.

After sharing you can read about the first meme to go viral, which was started during WW2. Read about Kilroy, the first Meme

Failed German Espionage mission in The United States during WW2: Operation Pastorius

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