Agents delivered by U-boat

Operation Pastorius

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"U202 by moonlight" - based on the painting.
Reproduced with permission of the artist.

Probably the most famous espionage incident of the Second World War involving U-boats took place in June 1942 under the code name 'Operation Pastorius'. Two U-boats from the 1st U-Flotilla were assigned the task of transporting eight Abwehr trained agents to America. 

The following is an extract from 'The First U-boat Flotilla':

Two 1st U-Flotilla boats were assigned a more exotic, but equally unsatisfactory, special operation. At 2100hrs Kptlt. Joachim Deecke’s boat U584slipped from Brest U-boat bunker bound for the American coast. As well as the normal clutter and crew, aboard the crowded Type VIIC U-boat were four extra passengers dressed in Heer infantry uniforms ¾ Edward J. Kerling, Herbert Haupt, Werner Thiel and Hermann Neubauer. These men represented the first of two teams of agents bound for America’s east coast in an undertaking named ‘Operation Pastorius’.

            Shortly following Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States, he authorized a sabotage mission to be carried out inside the borders of the Unites States. Wanting to demonstrate that Americans were not safe within their homeland, various manufacturing installations and civilian targets were allocated for clandestine attack. U584 only carried half of the complete team. Two nights later at 1945hrs Kptlt. Linder took U202 from its pen to the open sea and ultimately America. Like Deecke’s U-boat, there were four extra men aboard U202 ¾ Georg J. Dasch, Heinrick H. Heinck, Richard Quirin and Ernest P. Berger. Linder later recounted:

'Four men wearing infantry uniform came aboard; they brought with them shovels, explosives, a large sum in dollars and civilian clothes; which they later put on.'

Dasch and his team were to destroy the hydroelectric plants at Niagara Falls, the Aluminium Company of America factories in Illinois, Tennessee and New York. A cryolite plant in Philadelphia and the locks on the Ohio River between Louisville and Pittsburgh were also to be bombed. Kerling’s team were scheduled to blow up the Pennsylvania Railroad station in Newark, the famous horseshoe bend section on the railroad near Altoona plus other vital railroad parts. They were also to attack the lock and canal installations at St. Louis and Cincinnati and the water supply system for New York City. Both teams were to plant bombs in Jewish-owned stores and in locker rooms at major passenger railroad stations to spread fear and panic. Their training had been undertaken between 10 April and 26 May at the Abwehr sabotage school near Brandenburg, under the watchful eye of Leutnant Walter Kappe. As planned by Abwehr these were only the first two teams of many being sent to America. When fully operational Kappe would join his men and lead their activities.

            Aboard the U-boats there was considerable speculation from crew members as to the identities of their mysterious passengers and the contents of four small waterproof crates each team carried (three filled with explosives and the fourth containing fuses, wire and acid). Crew men were awake to the special nature of their mission, not only by the presence of strange passengers, but also by the removal at flotilla headquarters of any references to their boat or Field Post numbers within their pay books. However, of the U-boat crews only Deecke and Linder were aware of their U-boats’ destinations and details of the agents’ disembarkation. Anything else was considered unnecessary and they did not ask, nor were they told. Neither U-boat commander was pleased to have the agents aboard their ship. They felt that the men were neither motivated by patriotism nor a belief in their mission. Captured, they may well betray all that they knew about the U-boats and their method of operation. However, their opinion on the merits of their passengers was militarily irrelevant and the two boats began their crossing of the Atlantic. Linder had already made a patrol to the American coast as part of the fourth wave of ‘Operation Paukenschlag’ while Deecke was making his initial sortie from Brest, his previous four war patrols having been in the Arctic.

            First to make landfall was U202 after fifteen days at sea. In heavy mist and fog the U-boat inched close inshore of the eastern end of Long Island near Amagansett. Two U-boat crew members launched a small rubber dinghy into which the agents and their four watertight containers were placed. With dinghy tethered to U-boat their small rubber inflatable made its way through the surf line to the beach where all four agents swiftly disembarked. Giving two tugs on their tether line, signaling to be pulled backwards to safety, the apprehensive seamen were returned to U202. Unfortunately for Kptlt. Linder, his trials were not over. During the seemingly endless minutes spent transferring the Abwehr agents to shore, his boat had settled onto a shallow sandbar where it remained stuck fast in glutinous wet sand.

            Despite the danger of being overheard, Linder gave the order for both diesels to be put full astern, but to no effect. He then attempted to  ‘sally ship’, i.e. get his boat to rock out of its position by a combination of rapid engine thrusts with frantic rudder movements, but again to no avail. Dawn had begun to creep into the eastern sky and, fearing the worst, Linder prepared to scuttle his U-boat. Luck, however, had not abandoned the tense Germans. Thick fog lingered over the stranded U202, providing precious time during which the tide rose and eventually her iron-grey hull shifted slightly in its sandy prison. Linder dumped a quantity of fuel from his outboard tanks in a last effort to lighten ship and U202 broke free. Silently nosing outward on electric motors Linder heading for deep water and safety below the waves.

            Following their escape, Linder radioed BdU the successful completion of his part of ‘Operation Pastorius’, receiving orders to patrol the seas off Cape Hatteras. During June he attacked and sank a neutral, the 4,864-ton Argentinean SS Rio Tercero. Linder rescued the skipper who angrily protested his sinking, claiming that thirteen Argentinean flags adorned his ship. The U-boat commander attempted to mollify his angry guest by offering him shoes and brandy, but was forced to break off talks with the raging captain due to approaching American destroyers and aircraft. He dived and sped away, leaving the irate neutrals behind. As the U-boat submerged aircraft bombs fell ineffectually around the boat, a barrage augmented later by a US Navy blimp’s bomb load. The US Navy subsequently helped the Argentinean crew reboard their ship and escorted it to an American port where it was confiscated. The last freighter to fall to U202’s tubes was the American SS City of Birmingham on 1 July, sunk east of Cape Hatteras. Linder decided to head for home, and after taking fuel from U460 a few days later, arrived at Brest on 1700hrs on 25 July.

            The other four agents landed for ‘Operation Pastorious’ were disembarked from U584 near Ponte Vedra, south of Jacksonville, Florida. The Abwehr men’s transfer passed without incident during the early morning of 17 June. Like Linder, Deecke was subsequently ordered to patrol near Cape Hatteras but with no success. Deecke’s only ‘achievements’ were to have fired eight torpedoes at various targets, three of which were faulty and the remainder missed. Plagued by mechanical breakdowns in its diesels, the boat finally neared France after also refueling from U460 during the homeward journey. Deecke and his crew reached Brest 2200hrs on 22 July.

In fact the mission ended in failure. A little after midnight on 14 June American Coast-Guardsman John Cullen had set out on a walk from  Amagansett coast-guard station on a routine patrol of the beach. In the thick fog he stumbled upon four men standing ankle deep in the surf around their small boat. His initial question of what the four men were doing was met with the unlikely story from Georg Dasch that they were fishing and had become lost. Dasch then threatened Cullen, stuffing money into his hand and telling him to get lost. Cullen was now in no doubt that he had stumbled onto something  too big for him to deal with alone and raced to the nearby Amagansett railway station to summon help. Meanwhile Dasch and his four colleagues had buried their explosives and made off towards the coastal highway. By 7.30 that morning Dasch and his three companions were ion a train headed for New York city, where the four separated.
    By 17 June the second team were ashore without problem, that same morning Kerling and Thiel being on a rain bound for Cincinnati, and Haupt and Neubauer en route for Chicago.
   It was at that point that the carefully planned operation went wildly awry. Georg  Dasch, who had lived in the United States for years after illegally entering the country in 1922 and had only returned to Germany the previous year after a brief stint in the USAAF(!), telephoned the FBI and went to Washington. There he stayed in Room 351 of the Mayflower Hotel where he met special agents Duane Traynor and Thomas Donegan on 18 June. Within nine days the entire two teams had been arrested.
    Why exactly Dasch surrendered so easily to the FBI still remains something of an enigma. In his interrogation he revealed not only the identities of his confederates, but also valuable information on the German civilian situation, the Abwehr training school, Walter Kappe and even the depths that U-boats could submerged to. He later said that one of the turning points in his attitude had been back in Lorient when he realised that a great deal of the 5,000 dollars he had been given to finance his American adventure was in notes that had been withdrawn from service years before. Despite this oversight being quickly remedied he recalled:

"I kept thinking about the money. If they could be that stupid, how much did they really care about any of us? What chance did we have?" 

The trial of the eight agents took place in Room 5235 of the Justice Department Building. By 8 August the verdicts had been reached: Thirty years in prison for Dasch, and the electric chair for the other seven. In April 1948 both Dasch and Burger were granted clemency by President Truman and repatriated to Germany.


August 8, 1942.

White House news release.

The President completed his review of the findings and sentences of the Military Commission appointed by him on July 2, 942 which tried the eight Nazi saboteurs. The President approved the judgment of the Military Commission that all of the prisoners were guilty and that they be given the death sentence by electrocution. However, there was a unanimous recommendation by the Commission, concurred in by the Attorney General and the Judge Advocate General of the Army, that the sentence of two of the prisoners be commuted to life imprisonment because of their assistance to the Government of the United States in the apprehension and conviction of the others. The commutation directed by the President in the case of Burger was to confinement at hard labor for life. In the case of Dasch, the sentence was commuted by the President to confinement at hard labor for thirty years. The electrocutions began at noon today. Six of the prisoners were electrocuted. The other two were confined to prison. The records in all eight cases will be sealed until the end of the war.