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Army Signal Corps photo taken during third day of the trial of captured German saboteurs, July 1942.

Operation Pastorius was a failed plan for sabotage via a series of attacks by Nazi German agents inside the United Statesmarker. The operation was staged in June 1942 and was to be directed against strategic U.S. economic targets. The operation was named by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the German Abwehr, for Francis Daniel Pastorius, the leader of the first organized settlement of Germans in America.


Recruited for the operation were eight Germans who had lived in the United Statesmarker. Two of them, Ernst Burger and Herbert Haupt, were American citizens. The others, George John Dasch, Edward John Kerling, Richard Quirin, Heinrich Harm Heinck, Hermann Otto Neubauer and Werner Thiel, had worked at various jobs in the United States.


Their mission was to stage sabotage attacks on American economic targets: hydro-electric plants at Niagara Fallsmarker; the Aluminum Company of America's plants in Illinoismarker, Tennesseemarker and New Yorkmarker; locks on the Ohio River near Louisville, Kentuckymarker; the Horseshoe Curvemarker, a crucial railroad pass near Altoona, Pennsylvaniamarker, as well as the Pennsylvania Railroad's repair shops at Altoona; a cryolite plant in Philadelphiamarker; Hell Gate Bridge in New York; and Pennsylvania Stationmarker in Newark, New Jerseymarker. They were given a quick course in sabotage techniques, given nearly $175,000 in American money and put aboard two submarines to land on the east coast of the United Statesmarker.

On June 13, 1942, the first submarine (U-202, the Innsbruck) landed in Amagansett, New Yorkmarker. This is about 115 miles east of New York Citymarker, on Long Islandmarker, at what today is Atlantic Avenue beach. It was carrying George Dasch, who was the head of the team, and three other saboteurs (Burger, Quirin, and Henck). The team came ashore wearing military uniforms so that if they were captured they would be classified as prisoners of war rather than spies. They also brought ashore, and buried, enough explosives, primers, and incendiaries to support an expected two-year career in the sabotage of American defense-related production. The group had not fully changed into civilian clothes when an unarmed Coast Guardsman, John C. Cullen, spotted the Germans. One of them tried to bribe him. Cullen, however, returned to his station and reported the encounter to his superiors. By that time the Germans, weary from their transatlantic trip, had taken a train into New York Citymarker.

The other four-member German team headed by Kerling landed without incident at Ponte Vedra Beach, Floridamarker, south of Jacksonvillemarker on June 16, 1942. They came on U-584, another submarine. This group started their mission by boarding trains to Chicagomarker and Cincinnatimarker.

Arrest and trial

Two of the Germans in New York, Dasch and Burger, decided to back out of the mission. Dasch went to Washington, D.C.marker, and turned himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigationmarker. He was dismissed as a crackpot by numerous agents, until he finally dumped his mission's entire budget of $84,000 on the desk of Assistant Director D.M. Ladd. At this point the defection was taken seriously and Dasch was interrogated for hours. None of the others knew of the betrayal. Over the next two weeks, Burger and the other six were arrested, and all eight were put on trial before a seven-member military commission on specific instructions from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They were charged with1) violating the law of war; 2) violating Article 81 of the Articles of War, defining the offense of corresponding with or giving intelligence to the enemy; 3) violating Article 82 of the Articles of War, defining the offense of spying; and 4) conspiracy to commit the offenses alleged in the first three charges.

Lawyers for the accused, who included Lauson Stone and Kenneth Royall, attempted to have the case tried in a civilian court, but were rebuffed by the Supreme Courtmarker in Ex parte Quirin. The trial was held in the Department of Justicemarker building in Washington. All eight defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. Roosevelt commuted Burger's sentence to life and Dasch's to 30 years, because they had turned themselves in and provided information about the others. The others were executed on August 8, in the electric chair on the third floor of the District of Columbiamarker jail and buried in a potter's field called Blue Plains in the Anacostiamarker area of Washington. In 1948, 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.

Photographs of targets

Image:Hellgate_Bridge_Astoria_Park.jpg|Hell Gate Bridge New York City, New YorkImage:Usgs_photo_horseshoe_bend_pennsylvania.jpg|Horseshoe Curvemarker Altoona, PennsylvaniaImage:Newark Pennsylvania Station interior.jpg|Pennsylvania Station in Newark, New Jersey

This publication has a photo of the grave marker the American Nazi Party erected in Blue Plains.


  1. Horseshoe Curve, NRHS - Railfan's Guide to the Altoona Area(Requires Java 1.6 as of 2009-01-01]
  2. The Type VIIC boat U-202 - German U-boats of WWII - U-202 The "Innsbruck"
  3. Federal Bureau of Investigation: George John Dasch and the Nazi SaboteursFBI Famous Cases
  4. U-584 The Type VIIC boat U-584 - German U-boats of WWII -
  5. Damn Interesting » Operation Pastorius

Further information

See also

External links

  • - a 1943 film about saboteurs, led by a German-American, landing on Long Island

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