A suspenseful, well-rendered tale from the forgotten moments of WWII file, recounting a brilliant—but fortunately foiled—Nazi plan to bring mayhem to America’s shores.
That plan seemed, if not quite a no-brainer, less risky than many of the possibilities that the Abwehr, or German military intelligence, served up once America entered the war. Writes Washington Post reporter Dobbs (Madeleine Albright, 1999, etc.), it entailed inserting German-American agents like Walter Kappe, the former propaganda head of the German-American Bund, “who came back to the Fatherland prior to the outbreak of World War II full of enthusiasm for the New Germany,” into backwaters where they could commit acts of sabotage on industrial and transportation targets while blending in to the populace. Nine agents made it through Admiral Wilhelm Canaris’s training regime; their boss, who as early as 1942 was having his doubts about Hitler, regarded them as expendable, remarking to a lieutenant who expressed doubts that the sabotage operation could ever work, “Well, we will lose good Nazis then.” The agents made their way to America by U-boat, some landing smack in the middle of a Coast Guard patrol; they escaped, as did their sub, which had briefly run aground, thanks mostly to the ineptitude of their surprised pursuers. What kept the Nazi spies from fulfilling their mission was the presence among them of two disaffected Germans who, each for his own reason, worked with the FBI to track down the bad guys in what the press later described as “the greatest manhunt in American history.” Dobbs’s tale has a timely aspect, for the German agents—like the suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives now in federal custody—were tried by a military commission and executed. Notes Dobbs, “One of the lessons of the saboteur affair is that it is very difficult to fight a war and respect legal niceties at the same time.”
Of great interest to true-crime and WWII buffs.