The Bungling Nazi Saboteurs Who Snuck Into America By Submarine

“He is as clumsy as he is stupid.” —Darth Vader, Star Wars Episode V

In A Nutshell

In 1942, two groups of Nazi spies carrying explosives and American money snuck past American defenses by submarine to begin a campaign of terror against the American war machine and Jewish-owned businesses. They were soon caught due to a series of gaffes and tried in secret.

The Whole Bushel

During the war, Hitler planned to chip away at American morale by planting groups of saboteurs to terrify US citizens. This mission was dubbed “Operation Pastorius,” and the man chosen to lead one of the operations was a dishwasher named John Dasch.

The saboteurs were given enough explosives and detonators to last them in what would be a two-year campaign of terror. Their aim was to cripple America’s manufacturing industry, preventing America from shipping vital components to help their European allies with the war effort and to destroy Jewish-owned businesses. In addition to this, they were also given over $175,000 in American currency to fund their operation.

The group was mainly comprised of civilians. They were whisked to a spy school just outside Berlin, where they learned the basics of espionage. They were instructed in chemistry, incendiaries, explosives, timing devices, secret writing, jujitsu, and how to blend into American society. Next they were told of the type of targets they would hit in the US. However, the group was still inexperienced and had only been through a few weeks of spy school, leaving them ill-prepared for the task at hand. Nevertheless, on June 13, 1942, John Dasch’s group landed at Long Island by submarine and paddled to shore in an inflatable dinghy.

When they did get to shore, a young member of the Coast Guard arrived who was almost willing to believe that a soaking wet John Dasch was a fisherman . . until a member of the Nazi team peered from behind a sand dune and started shouting in German. Dasch panicked, shoved a bunch of bills into the guy’s hands, and made him promise not to say anything about what he saw. Obviously, the man went straight back to HQ and told everybody everything. When they arrived back at the spot, they quickly found detonators, explosives, and German uniforms that had been buried in the sand (makes you wonder why they even brought the German uniforms).

By this point, the saboteurs had dispersed, but Dasch soon lost confidence in the rapidly unraveling plan. He called the FBI and confessed everything. By June 27, all saboteurs (including the second group who’d landed in Florida without incident) were under arrest and were tried by secret military tribunal by order of President Truman. One was sentenced to life imprisonment, another got 30 years, and the remaining six were given the death penalty—which was administered shortly. Dasch was allowed to return to American-occupied Germany when the war ended six years later. Amazingly, Germany tried the same trick twice, later sending two more spies. They were also captured shortly.

Show Me The Proof

FBI: George John Dasch and the Nazi Saboteurs
Operation Pastorius: Hitler’s Unfulfilled Dream of a New York in Flames
German saboteurs executed in Washington