8 Attempts of Sabotage that Tried to Change the World As We Know It
8 Attempts of Sabotage that Tried to Change the World As We Know It

8 Attempts of Sabotage that Tried to Change the World As We Know It

Larry Holzwarth - November 20, 2017

8 Attempts of Sabotage that Tried to Change the World As We Know It
The US Military Tribunal weighs the fate of eight Nazi would-be saboteurs in the summer of 1942. US Army Signal Corps

Operation Pastorius, 1942

Operation Pastorius was conceived by the German High Command and Abwehr as a means of conducting coordinated sabotage operations against targets in the United States after American entry into World War II. Eight Germans were recruited for the operation, all of whom had lived in the United States or had traveled extensively there, and two of whom were United States citizens.

The Germans created deep and detailed backgrounds for each, trained them in the use of the tools of sabotage, and selected targets for them to destroy. All eight were subjected to the practice of immersion, in which they conversed only in English, read only English literature and periodicals, listened to English radio, and studied American mannerisms. Among the targets selected were railroad yards and critical sections of track which would be difficult to repair, locks crucial to navigation on the Ohio River, and several aluminum manufacturing plants.

The Germans were landed in the United States by U-boat in two groups, one on Long Island and the other in Florida. The two teams were scheduled to meet, after roundabout travel to dispel any possible trail, in Cincinnati Ohio on July 4. The plan was to coordinate the sabotage attacks at multiple points for greater effect.

When the Long Island team was detected shortly after landing by the US Coast Guard, one of the team members, George Dasch, convinced another member, Ernst Burger, to report the entire operation to the FBI. Initially the FBI was skeptical of the entire story, only the revelation of a large sum of US dollars in cash – provided by the Abwehr to fund the operations – were they convinced of the validity of the story. The remaining saboteurs were quickly rounded up.

By early August all eight of the German would be saboteurs were tried by a military tribunal – after President Roosevelt decided that a civilian court may not assign deep enough gravity to their potential crimes, none of which had been committed yet – and found guilty. All were sentenced to death as spies and six were executed by electrocution in the District of Columbia jail on August 8. FDR commuted the sentences of Dasch and Burger for revealing the plot, and President Truman released both in 1948 and deported them to Germany, where they were regarded as traitors.

8 Attempts of Sabotage that Tried to Change the World As We Know It
The terrain surrounding the Vemork Chemical Plant made bombing it from the air difficult. Wikipedia

Operation Grouse. 1942

In the early days of World War II, German scientists and engineers cast covetous eyes on Norwegian stocks of heavy water, produced by Norwegian industry and crucial to the development of both nuclear power and nuclear weapons. German seizure of Norway in 1940 gave the Germans access to this critical material and the British were aware of the need to disrupt the supply to the German atomic weapons research, helped by prodding from the Americans.

Most Norwegian heavy water was produced near the town of Rjukan by the Vemork Chemical Plant. Heavy bombers were ineffective in striking the plant due to prevailing weather conditions and the defenses of the German Luftwaffe. The only feasible means of crippling the Norwegian heavy water production was through sabotage of the plant.

Special Operations Executive (SOE) began training a team for insertion into Norway for the purpose of destroying the plant in 1942. The Norwegian team would land in Norway and prepare a landing strip for a glider delivering special equipment and British Commandos, who would then strike at the plant. Both the terrain and the toughness of the German mountain troops in place to defend the plant made the likelihood of success slim. A first strike by British commandos was defeated by bad luck, bad weather, and the Waffen SS, in November 1942. A second group, which was planned to coordinate with the first failed mission, was even less fortunate. Seven commandos were killed when their glider crash landed, the rest were captured by the Germans.

All of the captured commandos were tortured and eventually shot by either Gestapo or SS agents, but not until maps and other papers were obtained by the Germans, which revealed the identities of several Norwegian resistance fighters and others working with the British.

As an act of sabotage Operation Grouse was an abysmal failure, as an act of espionage it was a catastrophe. Still, the initial team of Norwegians the British had trained to pave the way for the commandos survived and in 1943 they contributed to the successful bombing by sabotage of the Vemork plant, which led to later targeted bombings by British fliers, and severely limited the company’s ability to provide heavy water to the German research program.