Montauk Life




George Dasch
George Dasch

On the fog shrouded night of June 13, 1942, the German U-Boat 202, commanded by Lt. Commander Hans Linder crept towards the Amagansett beach. On board was a team of 4 Germans - Richard Quirin, Heinrich Heinck, Peter Burger and their leader - George Dasch. They carried with them 3 wooden crates of high explosives, a crate of timing and detonating devises, and $ 100,000 to fund their travels. They had come 3,000 miles across the North Atlantic for a 2 year campaign of espionage and sabotage. In just a few minutes the sub would surface, and their intricately planned adventure would begin.

The plan called for them to land in East Hampton, bury their supplies on the beach, and catch the first train to New York City. From there they would move on to Chicago, where they would rendezvous with a second team. They would take up residence there for 3 - 4 months. Only after being absolutely sure they had not been detected, would they begin their campaign of terror. That all began to unravel on that first night on the beach.

Instead of landing at East Hampton, they had drifted 6 miles east. A minor problem, soon to be overshadowed by a potentially disastrous one. No sooner had they come ashore, than Dasch found himself face to face with discovery. "Who are you?" a voice come from the top of the beach. Dasch couldn't make out his face, but he recognized the uniform - United States Coast Guard. John Cullen, seaman second, had inadvertently stumbled onto Operation Pastorious.

With his 3 co-conspirators still unloading their supplies from the U-Boat, Dasch tried his best to blow the seaman off. "We're fishermen from Southampton and ran aground here." That seemed somewhat plausible to Cullen, and he offered his help. The Coast Guard station was less than a mile down the beach, why don't Dasch and his friends spend the night and pick up the pieces in the light of day.

Dasch said yes, then no - Cullen needed to know why. "Well, I wouldn't want to have to kill you", was Dasch's answer. Suddenly Burger appeared through the fog, lugging a wet duffle bag under one arm, asking Dasch in German what was going on. "Shut up you damned fool - go back to the boys and stay with them!" spat Dasch in English. Unarmed and alone, on a fog shrouded beach with Lord knows how many other strangers, Cullen started to look for a way out. Dasch offered him money, a wad of fresh $50.00's, Cullen took it. Dasch asked him if he'd recognize him if they ever met again - " No sir, I never saw you before in my life", was Cullen's reply. As Dasch looked away, Cullen took off down the beach. Dasch let him go.

Back on the beach Quirin, Heinck, and Burger were scared stiff. They didn't buy Dasch's assurances he had intimidated Seaman Cullen. Shaken, they hurriedly buried their explosives and detonators, changed into civilian clothes and headed for the main road. With the fog wrapped round them, and no other sign of discovery, they headed for the Amagansett rail road station. Consistent with their lack of direction so far, they turned east at the Montauk highway, and headed for Montauk. It took them almost a mile before they realized they'd gone in the wrong direction. By now night was beginning to turn to dawn, and the East End was stirring.

As they doubled back the highway cars began to pass. A truck filled with Coast Guard roared by. They snuck past a trailer park, alive with the lights of early risers. At any moment they expected to be caught. "We're surrounded boys", was Heinck's refrain. Finally, at 5AM they stumbled on the Amagansett Rail Road station. Even more surprisingly, given their run of luck so far, there was a train headed for New York City at 6:57AM.

CC John Cullen
CC John Cullen

With 4 tickets in hands, they waited at the Amagansett train station, sure to be arrested at any moment. As the minutes crawled by, their moods began to lift. Sure enough, American punctuality put the LIRR's Express train 289 bound for Southampton, Quogue, Center Moriches, Babylon, Jamaica and Penn Station at their disposal precisely at 6:57. As they took their seats and the Amagansett station began to disappear from view, the 4 German saboteurs were finally on their way.

Back at the Coast Guard station, Seaman Cullen was relaying a strange tale of oddly dressed fisherman, speaking a foreign language, who wanted him to forget he's ever seen them. Within minutes he and other Coast Guard were combing the Amagansett beach looking for signs of the strange party. As dawn broke they came across the distinct tracks of a heavy load dragged through the dunes. Digging with their hands they quickly found the saboteurs supplies, along with military uniforms bearing the distinct markings of the German Navy.

Loaded onto a Jeep, with 4 Coast Guardsmen, they high balled it into New York in just 2 hours. By 10:30 that same morning, the German explosives were opened at the Barge Office of the Coast Guard Intelligence Office in Battery Park, New York. The alarm went out - Nazis on the beach!


Code named Pastorius, for the first German immigrant to America, the goal was to strike industrial targets crucial to the war effort. 2 teams of 4 saboteurs would land, the first at East Hampton, the second at Pontre Verda, outside Jacksonville, Florida. Working independently, they would attack the aluminum plants at Alcoa, Tenn; Messena, New York; and East St. Louis, Illinois; as well as the Philadelphia Salt Co's cryolite plant, in Philadelphia. Throw in a few key rail road bridges, tunnels and switches and a small group of infiltrators could cripple American war production.

This first foray into America was organized by long time party operative Lt. Walter Kappe. An early convert to Hitlerism, at 17 he was one of the first members of Hitler's Deutsche Freikorps (Free Corps), the precursor to the SS. After the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1924, which derailed Hitler's quest for power and temporarily landed him in Lundberg Prison, Kappe emigrated to the US. He lived here for 13 years, first as a journalist for Chicago's German-American newspaper - the Abendpost, later working with others to build an American pro-Nazi party. By 1932 they had organized the Friends of the Hitler Movement, with Kappe as Press and Propaganda Chief. In January 1933 the swelling movement became the Amerikadeutscher Volksbund - the infamous German-American Bund. Kappe was appointed editor of their propaganda sheet, the Deutscher Weckruf und Beoebachter.

Kappe returned to Germany in 1937, and after a stint with the Propaganda Ministry, was transferred to the Abwehr group, Hitler's espionage and sabotage unit. Kappe's job was to select and train the recruits for Operation Pastorius. He hand picked men he believed trustworthy and able. Armed with detailed reports on Germans recently returned from extended stays in America, he looked for the following pre-requisites. They must be familiar with American culture and customs to blend in, they must speak English fluently, they must have high school diplomas at the least, they must be in good health and relatively young, and most importantly, they must have impeccable Nazi credentials.

By the beginning of 1942, Kappe had found 12 candidates, later reduced to eight. They were trained in a 4 week program at Quenz Farm, a pastoral country farm, near Brandernberg. Each learned the mechanics of espionage and sabotage. How to blow a bridge, assemble a bomb, write code, even use invisible ink! More importantly, they were drilled in American culture and customs. They memorized popular songs, slang, American sports, politics, news. They were groomed to be perfect Americans, perfect spies. By late May they were ready for action.


As the Coast Guard scoured the Amagansett beach, the four spies arrived in New York. They quickly blended into the hustle and bustle of Gotham. They dumped their old clothes, bought snappy new wardrobes, and checked into non-descript mid-town hotels under alias. So far, so good. Although the Coast Guard and now the FBI knew that someone had landed on Eastern Long Island, they hadn't a concrete clue who or more importantly, where they were. The four spent the first week laying low.

The plan called for them to move on to Chicago, where they would meet the other team and co-ordinate their actions. Their leader, Dasch, was to set the timetable. However, as the days went by, his accomplishes became increasingly anxious with their prolonged New York stay. When would they be going to Chicago? What was the plan? Why was Dasch keeping them in New York?

Human nature is the most difficult aspect to gauge. As much as the Germans had researched, analyzed and trained their spies to be good little Nazis, they had overlooked one small detail. Dasch couldn't be trusted. Although a life time party member, he had an altogether different agenda in mind than blowing up Aluminum plants. He was going to turn in the whole gang to the FBI.

Eugene Rachlis's in-depth account of Operation Pastorius "They Came to Kill", gives a number of reasons for Dasch's betrayal. An arrogant, self-absorbed, ambitious man, Dasch was a perennial under achiever who harbored dreams of glory. At nearly every turn his grasp exceeded his reach. As a Nazi he felt denied his proper role in the party. As an immigrant he resented the menial jobs he found in America. Even as a saboteur he found his fellow spies inferior. At every turn he finds his talents under appreciated, his abilities belittled. Now, in his moment of command, he seizes the opportunity to take center stage. As he mysteriously tells an old friend in New York - ""You'll be reading about me all in the papers pretty soon!".

Of course, Dasch might have just been looking for an easy out of a tight spot. After all, he was already spotted by the authorities on the Amagansett beach. He had threatened to kill a Coast Guard. They could identify him as the leader of this plot. Ego and idealism aside, Dasch might well have realized that death was closing in on him and his gang. Why not be the hero, and drop a dime on your plot? What did he have to lose?

Before Dasch contacted the FBI, he confided in Burger his plan to betray the group. Why he took this dangerous step isn't clear. But what is clear is that Burger agreed to go along. Perhaps he too knew they hadn't a chance of succeeding. Short of killing Dasch what could he do? Besides, Burger had his own ax to grind with the Fuhrer's boys back home. When he had returned to Germany after years in America, the Gestapo had been particularly hard on him. He had spent time in Gestapo custody, and made no bones about his dislike for the SS. Whatever the reason, Burger agreed to help Dasch.

On the morning of their second day in New York, Dasch used a public phone to contact the local FBI. Calling himself Franz Daniel Pastorius, he told the agent that he had arrived from Germany with vital information. He would only talk to J. Edgar Hoover, himself. The agent noted the call, and filed it along with all the other hair brained stories he'd heard that day.


Back in Amagansett, the F.B.I. had taken over the case. They sealed off the beaches, posted guards at the Coast Guard stations, and began interviewing locals. Armed with a description of Dasch from Seaman Cullen, they began a house to house search. Suspects were brought in, and released. A trace of the money given Cullen turned up nothing unusual, no fingerprints or identifying marks. Finally an agent interviewed Ira Baker, the Amagansett trains station master. He remembered selling 4 tickets to a suspicious looking group of men, early Saturday morning. They were headed for New York. Good news and bad - they knew what direction they'd gone, now they'd have to track them down in the biggest melting pot in America.

As the F.B.I. in New York began the ordurous task of locating 4 spies in Manhattan, George Dasch was on his way to Washington to see J. Edgar Hoover. In his mind he envisioned a hero's welcome, a fat reward, possibly a ticket tape parade down Broadway. Dasch the anti-Nazi, come back to his adopted home a counter-spy! They might name a street after him, certainly an officer's commission, possibly a Presidential citation for bravery.

Dasch's delusional visions of a hero's reward began to evaporate the minute he entered F.B.I. custody. Instead of meeting Hoover, his statement was taken by Agent Duane Traynor. Where Dasch thought he would personally lead the Bureau to the other 7, the F.B.I. decided they could handle the job better, alone. As Dasch unburdened himself of the plot, he began to realize he was nothing more than a traitor to his own country and an enemy of his adopted. After finishing his statement, he merely asked to be jailed along with his fellow spies, so that the Germans would not know of his treachery. The F.B.I. was more than happy to grant him that one wish.

Using the evidence Dasch supplied, both his men and the 4 from Pontre Verda were rounded up. On June 27, barely 2 weeks after the first landing, J. Edgar Hoover announced that the Nazi's fiendish plan to infiltrate America had been quashed. No a word of Dasch's participation in rooting out his fellow Nazis was mentioned. He was simply one of 8 spies captured by F.B.I. cunning and persistence.


Once in custody, public sentiment on what to do with them boiled down to whether to hang em or shoot em. There seemed no question of their guilt - all 8 had already confessed. Although no actual sabotage had been carried out, their intentions were quite clear. They had slipped ashore, armed with high explosives, bent on destroying vital United States interests. The fact they had not actually carried out their orders yet was no defense. Or so it seemed to the authorities.

The only real question was one of jurisdiction. Who should condemn them to death - a civil or military board? Ultimately the answer came from the very top - President Roosevelt. On Jul 2, 1942 he issued a Presidential order, establishing a military tribunural to oversee the matter. Their verdict would be forwarded to the President. He would set the penalty. There would be no appeal. If found guilty, the death penalty would apply.

In true American fashion, the men would be represented by council. It was not a volunteer job. Col. Cassius M. Dowell and Col. Kenneth C. Royall were appointed to the defense. Royall was a top notch defense attorney - Harvard Law School grad, editor of the Law review. Dowell was a 40 year Army man, wounded in World War I, had taught law between the Wars. The Germans had as good a legal team as they could ever have expected.

The prosecution was headed by the top military and civilian legal minds. Judge Advocate General, Maj. General Myron Cramer, joined by the Attorney General of the United States, Francis Biddle, lead the team. Looking over their shoulder was none other than J. Edgar Hoover. How ironic - Dasch finally got to tell his story to the Director. It just wasn't under the circumstances he expected.

The trail began on July 22. From the start Dowell and Royall tried to have the format of a military tribunural thrown out. They took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, to no avail. They then argued that since these men had not actually committed any acts of sabotage, they should not be tried for the offenses. As that defense withered in the heat of the prosecutions overwhelming evidence of their intent, they turned to a last ditch position.

Even if the 8 were guilty of being foreign agents bent on destruction, Dasch and Burger had come forward and voluntarily turned in the other 6. They had in fact, foiled the plot before it could unfold. They at least should be found innocent of the charges.

On August 8, the verdict was read and sentences carried out. Heinck, Quirin, Kerling, Thiel, Haupt and Neubauer were taken from their cells and electrocuted. Their bodies were taken to a pauper's cemetery outside Washington, where crude wooden boards marked their graves. Burger and Dasch were given life sentences. In 1948, Burger and Dasch were released from Leavenworth prison, and deported to post-war Germany, where they lived out their lives as traitors and failures.


At the time of the Pastorius landings, the East End was in the thick of the war effort. Montauk's location at the end of Long Island, astride the major shipping lanes into New York, made it strategically important. The Army established a shore observation and coastal defense network near the Point, called Camp Hero. Built on the bluffs next to the Lighthouse, it was a self-contained village, complete with barracks, stores, even it's own power and water supply. It's main mission was to guard against any possible German landing, and it's primary weapons were four massive 16' shore batteries. Housed in concrete bunkers, these great guns were capable of hurling 2,000 pound shells 20 miles to sea, with pin point accuracy. Ever vigilant, they remained silent throughout the war.

The Army wasn't the only military service active in war time Montauk. The largest facility was the Navy's massive new torpedo testing plant. Designed to help develop and test the new generation of torpedoes that would win the war, it was located on Fort Pond Bay, along Navy Road. Montauk was a logical choice. Geographically we were close to the only torpedo development facility in the county, the Newport, Rhode Island Naval facility. We were as well a lightly settled area guaranteeing total security, with a body of water at Fort Pond Bay deep enough for the biggest Navy ships, and a natural bay wide enough to safely test fire and retrieve torpedoes.

When the Navy commandeered Montauk in the Spring of 1942, it took over a sleepy village, totally unlike modern day Montauk. The bulk of the village was clustered along the shores of Fort Pond Bay, near the current Rough Riders Condominiums. There fishing piers jutted into the open Bay, crowded with the draggers and party boats that formed the backbone of pre-war Montauk's economy. The Long Island Rail Road ended there, providing the only commercial shipping into and out of town. It was there that the homes, shops, and restaurants were concentrated. Main Street and the current downtown area was almost completely vacant. Besides the Montauk Improvement Tower, and a few scattered faux-Tudor building built by Carl Fisher in the 1930's, there was no downtown! The Navy changed all that forever, when it condemned the entire arc of Fort Pond Bay, and literally moved the old village out, to make room for the torpedo assembly and testing complex.

The base that took their place was massive, with four major buildings covering over 20 acres of shoreline. Built to withstand aerial bombardment, their walls and ceilings were constructed of 3' thick, steel reinforced, poured concrete. Inside shiploads of torpedoes were assembled, then loaded onto floating barges moored in Fort Pond Bay's deep waters, and fired out to sea. Trailing a stream of bubbles from their compressed air driven motors, seaplanes would follow their wakes out to sea. Once the torpedo's fuel was spent and they had floated to the surface, they would be retrieved and returned to base. Those that had passed inspection were shipped out, while defective ones would be scrapped or corrected. Over the course of the war thousands of torpedoes were tested here, and their success sent hundreds of Japanese and German ships to the bottom.


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