The recent terror attacks across America have taken many by surprise; we are not accustomed to our enemies bringing the fight to our home shores. But it is not the first time America has been targeted for these types of attacks. The German Nazis attempted the very same tactic following our entry into World War 2.
Everyone knows the United States entered World War 2 following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on Dec 7, 1941. What many people do not realize is we were already a vital part of the war effort long before actually entering the fight. U.S. supplies were being shuttled to Great Britain and the Soviet Union long before Dec 7th. The Germans knew where these supplies were coming from, and how important they were for your allies. This meant that U.S. ships were targeted on a regular basis and German U-Boats routinely patrolled the U.S. East Coast.
Once America officially entered the fighting, the Germans were even more concerned about our industrial might, but no longer restrained by our being a non-hostile third party. The U-Boats ramped up their attacks, and a new plan was devised for those same U-Boats to deliver German saboteurs to American soil. Once here the saboteurs would target factories, railways and public transportation with the goal of disabling industry and causing widespread panic. And it almost worked.
On June 18, 1942, two teams landed, one in Amagansett NY and the other in Ponte Verda Beach FL. The NY team was the first to land and made it to shore without incident due to heavy fog which greatly reduced visibility in the area. Once ashore they encountered Seaman 2nd Class John Cullen, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard beach patrol. The team attempted to convince Cullen they were stranded fishermen, then offered a bribe and finally threatened to kill him – but eventually let him go when he promised not to tell anyone what he had seen.
Of course, Seaman Cullen did tell, immediately reporting the strangers to the Coast Guard Station less than ½ mile from the landing point. The FBI was contacted, and many of the group’s supplies were found buried on the beach. Although the Germans had escaped, they were quickly tracked to NYC and picked up by authorities. Hoping for leniency members of the group offered intelligence concerning the second team, whose existence was to that point unknown. By June 27th all eight would be saboteurs were in Federal custody.
Despite the successful apprehension President Roosevelt faced two dilemmas. First, they did not want the news made public. Not only would it cause widespread panic among the public it would also announce to German the attempt had been unsuccessful. Second, a civilian trial may not result in the guilty verdict desired. America was home to many Germans, some of whom were supporters of the Fatherland. Each of the eight saboteurs had themselves lived in America before the war.
The answer was a secret Military Tribunal held in secret at the Justice Department Headquarters in Washington D.C. The Attorney General would prosecute, Colonel Kenneth Royall would act as a defense attorney, and the President himself would determine the outcome- and the penalty.
After almost a month of testimony and evidence, Roosevelt received the final 3000-page report. It should come as no surprise all eight were found guilty, even members who “cooperated” with investigators. Six were sentenced to death, one to a life of hard labor and the final member 30 years in prison. One additional attempt to land saboteurs was made in 1944, but those participants were also apprehended in short order, this time in coastal Maine.
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