Shortly after America's entry into World War II, Adolf Hitler ordered an extensive sabotage campaign against the United States to disrupt the production of tanks and airplanes and blow up bridges and railroads. Eight German saboteurs were dispatched across the Atlantic by U-boat, one team landing in Amagansett, Long Island, the other near Jacksonville, Florida. They brought with them enough money and explosives for a two-year operation and traveled inland to explore potential targets.
The full story of this audacious endeavor is a remarkable account of a terrorist threat against America. Michael Dobbs describes the saboteurs' training in Nazi Germany, their claustrophobic three-week voyage in submarines, and their infiltration into American life. He explores the reasons each volunteered, and their links to a network of Nazi sympathizers in the United States. He paints a portrait of the group's leaders: George Dasch, a onetime waiter who dreamed of leaving his personal mark on history, and Edward Kerling, a fanatic Nazi caught between his love for his mistress and his love for his wife. And he shows how the FBI might never have captured the saboteurs had one of them not helped J. Edgar Hoover transform a hapless manhunt into one of his proudest accomplishments. A military tribunal, a historic Supreme Court session, and one of the largest mass executions in American history provide a stunning climax to a dangerous but failed mission.
The first German sabotage mission to reach the shores of the U.S. during WWII is the subject of Washington Post correspondent Dobbs's follow-up to Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth Century Odyssey and Down with Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. The early background chapters concerning the recruitment and training of the German agents can be slow going, but once the story reaches the open seas, the landing of the agents on the shores of Long Island and Florida, and their movements within the U.S., it will captivate readers for the remainder of the book. The detailed account of the summer 1942 landing of the eight German saboteurs, all with prewar experience in the U.S., is engrossing, as is their stalking by the FBI with the help of several other government agencies (livened up with extensive reconstructed dialogue that leans on declassified material). The personalities and careers of the eight are revealed in some detail, including those of two American citizens, as is the fate of the two surviving members. The interagency jealousies that plagued the case throughout the pursuit and trial of the agents add an additional dimension to what would otherwise be a simple spy story. After one of their number, American George J. Dasch, finally gets cold feet and turns the group in, the account of the military trial and the parts played by the Justice Department, President Roosevelt and the Supreme Court become as fascinating as the main story. The legal aspects of the case, clearly and simply explained, are echoed today, since the saboteurs' trial by a military tribunal, rather than a civil court, is a precedent for the impending trial of accused terrorists held at the prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. Easy going and compelling, this title should find favor beyond the WWII niche. (Feb. 10) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 03, 2008
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Excerpt from Saboteurs by Michael Dobbs
School for Sabotage
A chance to rehabilitate yourself, they had told him. A chance to fulfill your obligations to the Fatherland.
He had been ordered to report in uniform to the army post in Brandenburg, a slow two-hour train ride from Berlin's Zoo station.1 Stations with names like Wannsee and Potsdam glided past his window as the train chugged westward, packed with soldiers returning home for a few days' furlough with their families as a respite from the hell of the Russian front. From the train, the Prussian countryside seemed reassuringly permanent and serene, almost undisturbed by two and a half years of war, a collage of sparkling lakes, village churches with high steeples, children riding their bicycles down wooded lanes.
He took a streetcar from the station to the military garrison, whose old brick barracks dated back to the time of Kaiser Wilhelm. The regimental clerk took him to a storeroom, handed him a set of civilian clothes to put in his knapsack, and told him to take the Quenz Lake tramway to the end of the line. The farm was a ten-minute walk from the tram stop, along a road bordered by a drainage canal on one side and vegetable gardens on the other. The lakeside estate was impossible to miss, the clerk had insisted. There were no other farms in the vicinity.
He got off the streetcar as instructed, and walked up a country lane to a brick gatepost, beyond which he could see a two-story farmhouse at the end of a driveway lined by chestnut trees. Signs posted along the high metal fence warned intruders to "Keep out under penalty of severe punishment by the Law."
As he wandered up the driveway, he caught glimpses of the lake shimmering through the woods. It was early spring: the chestnuts were not yet in bloom, but shoots of light green had appeared on the trees. Patches of snow still lay on the ground. To his left, he could see a converted two-story barn with a high sloping roof, along with some stables and outbuildings. The main farmhouse, fifty yards from the lake, was neat and well maintained, reflecting the Prussian virtues of thrift, hard work, and order.
Several men were lounging on the porch of the brick building as he approached. He felt a little out of place. They were all in civilian clothes, while he was still in uniform.
"You must be Burger," said one of the men, a wiry fellow with a thin face and a streak of gray running through his dark hair, as he extended his hand. "My name is Davis. George John Davis."
A housekeeper showed him to a room, on the ground floor of the farmhouse, which he would share with one of the other men. After changing into the clothes the army clerk had given him in Brandenburg, he went outside to join his companions. The man who had introduced himself as Davis suggested they take a walk around the estate.
"You will be part of my group," the man explained, as they strolled down to the lake, still half-frozen after a long, hard winter. "Eleven men have been chosen to take part in this course. Only the best will be selected to go to the United States."
To outside appearances, Ernst Peter Burger had arrived at a working farm on the eastern shore of Lake Quenz. There was an apple orchard, a barnyard full of cows, pigs, and chickens, and a hothouse where vegetables were grown. Between the main building and the road, just north of the driveway, was a one-story house occupied by the people who looked after the farm. There were even a few children running around. But it did not take Burger long to discover that nothing was what it seemed at Quenz Lake.