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74 Years Ago Today, Nazis Landed in the Hamptons

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It didn’t end well for them

Only once have enemy soldiers landed on the mainland United States—in June, 1942. The US had been at war for about six months. Across the Atlantic, Germany was planning Operation Pastorius, sabotage intended to mortally wound the American economy.

Once the soldiers involved with Operation Pastorius (named after the man who organized the first German settlement in America) had landed in the United States, they were supposed to commit terrorist strikes against Penn Station, aluminum factories in Illinois and Tennessee, locks on the Ohio River, and hydroelectric plants at Niagara Falls.

June 13, 1942 was a dark and foggy night in Amagansett. Shortly after midnight, a U-boat ran aground on a sandbar just off the beach near the Coast Guard station on Atlantic Avenue in Amagansett. Four men rowed ashore in a collapsible rubber dinghy filled with explosives, clothing, and a considerable amount of cash. (Another set of four soldiers landed several days later in Florida.)

The Germans buried their uniforms, weapons, and explosives in the sand. However, a U.S. Coast Guardsman called John Cullen discovered them on a routine patrol of the beach. The Nazi leader bribed Cullen to keep quiet. Cullen then ran back to his Coast Guard station to alert his superiors, but by the time they returned, the Germans had left. They put on civilian clothes and held fishing poles, so that passers-by would think they were surfcasting. Then they walked to the nearest LIRR station and took the morning train to New York City.

The Amagansett Nazis--Richard Quirin, Heinrich Heinck, Peter Burger and leader George Dasch—decided to lay low in New York for a while. They bought new American clothes and checked in to nondescript midtown hotels. The plan was for them to go to Chicago, but time went by and Dasch didn't tell the others to leave. The others became anxious.

What they didn't know was that Dasch planned to turn them in to the FBI. Even for a Nazi, Dasch was a jerk. He was a supercilious underachiever who felt that he was never given the glory that was his due. The second day in New York City, Dasch called the FBI on a pay phone. He told the FBI that his name was Franz Pastorius and he had vital intelligence from Germany, but he'd only talk directly to J. Edgar Hoover. The person who took the call dismissed Dasch as a crank.

Dasch was enraged, so he took the train down to Washington to FBI headquarters. Surely J. Edgar Hoover would love to meet a real hero such as himself in person? Apparently not, though, because Dasch only spoke to an underling. The FBI listened to Dasch's story, threw him in jail, and rounded up the other spies.

The only time Dasch got to speak to J. Edgar Hoover was at his trial. President Roosevelt, by executive order, set up a military tribunal to try the spies. August 8, 1942, all the spies were found guilty. Dasch and Burger received life sentences, while the others were electrocuted. In 1948, Dasch and Burger were released from prison and deported to Germany. Dasch lived the rest of his life being hated as a traitor and a failure in Germany. He died in 1992.