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Walther PPK Semi Automatic Pistol
This pistol was confiscated from a member of a Nazi saboteur team that infiltrated the United States in June, 1942. Composed of two four-man units, these men were landed by U-Boat on Montauk Point, Long Island and in Florida. All members of this unit were quickly captured by U.S. authorities and were convicted of espionage. Two were sentenced to prison and later expatriated to West Germany; the remaining saboteurs were executed. S/N 213936K
This pistol, as well as a Mauser Model 1934 semi-automatic pistol (S/N 554086) and an explosives detonator (S/N K122) were displayed in the office of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover from 1942 until Hoover's death. Shortly after midnight on Saturday, June 13, 1942, a team of four Nazi saboteurs embarked from a U-boat off Amagansett, a small town located on Long Island's Atlantic coast, approximately 100 miles east of New York City. As fortune would have it, John C. Cullen, a young U.S. Coast Guardsman was on his nightly foot patrol along a six-mile stretch of the lonely beach.
As the Germans emerged from the mist, Cullen, armed only with a flashlight, challenged the men standing before him. One of the group identified himself as George Davis and claimed that they were fishermen who had run aground. Another member of the group spoke to Davis in a foreign language and earned a stern rebuke. Cullen's suspicions were aroused, all the more so when he observed that the man calling himself Davis appeared to be nervous. Cullen suggested that the men accompany him to a nearby Coast Guard station, but was rebuffed. Davis suddenly became menacing. He asked Cullen if he had family who would mourn him, and then added, "I don't want to kill you." Next, he offered Cullen $300 to forget what he'd seen. Realizing that he stood little chance against four presumably armed men, Cullen accepted his offer and let the men go.
After returning to the Coast Guard station, Cullen reported the incident to the officer in charge, who telephoned the station commanding officer. These men lead an armed party of Coast Guardsmen and quickly returned to the site of Cullen's meeting with the "fishermen." The suspects were gone, but the Coast Guardsmen observed U-202 surfaced nearby. They hid themselves and watched as the U-boat sailed off. When morning came, a search of the beach disclosed an empty pack of German cigarettes, as well as several large crates containing high explosives and timers and a duffel bag containing four German uniforms. Faced with what was surely an infiltration of German agents, the case was turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The FBI quickly discovered that four men, one of whom matched Davis's description, had gone to the Long Island Railroad's Amagansett Station and purchased tickets on the morning train to New York. The trail quickly turned cold as the men lost themselves in America's largest city; however, an unexpected twist blew the case wide open when two of the German agents turned themselves in. "Davis" was actually Georg Johann Dasch, a native German who had arrived in Philadelphia in 1922 as a stowaway on board a German ship.
After nearly two decades in the U.S., Dasch was unable to find work except as a waiter. Entranced by Nazi propaganda, he returned to Germany in 1941. While in Berlin, he met Walter Kappe, an Abwehr (military intelligence) officer assigned to a sabotage training school near Brandenburg. Dasch's knowledge of English put him in good stead with Kappe, who assigned him to monitor American radio broadcasts. After Germany declared war on the United States in December 1941, Dasch was chosen for saboteur training. Along with seven other Germans, all of whom had lived in the United States, he learned how to disrupt rail lines and factory production through the use of strategically-placed explosive charges. Upon completion of their training, the men were divided into two four-man teams, each of which was provided with equipment, money, and contacts in the United States and in neutral Spain. Dasch, along with Ernest Peter Burger, Richard Quirin, and Heinrich Heinck, embarked aboard U-202 for Long Island.
The second team, which consisted of Edward Kerling, Hermann Otto Neubauer, Werner Thiel, and Herbert Hans Haupt, sailed with U-584 to a landing site at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, 25 miles south of Jacksonville. Their instructions were to wait for three months in preparation before initiating any acts of sabotage against U.S. targets. Once active, they were to concentrate their efforts against transportation and power distribution systems, as well as aluminum production facilities. Secondary targets included department stores and other public areas, with the intention of destroying morale among American civilians. Aided by U-Boat crewmen, Dasch's team came ashore in a rubber boat. They were dressed in German naval uniforms so that, if captured upon landing, they would be interred as prisoners of war rather than shot as enemy spies.
Once ashore, they quickly changed into civilian clothing, then buried their supplies before catching the train to New York City. Upon their arrival in New York, Dasch and Berger registered in the Governor Clinton Hotel, while Heinck and Quirin checked into the Hotel Martinique. Dasch, the group's leader, had developed serious doubts about their chances for success, and he divulged his misgivings to Burger. Burger, a naturalized American citizen who later returned to Germany where he endured a series of run-ins with the Gestapo due to his close association with purged Brownshirt leader Ernst Rohm, agreed with Dasch. The two agreed to surrender themselves and their colleagues to American authorities. On Sunday evening, less than two days after their landing and encounter with John Cullen, the two telephoned the FBI's New York Office and spoke with Agent Dean F. McWhorter. Identifying himself as Frank Daniel Pastorius, Dasche stated that he had recently arrived from Germany with information for FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, then added that he would contact the FBI's Washington offices later in the week.
Although McWhorter thought the call a prank, he nonetheless made a record of it. On the following Thursday afternoon, Dasch boarded a train to Washington, and upon his arrival, he took a room at the Mayflower Hotel. He telephoned the FBI on Friday morning and spoke with Agent Duane L. Traynor, to whom he revealed his identity as a member of a German saboteur team. Once again, Dasch insisted that he must speak with Hoover. Traynor, who was familiar with the incident at Amagansett, urged Dasche to remain at the hotel. A team of FBI agents arrived soon thereafter and took Dasch to the Bureau's Justice Department offices. The agents told Dasch that Hoover was not presently available, and they persuaded him to tell his story to them. Armed with Dasch's information, the FBI quickly descended on a New York City safe house that was to be used by the saboteurs. The three members of Dasch's team were arrested, as were Edward Kerling and Werner Thiel, two members of the Florida team who had traveled to New York.
Accompanied by FBI agents, Kerling returned to Ponte Verdra Beach and pointed out the spot where his team had buried a cache of explosives, detonators, and four German uniforms. As the case progressed, no information was released to the public in fear of alerting Herbert Haupt and Hermann Neubauer, the two saboteurs who remained at large, but high ranking officials, including President Franklin Roosevelt, were briefed regularly. Prior to their return to Germany, both Haupt and Neubauer had lived in Chicago. Both men boarded trains to the Windy City, and the FBI was not far behind. Federal agents knew the address of Haupt's family, and there they picked up his trail with hopes that he would lead them to Neubauer. Both men were arrested on June 27th.
Once all eight were in custody, Hoover released the story to the press. Certain details were kept secret so that the Nazis would not realize that their plans had been defeated by defections among the group rather than through the vigilance of U.S. counterintelligence. In addition, word of Dasch's and Burger's role was not disclosed to prevent retaliation against the two by their comrades, or by Hitler against members of their families in Germany. In an opinion to Attorney General Francis Biddle, President Roosevelt insisted that the two naturalized Americans be charged with high treason. The other six were to be charged with espionage. All would be subject to the death penalty if convicted. Further, Roosevelt realized that since the two teams had been arrested before they could take action against U.S. targets, they could only be charged with conspiracy if their trials were to take place in a civil court, and that their sentences could be relatively light.
Therefore, he directed that the men be subject to military court-martial. Under this form of trial, rules of evidence were less stringent than those of civil proceedings. The Attorney General and Army Judge Advocate General filled the roles of prosecuting attorneys, and guilty verdicts by five of the seven court members, all general officers, were required for conviction. The president, as Commander-in-Chief, would make the final decision on sentencing, and no appeals were permitted. The eight were turned over to the charge of the Army provost martial of the District of Columbia. Placed in individual cells in the D.C. Jail, they were under constant observation and were allowed no visitors except for two Army lawyers who were appointed as defense counsel.
The trial began on July 8 in an impromptu courtroom at the Department of Justice, and the prisoners, with their armed guards, were transported between their jail cells and the court in armored cars. Reporters were barred from the proceedings, a decision that brought protests from members of the press, and the only accounts of the trial were provided in the form of a daily briefing given by General Frank R. McCoy, president of the court. All eight entered pleas of Not Guilty. Kerling and Neubauer stated that it was their duty as soldiers to accept orders without question. Quirin, Heinck, Thiel, and Haupt, insisted that they had no intention of carrying out their mission, but that they feared the consequences of refusing their assignments.
The prosecution argued that, with the exception of Dasch and Burger, the Germans had made no attempt to surrender themselves, and that until their arrest, they had carried out their instructions to the letter. Colonel Kenneth C. Royall, a graduate of Harvard Law School and lead defense attorney, challenged the legality of a trial held under military jurisdiction at a time when civilian courts were still operating. His defense rested on a case dating from the Civil War in which Lambdin Milligan, a Confederate sympathizer from Indiana, was convicted by court-martial of stealing munitions from a Northern arsenal and sending them to Confederate forces.
Although sentenced to death, the verdict was not signed by President Abraham Lincoln prior to his assassination. Milligan's defense team later argued his case before the Supreme Court, which ruled that military courts had no jurisdiction over civilians, and that any existing statute permitting courts-martial to hear cases involving non-military personnel would be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court was in recess, so Royall appealed without success to the district court for a writ of habeas corpus. Royall and Attorney General Biddle met with Associate Justices Owen J. Roberts and Hugo L. Black at Roberts' Chester, Pennsylvania farm. Roberts then telephoned Chief Justice Harlan Fiske, who re-convened the Court as quickly as possible to hear Royall's appeal.
After two days of testimony, the Court ruled unanimously on July 31 in favor of the government, citing that the Germans were belligerents from a foreign country. On August 3, the court-martial handed down death sentences for all eight defendants. Acting on the advice of the Attorney General, President Roosevelt commuted the sentences of Dasch and Burger to 30 years and life imprisonment respectively. Both were transferred to the federal prison at Danbury, Connecticut to serve their sentences.
In 1948, their sentences were commuted, and both were deported to Germany with the provision that they never be allowed to return to the United States. The remaining six were executed on August 8 in the electric chair at the D.C. Jail. The press maintained a vigil outside, kept away by armed soldiers. The sheet-draped bodies of the six were transported by ambulance to Walter Reed Army Hospital for autopsy, after which they were buried in a potter's field at Blue Plains, D.C.; their graves marked only by numbered boards. Although the secrecy surrounding the case was decried by both reporters and civil libertarians, the role of Dasch and Burger in betraying the plot was not revealed until after the war. The Nazis were stunned at the speed with which their plan had been foiled, and this undoubtedly prevented additional efforts at sabotage by German agents against U.S. targets.