On this date in 1942, a 39-year-old German named George Dasch called the FBI to set up an appointment to talk to J. Edgar Hoover. The night before, a German submarine had put Dasch and three others ashore on Long Island, where they buried their uniforms and explosives. Four others came ashore at Jacksonville, FL; they were to join forces in the Midwest on July 4th.
It was the first organized attempt by German forces to strike inside the US to destroy key manufacturing plants and to cripple bridges, railroad installations, and water supplies. Hitler’s men were also to destroy department stores, especially those that were Jewish-owned.
George Dasch’s flawless English was the result of 19 years in America monitoring news broadcasts for the Germans. By the time the operation was put into action, however, he had become disillusioned with Nazism and planned to reveal the plot to authorities. After contacting the FBI, Dasch traveled to Washington and, on the 19th, he phoned the FBI again. Amazingly, nobody took him seriously, even though the Coast Guard had by this time found the German uniforms and explosives.
Finally, Dasch was put through to special agent Duane Traynor. The 34-year-old Devils Lake native had gotten his law degree at UND and had joined the FBI in 1937. When World War II broke out, the Bureau put Traynor in charge of a special anti-sabotage unit.
Traynor took Dasch seriously and immediately sent a car for him. After hearing Dasch’s story, Traynor and another agent snapped into action. A week later, all seven of Dasch’s co-conspirators had been rounded up. Traynor knew Dasch had to look guilty, or his parents in Germany would be put in danger. So, he planned with FBI head J. Edgar Hoover to have Dasch spend a few months in prison and then be pardoned.
Meanwhile, the government decided it wanted neither a civil trial, nor a military court martial. Instead, they came up with the idea of a military tribunal – which set the precedent for empowering President Bush to create military tribunals for accused terrorists and their collaborators in November 2001.
The World War II trial took place in absolute secrecy, and all eight men were found guilty. Six were immediately executed, while Dasch and another man were sent to jail. Traynor soon learned that Hoover was reneging the deal, and Dasch was going to be imprisoned indefinitely. When the war ended in 1946, Traynor renewed his efforts to have Dasch released, but Hoover told him, “Your personal opinions...(are), to say the least, ill-advised.”
Soon after, Traynor resigned from the FBI. It wasn’t until 1948 – six years after he prevented Hitler’s attack on America – that Dasch was finally released and quietly deported back to Germany.
Source: Curtis Eriksmoen, The Forum, “N.D. Native Had Key Role Stopping Nazi Saboteurs,” September 12, 2004.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm