George John Dasch : biography
George John Dasch (February 7, 1903 – 1992) was a German spy and saboteur who landed on American soil during World War II. He helped to destroy Nazi Germany’s espionage program in the United States by defecting to the American cause, but was tried and convicted of treason and espionage.
Georg Johann Dasch was born in Speyer, Germany. He entered a Roman Catholic seminary at the age of 13 to study for the priesthood. However, he was expelled the following year. Lying about his age, he enlisted in the Imperial German Army and served in Belgium during the final months of World War I. In 1923 he entered the United States illegally by ship as a stowaway. Dasch enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Forces and served one year, when he purchased himself out of the Army and received an honorable discharge. He then worked as a waiter in New York City, and in 1930 married Rose Marie Guille, an American citizen. Naturalized an American citizen in 1933, Dasch returned to Germany in 1941.
Preparation for espionage
Dasch and the others were trained for espionage activities in a German High Command school on an estate at Quenz Lake, near Berlin, Germany.
The agents received three weeks of intensive sabotage training and were instructed in the manufacture and use of explosives, incendiary material and various forms of mechanical, chemical, and electrical delayed timing devices. Considerable time was spent developing complete background "histories" they were to use in the United States. They were encouraged to converse in English and to read American newspapers and magazines so no suspicion would be aroused if they were interrogated while in the United States.
On May 26, 1942, Dasch and his team (Ernest Peter Burger, Heinrich Harm Heink, and Richard Quirin) left by submarine from Lorient, France. They were landed on Long Island, New York shortly after midnight on June 12. They were wearing German military uniforms in case they were spotted. Once ashore, they changed to civilian clothes and buried their uniforms and other equipment. Early that morning, John C. Cullen, a Coast Guardsman from the station in Amagansett, New York spotted Dasch and three others posing as fisherman off the coast of Long Island with a raft. He saw that the men were armed and also noticed a submerged submarine. The men offered him a $260 bribe to keep quiet. He took the bribe, but alerted his superiors. A search of the beach revealed concealed explosives, timers, blasting caps, incendiary devices, cigarettes, and the military uniforms.
It was realized that Nazi agents had landed on American soil. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director J. Edgar Hoover were immediately alerted, and the FBI conducted a massive manhunt. Hoover ordered that all information be kept secret to avoid public panic and to prevent the spies from knowing they had been discovered.
Defection to the United States
George John Dasch was by now unhappy with the Nazi regime. He eventually talked to one of his compatriots, a naturalized American citizen named Ernst Peter Burger, about defecting to the United States. Their plan was to surrender immediately to the FBI. However, when they did so, officials did not believe their stories. To prove their collaboration with the Nazis, Dasch dumped $84,000 on the desk of D.M. Ladd, director of the Domestic Intelligence Division. Dasch was arrested, and interrogated for eight days. He disclosed the locations of the other men in the sabotage operation, including Burger. He revealed that the goals of the sabotage program had been to disrupt war industries and launch a wave of terror by planting explosives in railway stations, Jewish-owned department stores, and public places.
Dasch, Ernst Peter Burger, and six others – Edward John Kerling, Heinrich Harm Heinck, Richard Quirin, Werner Thiel, Hermann Otto Neubauer, and Herbert Hans Haupt (who had landed in Florida to meet with Dasch and Burger) – were tried by a military commission appointed by President Roosevelt on July 8, 1942 and convicted of sabotage and sentenced to death. FBI Director Hoover and Attorney General Biddle appealed to President Roosevelt, who commuted the sentence to life imprisonment for Burger, and thirty years for Dasch. The others were executed in the electric chair in Washington D.C Jail on 8 August 1942.
In 1949, President Harry S. Truman had both Burger and Dasch released and deported to Germany. They were not welcomed back, as they were regarded as traitors who had caused the death of their comrades. Although they had been promised pardons by Hoover, both men died without ever receiving them, Dasch in 1992 at the age of 89 at Ludwigshafen.