Sabotage Operations In The U.S.
As the industrial revolution swept across Western Europe,
the nations there sought an outlet for their manufactured products in
the less developed regions of the world. Great Britain grabbed the lion's
share, but in the decade after 1870 the other European nations moved
aggressively to obtain what was left. An imperialistic rivalry was born.
France wanted to restore her national spirit after her defeat in 1870.
Germany, with an astonishing industrial development and with the most
powerful army in the world, demanded "a place in the sun."
Russia desired an ice-free port on the Pacific Ocean and Japan searched
for new markets to support her overflowing population. In this scramble
for markets and territories, Africa was carved up into colonies and
protectorates and there was every indication that the same fate awaited
The rivalries between these European nations were a continuous
menace to peace. With Europe wallowing in an orgy of militarism, imperialism,
nationalism and intelligence intrigues, it was unlikely that any balance
of power could be maintained. It was finally upset in the Balkans where
racial hatred and nationalist strivings were complicated by the conflicting
ambitions of Austria and Russia.
It was June 28, 1914 in late morning as an inconspicuous
Bosnian student waited by a cobble street in Sarajevo. He observed Archduke
Franz Ferdinand and his wife drive by on their way to the town hall.
The student was Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Young Bosnians, a group
that was organized in 1910 to protest against the annexation in 1908
of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A few minutes earlier, another member of
the Young Bosnians had tossed a bomb into the Archduke's car but it
was deflected by Ferdinand and exploded beneath the security vehicle
following the Archduke's car.
After his town meeting, the Archduke ordered his driver
to take him to the hospital to visit the injured security guards. Although
the driver wanted to take a different road, the Archduke insisted on
using the same route where the attack took place. Princip saw them returning
and as the Archduke's car passed slowly by, he stepped from the crowd
into the street and fired several rounds at point-blank range into the
archduke and his wife, killing both. World War I began less than two
Following a century-old tradition, the United States declared
a policy of neutrality. President Woodrow Wilson attempted to steer
a neutral position among the belligerents but several major influences
within the United States eventually caused this policy to be abandoned.
The least effectual of these influences was the heterogeneous
character of the American population. When the war in Europe began,
about one-third of the American population was foreign-born or of foreign-born
parentage. It was this group that the European propagandists first focused
their efforts. They had limited success but, in the last analyst, targeting
this audience was of little importance in determining how the United
States finally acted.
The other three influences played a greater role in President
Wilson's decision to declare war on Germany. The first of these was
the economic affect the war had on the United States. It caused a tremendous
upswing in the economy. The war was destroying the industrial and agricultural
base in Europe and the United States became the major source for all
types of commodities, particularly foodstuffs and munitions. All this
meant a sudden and widespread prosperity. The profits came almost entirely
from the Allied Powers. As Great Britain tightened the blockade around
Germany and extended the contraband list, it became difficult to export
to the Central Powers (Germany and its allies).
While economic interests were tying the United States
more closely to the allied nations, organized propaganda was effectively
used. Both the Allied and Central Powers exerted themselves to the utmost
to influence public opinion, but in this effort, the allied Powers were
far more successful. The success was due to Great Britain's control
of the cables and strict censorship, which allowed only the news it
wanted Americans to hear from the war front to reach the United States.
Honest, unbiased news largely disappeared from American papers after
August 1914. According to one journalist, the British censors eliminated
three-quarters of the dispatches from American correspondents in Central
Europe.83 The British portrayed themselves as
saviors of the world from the Teutonic hordes. The French reminded Americans
of their contributions to American independence. Against the skillful
Allied propaganda, the blundering efforts of Germany to subsidize the
American press and influence American opinion made scant progress and
were eventually utterly discredited by 1915.
As Franz Rintelen admitted,
Everybody in Germany was raging. Large packets of
newspapers had been received from America, and there was not a word
of truth in the reports that were being made about the military situation.
We were particularly indignant at the numerous stories of atrocities,
which had found their way into the American papers. With this kind
of journalism it was inevitable that not only the mass of newspaper
readers, but gradually also official circles in America, would assume
an anti-German attitude.84
The last major influence was the violations of America's
neutral rights by the Germans. To the Germans, the United States remained
a problem and they had to develop a strategy to deal with it. The strategy
they chose was to keep the United States neutral while at the same time
closing off the flow of food and war material from the United States
to the Allied Powers. The first part of the strategy depended on diplomacy
and the second relied on sabotage.
To conduct this strategy in the United States, the German
High Command selected Johann Heinrich Count von Bernstorff, the German
Ambassador to the United States.
Count Johann von Bernstorff,
German Ambassador to the United States.
"Bernstorff, a seasoned diplomat, came to Washington
as Imperial German Ambassador during a placid and superficially cordial
period in German-American relations and played very well what was largely
a ceremonial role before the summer of 1914. However, the outbreak of
the World War, and particularly his government's decision in early 1915
to launch an unrestricted submarine campaign against merchant shipping,
thrust Bernstorff into the center of a diplomatic firestorm that grew
in intensity and culminated in an American declaration of war against
the German Empire in 1917."85
In July 1914, nine days after the Archduke is assassinated
in Sarajevo, Bernstorff left the United States for Germany. He believed
his summons home was to consult with the German Foreign Ministry. Instead,
he met with Section 3B, military intelligence, of the German General
Staff. Bernstorff was told that German military intelligence had no
experienced officers it can devote to the United States. They informed
Bernstorff that all their best officers and espionage agents had been
deployed against Germany's enemies in the war, Great Britain, France
and Russia. Even if Section 3B could identify a sufficient number of
trained agents and mobilize them against the United States, the odds
of infiltrating them into America undetected was remote.
Section 3-B told Bernstorff that he was to be Germany's
espionage and sabotage chief for the Western Hemisphere. To support
his effort, he would be assisted by Captain Franz von Papen, currently
military attaché in Mexico who was to be transferred to the United
States, Captain Karl Boy-Ed, naval attaché, and Dr. Heinrich
Albert, the commercial attaché who would be the finance officer
for the sabotage operations. With this small group of men, Bernstorff
had to carry out the German strategy against the United States.
Captain Karl Boy-Ed
With Bernstorff in Washington, the other three officials
established their operational base in New York City. Albert opened an
office at 45 Broadway and von Papen and Boy-Ed use an office in the
Wall Street area. Their first task was to identify and recruit agents
for their sabotage and subversion operations. The early efforts of the
group were ragged and ineffectual.
One of the first enlistee in their plans was Horst von
der Goltz, who devised a plan to dynamite the Welland Canal, which linked
Lakes Ontario and Erie on the Canadian side of the border, just west
of Buffalo. Shippers to transport raw material to American munitions
and commodities companies used the Canal.
Using the pretext of blasting tree stumps on a farm, a
Captain Hans Tauscher, the Krupp representative in New York obtained
dynamite from the Dupont Powder Company. Tauscher gave the dynamite
to von der Goltz who stored it at a German safehouse operated by Martha
Held. Held's row house at 123 West 50th Street [FAS note: should be West 15th Street] in Manhattan
was also the gathering place for German ship captains who docked in
To help him in his plan, von der Goltz, using the alias
Bridgeman H. Taylor, engaged the services of several men. Several days
after obtaining the dynamite, the small group of saboteurs left New
York for Buffalo by train. Following them was the Secret Service. After
surveying the canal and seeing that it was heavily guarded, the men
got cold feet and abandoned the plan.
Von Papen reported back to Berlin about the failure and
von der Goltz was recalled to Germany. Instead of being reprimanded,
German military intelligence ordered him to return to the United States.
On his return, the ship stopped in England and von der Goltz walked
in to Scotland Yard with an offer of information on German air raids
on Britain. Scotland Yard arrested him and during his interrogation,
he informed them that he prevented a sabotage plot against the Welland
Canal. The British extradited him to the United States to stand trial.
Once he was in the hands of the American authorities,
von der Goltz repeated his story about the sabotage plot. He also guided
Department of Justice officers to the safehouse run by Martha Held.
Held was interviewed about the dynamite by the Justice officers but
claimed she was asked to hold a suitcase but did not know what it contained.
Although Justice was aware of this safehouse, they never investigated
nor conducted surveillance against it. Horst von der Goltz was tried
convicted and sent to prison in 1916.
The next operational plan conducted by von Papen and Albert
was to obtain U.S. passports for use by German army reservists residing
in the United States to return to Germany to fight against its enemies.
After the reservists reached Germany, military intelligence took the
passports and used them to send spies into Britain, France and Russia.
The problem was that the Department of State had tightened the loose
passport regulations by requiring more extensive proof of American citizenship
and a photograph of the applicant. To circumvent the new regulations,
the Germans resorted to passport fraud.
Notice in an American Newspaper
of the danger of sailing on British Ships.
To conduct the operation, von Papen and Albert recruited
a German, Hans von Wedell. Von Wedell devised a plan to have American
longshoremen, sailors and street bums in the New York environs apply
for American passports. Once they had the passports, von Wedell purchased
the passport from them for a small amount of money, usually from ten
to twenty-five dollars. It was a great scheme and worked well until
some of the street-smart individuals realized what was happening and
attempted to blackmail von Wedell for more money. American authorities
got wind of the scam and began to investigate but Von Wedell left for
Cuba before they had a chance to identify him.
Instead of curtailing their operation after von Wedell
left, the Germans recruited another individual, Carl Ruroede, to take
von Wedell's place. Ruroede's career as a German agent was short-lived.
The Department of Justice's investigation had zeroed in on the location
of the office used by the Germans. An undercover agent, Albert Adams,
was sent in to make contact with Ruroede. Posing as a Bowery bum with
pro-German views, Adams was immediately enlisted to procure American
With Department of State support, Adams was given four
passports to give to Ruroede. Ruroede, an inexperienced agent, made
the foolish mistake of showing Adams how the passports were doctored
and saying that the passports were going to be used by four Germans
to sail to Europe in a few days.
On 2 January 1915 the Department of Justice arrested Ruroede.
The ship, Bergensfjord, carrying the four Germans using the false
passports, was stopped in the harbor and boarded by Justice officials
who promptly arrested the men. On board the ship was von Wedell but
the officials missed him.
A few days prior to sailing aboard the Bergensfjord, von
Wedell wrote the following letter, dated 26 December 1914, to von Bernstorff:
"His excellency The Imperial German Ambassador,
Count von Bernstorff, Washington, D.C. Your Excellency: Allow me most
obediently to put before you the following facts: It seems that an
attempt has been made to produce the impression upon you that I prematurely
abandoned my post, in New York. That is not true.
I. My work was done. At my departure I left the service,
well organized and worked out to its minutest details, in the hands
of my successor, Mr. Carl Ruroede, picked out by myself, and, despite
many warnings, still tarried for several days in New York in order
to give him the necessary final directions and in order to hold in
check the blackmailers thrown on my hands by the German officers until
after the passage of my travelers through Gibraltar; in which I succeeded.
Mr. Ruroede will testify to you that without my suitable preliminary
labors, in which I left no conceivable means untried and in which
I took not the slightest consideration of my personal weal or woe,
it would be impossible for him, as well as for Mr. Von Papen, to forward
officers and `aspirants' in any number whatever to Europe. This merit
I lay claim to and the occurrences of the last days have unfortunately
compelled me, out of sheer self-respect, to emphasize this to your
II. The motives which induced me to leave New York and
which, to my astonishment, were not communicated to you, are the following:
1. I knew that the State Department had, for three weeks,
withheld a passport application forged by me. Why?
2. Ten days before my departure, I learnt from a telegram
sent me by Mr. Von Papen, which stirred me up very much, and further
through the omission of a cable, that Dr. Stark had fallen into the
hands of the English. That gentleman's forged papers were liable to
come back any day and could, owing chiefly to his lack of caution,
easily be traced back to me.
3. Officers and aspirants of the class which I had to
forward over, namely the people, saddled me with a lot of criminals
and blackmailers, whose eventual revelations were liable to bring
about any day the explosion of the bomb.
4. Mr. Von Papen had repeatedly urgently ordered me
to hide myself.
5. Mr. Igel had told me I was taking the matter altogether
too lightly and ought to-for God's sake-disappear.
6. My counsel
had advised me to hastily quit New
York, inasmuch as a local detective agency was ordered to go after
the passport forgeries.
7. It had become clear to me that eventual arrest might
yet injure the worthy undertaking and that my disappearance would
probably put a stop to all investigation in this direction.
How urgent it was for me to go away is shown by the
fact that, two days after my departure, detectives, who had followed
up my telephone calls, hunted up my wife's harmless and unsuspecting
cousin in Brooklyn, and subjected her to an interrogatory.
Mr. Von Papen and Mr. Albert have told my wife that
I forced myself forward to do this work. That is not true. When I,
in Berlin, for the first time heard of this commission, I objected
to going and represented to the gentleman that my entire livelihood
which I had created for myself in America by six years of labor was
at stake therein. I have no other means, and although Mr. Albert told
my wife my practice was not worth talking about, it sufficed, nevertheless,
to decently support myself and wife and to build my future on. I have
finally, at the suasion of Count Wedell, undertaken it, ready to sacrifice
my future and that of my wife. I have, in order to reach my goal,
despite infinite difficulties, destroyed everything that I built up
here for myself and my wife. I have perhaps sometimes been awkward,
but always full of good will, and I now travel back to Germany with
the consciousness of having done my duty as well as I understood it,
and of having accomplished my task.
"With expressions of the most exquisite consideration,
I am, your Excellency,"
/s/ Hans Adam von Wedell
Ruroede was tried, convicted and sentenced to three years
in prison. The four reservists, pleading guilty, protested that they
had agreed to return to Germany on false passports out of patriotism,
were fined $200 each. As for von Wedell, the British took him off the
Bergensfjord on the high seas off the coast of England but the British
ship was torpedoed and von Wedell went down with the ship.
Heinrich Friedrich Albert 86
On 27 July 1915 an ad appeared in the New York Evening Telegram. It
read: "Lost on Saturday. On 3:30 Harlem Elevated Train, at 50th
St. Station, Brown Leather Bag, Containing Documents. Deliver to G.H.
Hoffman, 5 E. 47th St., Against $20. Reward." The ad was seeking
to recover the lost briefcase of Heinrich Friedrich Albert, a German
lawyer, who was serving as Commercial Attaché and financial advisor
to the German Ambassador to the United States, Count Johann von Bernstorff.
He was also the paymaster for the German sabotage operations in the
To complement their sabotage operations, the Germans invented
the idea of establishing a cover company to conduct a covert operation
to induce labor unrest and encourage strikes by laborers at munitions
companies in the United States. The conceived plan had three goals:
the cover company was to purchase vital raw materials and manufacturing
equipment and tools to keep them from reaching legitimate companies;
to obtain armaments and powder contracts but not honor them; and to
pay astonishing high salaries to its workers, causing other companies
to do the same or face worker troubles. The plot called for the Bridgeport
Projectile Company, the name selected for the cover company, to begin
construction in Bridgeport, Connecticut in April 1915 and ready for
operations in September that same year.
It was a bold plan that never came to fruition because
of carelessness on the part of Albert. Albert was at the offices of
the Hamburg-Amerika Line, at 45 Broadway in lower Manhattan. George
Sylvester Viereck, the editor of the Fatherland, a pro-German publication,
joined him there. Viereck was also under investigation by the Secret
Service for violations of America's neutrality laws.
Before President Woodrow Wilson signed an Executive Order
on 14 May 1915, authorizing surveillance of German Embassy personnel
in the United States, the Secret Service was limited to watching clerks,
technicians and errand boys for the Germans. After Wilson's order, William
J. Flynn, chief of the Secret Service, immediately assigned a ten-man
squad to keep the Germans under surveillance. Frank Burke, a young agent,
was named head of this unit, located on the top floor of the Customs
House at the Battery. Burke initiated coverage on all the significant
people he knew involved in German activities, including Viereck.
Viereck, not a trained operative of the Germans, failed
to notice that he was under surveillance. Secret Service agent, William
H. Houghton, had followed him to the Hamburg-Amerika Line offices. After
Viereck entered the building, Houghton telephoned the Custom House in
New York and suggested to Frank Burke, that he should join him in case
Viereck exited the site with another individual.
Burke and Houghton waited until mid-afternoon before Viereck
and Albert came out of the building and proceeded to the uptown-elevated
train station at Rector Street. The Germans sat in the middle of the
car while Houghton sat opposite them and Burke sat behind them. The
Secret Service agents did not know the identity of Viereck's companion
at the time but suspected it might be Albert, a man they heard of but
never saw before.
Albert was, indeed, an unknown individual to American
counterintelligence. He was six-feet tall, heavy-set, and had crosscut
saber scars on his right cheek, a dimpled chin and a stubby dark moustache.
Every day, Albert rode the elevated train between his office at 45 Broadway
and his Ritz-Carlton hotel room. He always carried his briefcase, which
was stuffed with Berlin telegrams, communications from German agents,
financial records and subordinate reports.
Viereck disembarked at the Thirty-third Street stop, trailed
by Houghton. Burke remained on the train watching Albert, who was carrying
a briefcase. A woman came on board the train and sat opposite Albert.
As the train proceeded to the next stop, Albert closed his eyes and
dozed off, his briefcase resting on the seat against the wall of the
When the train stopped at Fiftieth Street and was ready
to move again, Albert suddenly awoke and realized it was his stop. He
sprang from his seat and raced out the back door. The woman called to
him about his briefcase but Burke picked it up and rushed out the front
door. Albert realizing he left his briefcase on the train, reentered
the train only to find it missing. He again ran out of the train looking
for the person who took the briefcase.
Seeing Albert between him and the exit stairs, Burke partially
covered the briefcase with his coat and using other passengers as cover,
stood against a wall until Albert went down the stairs. Burke also made
his way down the stairs behind Albert. When Burke reached the street,
Albert spotted him and began to give chase.
Burke hopped on a streetcar heading uptown. He quickly
told the conductor that a crazy fellow who had just caused a big scene
on the elevated train was pursuing him. The conductor seeing Albert
racing after the streetcar, arms flailing, told the motorman not to
stop at the next corner. The streetcar continued on, leaving Albert
waving helplessly behind.
Knowing he could not retrieve his briefcase, Albert proceeded
to the German Club on Central Park West, where he held an impromptu
meeting with German Embassy military attaché, Captain Franz von
Papen, and naval aide, Captain Carl von Boy-Ed. Based on what Albert
told them, they decided that a common thief had taken the briefcase
and, after searching through the papers, would find nothing of value.
The best way to get the papers back, they reasoned, was to place an
ad in the newspapers offering a reward.
When Burke opened the briefcase and saw the papers, he
notified Flynn. Flynn, in turn, contacted Secretary of the Treasury,
William G. McAdoo, at his summerhouse in North Haven, Maine. Flynn took
the briefcase to McAdoo, who with his aids decided that the contents
proved beyond doubt that the German Embassy in the United States was
violating the neutrality laws. McAdoo then took the papers to President
The President asked McAdoo to consult with Col. Edward
House, the president's closest advisor, and Secretary of State Robert
Lansing. The United States government was in a bind because any use
of the papers by the government would show that a government agency
had stolen the papers of a fully accredited diplomat. Colonel House
suggested that the contents of the papers be given to one of the newspapers
to publish. The New York World was chosen and selected papers were given
to the editor, Frank I. Cobb, who agreed to publish them without attribution
in return for exclusive use of the documents.
The newspaper published the contents on page one and two
succeeding pages 15 August 1915. The paper reported that Albert was
the master German spy, who, along with van Papen, devised the Bridgeport
Projectile Company operation and obtained approval for it from the German
military general staff. According to the newspaper, it was their idea
to divert legitimate orders from the British and French away from honest
American munitions firms to their cover company with the intention of
simply storing the gunpowder and shell casings. In fact, they hired
an American industrialist, George Hoardley, to build and operate the
plant so as to appear it was a genuine business.
The New York World also reported that the German government
was financing Viereck's newspaper, The Fatherland. In letters between
Viereck and Albert, published on the front page of the New York World,
it showed that Albert was providing $1,500 monthly to Viereck. It further
revealed that Albert was pushing for more say in how the paper was to
He told Viereck that future payments were being held in
abeyance until there was an understanding between them about the future
direction of the paper's policy and that he, Albert, had a voice in
its financial management.
Other newspapers picked up the story and were constantly
hounding Albert for information. Albert, to try to calm the waters,
gave the New York World a 2,500-word statement to print in its entirety.
In his statement, he claimed that the press misinterpreted his papers.
No one believed him and he was often mocked by being referred to as
"the minister without portfolio."
Although Secretary of the Treasury, McAdoo wanted Albert
recalled by the German government, no official U.S. action was taken
against him. When the war began, Albert returned home to Germany where
he was given responsibility for foreign assets in the country. When
the war ended, he took charge of army surplus sales. In 1923, Chancellor
Stresmann asked him to form a government in the Weimar Republic but
he was unsuccessful in getting the agreement of the various parties.
Instead, he left government to become a rich lawyer and advisor to foreign
corporations in Berlin. During Hitler's Third Reich, Albert was on the
sidelines, having no official role. After World War II be resumed his
career in international business.
On 22 August 1914, von Papen designates Paul Koenig to recruit and
supervise a gang of saboteurs. Koenig owned a small detective company,
the Bureau of Investigation that handled requests from the Atlas Line,
a subsidiary of the German shipping company, the Hamburg-Amerika Line.
To accomplish this new assignment, he established a Secret Service Division
within his company and instituted strict operational security methods.
He prohibited his agents from meeting with him at his office. Instead,
he used various locations, the identities of which were coded using
a "safety block system." For example, a street indicated during
a telephone conversation meant that the actual meeting would occur five
blocks further uptown from the street mentioned.
Over the next year he began to put together his sabotage
rings. Koenig selects the dock area as the logical place to recruit
his members. However, his activities come to the attention of the New
York City Bomb Squad. The Bomb Squad was initially organized to investigate
crimes of violence but as time goes by, the Squad's attention increasingly
focused on the Germans.
One day, members of the Bomb Squad noticed a man apparently
working the docks. Inquiries determined that this individual is Koenig,
who is employed by the German steamship line. What struck the Bomb Squad
as unusual about Koenig's activities, was that they did not appear to
be legitimate. The German steamship lines had attempted to send ships
to sea under false cargo manifests in order to supply German naval raiders.
Because of this violation of American neutrality, the entire steamship
line was tied up in Hoboken for the duration of the war. With absolutely
nothing to do, the Bomb Squad felt it odd for Koenig to be so busy.
They launched an investigation into his activities.
During contact with the Department of Justice, the Bomb
Squad was informed that Koenig had previously come to their attention
but they eventually dropped their surveillance when they came to the
conclusion that he was not worth the effort. The Bomb Squad felt otherwise.
They surveilled Koenig to several popular German hangouts in the city;
one of which was the German Club in Central Park West.
This same club also frequently hosted Albert, Boy-Ed and
The Bomb Squad also determined that Koenig conducted much
of his business out of his office. Knowing that any attempt to enter
the building to collect information would probably come to Koenig's
attention, the Bomb Squad placed a tap on his telephone. For some time
nothing happened until one day they heard a person calling Koenig several
unspeakable names during their conversation. Several days later, the
same person called again, which allowed the Bomb Squad to identify the
telephone number from which the person placed the call. It was a public
telephone at a bar.
The Bomb Squad contacted the bartender who was able to
provide a description of the individual using the telephone. The bartender
did not know his name but thought he lived at a nearby address. Checks
in the neighborhood allowed the Bomb Squad to identify the caller as
George Fuchs. Fuchs was a distant cousin of Koenig who recruited Fuchs
to spy on the Welland Canal. Later, Fuchs moved to New York City where
Koenig hired him to work for $18 a week.
To make contact with Fuchs in a non-threatening way, a
letter is sent to him by the Bomb Squad offering Fuchs a possible job.
A meeting is later arranged and an undercover police officer, posing
as the company representative, met with Fuchs. The undercover officer
was able to gain Fuch's confidence. Fuchs confided to the officer the
details of the Welland Canal and how he came to New York to work for
Koenig. He told the officer that Koenig fired him because of his constant
feuding with one of Koenig's operatives and his drinking and disorderly
habits. Fuchs was also bitter because Koenig refused to pay him for
one days work, a total of $2.57.
The Bomb Squad contacted the Bureau of Investigation and
a few hours later, Koenig is arrested. A search of his house turned
up his little black, loose-leaf book. In it, Koenig meticulously kept
a record of all his agents and their assignments right up to the previous
Franz von Rintelen
On 3 April 1915, Franz von Rintelen arrived in New York City aboard
the S/S Christianiafjord from Sweden. Before leaving for the United
States, he attempted to secure an American passport from the American
military attaché in Berlin, Major Langhorne, but was unsuccessful.
Instead, he procured a Swiss passport, originally issued to Emily V.
Gasche but altered the name to Emile V. Gasche.
Franz von Rintelen
Rintelen's mission was to prevent the shipment of munitions
from the United States to the Allies. He claimed he was sent by the
German Naval Ministry to replace Carl Boy-Ed, who was considered inefficient
and unsatisfactory. He also claimed to have acted independently of Boy-Ed,
von Papen and Ambassador Bernstorff. Instead of seeking assistance from
the Hamburg-American line, which was used by Boy-Ed, von Papen and Bernstorff,
he went to the German Lloyd line.
After his arrival, he probably conferred with Albert,
the commercial attaché and sabotage financier, about the current
situation in the large American munitions plants and to review financial
information gathered by the Reichspress Bureau. He then met with von
Papen to obtain the services of Walter Theodore von Scheele. Scheele
was a major in the German Army and an intelligence agent. He came to
the United States on an industrial espionage mission but was seconded
to von Papen after the latter's arrival. Von Papen agreed to Rintelen's
request and Scheele began to build incendiary bombs for use abroad supply
ships carrying food and munitions to the Allies.
Besides Scheele, Rintelen gathered about him a select
group of recruits to carry out his operational plans. Within this group
was an Executive Committee composed of Scheele; Eno Bode, a German citizen
and superintendent of the Hamburg-American line; Erich von Steinmetz,
also known as Captain Steinberg, Stein, H. Reichart, and Harold Rasmussen,
who reported entered the United States disguised as a woman and carrying
disease germs; and Otto Wolpert, a German citizen who was the pier superintendent
of Atlas Lines. The Executive Committee met on Saturday afternoons at
the Hofbrau House at 27th and Broadway in New York City.
Rintelen's plans called for fomenting strikes, firebombing
shipping, instigating embargoes and pacifist propaganda, fomenting revolution
in Mexico, purchasing munitions for the German government and shipping
supplies to Germany. To finance his operation, Rintelen received funds
from the Reichsbank through Richard A. Timmerscheidt, a naturalized
U.S. citizen of German origin. Timmerscheidt was a partner in the bank
of Ladenberg Thalmann & Co. He was also a German finance agent for
espionage, propaganda and commerce. Scheele testified that Rintelen's
expenditures of $10,000 and over were subject to approval by Albert.
Most of the funds expended were not paid directly from Rintelen's bank
account but rather was disbursed in certificates of deposit payable
On 20 April 1915 Scheele delivered the first lot of 150
firebombs to Wolpert at a meeting at Carl Schimmel's office. Schimmel
was responsible for obtaining information as to the exact sailing dates
of vessels. Scheele had made the bombs in the engine room of the S/S
Friederich der Grosse, NGL pier, in Hoboken. Scheele had constructed
each incendiary device to look like a cigar-shaped tube. The tube was
sealed at both ends. A thin copper disk separated two chambers within
the tube. One of the chambers contained sulfuric acid and the other
was filled with picric acid.
The first operation was planned for New Orleans. Steinberg
had originally traveled there on 4 April to make arrangements for the
distribution of the tetanus, foot and mouth and meningitis germ cultures
that he had smuggled into the country. However, the cultures had lost
their vitality and he was attempting to revive them but was unsuccessful.
Rintelen ordered Steinberg to return to New Orleans with
Bode to recruit individuals to plant the firebombs on ships sailing
from New Orleans. They recruited Maurice C. Conners, an American citizen.
They offered Conners $25,000 cash for planting the bombs and $5,000
for each ship disabled. Before any activity took place, Rintelen canceled
the contract, recalled Steinberg and Bode and sent Scheele to New Orleans.
Scheele contacted Conners to renegotiate the contract and offered $5,000
in cash and $10,000 in notes. When Conners accepted the terms, Rintelen,
using the alias Hansen, confirmed the arrangements in a telegram. Rintelen
sent $5,000 to Scheele through Mechanics and Metals Bank in New York
City to the Bank of New Orleans. Scheele withdrew the funds and paid
Conners in cash.
Conners recruited two other individuals to help him and
all three men traveled to New York. There they conferred with Steinberg,
Bode and Scheele, who provided the three men with 80-90 firebombs. The
three men returned to New Orleans but never carried out the plan. Conners
sold the firebombs to a junk dealer.
Although the first sabotage attempt against shipping was
a failure, Rintelen soon saw success. He persuaded a German-American
woman he knew to write to the Russian military attaché in Paris,
Count Alexis Ignatieff, who was an old friend of hers. In her letter,
she informed the Count that she was acquainted with an American importer,
E.V. Gibbons (in reality, Rintelen) who wanted to import some wine into
the United States. The Count agreed to help and told the woman to have
Gibbons use to his to make the purchase. Rintelen did so and promptly
paid for the shipment.
Rintelen then wrote to the Count, offering the services
of his import-export company to supply goods to Russia. The Count advised
Rintelen to contact the Russian purchasing agents in New York and again
lent his name to establish Rintelen's credentials.
The Russians awarded Rintelen's false company, E.V. Gibbons
& Co. a large contract to deliver munitions and tin meat products.
With the Russian contract in his pocket, Rintelen obtained a three million-dollar
loan, which he deposited in a bank. Rintelen did no intent to fulfill
the contract but the Russians contacted him to request a shorter delivery
date and offered to pay a bonus.
Apprehensive that his intrigue might be exposed, Rintelen
put together a partial shipment and had it loaded on the Phoebus.
The Russians paid Rintelen his bonus at the docks. Unknown to them and
to the guards that patrolled the decks of the ship with carbines at
the ready to discourage pro-German rashness, anti-British stevedores
had dropped at least six of Scheele's incendiary devices in hard-to-see
crevices in the holds now piled tier upon tier with artillery shells
Later Shipping News reported: Accidents. S.S.
Phoebus from New Yorkcaught fire at sea. Brought into port
of Liverpool by H.M.S. Ajax.
The Russians did not suspect anything. Rintelen again
offered his services and filled two large cargo vessels with material.
To cover his plans and divert any suspicion from falling on him, Rintelen
hired detectives to guard the vessels. After the ships left port, they
met the same fate as the Phoebus.
The Russians continued to deal with Rintelen until several
barges of ammunition suddenly sank as the barges were moved from the
Black Tom Island terminal to ships waiting in the harbor. The Russians
did not suspect Rintelen of any wrongdoing but demanded immediate delivery
of the rest of their large order from him. Rintelen informed the Russians
that he had no intention of honoring their order. Following his confrontation
with the Russians, Rintelen moved quickly. He paid off his loan at the
bank and liquidated his cover company. By the time the Russians obtained
legal counsel, the firm of E.V. Gibbons no longer existed.
On 2 May 1915, the British freighter Kirk Oswald
sailed from New York bound for Archangel, Russia but was diverted to
Marseilles, France. On board the ship, French police discovered the
incendiary devices and contacted the New York City Bomb Squad. The Bomb
Squad began an investigation and pursued several dead end leads. They
initially suspected that an individual or individuals had somehow placed
the incendiary devices in the sugar bags as the bags were transported
from small boats to the ships for loading. Their investigation failed
to discover any saboteurs but they did find stealing of sugar by several
of the barge captains.
The Bomb Squad had exhausted all their leads and their
investigation was going nowhere until they received a telephone call
from the French military attaché in New York. The attaché
informed the Bomb Squad about a man who was believed to be involved
in purchasing explosive material.
Officers from the Bomb Squad met with the man identified
as Wettig. Wettig told his story and cooperated with the officers, who
accompanied Wettig as he purchased the material and then delivered it
to an address. A check by the officers revealed that the address was
a delivery drop site. The actual destination for the package was a garage
on Main Street in Weehawken, New Jersey. The officers also determined
that the person to whom the package was destined was individual by the
name of Fay.
Robert Fay's Suitcase
The officers tried to deliver the package to Fay but he
was out when the arrived. They left the package but placed surveillance
on the garage. The Bomb Squad picked up Fay's trail and surveilled him
and another individual along the Palisades where the two men stopped
and disappeared into a wooded area. No attempt was made to follow them.
Surveillance continued on Fay for several days. Because the Bomb Squad
had no arrest powers in New Jersey, the Bomb Squad contacted the Weehawken
police and also the Secret Service. The three agencies agreed to cooperate
and conducted joint surveillance on Fay. When Fay returned to the wooded
area along the Palisades, surveillance team members followed them. Fay
was arrested and confessed that he was a German agent but initially
did not implicate anyone else. Later, he told the authorities that he
had been waiting for word from von Papen or Boy-Ed to begin his sabotage
operations. He said he never planted any incendiary bombs on any ships.
He was tried, convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. After
a month in jail, Fay escaped and traveled to Baltimore where he met
with Koenig who provided him with funds and instructed Fay to go to
San Francisco. Fay, who feared that he would be killed, disobeyed and
fled to Mexico and then to Spain, where he was finally captured in 1918.
Robert Fay being fingerprinted after his arrest.
The Bomb Squad was no closer to catching the saboteurs.
A decision was made to send several German-speaking officers into the
bars to strike up conversations with the customers. One officer got
lucky when one of patrons asked the officer if he would like to be introduced
to a man who was doing some work for the Germans. The officer, who used
the cover story that he was a special agent for German Ambassador von
Bernstorff, was subsequently presented to Captain Charles von Kleist.
At their first meeting, von Kleist never questioned the
officer's bona fides but proceeded to tell the officer about an individual
named Dr. Walter T. Scheele, who was using von Kleist in his laboratory
in Hoboken. According to von Kleist, Scheele claimed to be a member
of the German Secret service. Although the laboratory was ostensibly
fabricating agricultural chemicals, von Kleist said its genuine operation
was to manufacture incendiary devices. He provided further information
on the other members involved in the operation and how the devices were
assembled. The reason von Kleist unburdened his soul to the officer
was his anger at Scheele because he was owed $134 in back pay and Scheele
would not pay up.
The officer asked von Kleist if he would be willing to
meet with a man, who was close to Wolf von Igel and in a position to
get von Kleist his back pay if what he said was true. Without any hesitation,
von Kleist agreed.
Several days later the Bomb Squad officer and one of his
colleagues, posing as the man close to von Igel, met with von Kleist.
Again von Kleist repeated his story and offered to show the two officers
proof. He took them to the back yard of his house where he dug up one
of the empty bomb containers.
The officers then proceeded to arrest von Kleist and took
him to their headquarters. Thomas Tunney, the chief of the Bomb Squad,
interviewed von Kleist, who repeated his story. After von Kleist was
finished, Tunney stepped out of the room for several minutes. A workman
was nearby repairing a light fixture and von Kleist, having heard the
workman speak some English with a German accent, asked the workman if
he would deliver notes to several people. The workman agreed.
Oblivious to the fact that he had been conned twice by
two police officers pretending to be someone they were not, von Kleist
readily accepted the workman as a legitimate workman. In fact, the workman
was another police officer planted in the room. The police used the
notes written by Von Kleist as calling cards.
Unfortunately, Scheele escaped arrest and fled to Cuba
but was later arrested by the Havana police. The other members of Scheele's
operation and von Kleist were tried, convicted and sentenced to 18 months
In late April, Rintelen met David Lamar at the offices
of Frederico Stallforth, a German citizen and financier, who provided
funds to Poncho Villa. Lamar, a U.S. citizen, was formerly employed
by J.P. Morgan & Co. but was dismissed and became a crooked stock
manipulator known as the "Wolf of Wall Street." Rintelen and
Lamar conceived a plan to foment strikes in munitions factories and
shipping agencies. Their goal was to force an embargo on munitions by
Presidential or Congressional action, hinder the manufacture and shipping
of munitions by attacks on financial institutions and by litigation
against pro-Ally business organizations, to create a peace sentiment
in the country, and to crystallize pro-German sentiment.
Rintelen provided $300,000 to $400,000 to Lamar, who was
considered to be the brains and the propelling force behind the conspiracy.
Lamar's experience on Wall Street and his anti-trust agitation, his
knowledge of conditions and individuals, his genius for manipulation
and his lack of scruples, seemed an ideal fit for Rintelen's plan. However,
Rintelen later realized that Lamar had swindled him.
Lamar's scam of Rintelen did not mean that the plan was
not put into effect. The group hired Frank Buchanan, former President
of the International Union of Structural Workers, who was serving in
Congress as the representative of the Seventh District (Northern Chicago
area). Buchanan was expected to introduce and lead the fight in Congress
for embargo legislation. He served the cause well until he was paid;
thereafter he went on a prolonged drunk and was useless.
Rintelen was now under intense investigation by American
authorities. He decided to leave the United States. Having failed to
procure an American passport, he used his Swiss passport in the name
of Emile Gasche on which he had entered the U.S. He departed the United
States on 3 August 1915 aboard the Noordam. When he arrived in
Britain on 13 August, British port Control officers arrested him. The
British interned him.
Rintelen and several others were indicted by a Federal
Grand Jury in December 1915, under the Sherman Act for conspiracy to
instigate strikes. However, it wasn't until April 1917 that Rintelen
was extradited to the United States from Great Britain. Rintelen was
tried, convicted and sentenced to one year in prison. This was the first
of several indictments of Rintelen. He was later indicted, tried and
convicted of a conspiracy to obtain a U.S. passport by perjury, for
a plot to destroy the ship S.S. Kirk Oswald, and for firebomb
In his jail cell in the Tombs, in New York City, Rintelen
asked the Swiss Embassy to protest to the German government concerning
his treatment and requested retaliation against members of the Allied
Mission to Russia. The German government, through the Swiss Embassy,
presented a note to the State Department regarding Rintelen. In the
note, they stated that they have been unable to effect an improvement
in the situation of Rintelen or his release and threaten reprisals.
They proposed to exchange Rintelen for one Siegfried Paul London, who
was condemned in Warsaw as a spy.
Secretary of State Robert Lansing answered the note, refusing
to consider the release of Rintelen. He denied that reprisals in such
a case would be legitimate and suggested that the German Government
consider the large number of German subjects interned in the United
States who could be made the subject of similar action.
Black Tom Island
The single, most important munitions and gunpowder assembly and shipping
center in the United States to supply the Allies was located at Black
Tom Island in New York harbor. Because of its importance, it became
an obvious target for sabotage. For more than one year the German sabotage
leaders, von Papen and Boy-Ed, focused on the facility and viewed it
as a critically important target that had to be hit. Despite the recall
of von Papen and Boy-Ed in 1915, the targeting of the Black Tom Island
On Sunday, 30 July 1916 New York harbor "erupted
in one of the greatest military explosions prior to the holocaust of
Hiroshima nearly four decades later."87 Several days
after the explosion had destroyed the entire facility, federal officials
and the media attributed the massive blast to carelessness not to sabotage.
In fact, the investigation by the police departments of New York and
New Jersey and by federal authorities, which lasted many years, failed
to clearly determine how the tremendous blaze originated.
The Bayonne police department acquired the first lead
when Anna Chapman contacted them to report her suspicions regarding
a lodger at her boarding house. She told Captain John J. Rigney, chief
of the police department that her lodger, Michael Kristoff, had returned
to the house about 4 A.M. the morning of the explosion and proceeded
to pace the floor for a long time. She further stated that she had noticed
that whenever Kristoff was out-of-town there had been reported explosions
or fires at those locations. She further added that one-day she observed
a letter written by Kristoff to an individual, whose name was something
like Graentnor, demanding large sums of money.
The Bayonne Police Department contacted the New York City
Bomb Squad and the Department of Justice to brief them on Chapman's
information. Surveillance of Kristoff began and for three weeks he was
followed. The police eventually arrested him but no real evidence had
been gathered to make the prosecution's case and he was released.
The Lehigh Valley Railroad hired the William J. Burns
Detective Agency to investigate Kristoff. One of the detectives gained
Kristoff's confidence by using the cover as an anarchist. Kristoff told
the detective that he was responsible for the Black Tom Island blast.
He also introduced the detective to David Grossman, who confirmed Kristoff's
involvement in the Black Tom Island affair.
The Kingsland Site
Following the success of Black Tom Island, the next target selected
by the German saboteurs was the Canadian Car and Foundry Company at
Kingsland. The company had been contracted by the Russians to manufacture
artillery shells. The company executives decided not to take any chances
with security for their plant. They constructed a six-foot fence around
the plant and hired security guards to conduct 24-hour patrols around
the perimeter and to screen each worked as they entered the plant.
The group of saboteurs operated under the direction of
Frederick Hinsch. Hinsch recruited a German national Curt Thummel, who
changed his name to Charles Thorne. Hinsch instructed Thorne to obtain
employment at the Kingsland site. Thorne is hired as assistant employment
manager. In this position he facilitated the hiring of several operatives
sent by Hinsch to infiltrate the factory. One of the men hired is Theodore
Unknown to the saboteurs, a British spy informed the British
Secret Service that an individual by the name of Wozniak is a German
or Austrian agent. According to the British source, Wozniak has obtained
employment with a company located in Kingsland. Fortunately for the
saboteurs, the British ignored the information.
After the Kingsland plant is completely destroyed, police
and federal investigators uncovered the source of the fire. It started
at Wozniak's workbench in Building 30. Like the Black Tom Island explosion,
there is no conjecture that sabotage caused the destruction.
Executives of the company launched their own investigation
and it pointed to Wozniak. They engaged the services of private detectives
to follow Wozniak but he slipped away from them and disappeared.
When the United States declares war on Germany, the German
Ambassador von Bernstorff returned home. Three days later, on 17 February
1917, three Germans are arrested for attempting to sabotage the Black
Tom Island facility, which had been rebuilt. Under a wartime situation,
sabotage was no longer an option since the penalty was death to anyone
caught in the act. With the ringleaders gone, the other German saboteurs
fled the United States.