In 1942, Hitler's Nazi regime trained eight operatives for a mission to infiltrate America and do devastating damage to its infrastructure. It was a plot that proved historically remarkable for two reasons: the surprising extent of its success and the astounding nature of its failure. Soon after two U-Boats packed with explosives arrived on America's shores–one on Long Island, one in Florida–it became clear that the incompetence of the eight saboteurs was matched only by that of American authorities. In fact, had one of the saboteurs not tipped them off, the FBI might never have caught the plot's perpetrators–though a dozen witnesses saw a submarine moored on Long Island.
As told by Michael Dobbs, the story of the botched mission and a subsequent trial by military tribunal, resulting in the swift execution of six saboteurs, offers great insight into the tenor of the country--and the state of American intelligence--during World War II and becomes what is perhaps a cautionary tale for our times.
The first German sabotage mission to reach the shores of the U.S. during WWII is the subject of Washington Post correspondent Dobbs's follow-up to Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth Century Odyssey and Down with Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. The early background chapters concerning the recruitment and training of the German agents can be slow going, but once the story reaches the open seas, the landing of the agents on the shores of Long Island and Florida, and their movements within the U.S., it will captivate readers for the remainder of the book. The detailed account of the summer 1942 landing of the eight German saboteurs, all with prewar experience in the U.S., is engrossing, as is their stalking by the FBI with the help of several other government agencies (livened up with extensive reconstructed dialogue that leans on declassified material). The personalities and careers of the eight are revealed in some detail, including those of two American citizens, as is the fate of the two surviving members. The interagency jealousies that plagued the case throughout the pursuit and trial of the agents add an additional dimension to what would otherwise be a simple spy story. After one of their number, American George J. Dasch, finally gets cold feet and turns the group in, the account of the military trial and the parts played by the Justice Department, President Roosevelt and the Supreme Court become as fascinating as the main story. The legal aspects of the case, clearly and simply explained, are echoed today, since the saboteurs' trial by a military tribunal, rather than a civil court, is a precedent for the impending trial of accused terrorists held at the prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. Easy going and compelling, this title should find favor beyond the WWII niche.