George John Dasch (February 7, 1903 – 1992) was a German agent 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 John 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 through a port in Philadelphia by ship as a stowaway then stayed in New York City. For four years, he drifted among several New York restaurants with one season spent at a hotel in Miami Beach. In 1927, Dasch enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was assigned to the 5th Composite Group of Newton field in Honolulu and served with the 72nd Bombardment Squadron, but after a year, he purchased himself out of the Army, receiving an honorable discharge. He then worked as a waiter in San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and back in New York City. In 1930, he 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 landed on Long Island, New York shortly after midnight on June 12. They were wearing German Navy uniforms to avoid being shot as spies if captured during the landing. 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. By the time an armed patrol returned to the site, the Germans had taken the Long Island Rail Road train from the Amagansett station into Manhattan, New York City, where they checked in and stayed at a hotel. 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. However, the FBI did not know exactly where the Germans were going.
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. Dasch ordered Burger to stay and keep an eye on the German agents. On June 15, Dasch called the FBI office in New York from a pay-telephone on Manhattan's Upper West Side to convey the information to Director Hoover. When the FBI agent did not believe his story, Dasch hung up and took a train to Washington D.C. Four days later and booked in at the Mayflower Hotel. He then went to the FBI headquarters asking to speak to Hoover. Dasch tried to tell the truth to the FBI officials, but they did not believe his story. While Dasch was at FBI headquarters, the FBI sent agents to his hotel room where they found $82,500 in cash. 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. Armed with the information Dasch provided, the FBI arrested Burger and six other German agents within the following week. The FBI withheld the true circumstances of their arrest prior to the trial of the eight men, including the fact that they did not actually consummate their plans of sabotage.
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 1948, President Harry S. Truman had both Burger and Dasch released and deported to Germany. They were not welcomed back because they were regarded as traitors who had caused the death of their comrades. Although they had been promised pardons by Hoover in exchange for their cooperation, both men died without ever receiving them. Dasch died in 1992 at the age of 89 in Ludwigshafen.