Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America, by Michael Dobbs

My version: 9781400030422

In the past few years, several books have been written about an event I’d only heard of in the fantastic BBC documentary series Secrets of World War II. Suddenly, there are plenty of books detailing “Operation Pastorius,” a unique one in that German agents were sent to the United States in 1942 to perform sabotage operations and spy on the American war effort.

51nxyww26alMichael Dobbs’ book Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America is the only one on the subject that I’ve picked up so far, and I found it to be a fantastic work of nonfiction, just the right length with just the right amount of information for newbies to the subject. I was writing a thesis paper on Nazi movements in the U.S. and this book popped up on my radar. I didn’t use it, but read it after my paper was done and I had downtime…well spent, too.

If you haven’t heard the story, the book revolves around the events far more than the case (which was probably cut and dried once the trials got started). Eight German spies, a few of whom lived in the United States for many years before the war, were trained to spy and conduct sabotage operations against U.S. factories and refineries to disrupt war production and report back to Germany. Two U-Boats dropped the men off on the beaches with their money, clothes, and other gear to do their work. One landing party was even discovered by one of the Coast Guard on patrol, whom they “bribed” and sent on his way. Then the men went off in different directions to perform the operation.

The kicker is, even after being found by that patrolman, how far would the saboteurs have gotten if two of them didn’t decide to call it off and go to the authorities themselves?

To me, that makes the case incredibly interesting. Overall, the events involve mixed agendas, spy-craft, treachery, and enough bungling by Americans and Germans alike to provide decent fodder for a drinking game (Bonus: get the audio version and do the designated shots while playing “Axis & Allies”).


On the other hand, the map & figures are small enough as it is. Adding “blurry-vision” would be too confusing.

For those interested in early American counter-intelligence, let’s just say that this book doesn’t put us in the most positive light. If you don’t care much for J. Edgar Hoover, I’ll just say his tendency to take credit for all the good things that came out of the investigation will give you plenty of ammo.

Saboteurs is chock full of names and places, but with the chronological layout of the book, it’s not that difficult to follow. Also, the book focuses on the relevance of what happened, the players where they were, from Germany, to the U-Boats, to the landing zones, dispersal, investigation, roundup, trial, and beyond.


Seriously, this documentary series is kick-ass. Best DVDs I ever got off eBay

If you don’t know very much about this event, I’d recommend this book for anyone wanting to understand German spy-craft, the Hoover-era FBI and counter-intelligence, the American home-front, and a very peculiar case that might raise a few questions even as it answers them. I find the early 20th century to be interesting already, but found this story to be just crazy.

I’ve read this book twice and consider it a great companion to the Secrets of World War II episode “When Hitler Invaded America.” So, in a valiant effort to make room on my bookshelf, something has to go, and I’m donating this book to the local library (heaven knows out in the sticks they need some good nonfiction books for those past the 8th grade level).

So, give this case a whirl. And just to treat yourself right after reading (or before), go find a movie about Nazis and the FBI called Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939). It definitely has a bit of American propaganda chucked into the ending, but hey, it’s Warner Bros., and they were definitely not afraid of repercussions from the Nazis (good for them) when every other studio seemed to cater to the Nazi regime in order to sell their movies in Germany.

But that’s a question and a rant for another day…

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