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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

German Sabotage in the US


chrisharley9

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When I was younger there was US made Great War history series on ITV each episode about 30 mins long - one of the episodes featured German acts of sabotage at US munitions works- Does any Pal have any further details about this or any other German acts against the US economy either before or after the US entry into the Great War

All The Best

Chris

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Hi Chris,

If you do a search for "Black Tom Explosion" you'll find some interesting theories regarding German sabotage and involvement in the explosion in Jersey City in 1916. I seem to recall The Game of the Foxes dealt with some German espionage and sabotage pre-1917.

There were many allegations even some in my current neck of the woods (Kingsland had a shell factory explosion as well as allegations of sabotage in Wallington NJ). I certainly think the lax security at many of these sites invited German sabotage, but unskilled workers working with explosives in rather lax safety conditions could also be to blame. When something went wrong it certainly wasn't the factory owners fault, it was those no-good Germans!

<_<

Unfortunately there's not much evidence to go on, if you track the newspaper reports, they are essentially conjecture and there are no available records of investigations.

just my own experience, I'm sure others will add more.

Take care,

Neil

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The book "The Dark Invader" by Captain Von Rintelen (Penguin old but still only 2 quid odd a copy)reveals the sabotage of British bound munition shipping coming out of New York. Von R hired a dodgy chemist to make time fused bombs that would sink ships in the Atlantic. These were placed in the hold amongst cargo by Irish men who were more than keen to do their bit for the German Naval Officer, given the rebellious streak of Irish ex pats. He was scuppered when the Chemist asked fopr more money and grassed him for not being forthcoming. I edont think he did B;acl Tom though, he implicates colleagues.

look at Lloyds shipping register and youll see that there were a handful of ships that were the victims of fire aorund this time. He exaggerated his claims to his success a little.

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Neil

My thanks - have some interesting sites on Black Tom, but as you say very little solid to say that the Germans actually did it

Chris

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Neil

My thanks - have some interesting sites on Black Tom, but as you say very little solid to say that the Germans actually did it

Chris

I am not expert on any actual sabotage, but I think that there were a handful of actual incidents of sabotage.

I have been researching the anti-German hysteria in the US for a guy making a film touching on it (referring to a large-scale massacre of allegedly German dogs (German Shepards, Daschhunds, Dobermans, etc.) in a public ceremony in Columbus, Ohio in 1917), and it was truly breathtaking. One hyperactive District Attorney, in one legal action, indited 167 bishops and pastors of a main-stream German-American church for treason. A society to spy on German-Americans and even conduct drum-head extra-legal "trials" had hundreds of thousands of members. I only know of one completed to death lynching, but there were many incomplete lynchings, tarring and featherings (which can be fatal), home invasions, people beaten and humiliated in public ceremonies, book-burnings, etc.

This activity was actually much worse in WW I than in WW II, although the moral issues were certainly less obvious in WW I. (I say this even though my family was spied on for four years during WW II, our house was searched by the FBI about 50 times, and my mother and I came close to being chucked in a camp, although my father was a very valuable civilian employee of the US Navy in a war zone. The wife of our family doctor spent the war in a camp.) Our Congress recently passed a law which memorialized the "camping" of Japanese-Americans, while it simultaneously made illegal a particular form of mention of the "camping" of German-Americans and Italian-Americans, who were "camped" in roughly equal numbers.

In some states the teaching of German was made illegal, and possibly even the speaking of German. These oppressions really broke the back of a very active German-American culture in the US. A lot of this frenzy was fired by an elaborate campaign of sometimes fantastic anti-German propaganda organized by the British, also using Canadian sorrogates.

In this athmosphere, it is hardly remarkable that the odd fire, careless accidents in munitions factories, etc., would be instantly ascribed to diabolical Hunnish sabotage.

Bob Lembke

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Bob

Many thanks for your contribution

Chris

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Chris,

The German campaign of sabotage in the US was widespread and, in some cases, potentially very effective. As well as the Rintelen memoir already mentioned, see The Enemy Within: The Inside Story of German Sabotage in America by H Landau, (1937) for specifics.

You will also find that all American claims against Germany and German firms went through the Mixed Claims Commision, a tribunal charged with adjudicating US claims against the Central Powers for monetry damage arising from WW1. All claims, excepting those arising from sabotage, were settled by 1933. I think a good place to start would be the US National Archives, possibly a document (which I have not seen myself) entitled: 'Preliminary inventory of records relating to United States claims against the Central Powers (record group 76)' by GS Ulibarri and FJ Heppner.

I am also looking into some matters that were settled by litigation and came across this source but haven't yet requested the document.

Good luck,

Bruce

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Hi Bruce,

Thank you for that additional information.

Hi Bob,

I'm not trying to downplay any particular groups internment during WWII, an injustice is/was an injustice regardless of scale, but most sources I've seen (and most I've checked online today) indicate that German and Italian internees were roughly 10-15,000 which is about 10-13% the numbers of Japanese-Americans interned. Are you aware of a different total? Again, I do not wish to play the A suffered more than B as each story is it's own tragedy.

Thanks,

Neil

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Bruce

I will check that book out - thanks

Chris

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Hi Bruce,

Thank you for that additional information.

Hi Bob,

I'm not trying to downplay any particular groups internment during WWII, an injustice is/was an injustice regardless of scale, but most sources I've seen (and most I've checked online today) indicate that German and Italian internees were roughly 10-15,000  which is about 10-13% the numbers of Japanese-Americans interned. Are you aware of a different total? Again, I do not wish to play the A suffered more than B as each story is it's own tragedy.

Thanks,

Neil

Neil;

No, I don't want to get into a case of what I call the "Victimization Olympics". My point is that in WW I, although the moral questions were clearly less clear and distinct than in WW II, the tone of the intimidation was more severe, by far, in WW I. I am researching my family history, and the stuff I mentioned is coming out of the family "closet".

I do not know the exact numbers (and I would be cautious about any numbers that I saw), but my understanding is that the totals for non-Japanese internments was roughly the same as the Japanese. Of course, since there were tens of millions of German- and Italian Americans, the percent of the population "camped" was much smaller; additionally, there clearly was a strong ethnic element with the Japanese, and a desire to force "fire sales" of their California properties, especially farms, especially very valuable farms. They were given two days to sell their property. Not a good situation to get a fair price for you life's work.

The example of downgrading of non-Japanese "camping" that I referred to was the passage of a law by Congress, I think in the late 1990's, declaring ten camps as National Landmarks, memoralizing the Japanese suffering. However, the same law made it unlawful for any of the signage at the camps to even mention any other internees, even though in some cases there were as many non-Japanese in the camps. About 2000 there was some political pressure to look at the question of other internees, and some hearings were to be scheduled, and then "9/11" happened, and the topic was dropped.

One of the awkward matters, and also evidence that the total number must have been higher (but possibly too broad a category), was the manner in which the US pressured many Central and South American countries to round up their recent immigrants from the Axix countries and allow the US to collect them and ship them to camps in the US. An ugly side of this was that these aliens were then swapped with the Axis for American civilians interned in the Axis state. And, being rather PC (joke), there was no religous descrimination; evidently some Jews that had escaped Europe in the 1930's were swapped for Americans and sent back to the Nazis. This was one of the things that were to be looked at in the planned hearings, I believe.

In our case, the FBI actually came to our house after the war to close the case, and informed us that we had been denounced by a neighbor, drunkard, wife-beater and a notorious (and very inept) bar-brawler. He had attempted to force himself into our apartment and search it, my father invited him in, and the jerk assaulted my father. The latter, three years in the storm troops, later the Freikorps, and a large, tough guy, applied the appropriate physical corrective and then threw him down a flight of stairs. He then went off to the FBI and told them that he had spied in our window and saw my father receiving his orders from Germany on our AM radio. The FBI said that it was a strange denunciation but that they would surveil us just to be careful. (I am sure that today one would not get one word of explaination.) But the potential "camping" was threatened by Naval Intelligence, but the US Navy base commander told the NI officer that he would house him in a tent in the jungle if my mother and I were sent off.

But, for all that, the abuse in WW I was much more widespread and probably (certainly) featured more serious abuse.

Bob Lembke

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Hi Bob,

Thank you for that, very interesting story and insight into your family's history. I agree regarding anti-German hysteria in the US during WWI my question was spurred by curiosity, nothing more.

Thank you again,

Neil

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