Operation Pastorius Hitler's Unfulfilled Dream of a New York in Flames


By Eike Frenzel

Part 2: Hitler's Dream of New York in Flames

In faraway Germany, despite the failure of the sabotage mission, Hitler was still obsessed with the idea of seeing New York in flames. As he saw it, his mighty opponent on the other side of the Atlantic had to be forced out of the war by several well-placed attacks on the home front. As Hitler's favorite architect, Albert Speer, recalled in his "Spandau Diaries," Hitler took great pleasure in watching films in the Reich Chancellery of "London burning," of "exploding convoys" and of a "sea of fire over Warsaw." Hitler was intoxicated with the idea of "the downfall of New York in towers of flames."

Given Hitler's enthusiasm for striking at New York, it's no surprise that Nazi strategists developed several plans for just that, some of which even pre-dated the war. In 1937, for example, during a visit to the factories of the Messerschmitt aircraft company in the southern German city of Augsburg, Hitler was presented with the prototype of a four-engine long-range bomber, the Messerschmitt Me 264, which was being designed to be able to reach America's East Coast from Europe.

Hitler was thrilled about the idea of an "Amerika bomber" whose explosive cargo could reduce US cities to ash and rubble. But what he didn't know was that the Me 264's designer, Willy Messerschmitt, had actually shown him a mock-up that wasn't capable of flight in order to win a lucrative contract -- and no one could really say when the aircraft would be ready to be put into operation.

When it starting looking like they would lose the war, the Nazis started putting a lot of hope in developing so-called "miracle weapons." The army research center at Peenemünde, a village on the Baltic Sea island of Usedom, was a cornucopia of such ideas. The same center that had more or less successfully fired the first V-2 rocket in 1942 was supposed to be able to finally launch an "Amerika rocket" by the time the war ended.

The A-9/A-10 rocket was designed to be 25 meters (82 feet) long, or about 10 meters longer than the V-2. Weighing nearly 100 tons, it was engineered to climb to an altitude of 24 kilometers (15 miles) before beginning its trans-Atlantic flight toward the United States. Another research group aimed to allow a pilot to steer the rocket and eject just before it reached its target -- a veritable suicide mission.

In theoretical terms, at least, the destructive ingenuity of German engineers knew no bounds. They toyed with the idea of having submarines pull floating containers holding modified V-2 rockets to America's East Coast. Once in position, the containers would have been flooded in a way that made the rockets point straight up out of the water, clear for launch.

The development Nazi military technology was only made possible through the brutal employment of forced labor. Workers died by the thousands in underground production facilities and secret factories. But there were also many volunteers who -- for the sake of the success of the "America weapons" -- would have been willing to die a miserable "hero's death," even if it meant steering rockets launched from carrier planes kamikaze-like into downtown New York.

Scarce Equipment and Amateurish Agents

In the end, all the high-flying attack plans of the Nazis only had one thing in common: none of them were put into action. In December 1941, the American magazine Life published a sketch of the Big Apple under a headline about how Nazi planes could bomb New York. In 1944, the same publication quoted New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia as saying there could be a German missile strike on the US. But, in the end, neither an "Amerika bomber" nor a long-range Nazi missile was ever to appear on the New York skyline.

More than anything, it was Allied bombing raids on German factories that persistently delayed the development of trans-Atlantic attack capabilities and, as the war went on, made them impossible. A shortage of materials, a lack of time and the sheer volume of new engineering projects worked to prevent the fulfillment of Hitler's dream of seeing America go up in flames.

When it comes to the amateur agents involved in "Operation Pastorius," it's more than likely that they would have eventually blown their cover, even if Dasch hadn't defected. Indeed, from the very beginning, the mission was ill-fated: One of the agents had already ducked out of it after having contracted gonorrhea in Paris. And, in the United States, Edward Kerling, the leader of the four-man team in Florida, reportedly boasted to an old friend there about his secret mission. And Herbert Haupt, a member of Kerling's team, even visited his father in Chicago and asked him to buy him a black Pontiac sports car -- claiming he needed it while travelling on business for the German government.


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