Related Resources: German Espionage
and Sabotage Against the U.S. in World War II
The Amagansett Incident
[Source: Eastern Sea Frontier War Diary, Chapter 4, June 1942, 1-12. This document is held by the Military Reference Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740.].
Shortly after midnight on June 13th, four trained German saboteurs landed on the beach near the Coast Guard Station at Amagansett, Long Island. They had made the voyage across the Atlantic in a German submarine and had rowed ashore in a collapsible rubber boat containing clothing, explosives, and several thousand dollars in cash. On June 17th, four other saboteurs were similarly landed from a submarine at Ponte Vedra Beach, south of Jacksonville, Florida. On June 27th, J. Edgar Hoover announced the arrest of all eight saboteurs and the discovery of maps and plans for a two year program designed to destroy war plants, railways, water works and bridges in the United States.
Responsibility for dealing with the search for the saboteurs falls largely outside the functions of the Eastern Sea Frontier organization. Nevertheless, the defense of the coast and beach patrol involves certain important aspects of coordinated activities included in tasks assigned to the Frontier. Therefore, an account of the landing is here given, together with subsequent activities excluding the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI].
In accordance with earlier directives, there were two agencies responsible for patrol and defense of beaches. The first of these was known as the Coast Guard Beach Patrol and at the time of this incident the Beach Guard posts covered an area of about three miles. Headquarters for the Beach Patrol in the area was the East Amagansett Coast Guard Life Saving Station from which one man patrolled east three miles, alone and unarmed, by day and night. The more substantial defense was the Army Coastal Defense, coordinated with lookout towers, machine gun nests, searchlights, and trucks. In the Amaganset area, the 113th Mobile Infantry Unit, with about 100 officers and men, was located some five miles down the beach from the East Amagansett Coast Guard Station.
At 0010 on June 13th, John C. Cullen, Seaman second class, 21 years old, left the Coast Guard Station for his patrol. The night was particularly dark, with fog rolling in across the beach from the ocean. At the station, the man in charge was Carl Ross Jenette, Boatswain's Mate second class. His commanding officer, Warrant Officer Oden, had left the base for liberty several hours earlier. On this stretch of beach lay sand dunes covered with long grass which stretch for several hundred yards to the beach road winding among a few small cottages and fishermen's shacks. Cullen had proceeded only 300 yards along the beach toward Montauk when he almost stumbled upon three men, working beside a small boat at the waterline.
One of them, dressed in civilian clothes, was on shore; the other two, wearing bathing suits, stood in the surf up to their knees. The conversation which follows is taken from the official U.S. Coast Guard report:
"Cullen called out, 'What's the trouble?'
"Nobody answered. The man on shore started toward Cullen.
"Cullen called again, 'Who are you?'
"There was no answer. The man kept advancing.
"Cullen reached to his hip pocket for a flashlight. The foremost man saw the motion, and apparently thinking the Coast Guardsman was reaching for a gun, cried out, 'Wait a minute. Are you the Coast Guard?'
"Cullen answered, 'Yes. Who are you?'
"'A couple of fishermen from Southampton who have run aground.'
"'Come up to the station and wait for daybreak.'
"Cullen recalled later that the weather seemed to get worse and the fog closed in.
"The spokesman snapped, 'Wait a minute--you don't know what's going on. How old are you? Have you a father and mother? I wouldn't want to have to kill you.'
"A fourth man in a bathing suit came up through the fog, dragging a bag. He started to speak in German.
"Cullen spoke up, 'What's in the bag?'
"Cullen knew there were no clams for miles around.
"The man in civilian clothes said, 'Yes, that's right.'
"Cullen's pretended gullibility appeared to influence him. In a friendly voice he said, 'Why don't you forget the whole thing? Here is some money. One hundred dollars.'
"Cullen said, 'I don't want it.'
"The man took some more bills out of his wallet. 'Then take $300.'
"Cullen thought fast. He answered, 'O.K.'
"The stranger gave him the money, saying, 'Now look me in the eyes.'
"As Cullen explained to his superiors later, he said he was afraid he might be hypnotized. The stranger insisted. Cullen braced himself and looked directly at the man. Nothing happened to Cullen's relief. As he looked at him, the stranger kept repeating, 'Would you recognize me if you saw me again?'
"When Cullen finally said 'No,' the man appeared satisfied.
At about 0025 Cullen left the men and started walking back into the fog toward the station. Once out of sight, he ran until he reached the station where he told his story to Boatswain's Mate Jenette. Jenette immediately telephoned his superiors, Warrant Officer Oden and Chief Boatswain's Mate Warren Barnes, who lived nearby. At 0105, Jenette gathered three other men in the station, armed them and Cullen with .30 caliber rifles and returned to the beach. Visibility was so poor that the search conducted at this time was very brief. Subsequent reports revealed tht the men were naturally frightened by the situation and felt themselves inadequately equipped to deal with any considerable landing party.
At 0112, Chief Boatswain's Mate Barnes appeared at the Station and took charge. Cullen told him that he had heard the noise of powerful Diesel engines just offshore. This statement may well be considered as an argument after the fact. Similarly several other reports of sightings seemed to have dubious foundation. For example, Barnes stated that when he reached the beach he saw through a rift in the fog a long thin object about 70 feet long, not more than 150 feet offshore, and that he noticed a strong odor of Diesel fumes. Barnes further stated that he feared a landing in force and therefore distributed his men behind sand dunes with orders to resist invasion, but that the fog swallowed up the mysterious ship and the noises died away. At this point Cullen and Barnes returned to the Station where Cullen insisted on getting rid of the bribe money which had been given him. Barnes made out a receipt for the money and it was discovered that Cullen had been short changed $40.
The first report that left the station was a telephone call to the Coast Guard Headquarters at 42 Broadway, New York City. The Coast Guard Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant Nirshel, warned Barnes that he should keep the matter entirely secret; that he should tell nobody and that he should admit nobody to the Station. At 0155, Lieutenant Nirshel phoned the District Intelligence Office, Third Naval District, and stated that an encounter had taken place between the Coast Guardsman and the stranger on the beach at Amagansett. At approximately 0200 Queen [local time zone], Assistant Duty Officer Ensign Fitzgerald of the Third Naval District telephoned the Assistant Duty Officer at Headquarters, Eastern Sea Frontier. To secure more information on the subject, the Assistant Duty Officer at ESF [Eastern Sea Frontier] telephoned the Coast Guard Officer at Headquarters, New York and asked whether the Army should be notified and troops sent to the scene. He was told there were at least 100 Coast Guardsmen at the scene, together with all available Coast Guard craft searching the area. It subsequently developed that the number of men at the scene at this time was eight; but that at 0200 an Army lieutenant with twenty men arrived at the scene.
At the Amagansett Naval Radio Station, Chief Radioman McDonald had known something about the dangers which existed. Again it is difficult to discover the actual facts. His own story is that he had heard Diesel motors, had smelled Diesel oil, and had heard a Diesel horn. Fearing that a landing party was being put ashore to destroy the radio station, he said, he evacuated his family to Amagansett in the middle of the night and then tried to inform the Coast Guard Station. The man who answered the telephone stated that he was not permitted to discuss any details as to possible enemy activity. Chief Radioman McDonald stated that because he wanted protection he telephoned the 113th Mobile Infantry Unit five miles down the beach; that the answer given was, "I am sorry, we can't leave the premises without orders from the Captain."
In Headquarters, Eastern Sea Frontier, shortly after 0200 the following men were notified: Ships' Plot Officer, Intelligence Officer, and the Army Liaison Officer. At that time, one Air Officer stood watch as Controller in Ships' Plot, there was no Surface Controller. The frequent reports of mysterious flares, lights, strangers and other phenomena had become so familiar as false alarms that the customary procedure in Ships' Plot was to turn the information over to the Intelligence Officer, who thereafter handled the matter of investigation by means of the various District Intelligence Officers. On this occasion, however, the Assistant Duty Officer also tried to reach the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and found the telephone wires busy. Shortly after 0230, telephone connections were made with the FBI office and it was learned at that time that the FBI had already received the report from the Army. No further action was taken during the night by any naval officers in Headquarters, ESF.
At dawn, the Coast Guardsmen searched the beach areas and found some cigarettes of German manufacture half buried in the sand. Nearby there was evidence of a furrow caused by dragging some heavy object along the beach. The searchers followed the furrow to a spot that indicated considerable recent disturbance and wet sand. Some distance off, possibly left as a marker, they found a pair of wet bathing trunks. The Coast Guardsmen began digging and in a few minutes had uncovered four wooden cases. The two heaviest cases weighted about 70 pounds and were bound with marlin that made a handle. When the wooden cases were torn open, they were found to contain cases made of tin. Searching the area still further, the Coast Guardsmen found another freshly disturbed area that suggested further concealment. Again the men started digging and uncovered a miscellaneous assortment of German clothing, including two dungaree outfits, a reversible civilian overcoat, a pair of overshoes and an overseas cap with a swastika. This material was subsequently taken to the Coast Guard office in New York for further investigation and analysis.
At 0600 the Zone Officer at Riverhead, Long Island, advised the District Intelligence Office of the Third Naval District that he had been informed and that he would conduct a thorough investigation into the matter at Amagansett. At 0800 the Intelligence Officer of the Naval Air Station, New York, informed the District Intelligence Officer that he had been cognizant of the situation but that because of fog, no planes had been able to get off the ground. At 1030 the Naval Intelligence Officer and three undercover agents were dispatched to the area, arriving at East Hampton about 1500. The three undercover agents were put to work immediately in the area and were later placed in strategically important jobs. The first secured a position as a waiter in a restaurant and boarding house operated by a German who had long been on a suspect list and Bund lists. The boarding house in question harbored a number of German suspects over each week end. This agent spoke German fluently and had had considerable experience as a waiter. The second undercover agent obtained a position as a helper on a wholesale fish truck which made a collection of freshly caught fish all along the eastern end of Long Island. The third undercover agent was placed as an attendant at a gasoline station at Montauk Point.
At 1035 the Zone Officer from Riverhead, Long Island, informed the District Intelligence Office that he had reached the Amagansett Coast Guard Station but that he could not get any further information because the officer in charge at the station had been instructed to reveal information to no one. After several telephone calls, this situation was rectified. At 1100 the Commandant of the Third Naval District held a conference with the District Intelligence Officer, officers of the Navy, Army, and Coast Guard Intelligence and agents of the FBI. At this conference the FBI was directed to assume jurisdiction of the case and to make such use as was deemed necessary of Army and Navy agents. At 2000, four additional Naval Intelligence agents were sent into the area and immediately established a watch at the Coast Guard lookout tower where they had a clear view and were they could see anyone approaching during the daylight hours.
At about 2200 the FBI agents reached Amagansett and took charge. They took over the watch tower at the Coast Guard Station and instituted a watch whereby the entire beach was under constant surveillance. In the darkness, the FBI agents were on beach patrol with newly armed Coast Guard personnel. Other FBI agents were stationed in fox holes dug in sand dunes within a clear view of the place where the contraband had been buried. The Naval Intelligence agents set up a sub-headquarters at the Amagansett Radio Station so that they could make telephone calls without exposing themselves by coming down to the Coast Guard premises on the beach.
Thereafter the FBI agents were in control of the man hunt and the District Intelligence officers were shunted off without being given any information as to developments. Up until the release of news through the press on June 27th, the District Intelligence Officer had no information that indicated any arrests had been made although the first arrest had been made on June 15th. Not until June 26th did the District Intelligence Officer learn by accident that a second landing of enemy agents had been made near Jacksonville, Florida. On June 27th, about one hour before the release to the press, the District Intelligence Officer was informed that all enemy agents had been arrested and that the news was at that time being made public. The District Intelligence Officer registered a strong protest against the high-handed manner in which the FBI had conducted the case without recourse to Naval Intelligence agents, and this let to a clarification of relationships and responsibilities.
The FBI, in turn, made counter-complaints against the Coast Guard; protests to the effect that they had withheld material evidence in the form of clothing: one vest which was found on the beach at Amagansett, but which was not turned over to the FBI with the other articles of clothing. It later developed that the Coast Guard officers had decided to conduct a private sleuthing enterprise; that they had taken the vest to the New York police to determine the significance of tailor and suit cleaner marks; that the outcome of these amateur deductions led them to accuse an innocent American citizen as a partner in the sabotage scheme. The FBI was informed by the New York police that the Coast Guard officers had produced the vest, and as a result of this disclosure, the FBI demanded that this piece of clothing be turned over to them. As a result, the vest was later proven to have been discarded by one of the four saboteurs who landed at Amagansett.
The effect of the entire incident on coastal defense was far-reaching. Immediate steps were taken to work out the complicated problem of beach patrol, involving Army, Navy, and Coast Guard responsibilities.
In Headquarters, Eastern Sea Frontier, two major changes were inaugurated. Post-mortem discussions revealed that insufficient use had been made of a delayed Cominch dispatch which stated that a German submarine had sent wireless transmission from a point only 28 miles south of Amagansett at 2053. Unfortunately, delays in Washington had hindered the transmission of this intelligence, and the Cominch dispatch was not received in New York until 2330. Undoubtedly this enemy transmission was a report concerning the intended landing of the saboteurs. At this time, however, the Submarine Tracking Officer in Ships' Plot had no assistants and consequently stood watch only during the day; at night the evaluations on RDF's [radio direction fixes] were frequently held in abeyance until the following morning. In this case there was a lapse of two hours and thirty-seven minutes between the enemy transmission and the receipt of that information in New York. Hence, there was a need for correcting two factors: (1) the speed with which the information was disseminated from Washington and (2) the immediate evaluation of that information by a competent officer on each watch at Headquarters, Eastern Sea Frontier. As a result of subsequent discussions, the Submarine Tracking Officer was directed to enlarge his staff so that a continuous watch could be stood. To assist him in securing rapid exchange of information, a teletype machine was installed in the Plotting Room, for his particular use, with connections in the Cominch Sub Tracking Office and also in the Control Room of the Gulf Sea Frontier in Miami. Furthermore, it was decided that a Surface Controller should be appointed to stand twenty-four hour watch with the Air Controller, so that the responsibilities of these two related functions could be integrated with greater care.
Thus the Amagansett incident had its value as a realistic "war
game" which played an important part in the development and
improvement of the Joint Operations office and Control Room in
Headquarters, Eastern Sea Frontier.
Nazi Agents Landed at Hancock,
[Source: Eastern Sea Frontier War Diary, Chapter 2, November 1944, pp. 1-2. This document is held by the Modern Military Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740.].
Anticipating the possibility that an enemy submarine, estimated westbound in Canadian waters late in November, might enter the Gulf of Maine, Commander Eastern Sea Frontier ordered precautionary air sweeps in that area. Daylight air patrols were flown on several days beginning 23 November, when weather permitted. Coordinated with these flights were RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force] flights made on 26 and 27 November, three hours before first light. No contacts were reported.
The subsequent torpedoing of [the Canadian steamship] SS Cornwallis [by U-1230 on 3 Dec. 1944] confirmed earlier anticipations. Not until the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] announcement of the capture of two Nazi agents, more than one month later, did the details come out. Interviews made by the FBI and Naval Intelligence Officers permit the piecing together of the following information concerning U-1230, the [German] submarine which entered Frontier waters some time between 16 and 21 November for the purpose of landing agents.
The two agents, Eric Gimpel and William Curtis Colepaugh, boarded the U-1230 at Kiel, Germany, on 24 September. During the next month, U-1230 proceeded by slow stages and with several delays along the coast of Norway, put in at Horton and and at Kristianson. On 6 October, U-1230 left Kristianson and started the slow cruise across the Atlantic, reaching the Grand Banks, off the coat of New Foundland [Newfoundland, Canada] on 10 November. On the night of 16 November, U-1230 received a radio message from Berlin advising that another German submarine bearing one or more German agents was sunk off the coast of New England and that U-1230 should land the agents at some point other than Frenchman Bay. (This reference may have been to U-1229, sunk by [escort aircraft carrier USS] Bogue [CVE-9] aircraft on 20 August, for the Cominch [Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet] Anti-Submarine Bulletin for September 1944 states that among the prisoners rescued from U-1229 was a "self-styled English-speaking 'propaganda expert.'") Nevertheless, using his own prerogative, the Commanding Officer of U-1230 made no change in plans. On the night of 21 November, he took radio bearings on Atlantic coast stations and fixed his position as off Mount Desert Rock, and remained in that general vicinity, making certain repairs, until 29 November. Ships sighted during this period were not attacked. At about 1700 on 29 November, U-1230 headed in toward Frenchman Bay, took a bearing on lights at Great Duck and Baker Island; scraped the chain of a buoy in the channel on the approach to the bay, continued in successfully and surfaced partially at 2230 about one half mile from Crabtree Neck. At approximately 2300, U-1230 circled to the southeast with conning tower still above water and ran in until the shore was only 300 yards distant. A rubber boat was put into the water, two sailors rowed the two agents ashore and returned.
Evasion of coastal defenses had been carried out successfully by the enemy, and only after the freighter Cornwallis was sunk on 3 December was it possible to suspect that the submarine involved in this attack might have landed agents in the Mount Desert area.