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Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America Paperback – February 8, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The first German sabotage mission to reach the shores of the U.S. during WWII is the subject of Washington Post correspondent Dobbs's follow-up to Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth Century Odyssey and Down with Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. The early background chapters concerning the recruitment and training of the German agents can be slow going, but once the story reaches the open seas, the landing of the agents on the shores of Long Island and Florida, and their movements within the U.S., it will captivate readers for the remainder of the book. The detailed account of the summer 1942 landing of the eight German saboteurs, all with prewar experience in the U.S., is engrossing, as is their stalking by the FBI with the help of several other government agencies (livened up with extensive reconstructed dialogue that leans on declassified material). The personalities and careers of the eight are revealed in some detail, including those of two American citizens, as is the fate of the two surviving members. The interagency jealousies that plagued the case throughout the pursuit and trial of the agents add an additional dimension to what would otherwise be a simple spy story. After one of their number, American George J. Dasch, finally gets cold feet and turns the group in, the account of the military trial and the parts played by the Justice Department, President Roosevelt and the Supreme Court become as fascinating as the main story. The legal aspects of the case, clearly and simply explained, are echoed today, since the saboteurs' trial by a military tribunal, rather than a civil court, is a precedent for the impending trial of accused terrorists held at the prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. Easy going and compelling, this title should find favor beyond the WWII niche.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Dobbs' full-scale account of the eight German saboteurs landed on the U.S. East Coast in the summer of 1942 is likely to be definitive on the subject for some time. Dobbs has researched the FBI archives comprehensively, and he writes surpassingly well, producing a story that would almost be humorous if the stakes hadn't been so high and six of the eight men hadn't eventually been executed. The selection and training of candidates for the mission were both haphazard, and one of the U-boats used was nearly fatally stranded on the American coast. Then the leader of one team, George Dasch, decided to turn coat, which helped the FBI overcome J. Edgar Hoover's pit-bull fondness for turf fights with other government agencies. Eventually all eight were rounded up and tried, and all but Dasch and another turncoat died in the electric chair. Dobbs probes in considerable detail the legal ramifications of trial, sentence, and execution, in each of which precedents relevant to post-9/11 dealings with terrorists were set--and even dealing with these legalities, he is clear and well balanced. Altogether, this is a very fine piece of work. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400030420
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400030422
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #263,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am, almost literally, a child of the Cold War. My diplomat parents whisked me off to Russia at the age of six weeks. As a child, I lived through the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and the construction of the Berlin wall. As a reporter for the Washington Post, I witnessed the birth of the Solidarity movement in Poland, the hope and tragedy of Tiananmen Square, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the war in the former Yugoslavia.

When I first went to Russia in 1950, Stalin was at the height of his power. When I left, in 1993, communism had collapsed and the Red Flag no longer flew over the Kremlin. How and why this happened is the story of the "Cold War trilogy," from its origins in the aftermath of World War II (Six Months in 1945) to its peak, during the Cuban Missile Crisis (One Minute to Midnight), to the grand finale (Down with Big Brother).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By D. C. Carrad on February 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A fascinating story, told in flawless, fast-moving prose. Dodds has done his homework in Germany, in the archives, and at the Supreme Court. He has managed to capture the personalities of the Nazi saboteurs and the feel of World War II in America. Buy and read even if you already know the story, or think you have no interest in it.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Joe TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In June of 1942, two 4-man teams of Nazi saboteurs exited U-boats onto American beaches in Florida and Long Island, NY. All of the eight had previously spent time in America. Indeed, one had spent twenty years in the U.S., and another, a naturalized American citizen, had spent seventeen since the age of five. Returning to the Third Reich for various reasons, they volunteered to return to the U.S. and sabotage that country's war effort by striking at its aluminum production plants. Each team hit the beach with a supply of explosives and $90,000 cash for expenses. Two weeks later, they were all in FBI custody. All were tried by a military tribunal and found guilty. Six of the eight were quickly executed by electrocution; two were imprisoned for the war's duration and eventually returned to Germany.

A friend of one of the saboteurs, who'd also been offered the chance to join the mission but declined, said:

"In Germany ... everything was rationed. Nobody in his right mind was going to go from a country like that to a country with everything, like America, and start blowing things up. You'd have to be nuts."

That statement just about says it in a nutshell because even though Hoover and his FBI trumpeted their foiling of the plot as the greatest victory for America since Yorktown and the former just about wet his pants in an effort to grab all the credit for (chiefly) himself and his G-men, the eight conspirators resembled more an expanded clone of the Three Stooges, and their fourteen days on the loose were a farce. Glad to be free of Germany's wartime belt tightening, they started spending their cash on food, clothes, drink, women, and, in one case, a new car. A couple of them looked up family members, wives, and former girlfriends.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The 1942 case of Nazi saboteurs in America is the best World War II story you've never heard. More than just an adventure tale, however, the case has been cited by the current administraton as a precedent for military tribunals of suspected terrorists.
Through this account, we learn that the events of 1942 don't present a clear-cut parallel to our own times. Thoughtful readers with an interest in the constitutional issues of today's anti-terrorism campaign are urged to read this book. Well-researched, well-documented, and very well-written.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on April 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Michael Dobbs had written a fast-paced book of intrigue regarding the eight German saboteurs whose ineptness in carrying out "Operation Pastorius" led to their arrests and eventual jail sentences and executions. The comparison between this historical account and today's Al-Qaeda couldn't be more timely.
Dobbs weaves an intricate tale of German plans for the destruction of military and civilian targets in the United States in the spring of 1942. Everything looked good on paper (literally....with the use of invisible ink!) from its inception to the landing of the two U-boats off the coasts of Long Island and Florida. The one weak link happened to be one of the two leaders, George John Dasch, an unstable man who eventually was able to get his cohorts arrested. The author's most impressive offering through much of the book is his ability to get inside the heads of these men....what they were thinking, how and why they acted and especially their interaction with one another. It's a great story to read and is made even more attractive for the simple reality that it all actually took place.
What I found to be the best part of "Saboteurs", however, was the last few chapters. Dobbs covers the miltitary tribunals in pithy detail reserving some of the comedic parts to rivalries between the FBI and other government agencies. What J. Edgar Hoover wouldn't do to enhance his and his bureau's reputation! The culmination, in a sense, led to the defendants' lawyers appearing before the Supreme Court in a last-ditch effort to supercede the war tribunal's very existence as set up by President Roosevelt. One cannot help but compare the situation with that of today....the rivlaries between the CIA and FBI and the friction between the Secretaries of State and Defense.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
We have, sadly, come to understand that foreigners will enter our nation with secret plans to make havoc and scare us. It has, of course, happened before. In World War II, people didn't call these agents "terrorists," but "saboteurs." Americans at that time were lucky: the eight saboteurs authorized by Adolph Hitler to come and blow up targets in the United States were bunglers. That does not keep _Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America_ (Knopf) by Michael Dobbs from being entertaining and even suspenseful. It certainly shows how the case was a sensation in its day, and how agencies such as the FBI operated at the time. Surprisingly, judgements made by the Supreme Court in the case of yesterday's saboteurs are being cited in the cases of today's terrorists.
Operation Pastorius was born out of the recognition that American industries were a threat to the fatherland. The saboteurs rounded up for the assignment all had histories qualifying them for it; they were all German-Americans, and one was even a U.S. citizen. They had all lived in the United States, and some had families there. They got sometimes farcical training in bomb-making, invisible inks, and so on, and were transported by U-boat to the U.S. A Coast Guardsman on foot patrol on the beach came across the four who landed at the Hamptons, but his fellow Guardsmen did not believe him. They eventually went to the scene, and even saw the U-boat, but there had been so many false alarms of U-boat sightings, there was little urgency to take them seriously when they reported it. Saboteurs George Dasch and Peter Burger revealed to each other that they were ready to go over to the U.S. side. Dasch called the New York FBI, but they thought it was a crank call.
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