In June 1942, a pair of German saboteur teams landed by U-boat on Montauk Point, Long Island, and Ponte Verdra Beach in Florida. The targets of these two four-man teams were rail lines and other important transportation and factory power systems. Their secondary targets were department stores and other public areas specially chosen to disrupt domestic morale.
Trained in Germany to utilize a wide range of explosive devices, the two teams were supposed to wait for three months before beginning any acts of sabotage in America. But from the start, things didn't go as planned. While burying their uniforms, explosives and other equipment on the beach, the Long Island team was discovered by a patrolling coastguardsman, John Cullen. After taking a hefty bribe to let them go, Cullen quickly notified his superiors and the manhunt was on. But despite eluding the FBI in New York, within a week two of the four saboteurs had a change of heart and turned themselves in to the FBI in Washington, DC. Arrests of the remaining team members quickly followed in New York, Florida and Chicago. Military trials then ensued, and six of the eight saboteurs were sentenced to death by the electric chair. The other two received life imprisonment sentences, which were later commuted when they were deported to Germany after the war ended.
Commemorating the FBI success with the case, several items seized from the saboteurs were displayed in FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's personal office museum. One of the detonators and two handguns seized from the teams - a .32 Walther PPK pistol and a .32 Mauser Model 1934 - were part of an informal exhibit that was seen by Hoover's friends and visitors. Prior to Hoover's death, his office museum contents were given to his executive assistant, who had maintained them over the years.
After the terrorist events of Sept. 11, 2001, the assistant's widow elected to donate these materials to the National Firearms Museum collection to ensure that this historical incident and the items associated with it would be appreciated by Americans today. The two pistols and detonator are now part of the World War II gallery in the National Firearms Museum.
Reprinted from America's 1st Freedom, May 2004.