Excerpts from The Horseshoe Curve

The Horseshoe Curve
The Horseshoe Curve: Sabotage and Subversion in the Railroad City
“Captures the reader’s attention in the best tradition of spy novels....A must-read for history enthusiasts....”
—David W. Seidel, Horseshoe Curve Chapter, National Railway Historical Society

Chapter One

At midnight on Saturday, June 13, 1942, six months after the United States entered World War II, a German submarine, concealed by fog, prowled the eastern coast of Long Island, one hundred five miles from New York City.

Aboard Unterboot 202 were Captain Lieutenant Hans-Heinz Linder, commander, and forty-five submariners. Four other men also were aboard, but they were not crew members. They were one of two teams of Nazi saboteurs sent to destroy strategic targets in the United States, including the Horseshoe Curve on the Pennsylvania Railroad near Altoona, Pennsylvania, the center of the nation’s industrial heartland.

Four hours earlier, having crossed three thousand miles of the Atlantic in seventeen days, U-202 had approached the American coast from Nova Scotiaandentered the waters off the remote seaside village of Amagansett, New York, seventeen miles from Montauk Point and the eastern tip of Long Island. Ten miles from the American shore, powered by its diesel engines, the submarine descended to the ocean floor, waiting for the cover of darkness to discharge the saboteurs. At midnight, the sub engaged its quiet electric motors and surfaced, feeling its way toward the shore through the darkness and fog.

U-202 was a Class VIIC submarine launched from the Krupp Works in Kiel, Germany in March 1941, one of a series of vessels called “Atlantic Boats,” the workhorses of the Nazi fleet, and one of fourteen hundred subs in the Kriegsmarine during World War II. A Class VIIC sub could dive to seven hundred twenty-two feet and had a top speed of 17.7 knots (20.4 miles per hour) when traveling on the surface and 7.6 knots (8.7 miles per hour) when submerged. Nazi U-Boats ran on the surface as much as possible where their diesel engines could propel the vessels more rapidly.

Had U-202 tried to cross the Atlantic submerged, the trip would have taken fourteen days, assuming that the sub maintained a straight course and a constant speed. Surface travel was quicker but also more jarring because subs were pounded on the surface by the wind and the waves. With five torpedo tubes, four at the bow and one at the stern, U-202 carried fourteen torpedoes. Probably the most famous Class VIIC submarine was U-96 portrayed in the movie, Das Boot (The Boat), although a more recent film, U-571, also features a Class VIIC submarine.

Nazi U-Boat commanders were extensively trained and underwent a twelve-week introductory course followed by an eight-week torpedo course, a four-week radio course, and a four-week anti-aircraft course. Commander candidates then spent eighteen months as U-Boat watch officers and completed an eight-week command course and one patrol as commander trainees. Of the fourteen hundred Nazi U-Boat commanders in World War II, five hundred seventy-four died in battle.

Captain Lieutenant Linder, one of five hundred twenty-three Nazi submarine commanders who held this mid-level officer rank, had logged a short but respectable record aboard U-202; on his last mission, he had sunk three Allied ships off the coast of Greenland. Born on February 11, 1913 in Kaiserslautern, Germany, Linder commanded two U-Boats during his naval career: U-18 from September 3, 1940 to December 17, 1940 and U-202 from December 18, 1940 until the sub’s demise at 3:00 AM on June 2, 1943, sunk off Cape Farewell, Greenland by gunfire and depth charges from the British Sloop HMS Starling. In that attack, eighteen sailors on U-202 were killed, but thirty crew members survived, including Linder, who died in Germany on September 10, 1944. Stout with blue eyes and a ruddy complexion, the six-foot-tall Linder had a trim mustache and beard and, like most U-Boat commanders, was almost never without his white captain’s cap (which Americans irreverently call “bus driver hats”). His crew painted a multi-colored porcupine as their mascot on the sub’s conning tower, and the officers and sailors of U-202 wore a small metal pin on their hats of a porcupine that the sub’s machinist had made.

U-202 left the Kriegsmarine submarine base at Lorient on the northwest coast of France in the Province of Brittany on the night of Thursday, May 28, 1942. As she crossed the North Atlantic, the sub ran underwater during the day to avoid being spotted by Allied warships or aircraft. The British, who tracked the departure of U-202 by decrypting messages from the German U-Boat Command, alerted the Royal Air Force, but the submarine escaped attack, and the purpose of its mission was unknown to the Allies. Linder took the uncommon step of ordering a practice drill every day, during which the submarine crash-dived and all hands manned their battle stations. When U-202 reached the middle of the Atlantic and the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, Linder took a chance and surfaced during the day so his crew could get some sun and test-fire the sub’s deck guns.

Throughout the trip, the four saboteurs aboard the sub, unaccustomed to ocean travel, were extremely seasick, and one sailor, Zimmermann, a mechanic, suffered from appendicitis. Except for the radio and torpedo rooms, which were off-limits to them, the saboteurs could move about U-202 as they liked, although U-Boats were famously crowded. U-202 was two hundred eleven feet long outside and one hundred forty-two feet long inside.

Linder had planned to land on Long Island on the night of Thursday, June 11, 1942, but was delayed by fog between Nova Scotia and Long Island. During the planning of the raid, George John Dasch, the leader of the four saboteurs aboard U-202, had suggested landing between East Hampton, four miles west of Amagansett, and Southampton, fifteen miles west of Amagansett, but in the fog, Captain Lieutenant Linder had misjudged the landing site.

Nazi planners of the mission also had considered landing on the central coast of New Jersey near the town of Ocean Beach, but Dasch, although he had lived in the United States for nineteen years before returning to Germany and joining the sabotage operation, did not know the Jersey shore. Dasch favored the south shore of Long Island as the landing site because he knew that area well, having gone swimming there when he lived in the United States. Actually, Dasch knew the north shore of Long Island better than the South Shore because he had worked as a waiter in the north shore towns of Centerport and Stonybrook. But aboard U-202, Dasch later claimed, Captain Lieutenant Linder had shown him only maps of the south shore because Linder said he did not have charts of the north shore.

At 1:30 AM on Saturday, June 13, Linder piloted U-202 to within five hundred yards of the Long Island coast, so close that the sub scraped the ocean floor before surfacing parallel to the shore, its heavier starboard side facing inland. Linder summoned Dasch to the submarine’s conning tower to scan the landing site, and when Dasch saw the dense fog shrouding the beach, he said to himself, “Why, Christ, this is perfect. You could not see fifty feet ahead.”

Quickly, Dasch descended the tower and told his three fellow saboteurs to prepare to land. Dasch wore civilian clothes, while the other saboteurs wore German Navy Arbeitspächen (work clothes), but stuffed civilian clothes, which they would don after they had landed, into a duffel bag. (In World War II, enemy agents who were captured wearing civilian clothes were considered spies and often shot, unlike uniformed military personnel who were protected as prisoners-of-war under the Geneva Convention. Therefore, Nazi architects of the raid directed that the saboteurs land in military clothing.) Two of the enemy agents wore no caps, while the other two wore civilian hats, including Dasch, who sported a floppy fedora. While the saboteurs prepared to land, crewmen of U-202 carried two small shovels and four wooden boxes with rope handles, each about the size of an orange crate that contained the saboteurs’ equipment, to the submarine’s deck. Below, the saboteurs joined Captain Lieutenant Linder for a farewell toast.

Two young submariners chosen for their strength would accompany the saboteurs to the shore and had lashed a black rubber raft amidships of U-202. The sailors slid the shovels and wooden boxes into the raft and boarded it. Next, three saboteurs entered. Last came Dasch who sat aft, carrying a gym bag he had owned in the United States with $175,000 ($2 million today) sewn into its lining. A thin rope tied to the side of the raft would be used to pull the raft and the two sailors back to the sub after they had dropped the saboteurs on the beach. Each man in the raft had a small paddle except Dasch, who had a long oar, and as the sailors and saboteurs rowed toward shore, the rope was payed out by a sailor on the submarine’s deck. One sailor in the raft carried a small flashlight with a blue light to signal U-202 when the sailors were ready to return to the sub. Both sailors carried submachine guns. If the saboteurs encountered people on shore, they were to kill or disable them and put their bodies in the raft.
“You bring the bodies back,” Captain Lieutenant Linder had ordered the two sailors in the raft, “and we’ll feed them to the fish when we get back out to sea.”

As the sailors and enemy agents bobbed away from U-202, the fog swallowed the raft, and after ten minutes of rowing, Dasch heard the sound of the surf. However, he also detected something else—something very wrong—the sound of the waves was coming from all directions. The raft was going in circles. Dasch ordered the saboteurs and sailors to stop rowing so he could listen to the surf. When he determined the direction of the shore, he told the men to row hard, yelling over the crashing waves, “Come on, boys, let’s go to it!”

The raft neared land, and three strong waves filled it with water, nearly capsizing it and drowning the men. Two saboteurs lost their paddles, but Dasch groped the ocean floor with his long oar and managed to right the raft. When he saw the shore, he jumped into the water up to his waist and pulled the raft onto land. The three other saboteurs scrambled out of the raft after him, dragging the wooden boxes behind them.

Dasch quickly climbed the hill above the beach to survey the area and was shocked at what he saw—inland to his left and right stoodbeacons. The saboteurs had landed at a United States Coast Guard Station. Terrified, Dasch ran down the hill and told the other saboteurs to change into civilian clothes and bury their soaked Marine fatigues. Dasch then raced to the raft where the two sailors were struggling to turn it over and empty the water inside it. Just then through the fog on the beach, Dasch saw a faint light moving toward him.

Chapter Twenty-Four

“FBI ‘Spot-Raids’ Here May Be Linked to Nazi Saboteurs—Enemy Aliens Questioned in Mass Arrests—G-Men, State and City Police Officers Search 225 Altoona Homes”
Altoona Mirror, July 2, 1942

At 6:30 PM on Wednesday, July 1, 1942, twenty-five agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, eighteen officers of the Altoona Police Department, and ten detectives from the Pennsylvania State Police swept through Altoona, Pennsylvania, the “Railroad Capital of the World,” and searched the homes of two hundred twenty-five city residents. Armed with a warrant from the president of the United States, John F. Sears, special agent in charge of the Philadelphia Office of the FBI, led the searches and reported that although he had made similar incursions in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Scranton as well as other Pennsylvania cities, the Altoona raid was the largest in the Keystone State.

Working in pairs, law enforcement officers moved throughout the city in police and unmarked automobiles and searched the targeted residences for cameras, firearms, ammunition, signal devices, and short-wave radio receiving or transmitting sets, which the United States government had barred the suspects, called “alien enemies,” from owning. An alien enemy was a descriptor the Justice Department used for a person who lived in the United States, but was a citizen of a country at war with America. During World War II, German, Italian, and Japanese alien enemies in the United States were subject to strict regulations on their residence, employment, travel, possessions, finances, memberships, and speech.

Most people know of the internment of one hundred twenty thousand Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II, but few are aware that this nation also interned eleven thousand German Americans and four thousand Italian Americans during the war, and thousands more had their homes ransacked and their property confiscated.

Before leaving Altoona at noon on Thursday, July 2, 1942, Sears disclosed that male and female Altoonans of German and Italian nationality had been arrested, but he refused to identify them. FBI agents escorted the Altoonans apprehended to the post office at Eleventh Avenue and Twelfth Street in the city where Joseph P. Brennan, assistant United States attorney for the Middle Judicial District of Pennsylvania, interrogated them. Those held in what Sears called “technical custody” were scheduled to appear before an Alien Enemy Review Board, one of approximately one hundred such tribunals the Justice Department had established across the country to consider charges against alien enemies and recommend their release, parole, or internment. If the Alien Enemy Review Board determined that the persons taken into custody were threats to national security, the board could advise the Justice Department that they be interned for the duration of the war. (The phrase, “taken into custody,” according to the United States Department of Justice, had several meanings, ranging from arrest and immediate release to internment. Many alien enemies across the United States were technically arrested and ordered to report to a law enforcement agency or an Alien Enemy Review Board for questioning. Although some alien enemies were not placed in actual custody, others who were arrested were put in jail.)

Special Agent Sears said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in conjunction with Pennsylvania and Altoona police authorities, had secretly investigated the two hundred twenty-five Altoonans whose homes had been searched for weeks and described the cooperation of state and city authorities as “100 percent perfect.” Joining Sears in leading the arrests were Lieutenant L.W.F. Haberstroh of the Altoona Police Department and Lieutenant H.A. Edie of the Pennsylvania State Police. Mayor Charles Rhodes of Altoona conferred with Sears and other law enforcement officers during the arrests.

Weeks before the raid, the city of Altoona and the Pennsylvania Railroad, the area’s largest employer, had taken measures to protect the Horseshoe Curve, five miles west of Altoona, which J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had identified as one of the targets of the Nazi saboteurs sent to destroy industrial and transportation facilities in the United States. Hoover announced the arrest of the saboteurs in a nationwide news conference on June 27, 1942. Members of the Blair County Defense Police, many of whom worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, had been guarding the Altoona shops of the rail company, the largest such facility in the United States, since the outbreak of World War II. Councilman John C. Calhoun, director of the department of parks, water, and public property for the city of Altoona, had ten men (three regular, seven extra) patrolling the city’s reservoirs near the Horseshoe Curve, and Altoona city council had posted fifteen hundred “No Parking” signs near the Curve and passed a “No Trespassing” ordinance in that area.

When asked if the Altoona raid was linked to the arrest of the Nazi saboteurs, Special Agent Sears replied, “Yes or no. You must draw your own conclusions.” However, in the wake of the national hysteria created by the seizure of the saboteurs, many Americans suspected that the saboteurs had support networks of Nazi sympathizers in cities near their targets. Chief among such cities was Altoona, Pennsylvania.

On July 3, 1942, the day after Sears left Altoona, the United Press International reported that twenty alien enemies taken into custody on July 1 and 2 in Altoona and Chester, Pennsylvania as well as in Wilmington, Delaware had been sent to the federal internment camp at Gloucester City, New Jersey. According to the United Press International, these twenty alien enemies were considered the most dangerous of the two hundred fifty people whose homes the Federal Bureau of Investigation had searched on July 1 and 2, two hundred twenty-five of whom were from Altoona.

Chapter Thirty-Four

They rise in New England and extend to Alabama, one thousand five hundred miles long, four hundred miles wide, and two thousand feet high. Their steep, parallel, and densely wooded ridges are some of the most inhospitable country in the United States, and crossing them was one of this nation’s greatest achievements.

They are part of the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province, a geologic formation in the eastern United States that resembles a wrinkled rug that has been pushed across a floor against a heavy piece of furniture. George Ashley, director of the Pennsylvania Geological Survey from 1919 to 1946, first used the “wrinkled rug” analogy, but could not determine what had produced this striking geologic phenomenon. Today, geologists believe that the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province was created when the west coast of Africa collided with the continent of North America—in geologic slow motion—some three hundred million years ago. Such an impact is said to have been caused by “plate tectonics,” the theory that the earth’s continents, or “plates,” once moved. Satellite photographs today show that the shape of the Ridge and Valley PhysiographicProvince and the outline of the west coast of Africa are identical.

The Lenni Lenape (Delaware) Indians of Pennsylvania, who referred to themselves as the “Original People,” called the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province the “Endless Hills”—wave after wave of knife-edged creases slicing through central Pennsylvania: Allegrippus Ridge, Blue Mountain, Herringbone Ridge, Jack’s Mountain, Kittanning Ridge, Mahanoy Ridge, Rattlesnake Ridge, Shade Mountain, Tuscarora Mountain, and forty other mountains between Harrisburg and Altoona.

Millennia ago, rivers and streams cut through Pennsylvania, carving in “this broken and diversified country,” as George G. Groff, professor of natural history at Bucknell University, once described it, the Juniata River, a one hundred-mile waterway so winding that it does not seem to know where it wants to go. For example, at its midpoint near Lewistown, the Juniata flows north, south, east, and west—all within three miles. In the mid-1700s, the Juniata was the gateway west for thousands of settlers entering the Pennsylvania frontier from Philadelphia. A century later, the Juniata Valley became the route through the heart of Pennsylvania for the Pennsylvania Railroad, the self-proclaimed “Standard Railroad of the World.”

The Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province has split Pennsylvania in two and rendered the Commonwealth a land of contradictions: mountainous yet flat, urban yet rural, industrial yet agricultural. The people of Pennsylvania share the divided nature of their land, identifying themselves mainly as eastern Pennsylvanians or western Pennsylvanians, Philadelphians or Pittsburghers, fans of the Phillies and Eagles or the Pirates and Steelers, citizens of the same Commonwealth, but with little in common. The mountains that divide Pennsylvania once formed an insurmountable barrier that separated east from west not only in the Keystone State but in the entire United States and threatened the western expansion of the nation. Part of America’s famed Appalachian Range, these mountains in Pennsylvania are the historic Alleghenies.