Colepaugh & Gimpel
On 28 November, 1944, the German submarine U-1230, entered the mouth of Frenchman's Bay in Maine, a five mile wide and ten mile long body of water between Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula, the location of a Naval Station at Winter Harbor. The following evening, after slowly and furtively making its way north around several islands, the submarine moved along the western side of Crabtree Neck, the southernmost projection of Hancock Point, and came to rest about 500 feet to the west of a small beach next to Sunset Ledge, on the western side of the Point.
From this location four German sailors entered a rubber raft and rowed ashore. The two spies disembarked on the beach, and after hopping ashore briefly, the remaining sailors returned to the U-boat with the rubber raft. A U-boat had been sunk not far away carrying two other German spies on a similar mission.
The German spies were a 26 year old American named William C. Colepaugh, who had volunteered with the German military, and a 34 year old German named Erich Gimpel, whose specialty was in radio communication. Colepaugh and Gimpel were passed by two local cars. The occupants of both of the cars noticed the two men walking through the snow, hatless, and carrying suitcases and brief cases. In what later became a national news story, Harvard Hodgkins, a high school student and son of the Deputy Sheriff, noted that the men were dressed in city clothes, and that their tracks emerged from an old road through the woods that led to the cove.
The intense hatred of Jews he often expressed in “frat” discussions was the only explanation former fraternity brothers of William C. Colepaugh, 26 year-old, self-confessed Hitler spy, could ascribe for his treason. The Connecticut youth, who twice flunked out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was remembered there for his violent anti-Semitism. Colepaugh was highly emotional and would at the slightest provocatio launch into a tirade against the Jews. He never seemed so pro-Nazi to us as he did anti-Semitic. Colepaugh had no German ancestry. In his home towm Colepaugh was remembered by his neighbors as “a peculiar youngster with strange ideas,” the way it was phrased by First Selectman Fred Beckwith.
Gimpel and Colepaugh, operating under the aliases Edward Green and William Caldwell respectively, were expected to send radio transmission directly to Berlin. However, on 21 December 1944, the young American traitor was having second thoughts, and deserted his companion, eventually turning himself into the FBI, on 26 December 1944. Four days later, Gimpel was located and arrested.
Supposedly they told investigators that Germany was preparing a group of submarines equipped with V-1 cruise missiles. These would be launched from submarines to attack cities on the eastern coast of the United States. Analysts of the Tenth Fleet of the US Navy carefully studied pictures of unusual elements on submarines in Norway, but came to the conclusion that these were wooden tracks used to load torpedoes.
Colepaugh carried “forged credentials and other paraphernalia useful in his assigned mission of espionage” for the German Reich. He was tried before a military commission for violations of the law of war, spying in violation of the 82d Article of War, and conspiracy, and convicted of all charges. The Tenth Circuit rejected Colepaugh’s argument that the military commission had no jurisdiction to try a U.S. citizen. The court held that because the evidence showed Colepaugh to be an enemy belligerent, his U.S. citizenship did not divest the military commission of jurisdiction over him.
According to David Kahn, the author of Hitler's Spies, "What was needed was technical data on shipbuilding, airplanes, rockets, and any other information, particularly from the engineering field, that would be of value to Germany. The spies were not expected to get this information by the classic means of espionage - theft, bribery, seduction, or force. Rather they were to exploit the openness of American society, picking up what they needed from newspapers, technical magazines, radio, and books. Some of this material was already reaching Germany, but only after intolerable delays.... The mission was to last for two years, after which the pair would be withdrawn." (Kahn, p. 13).
Gimpel and Colepaugh, operating under the aliases Edward Green and William Caldwell respectively, were expected to send radio transmission directly to Berlin by which to report on American news, or to photograph information and send it via microdots back to Germany. Over the next month, the two spies set about securing an apartment in New York, procuring pieces for their radio, and trying to acclimate themselves to the city. However, on December 21 st, the young American traitor was having second thoughts, and deserted his companion, eventually turning himself into the F.B.I, on 26 December 1944. Four days later, Gimpel was located and arrested. The pair had been in the country for only one month.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|