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ERICH GIMPEL (884-19883)
SPY FOR GERMANY
"SPION für DEUTSCHLAND" was the title of the movie about
ERICH GIMPEL's life as Abwehr Agent #146. He began in the late
1930's (about 1937) as a 'radio engineer' for Telefunken,
operating in Peru. At that time in history, so many 'radio
engineers' operating in Latin America were Abwehr and ERICH
With the onset of World War Two, ERICH returned to Germany for
advanced spy school and as we note by his Abwehr Number (#146 of about
20,000) he was highly regarded.
One of his most memorable assignments was Operation 'PELIKAN'
in which dismantled STUKA dive bombers were to be loaded
one or more large U-Boats and sent into the Gulf of Mexico off Panama.
The U-Boats would surface, the wings reinstalled on the planes which
would then fly over the Panama Canal and bomb the locks. ERICH
was the agent in charge and this was a very ambitious plan to say the
least. The plan was abandoned for various reasons - not the least
of which was the discovery that the Americans already knew of this plan
and would be lying in wait for the U-Boats.
ERICH's photo at FBI headquarters
The operation for which ERICH
is most remembered is Operation ELSTER and this showed how
incredibly unprepared the German Intelligence Service was for 'Spook'
work. ERICH, a reserve officer of the U-Bootwaffe, came across
the Atlantic aboard U-1230 under command of
HANS HILBIG (186-1986). At one time
when ERICH was Officer of the Deck, U-1230 began to
settle deeper and deeper and he could not maintain the depth. He
called HILBIG to the Zentralle and learned that the boat had
passed into the Gulf Stream, where the water was warmer and less dense.
GIMPEL and his 'partner' in ELSTER were
rowed ashore at Frenchman's Bay on the coast of Maine where they were
incredibly out of place. ERICH and William Colepaugh, a
deserter from the United States Navy, were rowed ashore in rubber boats
and landed in a snowstorm near a little fishing village - and they
looked as if they had walked off the cover of 'Gentleman's
Quarterly Magazine '! Rather than the rough clothing of
the people of the area, they were dressed in fine suits and expensive
topcoats - walking down a country road at night in the middle of a
blizzard. They really looked out of place, but they managed to
reach the train station and took the train to New York City where they
were to sabotage the 'Manhattan Project'............unaware that
this was merely the code name for the work going on in the basement of
the athletic fieldhouse at the University - of Chicago!
Very quickly the two men were at odds with each other and there were a
sack full of diamonds and $60,000 in American money in their operating
money that they fought over. ERICH eventually won the 'battle
of the bucks' and got all the money and gems.
Of course we have all heard the saying "to win the battle but lose
the war" and that is exactly what happened to ERICH, due to
ERICH at a Sharkhunters "Patrol" in
Whether he had a sudden resurgence
of patriotism or was so angry with ERICH over the money,
Colepaugh turned himself in to the FBI and naturally, told how to find
ERICH who was arrested, tried and convicted of spying and was
sentenced to hang at Leavenworth. To his great good fortune, just
three days before he was to be executed, President Roosevelt died.
New President Harry Truman put a stay on all executions for minimum of
30 days - and in that time, Germany had surrendered. Truman
commuted his sentence to many years in prison at Leavenworth rather than
Pleased that he was not going to be executed, but apparently not
altogether content with the accommodations at Leavenworth, ERICH
tried to break out of prison. As expected, this fell far short of
plans and he was caught before he tasted freedom - so he was moved to
Alcatraz. There he remained until the 1950's when he was released.
For whatever reason, ERICH
did not spend much time in Germany and he quickly moved to where the
Abwehr had been (maybe still was) so powerful - he moved to South
America where he lived with his daughter's family. He is pictured
here with one of his grandsons.
ERICH received his 'Final Orders' on 1 sep 2010 and began
his 'Eternal Patrol' just past his 100th birthday. ERICH
GIMPEL was a strong, supportive Member of Sharkhunters; he was a
good man and a dear friend.
Other Members aboard U-1230 were Radioman
HORST HASLAU (167-1986) and scientist Dr.
HEINZ SCHLICKE (1820-1991).
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