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Vet 884

SHARKHUNTERS Salutes Veterans

ERICH GIMPEL (884-19883)

Kriegsmarine (U-Bootwaffe) and Abwehr

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 was one.

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 field house at the University – of Chicago!

Very quickly the two men were at odds with each other and there was 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 Colepaugh.

ERICHat a Sharkhunters ”
Patrol” in Chicago

Whether he had a sudden resurgence of patriotism or was so angry with ERICH over the money, Colepaugh turned himself into 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 death.

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.