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Western Pa. was a target during WWII

The efforts of Armco employees to collect scrap for the war effort was recorded on this sign during World War II. The Armco steel plant, off Route 8 south of Butler, compiled a truly impressive record in producing wartime materials. Sheet and specialty steels were used in countless ways, including gas cans, radar equipment, armor plate, air raid shelters, corrugated sheets, motorcycle parts, propeller blades, oxygen tanks, and dozens more.Photo courtesy of the Butler County Historical Society
Spies hoped to disrupt region’s industrial production

During World War II, Pittsburgh’s people, industries and places attracted the attention of the nation and the world — including Adolf Hitler and his agents.

Southwestern Pennsylvania was the sixth largest area in the country in terms of military armament production.

While the Steel City was building plane engines, welding landing ships and storing fuel, others were busy plotting its destruction. The area was so crucial to the war effort that enemy strategists identified specific places as targets.

Those plans were unknown to the people of Pittsburgh as they worked to meet the demand for materiel and armaments.

Dozens of factories and mills retooled to supply the need for airplanes, tanks, jeeps, landing crafts and munitions. Little did the laborers know their endeavors had been watched by those with nefarious plans.

Factories making steel, iron, aluminum and synthetic rubber were located in the Ohio River valley, because what was produced could easily be loaded onto ships bound for Europe or the Pacific. Rail lines made transportation to the East Coast quick and efficient.

Sabatoge efforts

The incursion of Nazi agents throughout America is well documented. One infamous attempt, discovered and reported on during the war, was Operation Pastorius, named after Francis Daniel Pastorius, who had been the leader of the first German settlement near Philadelphia in 1683.

One nearby intended target of Operation Pastorius was the Horseshoe Curve of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, the severe U-shaped curve that connects Johnstown and Altoona.

The rail company is defunct; however, a passenger train still runs from Pittsburgh to Johnstown on the same rail line, and the Horseshoe Curve is now a National Historic Landmark.

Jared Frederick, a Penn State history instructor, explained the importance to the Altoona Mirror on Aug. 9, 2014, saying, “The industrial capacity of Altoona was a very high priority.”

Over 100 supply and troop trains traveled the curve daily. The curve was guarded during the war years by railroad and local authorities.

Operation Pastorius’ objective was to sabotage and destroy key military targets. The agents recruited by the Germans had lived in America for some time and could easily speak the English language. They understood the nuances of American culture and were able to blend in without suspicion. They carried with them forged passports, other forged documents, explosives and a large amount of American money.

Today the cash would equal $2.5 million, enough to keep the agents supported for two years of mayhem.

The agents were given a few weeks of training at Quentz Lake near Berlin, Germany, before being transported by the German Navy via submarine.

On June 13, 1942, a German U-boat landed four enemy agents near Long Island, N.Y. The four traveled to New York City, where they stayed in five-star hotels and became distracted by fine restaurant dining, shopping, leisure opportunities and Hollywood movies.

While in New York, one of the agents, George Dasch, contacted the FBI. Dasch and another informer, Ernst Burger, divulged the entire operation. Dasch wanted to defect and stay in America with his Pennsylvanian wife. He and Burger turned over the money and explosives, along with detailed plans to target key American infrastructure.

The second team of four saboteurs landed a few days later on June 17, near Jacksonville, Fla. This group traveled to Cincinnati and Chicago.

The second group was also captured within a few weeks.

Destruction was the main goal with the secondary goal to incite fear and panic in the American people. None of this was ever accomplished. The mission was a failure.

In “State of Silence: The Espionage Act and Rise of America’s Secrecy Regime,” Sam Lebovic wrote the eight spies were “comically inept, more Colonel Klink than super villain.”

Not long after the second group was arrested, the New York Times reported on the plot. The headline on July 4, 1942, informed readers, “Nazi Saboteurs Face Stern Army Justice.”

All the Pastorian Nazi agents were found guilty. Dasch and Burger were released after six years. Both were deported back to Germany. The other six were executed.

Despite his turning informant, Dasch didn’t get his wish. He wanted to return to America and continually petitioned for a full pardon until his death, but each request was denied.

Western Pa. and the war effort

A strategic fuel storage area was secretly built on the banks of Raccoon Creek in Monaca. Disguised to look like a farm, the 305-acre area held 10 million gallons of fuel.

The camouflage was necessary to thwart enemy attack. Six holding tanks fed into 8 miles of piping, which could be accessed close to roads, rivers and rail lines for transportation to the East Coast. This location was selected to be safely away from the Eastern Seaboard and the possibility of enemy attack from the air.

That was effective, as there is no indication this secret fuel storage area was identified as a target.

War production was needed to support the Allied war effort. Americans were anxious to join the fight in Europe and the Pacific islands.

Pennsylvania recruitment stations saw around 1 million residents join the ranks of the Allied forces. Men from Pittsburgh, Butler, Portersville and other cities joined. Boys from farms in Butler, Beaver and Washington counties joined as well.

Women had opportunities open to them in the auxiliary services. They all wore the uniforms of the Army, the Army Air Forces, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines.

On the homefront, patriotic Pittsburghers presented their plan for an end to the war.

On May 1, 1940, more than a year before America entered the war, the New York Times published an offer of a $1 million bounty on Adolf Hitler from a group of 50 people willing to personally fund the plan. The group’s spokesperson was Samuel Harden Church, president of the Carnegie Institute.

The bounty offered by the group of private citizens would be worth about $18 million today.

The proposal required Hitler to be delivered “alive, unwounded and unhurt” to the League of Nations and tried for “crimes against the peace and dignity of the world.” The offer was published worldwide but was rescinded after 30 days.

A follow up article revealed the public’s reaction to the plan as being a mix of ridicule, anger, hilarity and seriousness.

Hitler was never captured and remained fuhrer of the Third Reich until his death on April 30, 1945, by his own hand inside his Berlin bunker.

Within a few days, the German army surrendered unconditionally.

Japan surrendered several months later, with a formally signed document on Sept. 2, 1945.

After the signing, Gen. Douglas MacArthur said in a radio broadcast to the world, “We have known bitterness of defeat and the exultation of triumph, and from both we have learned there can be no turning back. We must go forward to preserve in peace what we have won in war.”

Deborah E. Holden, M.Ed., has loved history since a teenager. The book, “The Hiding Place,” a gift from her mother, started a lifelong interest in World War II and the Christian faith. Combining education with theater and history, she is a living historian active in nationally held re-enactments and gives presentations for schools and civic groups. She lives in Cranberry Township with her husband, Richard.

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