Book Review: The Baltimore Sabotage Cell: German Agents, American Traitors, and the U-boat Deutschland During World War I


by Dwight R. Messimer

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015. Pp. xiv, 266. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $35.95. ISBN: 1591141842

Germany’s Secret War Against the United States

Author of several works of naval history, notably Find and Destroy: Antisubmarine Warfare in World War I and Verschollen: World War I U-Boat Losses, Messimer gives us a look at German sabotage efforts in the United States prior to America’s entry into the Great War. Early in the Great War, German established three secret cadres in the United States, in the major ports of New York, New Orleans, and Baltimore to carry on sabotage. 

In this volume, Messimer focuses on the work of the German “Baltimore Cell,” which blew up munitions factories, derailed trains, and even conducted biological warfare, infecting horses and mules with glanders and other equine diseases. The work of these sabotage cells had links to Germany’s effort to develop a fleet of cargo submarines. One of these submarine, Deutschland, actually made a successful crossing of the Atlantic, landing cargo at Baltimore, and then returned safely to Germany carrying raw materials and other critical goods. 

Messimer fits these efforts within the larger canvas of U.S.-German relations, which generally deteriorated as the war went on, as various developed pushed the two nations toward war. He gives us a good idea of how the saboteurs did their work, often with the help of indifferent or venal Americans, and also how U.S. police and intelligence agencies attempted to block their efforts. 

Although he touches lightly upon the work of the New Orleans and New York cells, which deserve similar in depth treatment, Messimer manages throws a great deal of light on the clandestine side of the war and how it helped bring the United States into the conflict.

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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