Book Review: Burn, Bomb, Destroy: The German Sabotage Campaign in North America, 1914–1917


by Michael Digby

Philadelphia: Casemate, 2021. Pp. xviii, 244. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1636240046

The Kaiser’s Special Ops in North America

Although the 1916 Black Tom disaster and the infamous 1917 Zimmerman Note are rather well covered, until recently German sabotage and special operation efforts in the U.S., Canada, and even Mexico during World War I have been largely overlooked. Over the past few years have, however, several books – The Baltimore Sabotage Cell, Treacherous Passage, etc. – have begun to uncover the full extent of German efforts to carry the war to the U.S. and Canada. In Bomb, Burn, Destroy, U.S. Army veteran and long serving police bomb squad specialist Digby helps throw even more light on these efforts.

Concentrating on the period before the U.S. entered the war, Digby demonstrates that even before the outbreak of war in 1914 some German diplomatic and military planners were laying plans to conduct disinformation, sabotage, and other operations in North America, including Mexico, to hamper the Anglo-French war effort and to keep the U.S. neutral.

Digby manages to cover a surprising number of operations, organized by cells in New York, Baltimore, Detroit, and elsewhere, including Mexico, to blow up vital installations -- Black Tom, the Welland Canal, bridges, rail lines – and even attempts at biological attacks on livestock. He also gives us a look at Uncle Sam’s intelligence efforts to prevent such actions and uncover German operatives. In the process of telling this story, Digby gives us little profiles of many agents, from Franz von Papen, then German ambassador to the U.S. and later Chancellor of Germany shortly before Hitler came to power, to Leutnant Wilhelm von Brinken, who later had a rather successful career in Hollywood.

With Bomb, Burn, Destroy, Digby makes a very valuable contribution to the scholarship on the subject, albeit that much more needs to be done.




Note: Bomb, Burn, Destroy is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi   

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