Erich Gimpel (25 March 1910 in Merseburg – 3 September 2010 in São Paulo) was a German spy during World War II. Together with William Colepaugh, he traveled to the United States on an espionage mission (operation Elster) in 1944 and was subsequently captured by the FBI in New York City.
German secret agent
Gimpel had been a radio operator for mining companies in Peru in the 1930s. When World War II began, he became a secret agent, reporting the movement of enemy ships to Germany. When the United States entered the war in December 1941, Gimpel was deported back to Germany. He then served as an agent in Spain.
Gimpel was next chosen to attend a spy-school in Hamburg. His final exam was to infiltrate German-occupied The Hague, where he first met the American malcontent and traitor William Colepaugh, an unstable drifter who would ultimately betray him.
Gimpel and Colepaugh were transported from Kiel to the US by the German submarine U-1230, landing at Frenchman Bay in the Gulf of Maine on 29 November 1944. Their mission was to gather technical information on the Allied war effort and transmit it back to Germany using an 80 watt radio transmitter Gimpel was expected to build.
Together they made their way to Boston and then by train to New York. Before long Colepaugh decided to abandon the mission, taking US$48,000 ($683,200 today) of the currency they had brought and spending a month partying and carousing with local women. After spending $1,500 ($21,300 today) in less than a month, Colepaugh visited an old schoolfriend and asked for help to turn himself in to the FBI, hoping for immunity. The FBI was already searching for German agents following the sinking of a Canadian ship a few miles off the Maine coastline (indicating a U-boat had been nearby) and suspicious sightings reported by local residents. The FBI interrogated Colepaugh, who revealed everything, enabling them to track down Gimpel.
Prisoner of war
After Gimpel's capture, the spies were handed over to US military authorities on the instructions of the Attorney General. In February 1945 they stood trial before a Military commission, accused of conspiracy and violating the 82nd Article of War. They were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, but for Gimpel, this was delayed by the unexpected death of the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt due to a custom not to hold any executions during a period of State Mourning. Later, after the war ended, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Gimpel was sent to Alcatraz, where he played chess with Machine Gun Kelly. Gimpel was paroled in 1955, after serving 10 years in prison (Colepaugh would be paroled in 1960) and returned home to West Germany. He later would make his home in South America.
Post prison life
Gimpel was the last person to be tried before a U.S. military tribunal. His autobiographical account of his undercover work, Spy For Germany, was first published in English in 1957, in Great Britain.
Following the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, several books about Nazi spies in America were published, and his book finally appeared in the U.S. under the title Agent 146 (2003).
- Lamphere, Robert J. and Schactman, Tom "The FBI-KGB war: a special agent's story,"Mercer University Press, 1995, Page 7. ISBN 978-0-86554-477-2. Retrieved March 11, 2011
- Robert A. Miller (27 February 2013). A True Story of An American Nazi Spy: William Curtis Colepaugh. Trafford Publishing. pp. 85–. ISBN 978-1-4669-8219-2.
- Willing, Richard (February 27, 2002). "The Nazi spy next door". USA Today. Retrieved August 31, 2016.
- Gimpel, Erich Agent 146; the true story of a Nazi spy in America. St. Martin's Press, 2002; reprint of "Spion für Deutschland," 1957. Page 165. ISBN 0-312-30797-7
- Book review, Publishers Weekly, 2002, reprinted at Amazon.com. Retrieved March 11, 2011
- Connelly, Sheryl (January 19, 2003). "The sidekick from hell; how a Nazi agent was thwarted by his drunken partner". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on 2011-06-29. Although widely repeated in reference sources that Gimpel died in 1996, it is known that Gimpel celebrated his 94th birthday in 2004 in Brazil.
- Photo of Gimpel on Sharkhunters
- Gimpel and Colepaugh
- Article on Colepaugh and Gimpel at fas.org
- Allied report on the interrogation of Colepaugh and Gimpel at ibiblio.org
- Contains a report on Colepaugh and Gimpel at navy.mil
- On Gimpel and Colepaugh, an interview with former CIA agent Richard Gay, book author on foreign spies on US soil
- The movie "Spion für Deutschland (1956)" at IMDB
- G-Men Grab Two Nazi Spies