May 19, 2015

Colloquium Speaker: Dwight R. Messimer


Dwight Messimer, the author of the book “The Baltimore Sabotage Cell,” is a trained historian specializing in WWI U-boat operations, Antisubmarine Warfare, German gunboat operations in China up to WWI, and POW escapes; both US POWs and German POWs.  He holds a Master’s Degree in History and has authored several books and articles on those topics as well as early U.S aviation, the joint losses of the USS Langley (CV-1, AV-3) and the USS Pecos (AO-6), and the destruction of Patrol Wing Ten in the early weeks of WWII.  He lives with his German wife, a Berlinerin, in northern California, south of San Francisco.




Colloquium Topic: The Baltimore Sabotage Cell and the U-Boat Deutschland, 1915-1918

The Germans’ sabotage campaign in the United States, and their innovative cargo submarine project, were basically incompatible, and the former was counter-productive. On that basis, they would seem to be unrelated, or at least too disconnected, to warrant their inclusion in a single book.  But that is not the case.  They are historically inseparable because both projects—sabotage and logistics—were brought together by the central involvement of one man who wore two hats; Paul G. L. Hilken.  He was a native-born U.S. Citizen, a wealthy, respected, Baltimore businessman, and a German saboteur.  It was through his agency that the Baltimore Sabotage Cell and the U-Deutschland are forever firmly joined in history.

Very few Americans know anything about the German Army military intelligence section known as “Sektion Politik,” and they know even less about the shadowy German Navy intelligence section called the Etappendienst.  Both were deep secrets, and both had entirely different missions.  In November 1918 all the Section Politik records were burned in the courtyard at Molkestrasse 8 in Berlin and the Etappendienst records were hidden behind a veil of innocent supply activities that are still shielding the unit’s true purpose.

There are several enduring myths about the U-Deutschland and the entire cargo submarine project.  The most enduring myth is that it was entirely a civilian capital venture.  It was not.  The German Navy’s cargo submarine project was entirely a navy undertaking orchestrated and directed by the Etappendienst, and every man except two who came to the United States as a merchant crewman was in fact a serving member of the Kaiserliche-Marine, and all but the officers were drawn from frontline U-boats.