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Operation Elster ("Magpie" [1]) was a Nazi German mission to gather intelligence on and sabotage the Manhattan Project during World War II. The mission was commenced in 1944 with Nazi agents sailing from Kiel, Germany on the U-1230, coming ashore in Maine on November 30, 1944. Within a month the operation ended, resulting in espionage convictions for the agents.


After completing training in The Hague, Erich Gimpel and William Colepaugh boarded U-1230 to sail for the United States to gather intelligence on the Manhattan Project and sabotage it. They also were tasked with gathering intelligence on shipyards, airplane factories, and rocket-testing facilities.[2]

On November 29, 1944, after spending eight days resting on the ocean floor off the coast of Maine to avoid American patrols, the U-1230 passed into Frenchman Bay and Gimpel and Colepaugh came ashore. They made their way to New York City.[2]


Colepaugh quickly took up womanizing and drinking, and by Christmas, being an American defector, had a change of heart and turned himself in to the FBI. Colepaugh subsequently turned in Gimpel.[2]

Colepaugh and RooseveltEdit

During his arrest, Colepaugh claimed to be a cousin of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, producing genealogical evidence. Roosevelt dismissed this, however.[2]


In February 1945, the pair were convicted of espionage by a military tribunal and sentenced to death.[2] This was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment by President Harry Truman. Gimpel was paroled in 1955; Colepaugh was paroled in 1960.

Revelation of robot bombsEdit

During their interrogation, Colepaugh disclosed information that U-1230 was shadowed by a U-boat pack equipped with V-weapons, to be launched at New York City and Washington D.C. Washington was familiar with the weapons, having been launched at London previously. During this period, American intelligence had detected an increase in German radio activity in the North Atlantic. Although the Americans took the threat seriously, it never materialized.[3]


  1. The Magpie being a bird famous for its acts of theft.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Roosevelt's secret war: FDR and World War II espionage", Joseph E. Persico. Random House Digital, Inc., 2002. ISBN 0-375-76126-8, ISBN 978-0-375-76126-3. p. 387-388
  3. "The air-raid warden was a spy: and other tales from home-front America in World War II", William B. Breuer. John Wiley and Sons, 2003. ISBN 0-471-23488-5, ISBN 978-0-471-23488-3. p. 174-176

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