Dark Invasion: 1915: Germany’s Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America by Howard Blum
Reviewed by Raul
In 1915, while Europe was in the throes of the Great War and America was wholly committed to keeping itself neutral, the Imperial German Intelligence services launched a savage and very secret war on American soil to curtail the shipments of artillery shells and ammunition that the Allies were buying from the United States. The battle line was drawn to include the sabotage of ships, the bombing of the U.S. Capitol, a germ warfare attack that included anthrax and other bacillus, and an attempted assassination of J.P. Morgan, the millionaire financier. In this absorbing book, Harold Blum casts a light on a forgotten time in American history – a time of great treachery and deceit that not many people are aware of.
Captain Tom Tunney is an old school New York City cop and as head of New York Police & Neutrality squad has had to deal with anarchists who plan bombings in the city. Nothing has prepared him for the vast conspiracy that he comes across when he begins to investigate the fires and explosions that destroy ships carrying food and armaments for the Allied war effort. What begins with a few ships swiftly grows into attacks all along the east coast; using all his skills as a detective, Tunney and his squad of investigators desperately follow up clues to prevent the next attack.
What Tunney does not know is that Abteilung IIIB, the German secret service, has sent a most diabolical and crafty agent to lead this secret war: Captain Franz von Rintelen. A sort of German James Bond, von Rintelen is charming, suave, intelligent, and totally committed to his mission; this is a man who is not above manipulating people and events to serve his own ends. When causing fires on ships close to shore is not enough, he utilizes previously unknown technologies to enhance the range of his sabotage; if sabotage is not enough, he creates opportunities by creating false companies to steal Allied money and delay delivery of goods; if economic sabotage is not enough, he is not above using a man with no true identity to attempt to murder J.P. Morgan. His involvement in the germ warfare attacks that take place only solidifies his place as a ruthless and implacable enemy. The very fact that he wrote a memoir after the war entitled The Dark Invader lends a picture of his mindset and focus.
Blum’s book reads like a combination of police procedural and white knuckle thriller – that is all factual makes it all the more shocking. His pacing of the story builds up a tension that is very palpable to the reader – each chapter builds on the other and the book is impossible to put down. The side story of Erich Muenter, which begins the book, becomes a riveting backdrop to Tunney’s hunt and the professor’s story, filled with murder, deception, new identities and dark unresolved secrets becomes a restless harmony that haunts the background of the main story. An unforgettable read that will delight and shock the historian in all of us.
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