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The Thrifty Spy On The Sixth Avenue El
Herr Doktor Albert was very careful with the Kaiser’s money. One day he saved a $1.25 taxi fare—and lost a million dollar’s worth of information
December 1965 | Volume 17, Issue 1
Heinrich Albert’s debut as a New York headline personality came on Sunday, August 15, when the World pieced together the nature of his business at 45 Broadway. Starting on page 1, the paper ran three pages of stories and documents bathing the German subversives in the light of publicity. Albert was portrayed as a meticulous, bookkeeping master spy through whom all chicanery cleared and who was principally concerned about getting value for his Kaiser’s money and maybe even making a profit. An exchange of letters between Albert and Viereck published on the front page answered the question of who was backing Viereck’s newspaper, The Fatherland . Albert was paying Viereck $1,500 a month; a letter dated July 1 regretted that the June payment was being held up until Albert received a new financial statement of the condition of the paper, and stated also that before the payments could be resumed Albert must have an understanding about the future course of the paper’s policy and a voice in the financial management.
The World had a shocker for the American financial community, too. A booming, well-financed Connecticut munitions plant that had sprung up almost overnight and was placing large long-term orders with the country’s major firms for machinery, shell cases, and gunpowder, turned out to be nothing more than a German Potemkin village. The plan for the Bridgeport Projectile Company, conceived by Heinrich Albert and Franz von Papen and approved by the German general staff, called for the sheer waste of tens of millions of dollars. Bridgeport Projectile was in business merely to keep America’s leading munitions producers too busy to fill genuine orders for the weapons the French and British so desperately needed. The false-front company had ordered five million pounds of gunpowder and two million shell cases with the intention of simply storing them. An American industrialist named George Hoadley had built and operated the plant for Albert, deliberately giving the business world the impression that the company was supplying the Allies.
Overnight, Dr. Albert had been transformed from a quiet, industrious, almost unknown businessman into a notorious figure. His story made news for a whole week, and reporters were constantly at his doorstep. Toward the end of the week he issued a 2,500-word statement on the condition that it would be printed in full in the World . All 2,500 words explained that he had been misinterpreted. Mercifully for Dr. Albert’s dignity and his prestige with his home office, the story of how his briefcase had been swiped off the Sixth Avenue el didn’t make the newspapers. The United States took no official action against him, and when America entered the war he was returned to Berlin, where he was placed in charge of foreign assets in Germany. (After the hostilities, as durable as ever, he took charge of army surplus sales. In 1923 he was asked by Chancellor Stresemann to form a government in the Weimar Republic, but he was unable to unite the parties under his banner. Failing, he settled for the consolation prize of becoming very rich as lawyer and adviser to foreign corporations in Berlin. He apparently held no official job during the Hitler years, and after the Second World War he was again active in international business.)
Albert’s briefcase papers had shown that von Papen was involved in a plan to tie up all the American sources of toluol, a key ingredient of TNT, and of liquid chlorine. Just as the World was printing its sensation, von Papen marched straight into another jam. An American journalist whom he had hired for $5,000 to report the war from the German side for the American press was yanked off a ship by the British and his papers confiscated. He was carrying a pouch of letters to Berlin, among them one from von Papen to his wife, bragging that “I always tell these idiotic Yankees they had better hold their tongues.” There was also a report from the Austro-Hungarian government’s ambassador to the United States containing this sentence: “We can disorganize and hold up for months, if not entirely prevent, the manufacture of munitions, which in the opinion of the German military attaché is of great importance and amply outweighs the small expenditure of money involved.”
The Austro-Hungarian ambassador was immediately recalled, but von Papen continued on his merry way, ignoring his press notices and a British white paper on the confiscation of the correspondent’s papers. In September, finding it hard to break a habit of long standing, he dispatched Koenig to blow up a railway bridge over Canada’s Welland Canal, which carries ships around Niagara Falls. Koenig and an assistant headed for Buffalo on the New York Central, but for once Koenig forgot to stop at Macy’s. He was never out of sight of the Secret Service from the moment he left Manhattan. When the two men crossed into Canada for their operation, they were grabbed by the Canadian authorities for launching a military enterprise against His Majesty’s government.
Also in September von Papen was invited to tea by General Leonard Wood, commander of the Department of the East, at Governors Island. General Wood showed his guest plans for blowing up the New York subway and port installations and implied that the American Secret Service had found them in von Papen’s office. Von Papen shrugged off the accusation and ascribed the plans to Allied propaganda aimed at discrediting the Kaiser’s representatives. But General Wood had made his point. The interview ended with polite goodbyes and the subway safe for posterity.