HANCOCK (AP) – A beach along Maine’s coast where a pair of German spies landed nearly 59 years ago is being recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.

The crescent-shaped beach on Hancock’s Crabtree Neck was designated last week as the “Nazi Spy Landing Site.”

There are also plans to mark the event with a plaque on Salisbury Cove in Bar Harbor, across Frenchman’s Bay from the landing site. The plaque is paid for by the New England Chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.

On a snowy night of Nov. 30, 1944, the two agents climbed into a rubber raft after leaving a German U-boat that drifted into Frenchman’s Bay.

The spies, carrying revolvers and $60,000 in cash, set out on a mission to collect information about American industry and relay it back to the Third Reich through radio transmissions and secret messages in letters purportedly written to American war prisoners in Germany.

Mary Forni, who is now 88 years old, recalls seeing the two men that night as she drove her car home from a card party at a friend’s home. Forni, who was then a 29-year-old mother, said the men wore topcoats and carried briefcases as they walked through the snow.

“Maybe I was too young to be concerned,” said Forni, who still lives in the area. “It was really kind of startling to find out that there were German spies down here.”

The spy landing may not have been Maine’s most important chapter in the story of World War II, but historians say it was one of the strangest.

German submarines operated in the Gulf of Maine, and German agents came to North America by sea six times during the war.

Mason Philip Smith, whose book “Bold Gamble” about German spy landings in America is scheduled for publication later this year, said saboteurs were landed in Florida and New York, and the German navy set up a remote weather-broadcasting station on the coast of Labrador in 1943.

But Smith said the Hancock landing was different because it was the only one involving a professional intelligence agent, Erich Gimpel. His companion, William Colepaugh, was an American from Connecticut who went to Germany to help the war effort.

They rode a taxi to Bangor, where they caught a train to Portland, and made it to New York City by the middle of the next day.

The operation yielded no useful information for the German war effort. Colepaugh turned himself in to American officials less than a month later and agents arrested Gimpel a few days later.

The two men were sentenced to death in a military tribunal, but their sentences were commuted. They are both still alive.

AP-ES-04-13-03 1311EDT


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