How a small Canadian town caught the world’s worst Nazi spy | Saltwire


The year is 1942 and you’re working the front desk at a hotel in rural Quebec when  a strangely accented man reeking of diesel walks in to ask directions to the nearest train station. Would you guess that he was a spy for the Third Reich who had woken up that morning in a German U-Boat? Watch the video or read the transcript below to learn about the stirring saga of the time a small Canadian town took only a matter of minutes to foil a Nazi plot on its shores.

The Nazis were never great at espionage. There were no Nazi James Bonds or Nazi Jason Bournes; Military intelligence wasn’t their strong suit.

And that’s best personified by the truly terrible spy that Nazi Germany sent to Canada in 1942. Werner von Janowski was dropped off by U-Boat near the town of New Carlisle, Quebec.

He walked to a local hotel to wash up and the locals immediately noticed some things:

  • He lit his cigarettes with Belgian matches (which was weird considering Belgium had been under fascist occupation for two years).
  • He told people he had arrived in town by bus, even though there was no bus at that time in the morning.
  • He paid for things with giant, outdated Canadian currency that was more than 30 years old.
  • He smelled awful, almost like a guy who had just been in a U-Boat for a few weeks.
  • And he had a weird, guttural European accent.

So, someone called the cops and as soon as he left the hotel a local police officer pulled up and asked him for ID. To which von Janowski immediately surrendered saying “I am a German officer.”

New Carlisle 1. Nazi Germany 0.

Below, find a much more detailed version of the Werner von Janowski story first published by the National Post in 2016.

The first clue was the weird banknotes the stranger used to pay for his hotel bill.

To staff at the Carlisle hotel in New Carlisle, QC he presented oversized $1 bills that had not been in regular circulation since the First World War; the modern equivalent of handing over a fistful of pre-loonie $1 bills.

He said his name was William Branton of 323 Danforth Avenue in Toronto — an address now occupied by a women’s wear boutique. Having arrived into New Carlisle by bus that morning, he said he wanted to stop in for a quick bath and breakfast before continuing on to Montreal.

But the first bus into New Carlisle would not arrive for another three hours.

“We knew that he was a foreigner, by the way he spoke … he had kind of a guttural speech in the back of his throat,” Marguerite, the daughter of the Carlisle’s owner, would later tell journalist Dean Beeby for the 1996 book Cargo of Lies , an account of the spy fiasco.

In reality, the stranger had arrived in Quebec via the relatively unorthodox mode of a U-Boat. That morning, the submarine U-518 had performed the nail-biting task of surfacing just off the well-patrolled waters of the Quebec coast and rowing the man to shore in an inflatable dinghy.

It was November 9, 1942, the same day that Canada would break off diplomatic relations with Vichy France, the rump German puppet state carved out of southeastern France.

New Carlisle’s most famous son, future Quebec premier René Lévesque, had only recently moved to Quebec City for a radio job. In another couple years, Lévesque would be sailing to Europe as a war correspondent.

And now, New Carlisle was the first stop for Werner von Janowski, a German officer sent on a mission of espionage to Canada.

He had stepped onto Canadian soil in the trim, impressive uniform of a German naval officer, complete even with an Iron Cross pinned to his breast. This was standard procedure for German spies. That way, if they were caught, they could avoid execution as spies by saying that they had simply deserted from the German navy and swum to shore somehow.

But in the chilly pre-dawn hours, von Janowski swapped his gleaming uniform for a suit of civilian clothes, buried the uniform in the sand and began his new identity as a Parisian-born salesman who had immigrated to Canada in 1921.

He had a gun, $5,000 and identity papers suspected to have been seized from Canadian casualties of the August, 1942 Dieppe Raid. The agent’s instructions were vague, but his goal was to go to Montreal and try and link up with some fascists, according to the book U-Boats Against Canada.

That is, if the Nazis’ contact for the Canadian Fascist Party was still current.

Throughout history, Canada has actually been pretty bad at spotting suspicious foreign characters in their midst.

Immediately after assassinating Martin Luther King Jr., the killer James Earl Ray lived unnoticed for weeks in Toronto, despite his picture being all over the T.V. news. And from the Holocaust to the Rwandan Genocide, Canada has had the dubious distinction of being a relatively safe hideout for former genocidaires.

But that morning, the citizens of sleepy New Carlisle were really on the ball. The Battle of the Atlantic was in full swing and they knew their coast was crawling with German submarines.

After the war, this would even spawn alcohol-fuelled memories that Gaspé Peninsula pubs were occasionally visited by German submariners looking to stretch their legs.

Of course, it helped that von Janowski was dripping in clues.

The stranger lit his cigarettes with matches that were made in Belgium—which was strange considering that Belgium had been occupied by the Nazis for three years. He wore clothes with a distinctly foreign cut. And he smelled awful; almost like someone who had been shut up inside the stale air of a sealed metal tube for several days.

Earl Annett Jr., the son of the Carlisle’s proprietor, alerted authorities as soon as von Janowski set off on foot for the New Carlisle train station.

After taking his seat aboard the Montreal-bound train, the German agent was soon greeted by a Quebec Provincial Police officer, who asked him for I.D. “I am caught. I am a German officer,” von Janowski replied.

It had only been 12 hours.

A press blackout would shield the historic capture from the wartime Canadian public. And soon, the RCMP would accede to von Janowski’s offer to act as a double agent for Canada.

But as Beeby would note in Cargo of Lies, the inexperienced Mounties were likely played by the captured German. The would-be spy provided just enough misleading information to throw off the Royal Canadian Navy hunt for the U-Boat that had dropped him off. And as a double agent, he failed to feed the RCMP one iota of information about German sub movements.

A frustrated Canada ultimately packed von Janowski off to an English prison camp for the rest of the war.Nazi Germany actually sent at least one more spy to Canada during WWII. Alfred Langbein was also dropped off by U-Boat in 1942, and had a bit more luck in slipping past Atlantic Canada without arousing suspicion.

But Langbein didn’t need to be caught. He tossed away his radio almost immediately upon arrival, and quietly moved to Ottawa to spend the several thousand dollars his superiors had given him.

As his countrymen endured the bitter defeat of Stalingrad and began the slow retreat to Berlin, Langbein was living quietly along the Ottawa River. He turned himself in voluntarily when the money ran out.

Nazi underground operations similarly fell flat in the United States.

In June, 1942, mere months after the attack at Pearl Harbor, eight English-speaking German officers were dropped off by U-Boat in Florida and New York State. Carrying a large supply of explosives, they had been dispatched with detailed plans to act as a Nazi terrorist cell within the United States.

Within days, however, sabotage leader George Dasch, who had apparently become disillusioned with the Nazi regime, turned in the entire group to the FBI.

As Dasch would later tell an American jail guard, “I cannot cause an innocent man’s death.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021


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