200 Plus

Espionage on Long Beach Island?

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Jun 27, 2018

The attacks by the U-151 just off the Jersey coast in early June 1918 did more than just sink merchant ships. They rattled the nerves of those living along the shore. Shock was followed by rage as many looked for scapegoats to explain this new fear. At the beginning of the war, in 1917, the U.S. government had supported the formation of an intelligence gathering group, the American Protective League, which was made up of 250,000 volunteers who would watch their neighbors and report suspicions to federal authorities.

On June 14, 1918, the agent in charge of the Philadelphia field office wrote, “Many complaints have been received against Ostendorff who conducts a prominent café in Philadelphia, and I advised Mr. Cronker and Mr. Parker that I would have an agent proceed to Beach Haven at once and make further investigation.”

Frederick Ostendorff was born in Germany in 1856; he ran a restaurant in Philadelphia. At Beach Haven he operated a large garage where the rich housed their summer cars. Early in the war there had been unfounded accusations that inside the garage he had constructed a submarine.

“I thereupon detailed informant Sprague, who formerly lived at Beach Haven and knows practically everyone there, to proceed to that point and make a thorough investigation of Ostendorff’s activities, and to also see the bridge tender (across which bridge all automobiles must pass and pay toll) and to have him take the license numbers of all cars traveling in and out Beach Haven after midnight, and particularly any car in which he might see Ostendorff as a passenger. Mr. Sprague’s reports are hereto attached giving the details of his investigation.”

Sprague went to work the same day.

“I was instructed by Special Agent in Charge, Frank L. Garbarine to proceed to Beach Haven, N.J., to investigate complaints concerning the abovementioned party.

“I left Philadelphia on the 4:08 P.M. train, and on arriving at the above mentioned place, proceeded to the home of Ostendorff, which I watched until 8:35. When Ostendorff came out and proceeded to the Boardwalk on the Ocean Front. He walked on the Boardwalk until 11:45, and then returned to his home. I failed to note any further activities on this date.”

The next day, “On the above date I interviewed one Randall Thompson, who is Bridge Tender over Manahawkin Bay. Leading to the above mentioned place, concerning automobiles which have been reported as crossing this bridge to the Ocean Front at Surf City, where they transmit messages by means of their headlights to German Submarines operating on the Coast. Mr. Thompson informed me that he knew nothing of the operations, but would forward me a list of numbers of machines crossing the bridge between June 17th and June 22nd.”

Back in Beach Haven, “I again proceeded to watch the home of Ostendorff but failed to note any activities.”

These federal agents would later become the FBI, and they would use methods that today would be considered shocking. Once the agent was sure that no one was home at Beach Haven, “I entered the house through a basement window and proceeded to search for a wireless outfit, which Ostendorff has been reported as having in his house or garage. I searched both places thoroughly, but failed to find any traces of any wireless apparatus whatever.”

Not finding any evidence, Sprague began looking for collusion.

“While interviewing one A.P. King, Postmaster at Beach Haven, N.J., he informed me that he received the following information from Ostendorff’s former Chauffeur, one Whitney Marshall, who is now at Camp Dix:

“While driving to Philadelphia, or returning to Beach Haven, Ostendorff always made a stop at the farm of one Mr. Groepler, a German farmer, living on the main turnpike 2 miles North of Manahawkin. On arriving at Philadelphia, Ostendorff proceeded to #1536 Vine Street where he is reputed as keeping a woman other than his wife.

“Mr. King also informed me that he received the following information from one of the Directors of the Barnegat Bank, that Mr. Ostendorff draws from the Bank every two months the sum of $500.”

Federal agents would keep Ostendorff and LBI under surveillance for the rest of the war, especially when news broke in the June 14 Flag Day edition of the New Jersey Courier.

“William H. Danenhower of Surf City was brought to the county jail on Tuesday, charged with trampling, scuffing, or wiping his feet on the American flag. Danenhower is a Pennsylvania Dutchman, a native of this country, born in Quakertown, Pa. He got into an argument with Walter Sharp of Beach Haven, so the charge is made, and when hot words were passed, threw a flag on the floor and wiped his feet on it to express his feeling toward the country. He was arrested and brought to the county jail.

“Sheriff Brown notified the department of Justice.

“Danenhower is the captain of the Long Beach Fishery’s pound at Ship’s Bottom, and also runs a grocery store. … His employers have been trying to get him out of jail.”

Efforts to free him failed as the Asbury Park Press of June 27 gave more details.

“Arrested, Charged with insulting the American flag, William H. Danenhower of Brant Beach has been held under $2,000 bail and in default is in the county jail awaiting action by the Federal authorities.

“In an argument, Danenhower, who is postmaster at Brant Beach, is alleged to have pulled an American flag from the postoffice walls and trampled it under his feet, at the same time making unpatriotic remarks about the government and its army. He was immediately arrested and brought to Toms River and placed in jail. He was later released under a habeas corpus writ, but immediately rearrested when the heavy bail bond was required.”

As government agents dealt with spies and dissidents, the U-151 was on its way home, and The New York Times reported on June 25, “The British transport Dwinsk, formerly the Scandinavian-American liner C. F. Tietgen, was torpedoed at 9 A.M. on Tuesday, June 18, about 550 miles east by south of Sandy Hook. She was unconvoyed.

“Seven boats were launched, and the crew of 148 officers and men, headed by Captain Nelson, got away safely, although they did not have time to save any of their effects. There were no troops aboard. Three of the lifeboats were picked up by an American transport Thursday afternoon. The men thus rescued arrived here today.”

The survivors told the story of the attack on the 467-foot long troop transport that was empty, heading back to the United States.

“The Dwinsk was on her way in ballast to an American port when she was struck on the starboard side, near No. 4 hold, by a torpedo which tore a great hole in the hull and caused the vessel to settle by the stern. There was no chance for the gun crew to get into action, for they could see nothing to shoot at, and the Captain gave orders to abandon ship immediately.

“Ten minutes after the seven lifeboats pulled clear from the ship’s side a big German submarine appeared on the surface and circled among the boats. There was an officer on her deck forward, with three seamen, who were getting a six-inch ready. A few minutes afterward the U-boat commenced to shell the Dwinsk. She continued firing for about forty minutes, until the transport disappeared beneath the waves. All told, nineteen shots were fired.”

The U-151 was gone, but she had left mines in the waters off the Jersey Shore as well as uneasiness in the minds of those who lived and visited there.

Next Week: Camp Dix blast.


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