The Nazi plan to attack the Panama Canal during World War II

Sometimes it seems that the Nazi regime designed a plan for everything, given that three-quarters of a century after the end of World War II, some new ones are still being found. A good example would be the one that was revealed in mid-2017 in Chile, which would have the objective of attacking the Panama Canal to hinder US maritime communications.

The information comes from the files of the PDI (Investigative Police) of Chile, declassified after the demand of a group of deputies to clarify the degree of collaboration that existed then on the part of political, social and economic establishments with Hitler’s Germany. As is well known, South America exerted a certain attraction on the Nazis in several aspects and although the best known part of it is the refuge that some countries gave to various war criminals after the victory of the Allies, another somewhat darker episode they constitute the operations of German spies in such latitudes.

Indeed, at the end of the 1930s the presence of these agents on Chilean soil was discovered -later it was learned that they had been there for eight years now-, dedicated to noting movements of ships and troops through the Strait of Magellan, since they had their center in the Valparaiso city. In addition, they spread propaganda and organized paramilitary training for young men of Teutonic descent (there was significant German emigration to Chile in the early 20th century). They even intercepted the radio communications of the Chilean navy.

For this reason, the government of Santiago created a special unit called department 50 (by the telephone prefix they used at their headquarters), whose mission was to search for and arrest them. This body began operating in 1939 with twenty-two men and succeeded in dismantling many of these activities, locating two networks and seizing weapons, abundant ammunition, code books, thousands of dollars in cash, and a transmission station. The main ringleader arrested turned out to be Bernardo Timmermann, a photographer who fell along with his three assistants and about forty collaborators. The success of that unit was recognized by Edgar Hoover himself, director of the FBI, from whom a congratulatory letter is preserved.

This document is just one more among the thousand in ten bound volumes and corresponding to some eighty files that review the investigation processes, witness statements, photographs and others, which were part of the PDI files (on which the PDI depended). the department 50) now declassified, sent to the National Archive, digitized and brought to light for consultation and public download from the official website. They cover a period from 1937 to 1944 and their authenticity has been guaranteed by the director of the archive.

Among the material seized by the department 50 There were various plans. One provided for dynamiting the mines in the north of the country to interrupt mineral exports to the Allies. But probably the most surprising, ambitious and daring was the one that intended to attack the Panama Canal, as explained by the director of the PDI, although he did not reveal the details of the operation. Obviously, blowing up the gates of the canal would have put it out of use for quite some time, with the consequent negative effect on the interoceanic navigation of the US fleet, which, remember, had to serve a front in the Atlantic and another in the Pacific.

In fact, another plan was already known, this official one, to bomb such a strategic site in 1943 with two planes Stuka JU-87 that would be taken disassembled to Colombia in submarines to reassemble them there and make a RAID on the Gatun Dam (which is in the western part); then the pilots would land in a neutral country, assuming they would be interned there until the end of the war. He was baptized with the name of Operation Pelican either Project 14 but it was never carried out without the reasons being known, presumably due to suspicion of a leak.

What’s more, the Japanese also included the canal among their objectives and designed plans to attack it, in their case using submarines, although the course of the war, increasingly adverse for Japan, gradually diluted that possibility, moving the theater of operations away from American soil progressively. Just in case, the US had allocated 67,000 men for their protection, distributed at 134 points along the isthmus, as well as powerful coastal and anti-aircraft artillery.

It is curious that all of this was revealed just the same week that a small treasure made up of Nazi relics was discovered and hidden behind a shelf in the house of a collector in Buenos Aires: some seventy-five varied pieces including medals, daggers, busts , photographic negatives, musical instruments, toys, medical supplies and even Hitler’s personal magnifying glass, which show that the Nazi plot in South America can still hold surprises.


The Telegraph