In our collections, there are photographs of the seemingly unassuming U.S. passenger ship called the SS America. However, this ship was implicated in the largest espionage case in U.S. history while it was in the Panama Canal.
Two Nazi spies who were part of the Duquesne Spy Ring, Erwin Wilhelm Siegler and Franz Joseph Stigler, disguised themselves as the chief butcher and chief baker, while they obtained information about the movement of ships and military defense preparations in the Canal Zone. Stigler also sought to recruit amateur radio operators in the U.S. as channels of communication to German radio stations, and he met with other German Agents to advise them in their espionage pursuits.
The spies remained on the SS America until the U.S. Navy converted that ship into a troop transport and commissioned her in the U.S. Navy as the USS West Point in 1941. Both Siegler and Stigler were sentenced to imprisonment for espionage.
If you want to learn more about the Duquesne Spy Ring, visit the FBI website.
What’s the most interesting story you have heard about the Canal Zone and World War II?