Exhibit on World War II Sabotage Plot to Open Saturday

Thanks to a quick-thinking 21-year-old Coast Guardsman named John Cullen, the saboteurs were discovered and their plot foiled
Coast Guardsmen at the Amagansett Life-Saving and Coast Guard Station were instrumental in stopping Nazi saboteurs’ plan to blow up infrastructure and terrorize Americans in June 1942. East Hampton Historical Society

It may not be a date that will live in infamy, but June 13, 1942, is certainly a date of historic importance. Shortly after midnight, four trained German saboteurs landed in the fog on the beach near the Coast Guard station on Atlantic Avenue in Amagansett. They had rowed ashore in a collapsible rubber boat filled with explosives, clothing, several thousand dollars in cash, and a two-year plan to blow up aluminum and magnesium plants, canals, bridges, waterways, and locks, according to the Sea Frontier War Diary, a document held at the National Archives and Records Administration.

Thanks to a quick-thinking 21-year-old Coast Guardsman named John Cullen, the saboteurs were discovered and their plot foiled. Mr. Cullen’s actions led indirectly to the arrest of four more saboteurs, who landed four days later at Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., south of Jacksonville. On June 27, J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, announced the arrest of all eight men, and a plot that would surely have terrorized America and impeded the war effort was averted.

Today, a historical re-enactment of that night is an annual event on the beach and at the Amagansett Life-Saving and Coast Guard Station. The latter, one of East Hampton Town’s most storied marine buildings, is a focus of “June 13, 1942: Saboteurs Land in Amagansett,” an exhibition that opens tomorrow at Clinton Academy in East Hampton with a reception that will benefit the 1902 structure’s ongoing renovation and restoration.

The reception is from 6 to 8 p.m. and tickets are $100. The exhibition will be open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. through Oct. 13.

A gift to the East Hampton Historical Society, bestowed last year by the Barnes family of East Hampton, made the exhibit possible, said Richard Barons, the society’s executive director. Carl Jenette, then a boatswain’s mate in the Coast Guard, had telephoned Warren Barnes, the station’s chief, when Mr. Cullen returned from the beach with word of his discovery. Chief Barnes later identified all the objects the saboteurs had buried on the beach, according to “Best American Crime Writing: 2003 Edition.”

“With that collection came at least 25 newspapers from all over the United States,” Mr. Barons said, “original papers with headlines about the invasion in Amagansett.” Also to be exhibited is the original typed transcript of the report Mr. Barnes sent to the Coast Guard, which, Mr. Barons said, “in the end got him in a little trouble with the F.B.I. because he was following orders and sent it to the Coast Guard rather than the F.B.I.”

Photographs of two uniforms Mr. Barnes wore during the period are featured, along with a complete set of photos depicting all the objects discovered on the beach, photos of the saboteurs, and, of course, of the Coast Guard station itself. Also included is a translation of the log kept by the U-202 captain, from which the saboteurs were dispatched, for June 12 and 13, 1942.

But, said Mr. Barons, “it’s that Barnes collection that was such a surprise. There had been no discussion that any of the Barnes family had saved material, and then to go over, at the end of the summer last year, to the family house just outside the village and to see all of these notes and newspaper articles and all of this material that had been so carefully preserved, it seemed the perfect time to do an exhibit like this.”

The hope, he said, is that the majority of the collection will ultimately be housed at the station, once its renovation is complete.