The Black Tom explosion.
Months before his capture, von Rintelen established a teamof agents that would be responsible for the destruction of Black Tom Pier. He hiredseveral agents to perform various tasks from smuggling the charges onto ships to bribing pier workers. It remains unknown who actually lit the first explosive fuse to cause theexplosion at Black Tom. Police investigations pointed to a man named Michael Kristoff who was living at a boarding house in Bayonne, New Jersey, and was reported by hisland lady to keep odd hours and often return home smelling of fuel or having small sootstains on his hands or clothing. Kristoff, when later questioned by authorities mentionedseveral other accomplices, but did not specifically mention their various roles in thesabotage.The exact events of the night of the Black tom explosion largely remain a mystery.Several night watchmen guarded the area around the pier, but two were later discoveredto have accepted bribes from German agents to loosen their guard. The cargo itself waslargely unprotected, and sat loaded on moored barges and hips in the harbor. Anammunition storage facility and several fuel tanks were located on the adjacent shore.The first fire and explosion most likely began in this area. Guards fled the scene, wary of the materials they knew were in the vicinity. At 2:08 a.m., a thunderous explosion shook the New Jersey harbor, shattered windows, and threw people from their beds across the bay in Manhattan. That explosion began aboard the
, a ship carryingexplosives and fuel that was docked near the pier. Several other explosions were heardshortly after, and continued until dawn. Shrapnel rained down on New York City and the New Jersey harbor area. Immigrants awaiting entry processing on Ellis Island wereevacuated from their barracks, and the Statue of Liberty sustained damage from flyingdebris. When all of the fuel and explosives were spent, the smoke cleared to reveal aswath of devastation several city blocks wide. Black Tom pier and most of its island weregone.
Investigation following the war.
Following the war, a special commission convened toassess damages from various incidences of terrorism in the United States. The MixedClaims Commission consisted of a German, an American, and a neutral representative.The commission reviewed the claims of industries, companies, and governments that lost property to the work of saboteurs during the war. The Black Tom explosion was thelargest of such claims. After reviewing evidence supplied by police and intelligenceinvestigations, the panel decided that the explosion was the result of foul play on the partof German terrorists. The commission awarded a settlement amount of 50 million dollars,the largest damage claim awarded for a single incident during the war. The money was to be paid from German reparations payments proscribed in the Treaty of Versailles. Thedamage award to the plaintiffs, however, was not finally made until 1939.
█ FURTHER READING:
Espionage: The Greatest Spy Operations of the Twentieth Century.
NewYork: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.