Crime History, Feb. 21, 1942: German spy sentenced to firing squad for role in attack on Pearl Harbor

On this day, Feb. 21, in 1942, Pearl Harbor spy Bernard Julius Otto Kuehn was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to be executed by firing squad in Honolulu.

Bernard Julius Otto Kuehn

Bernard Kuehn

Kuehn, a German national and member of the Nazi party, was a sleeper agent sent to Hawaii in 1935 by famed German propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

In 1941, Kuehn met with a Japanese spy and provided a code that the German agent used to flash at passing war ships and submarines. The system included a series of blinking lights, fires and laundry hanging on clothes lines.

Five days before the attack, Kuehn sent a message to the Japanese describing every American ship in Hawaiian waters.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a devastating sneak attack on the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. More than 20 ships were sunk or damaged, 188 plans were destroyed, and 156 were damaged. American dead numbered 2,403.

The attack led to the United States’ entry into World War II.

The day after the attack, Kuehn was arrested attempting to send more messages back to the Japanese from his cottage.

He was tried and sentenced to death by a military commission. His sentence was commuted to 50 years of hard labor when he volunteered valuable information about his Japanese and Nazi contacts. Kuehn was released after serving 4 years.



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