The captured OSS agent who convinced an entire German Army to surrender!

Frederick Mayer was born in Baden Germany, in a Jewish family. He worked in Germany for a while after finishing High School education, working as a mechanic for the Ford Motor Company. During the 1930`s, the Nazi`s came to power and this brought forth a new Antisemitism wave, such that by 1938, Frederick Mayer`s parents decided that they had to emigrate to United States Of America because Germany was no longer a safe place to reside. It seemed like a well calculated move because the following year (1939) was the epitome of the holocaust.

While in the US, he worked at different places until 1941, when he decided to enlist in the US Army, angered by the Japanese declaration of war on the United States of America. His training on the Army was spectacular, and due to his multi-lingual abilities he was asked to join the Office Of Strategic Services (OSS).He could actually speak German, French and Spanish and was thus the kind of man that the OSS wanted.

Operation Greenup

At the OSS, Frederick Mayer joined the German Operation Group, a team whose mission was to secretly operate behind enemy lines, and provide information to the OSS. In 1944, his first mission came calling, when he and a bunch of other agents were sent to North Africa by ship. However there was some sort of miscommunication and they ended up being dropped off on the wrong port.

Luck had not forsaken them because one member of the group who could speak eight different languages salvaged the situation. He came up with a plan of selling some of their surplus gear such as towels to the locals, and they used the money from the sales to buy train tickets to the nearest OSS station which was in Algiers.

After a few months at the Algiers station, they were transferred to Italy, and this is where plans for Operation Greenup started. Mayer, his friend Hans Weinberg and a third agent known as Franz Weber planned for several months about how they would be able to penetrate an area near Innsbruck Austria, which was under Nazi control, and it hoisted a huge number of Nazi troops and supplies.

The hardest part of the plan was to find a drop zone, and secondly a pilot who was daring enough to fly them through the Nazi infested area. All the flat ground was occupied by German soldiers, and thus their only hope was to be parachuted on a flat frozen lake which was between two slopes. The only pilot who was daring enough to volunteer was an American Air Corps pilot, Lt. John Billings, and he and his crew dropped them on a 9,000 foot glacier. They had to traverse the slopes to the bottom of the mountain, with snow covering most part of their legs.

Mayer and his two agents were lucky to board a train to Innsbruck unnoticed, and they were able to settle in with the help of Weber`s family. Weber`s sister was working as a nurse at a local hospital, and using Weber`s old uniform (Weber was a former German Officer) Mayer disguised himself as an injured German Officer.

2nd Lt. Frederick Mayer, the real "inglorious basterd," impersonating a Nazi officer behind enemy lines during World War II with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).  (PRNewsFoto/The OSS Society, Inc.)
2nd Lt. Frederick Mayer, the impersonating a Nazi officer behind enemy lines during World War II with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). (PRNewsFoto/The OSS Society, Inc.)

Since the hospital was treating injured German soldiers, Mayer would listen to their conversations and Hans would radio the information to the OSS. He later changed his disguise and pretended to be a French electrician making use of his ability to speak French. He was able to gather a lot of info, and would send radio transcriptions back to the OSS Centre with the help of Hans.

However, one of his informers was apprehended by German agents and revealed his name, and Mayer was captured and subsequently tortured by the Germans. Despite the beatings and torture, he never gave out the name of his co-agent Hans, and maintained that he was working alone.

The ability to penetrate enemy lines and provide vital information to the OSS was a mammoth accomplishment, because Mayer and his team were able to achieve what others had failed. However, the most remarkable thing that Mayer did was being able to convince his captors to surrender to the United States Army.

How did this happen?

During his period of torture, another captured agent known as Hermann Matull was shown Mayer`s photo, and he told the Nazi agents that Mayer was a very important man, knowing quite well that Mayer was only a sergeant. Mayer was thus invited to dine with Franz Hofer who was the governor of the Alpine Redoubt, and he was able to convince him to surrender to the United States.

He told him that the Nazi supremacy was coming to an end, and surrendering to the United States would be in his best interest. Hofer therefore surrendered to Mayer, and declared by radio that Innsbruck was an open city. Mayer was thus able to save thousands of lives from both sides.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is the fact that he forgave the Nazis who had tortured him, despite having a perfect opportunity to avenge what they had done to him. He is quoted telling one of the soldiers who was pleading with him to spare his family, “who do you think we are, Nazis?”

Innsbruck was thus surrendered to an American sergeant, who was also Jewish in April 1945 and in May 3rd the American 103rd Infantry Division took over Innsbruck. Frederick Mayer was awarded the Legion of Merit and a purple heart, and continues to be honored and recognized as a hero. He is now 94, and leads a quiet life in West Virginia.

Sidney Mucheru

Sidney Mucheru is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE