In the end of August 1914 Canada mobilized the largest expeditionary force in her history. On August 4, the day of the declaration of war, the Canadian armed forces numbered 3,110 men with 684 horses. In the third week of September, the Canadian ranks had swelled to 83,000 men, which shipped to Europe on October 3 and 24. The first contingent consisted of 31,200 men with arms, trucks, horses, and supplies. “It took three hours for the line of ships, more than twenty-one miles long, to steam through the harbour's narrow exit into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Once in the open the great armada reformed in fleet formation-three lines ahead, fifteen cables (3,000 yards) apart, each led by a cruiser, the fourth cruiser bringing up the rear.”

The Valcartier Camp in the end of August 1914

The Valcartier Camp in the end of August 1914

With orders to prevent Canadian forces from shipping out to Europe, the German Military Attaché in the U.S. Franz von Papen and Naval Attaché Karl Boy-Ed got to work. As soon as von Papen had hired Paul Koenig and his “detective agency,” he sent the secret service man to canvass the East Coast of Canada. The intelligence mission consisted of estimating exactly the extent of the Canadian mobilization, as well as identifying possible targets that would interrupt or sabotage the effort. For a period of five weeks, Koenig and his agents traveled to Canada on reconnaissance missions. Laureat Jean J. Leclerc, a garage owner in Quebec, rented cars to the German agents. He also repeatedly served as Koenig’s driver on the spying forays. In 1915, after Koenig’s activities came to light, Leclerc testified against the German agent. According to the garage owner, Koenig and his associate Siegfried H. Mundheim canvassed the waterfront of Quebec “on several night trips.” “At first…I thought well of Koenig. I drove him around the Valcartier camp, about the wharves, along the water front, but one thing struck me – his trips were made mostly at night.” The majority of Canada’s expeditionary forces converged on the Valcartier military camp starting in the beginning of September 1914.

On September 15, Paul Koenig, Frederick Metzler, and Edmund Justice left for Burlington, Vermont. On the same day, Alfred Fritzen, Frederick Busse, Costante Covani, Franz Wachendorf alias Horst von der Goltz, and Charles Tuchendler left for Buffalo, New York. Koenig’s mission is not specifically documented. However, it clearly targeted the troop camp at Valcartier and the harbor of Quebec, where Canada’s expeditionary troops made last preparations for shipping to Europe. As to the second team that included Wachendorf, the mission was to sabotage the Welland Canal, thereby creating a diversion while the primary team under Koenig sank a barge or blew up a bridge to block the shipping channel. Both groups were armed and equipped, although the extent of preparations is only known about Wachendorf’s team. Von Papen testified in 1932 that half of Wachendorf’s dynamite remained in another German safe house, the apartment of “Martha Heldt, at No. 123 West 15th Street” in lower Manhattan. Wachendorf wrote that he left “two suit-cases” at the Heldt apartment. Originally, the two hundred pounds of explosives had been packed into two suitcases.

The coordinated attack on Canada never occurred. Curiously, von Papen had cancelled the mission one week before the shipment of Canadian troops to England. The “great armada” sailed on October 3, not on September 24 as Wachendorf claimed in his memoirs. The German agent also claimed that he laid off Busse and Fritzen while still in Buffalo, because of lack of funding. However, both men continued to work for the German secret service, which is widely documented in von Papen and Albert’s accounts. So what might really have happened? If the bombs had gone off at Welland in the last week of September, they would have generated the most impact and quite possibly jeopardized the assemblage of the troop ships. The glitch in the plan must have been a completely different one: The Canadian military knew that the Welland Canal was a prime target for terrorists. In the period leading up to the troop transports to England, “Canada formed a security service consisting of telegraph operators, customs and immigration officers, local and special police, military guards, private detectives and watchmen. This protective service was under the authority of Lt. Col. Percy Sherwood, Chief Commissioner of the Dominion Police. For the Canadian authorities the most important public utility that needed protection was the canal systems of Ontario and Quebec. The largest force used, one thousand, was deployed to protect the Welland Canal.” One convincing theory explaining the abandonment of the mission is that the Welland Canal team simply got cold feet. 

If the Welland Canal was well protected one can only imagine the security around the British fleet that was about to carry a whole army to Europe. Without the diversion Wachendorf’s team planned to execute, Koenig and his associates had no chance to get even close to the harbor of Quebec or the military camp of Valcartier in these last days of September. The same is true for any German raider that might have been dispatched to the Canadian coast. Steaming into the St. Lawrence or laying in wait at its mouth would have been sheer suicide. After Wachendorf and his men bailed, Koenig realized the futility of his mission and returned to New York around the same time.

On October 3 1914, with both sabotage teams back in New York, “… the entire Armada, containing the largest military force which had ever crossed the Atlantic at one time, set sail for England. In three long parallel lines of about a dozen ships each, with flags flying and signals twinkling, it made an imposing sight for the handful of people who saw it off. On October 6, the convoy was joined at sea by a ship carrying the Newfoundland Regiment. Before and during the crossing there had been much talk about the threat of German submarines but this threat never materialized.” The Commander of Germany’s submarine fleet, Admiral Hermann Bauer did claim in his memoirs that U-20, a German long distance submarine, indeed had gone to Canada to intercept the Canadian troop transports. “U-20 …came back from its mission against the large Canadian transport near the Hebrides…” Luckily, the convoy had escaped the underwater predator. A little over seven months later, the Lusitania was not so lucky and received a deadly torpedo from the same submarine. By the end of the war, 65,000 Canadian soldiers had succumbed in the trenches of Europe.