By Mr. Eric Pilgrim (Fort Knox news)March 9, 2018
Sometimes a mystery can appear stranger than fact.
Fort Knox Historic Preservation Specialist Matthew Rector recently unearthed several articles, coupled with a fascinating eyewitness tale, which suggest a World War II spy might have served at Fort Knox.
The tale starts with a German named Frederick Bauer, who moved to the United States in 1930 to pursue a law degree. After earning it, he settled in Washington, D.C., until 1935, when he decided to move back to Germany.
War broke out in 1939, four years later.
"He ended up in the German army and, from what I read, was in France with the German army," said Rector. "He then became a lieutenant and requested to go to Berlin, where they had a spy school. He graduated from spy school and ended up coming to the United States via a boat from Spain."
Spain had been embroiled in a violent civil war from 1936 to 1939, when General Francisco Franco rose to power with the help of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
Rector said Bauer would have traveled unencumbered to Spain at that time as a result.
Bauer arrived to the United States in August 1940.
A year later and a few months later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, steering the United States into war, and here is where the mystery begins.
Bauer, a trained German spy, enlisted in the U.S. Army.
"How a German national was able to enlist without any questions about this seems weird, but he did," Rector said. "Apparently, one of the first places he ended up was stationed at Fort Knox."
Fort Knox was in the throes of training tankers for war when Bauer arrived. Army leaders had created the Armored Force at the post, including the Armored Force School and Armored Force Replacement Center in October 1940.
In Germany, Hitler's Panzer tank force had proven its worth on European soil since its introduction to the war in 1939. Bigger, faster and more powerful than Allied tanks, few could stand up to the German Panzer IV by 1941.
"I don't think the Germans were too worried about our armor at that time, but they were keen to know more about how the armored force was developing doctrine," Rector said.
Records indicate Bauer showed up at Fort Knox by October 1942.
"One article says he was with the 8th Armored Division at that time," Rector said.
Rector explained that the area had several USO clubs where Soldiers could go in their free time and relax. Area residents would also often go to support Soldiers and encourage them. One of the regulars was Jovial Twyman Humphrey.
According to the Dec. 12, 1945 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Humphrey and his wife met then Sgt. Bauer at the USO and invited him back to their home for dinner. "He was extremely well-mannered, well-educated and could converse on any subject," Humphrey was quoted as saying.
According to the article, Bauer opened the trunk of his car for a tool when Humphrey noticed a lot of camera equipment inside. Humphrey persuaded Bauer to display the equipment on his sofa and pose for a picture with it.
"Why, he had gadgets that would take a picture around the corner--he had everything, thousands of dollars worth of stuff all made in Germany," Humphrey told the Courier-Journal.
Later, as he thought about the equipment and pondered how a sergeant could afford such an expensive hobby, Humphrey decided to write a letter to the post commanding general about his suspicions. Humphrey said he later regretted that decision and, according to Rector, invited Bauer back to his house on at least one other occasion.
Nothing seemed to come of the letter.
In 1943, the Army had moved Bauer to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. He had grown comfortable enough about his past to give talks to U.S. military leaders and others about his experiences in Europe.
"In one article, he was giving a talk about experiencing air raids in London and France -- in Paris," said Rector. "That's curious. Was he in London at that time? No, he was in the German army at that time, so how would he know about that? He might have experienced air raids in Paris but they weren't from German bombers."
By 1945, Bauer had married a Hoosier girl and landed a job as the post photographer; a job that would bring his suspicious past into the spotlight.
"He got in trouble for taking pictures of nude women at a stag party for visiting officers," Rector said. "Through the investigation of that, things started surfacing about his past.
"He never admitted he was a spy. He admitted he went to spy school," Rector continued. "The Army didn't have enough evidence against him to prove he actually did anything as a spy. Nevertheless, they held him."
Unsuccessful in prosecuting Bauer for espionage, authorities eventually moved him and his family to Ellis Island in Manhattan before extraditing them to Germany in 1950. Records of his descendants, including an obituary on his son found by Rector, suggest Bauer settled in or around Stuttgart.
Fast-forward 70 years.
Rector has a friend who lives in West Point, Kentucky, and served in the Army during World War II. The man's name is omitted to protect his privacy.
A runner for his unit during the war, the man told Rector of an experience he had right after the war when his unit was responsible for securing the German 6th Army "Wehrmacht" headquarters in Austria.
"There was a meeting of company officers and his commander told him, 'Wait in this room while we have our meeting,'" Rector said. "My friend waited in the room and started looking around. He saw shelves and shelves with maps on them, so he started nosing around. He started realizing maybe he could find maps of the United States, and he did.
"Then he thought, 'I wonder if I can find maps of Kentucky?'" Rector explained.
"He found a map of the local area and, sure enough, he pulled the map out and looked at a bridge that's nearby.
It had the measurements, it had the weight load limit, the height -- all this detailed information."
Rector said the bridge depicted was the one that crosses the Salt River at West Point. Anybody traveling from the north had to cross the bridge to get to Fort Knox.
"That bridge was fairly new at that time," Rector said. "My friend thought, 'How could the Germans know about this? They have it on a map already.' He thought a spy must have come up with this information."
Rector said some information on the map was so new, his friend was actually learning some of the advancements that had occurred while he was off to war. So Rector shared the story of Bauer with the man.
"For many years, my friend thought he knew who the spy was," Rector said. "After learning this story, he's now convinced it was Bauer."