Categories: Emergence of Modern America, Great Depression and World War II, Greenwich, War and Defense, Who Knew?, World War I, World War II

War and the Fear of Enemy Aliens – Who Knew?

World War I Poster
“Don’t talk, the web is spun for you with invisible threads, keep out of it, help to destroy it–spies are listening” – Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

…that Greenwich had a special police unit trained to handle suspected foreign agents operating in Connecticut.

By Karen Frederick and Anne Young

During the First and Second World Wars, Greenwich’s strategic position between New York and New England required it to take precautions against the possibilities of attack and of hidden enemies within the community. In 1918, fear of enemy agents living within the US and working against national defense interests was inflamed by newspaper reports such as this one: “To meet the insidious efforts of those evil minded and highly organized and trained persons, every good American must be alert at all times and be keen and active enough to defeat all enemy purposes and activities.” The government also enlisted local assistance. For example, a letter from Colonel Robert L. Howze, Chief of Staff, Northeastern Department, addressed to mayors, town wardens, and railroad officials asked for full cooperation in “running down German agents.”

Greenwich Responds

In 1917 Greenwich had already formed a Special Police infantry company as well as a mounted troop of almost 40 men. Police were ordered to confiscate alien property, firearms, ammunition, code books, and anything else that might be used by enemy agents. Prior to entry into World War II, the possibility of a local emergency was not imaginary—trucks loaded with explosives traveled the Post Road each night. If there was trouble along the coast, there was the potential of a mass exodus from New York City. As in World War I, an Auxiliary Police force to augment the regular force was formed. The Greenwich unit was the first to be highly trained, fully equipped, and armed. The government also required “aliens” to turn in their short-wave radios, firearms, and cameras to police. On April 7, 1942, the FBI aided by the Greenwich police raided more than 50 homes of enemy aliens to seize such contraband.

Karen Frederick, Curator and Exhibitions Coordinator, and Anne Young, former Curator of Library and Archives, of the Greenwich Historical Society contributed this article and co-curated the exhibition Everyday Heroes: Greenwich First Responders (September 14 through August 26, 2012) from which it is derived.

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“Greenwich Historical Society,” 2017. Link.
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