Frederick Mayer: OSS Spy Who Captured a City

Frederick Mayer, a German Jew and American Army spy was responsible for the German surrender of Innsbruck, Austria.

Born Friedrich Mayer in Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden, Germany on October 28, 1921, Mayer and his family moved to the United States in 1938 after fleeing Nazi persecution.

After America entered WWII, Mayer enlisted in the US Army, eventually making his way to the shadowy world of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) the precursor to the CIA.

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Insignia of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)

In 1944, Frederick Mayer, along with Hans Winberg, a fellow OSS agent and Jewish refugee from Holland, volunteered for a mission code-named Operation Greenup. Their objective was to scout the heavily fortified Austrian city of Innsbruck and to identify German rail traffic travelling between Austria and Italy through the Brenner Pass.

For the operation to succeed, Mayer and Winberg knew they needed to find someone from the area who was willing to join them on their dangerous mission. To do this, Mayer posed as a German prisoner of war and began talking with captured German soldiers at an Allied POW camp, looking for someone he could trust.

At the POW camp, Frederick Mayer found Franz Weber, an Austrian Officer who had fought on the Eastern Front before deserting. Weber, an ardent anti-Nazi, believed it was his duty to defeat the Third Reich.

After months of training and planning, the three volunteers were ready to be parachuted into Austria. However, because the Germans occupied the flat, low lying areas near Innsbruck, the three men had to be dropped onto a small frozen lake, high up in the Alps, between 9,000 foot mountains. The dangers of the parachute drop were intensified by severe winter weather and the fact that the jump would have to take place at night.

Because of dangerous flying conditions, the OSS agents had trouble finding a pilot willing to risk the flight. Finally, an Army Air Force Lieutenant named John Billings volunteered to fly the men by saying: “If they are crazy enough to jump there, I will be crazy enough to take them there.”

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Frederick Mayer (right) with Hans Winberg (center) and Franz Weber (left)

On the night of February 26, 1945, Frederick Mayer, Hans Winberg and Franz Weber parachuted into Austria. They landed on a ridge of a glacier, nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.

Using a sled, the men rode down the steep mountain approaching speeds of 60 mph or more, which according to Mayer was the scariest part of the entire mission.

Upon reaching Innsbruck, the men traveled to the home of Franz Weber’s family who were stunned to see their son, who they knew had been a prisoner of war.

Once Weber and Winberg got settled, Frederick Mayer went around Innsbruck wearing Weber’s German Army uniform posing as a wounded officer recovering at a local hospital where Weber’s sister worked as a nurse.

He chatted up other German officers at bars and listened to their stories for information. One of the officers he spoke with was an engineer who worked on Hitler’s Fuhrer bunker in Berlin. The officer told Mayer the specifications and location of the bunker which was radioed back to OSS headquarters by Winberg. Mayer and his team also observed military train movement traveling through Innsbruck and the Brenner Pass, calling in air strikes to destroy them.

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Gauleiter Franz Hofer

After several weeks, of successful undercover operations, a black market racketeer who worked with Mayer gave his name up under torture by the German secret police, the Gestapo.

The Gestapo tracked down Mayer and arrested him. For the next three days, Mayer was tortured under intense interrogation. The Germans beat him severely, hung him upside down and broke his teeth after stuffing a pistol in his mouth and punching him in the face. The Gestapo repeatedly asked for Mayer to give up the whereabouts of Winberg, his radio operator, but Mayer claimed he was working alone.

In amazing turn of events, Franz Hofer the German Gauleiter of Tirol and Vorarlberg and Hitler’s “Alpine Fortress” had learned of the OSS agent’s capture. Hofer knew the war was lost and was looking for ways to escape prosecution for war crimes.

Hofer requested to meet Frederick Mayer and invited him, beaten and bloody, to a formal dinner with Hofer’s wife, Rudolph Rann, the Nazi ambassador to Italy and other distinguished guests.

Gauleiter Hoffer was planning to make a radio broadcast to his troops to order them to fight to the last man. Using wit and guile, Mayer convinced Hofer to place himself under arrest, declare Innsbruck an open city and surrender to the approaching American Army.

On the morning of May 3, 1945, Frederick Mayer, riding in a car adorned with a white bed sheet, approached the front lines of the American 103rd Infantry Division. He met an American major named Bland West and informed him of the German surrender.

After the end of hostilities, Frederick Mayer had one last memorable encounter when he came face to face with his former Gestapo interrogator. The interrogator was being held in the very same prison cell that Mayer was tortured in. Upon seeing Mayer, the Gestapo agent timidly muttered, “Do anything you want to me, but don’t hurt my family.”

To which the Mayer replied, “Who do you think we are, Nazis?”

Frederick Mayer passed away on April 15, 2016 at the age of 94.

For More About Frederick Mayer See:

They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany

frederick mayer

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One thought on “Frederick Mayer: OSS Spy Who Captured a City

  • Bill Getz says:

    Outstanding story. Congratulations. The kind of story that makes your site unique and interesting. Keep up the good work.

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