“The 23-year-old U.S. Army second lieutenant stole an unarmed reconnaissance plane from an Allied airbase in southern Italy and flew it into enemy territory as part of a hare-brained bid to change sides.”
THE NAME Martin James Monti may not carry the same measure of infamy in the United States as Benedict Arnold, the notorious turncoat of the War of Independence. Yet the obscure St. Louis, Missouri native does hold the dubious distinction as being the only known American serviceman to have willingly defected to the Nazis in World War Two.
In October of 1944, the 23-year-old U.S. Army second lieutenant stole an unarmed reconnaissance plane from an Allied airbase in southern Italy and flew it into enemy territory as part of a hare-brained bid to change sides.
The child of German and Italian immigrants and raised in a staunchly anti-communist household, Monti became a firebrand critic of the western Allies’ support for the Soviet Union. In fact, despite enlisting in the Army Air Corps in November, 1942, the young flying officer saw Nazi Germany as the best hope for stopping what he saw as the real threat to world peace: Bolshevism. Over the next year and a half, Monti hatched a brazen scheme to join the fight against the Red Menace by casting his lot in with the fascists.
Stationed as a fighter pilot in what’s now Pakistan, Monti went AWOL in the summer of 1944 and stowed away on a transport plane bound for North Africa. From there he gradually made his way to a U.S. airbase in Naples, Italy where he laid his hands on a P-38 Lockheed Lighting undergoing routine maintenance.
He took off unopposed and flew for Milan, which at the time was in enemy hands.
Within moments of touching down, Monti surrendered to the Germans and requested asylum. After convincing his suspicious captors that he was indeed a defector, Monti was shipped to Berlin where he was put on the air as a propaganda broadcaster, along with the American Nazi mouthpiece Mildred “Axis Sally” Gillars.
Monti made a handful of recordings under the alias Martin Wiethaupt, but was largely hopeless an on-air personality and soon volunteered for the SS. He spent the rest of the war helping the Nazis draft propaganda leaflets to drop on the Allies.
Later stationed in Italy, Monti gave himself up to U.S. troops 48 hours after VE Day. Still dressed in his SS uniform, he claimed to be an escaped POW and maintained that the Italian underground had provided him with the enemy disguise so he could make his way back to Allied lines without being recaptured.
Unaware of the full extent of his collaboration with the enemy, military authorities charged Monti only with desertion and theft. He received a 15 year suspended sentence and within two years was reinstated in the army as an NCO. By the time of his discharge in 1947, FBI investigators had pieced together the full details of his propaganda activities and rearrested him, this time on the more serious charge of treason.
Monti pled guilty in 1949 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison and fined $10,000 (the 2013 equivalent of about $100,000).
Paroled in 1960 at the age of 39, Monti disappeared into obscurity. He died in 2000 at the age of 78.
(Originally published Aug. 6, 1945)