New book shares tale of secret WWII mission in Virginia

New book shares tale of secret WWII mission in Virginia

Monday, January 10, 2022

Few people today would guess that the open spaces of Fort Hunt Park in Virginia, located on the banks of the Potomac River between the Pentagon and George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, held thousands of high-level German prisoners during the 1940s.

Robert K. Sutton, former chief historian of the National Park Service, is the author of the AUSA Book Program’s new release Nazis on the Potomac: The Top-Secret Intelligence Operation that Helped Win World War II. The book tells the story of the American soldiers posted at Fort Hunt, those German prisoners, and the clandestine programs that helped achieve victory in the war.

The AUSA Book Program recently sat down with Mr. Sutton to discuss his work:


AUSA: What were some of the secret operations you cover in Nazis on the Potomac?

Sutton: Simply stated, everything was secret—interrogating and eavesdropping on German prisoners, translating and analyzing captured documents, and sending clandestine messages and packages to American airmen in POW camps. The men at Fort Hunt expected to carry what they did there to the grave.

AUSA: How did you get connected to the story?

Sutton: I was appointed as the chief historian of the National Park Service in 2007 and had park staff travel throughout the country to capture the stories of Fort Hunt veterans before they were gone. After the oral history project was complete, I was concerned the story would be relegated to a shelf somewhere—that’s when I decided to keep the story alive with this book.

AUSA: Would you share a favorite anecdote from the book?

Sutton: There are many, but my favorite is the story told by two soldiers who hitched a ride to Union Station and realized that Mamie Eisenhower was one of the women in the car. They wrote her a thank you note, addressed to General Eisenhower, who was then at the Pentagon. Several days later they received a letter from the general, thanking them for thanking Mrs. Eisenhower.

AUSA: What was the biggest contribution the Fort Hunt soldiers made to ending the war?

Sutton: I like to think that the effort of all of the programs at Fort Hunt cumulatively helped end the war. If I had to pick one thing, it would be the Order of Battle of the German Army, which was known as the Red Book. It collected info on every German unit and was enormously helpful to the commanders as they planned for D-Day.

AUSA: What lessons can today’s Army take from this history?

Sutton: By far the most important lesson, stated over and over from the veterans, was that the men at Fort Hunt never resorted to corporal punishment to get info. They found success through the soft approach, giving them good food, playing games with them, taking them to movies, etc. If the Germans still wouldn’t talk they would threaten to send them to the Soviet Union—that always worked.

To hear more about the secret programs at Fort Hunt, please check out AUSA’s Thought Leaders podcast with Robert Sutton at

To order a copy of Nazis on the Potomac, please visit