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It's Been 100 Years Since Germans Shelled a US Town

German U-156 submarine broke the surface off Orleans, Mass.
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 17, 2018 4:25 AM CDT
In this July 14, 2014, photo, taken at Nauset Beach, in Orleans, Mass., a sign informs visitors of a German World War I submarine attack off the shore, in 1918.   (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
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(Newser) – Over 3,000 miles from the trenches and battlefields of the Western Front, where many hundreds of thousands had already died, residents of Orleans, Mass., were enjoying a typical summer morning on July 21, 1918, waiting for the fog to lift off the shore. Then suddenly, a German U-156 submarine broke the surface and brought World War I home. Orleans became the only part of the United States to be shelled by the enemy. For a brief moment, "over there" had become "over here," the AP reports. Just after 10:30am, the heavy thump of something hitting land signaled the first attack on American soil in 100 years. Nobody was killed and the shells fired at the town landed in a marsh, but a tugboat was badly damaged and three of the four barges it was towing sank.

"I don't know if it was the first shot or the sound of my feet hitting the floor," the late Ruben Hopkins, then a 22-year-old guard at Orleans' lifesaving station No. 40, recalled in a recording. "I was out of my bunk up there in seconds flat." The submarine escaped as American bombers and flying boats attacked. To this day, it remains a mystery why such an advanced submarine would attack a target that had no real value. While instilling fear in the American public by attacking shipping was a tactic, going so close to shore seemed an undue risk. One theory is that the sub had hoped to cut the underwater communications cable that ran from Orleans to France. A commemoration is planned for Saturday afternoon on Nauset Beach to mark the 100th anniversary.

(Read more World War I stories.)

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