Orleans Commemorates 100th Anniversary of German Sub Attack

ORLEANS – Historical organizations in Orleans commemorated the 100th anniversary of the German submarine attack during a ceremony at Nauset Beach on Saturday.

For the morning of July 21, 1918, the battlefield of World War I made its way to the shores of the Outer Cape when the U-156 shelled the beach marking the first attack on American soil in about 100 years.

The attack lasted about an hour and it was witnessed by the residents of Nauset Heights and by the people on the beach,” said Ron Peterson, the chair of the Orleans Historical Commission.

During the attack, about 150 shots were fired from the submarine.

“Several of them landed on shore,” Peterson said. “That makes Orleans the only place in the United States that received enemy fire during World War I.”

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.

That day, the Perth Amboy tug, towing four barges, was taking the long route around the elbow of Cape Cod rather than passing through the newly opened Cape Cod Canal. German Capt. Richard Feldt’s U-156 was watching and started shooting.

The Perth Amboy took a direct hit to the pilothouse, and a member of the crew was wounded. The sub then directed its attention to the barges.

The four barges were sunk and the tug was severely damaged.

The Perth Amboy was restored and returned to service. It also made an appearance during World War II at Dunkirk, where it participated in the evacuation of British troops.

The local Coast Guard, stationed at Nauset Beach, launched a surf boat directly into the line of fire to help with boaters in distress.

“It was just an incredibly brave and courageous act,” Peterson said.

Two Navy planes from the Chatham Air Station also responded to provide air support and dropped bombs in the area of the German U-boat.

“The bombs were incredibly accurate. They both landed well within the destruction zone,” Peterson said. “Unfortunately, neither of them exploded.”

A local militia also responded to the beach during the attack and were deployed behind a row of parked cars. The militia was ready in case a landing was part of the German attack.

While no one was killed in the attack, two crew members on the barges were sent off to a Boston hospital badly injured.

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