Attack on Orleans

  (Redirected from Bombardment of Orleans)

The Attack on Orleans was a naval and air action during World War I on 21 July 1918 when a German submarine fired on a small convoy of barges led by a tugboat off Orleans, Massachusetts, on the eastern coast of the Cape Cod peninsula. Several shells fired at defending aircraft fell to earth in the area around Orleans, giving the impression of a deliberate attack on the town.[1]

Attack on Orleans
Part of the U-boat Campaign of World War I
Attack on Orleans.jpg
Imperial German Ensign and US media coverage of the Attack on Orleans
Date21 July 1918
Result German victory
 United States  German Empire
Commanders and leaders
unknown German Empire Kapitänleutnant Von Oldenburg[1]
1 tugboat
1 schooner
3 barges
9 Curtiss HS seaplanes
1 submarine
Casualties and losses
1 tugboat damaged
1 schooner and 3 barges sunk
no casualties


A view of Cape Cod, the location of Orleans, from space.

On the morning of July 21, 1918, German submarine U-156, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Von Oldenburg, was attempting to cut the trans-Atlantic submarine communications cable from Orleans to Brest, France. While searching unsuccessfully for the buried cable, Von Oldenburg became aware of the passing tugboat Perth Amboy towing three barges and the three-masted schooner Lansford. U-156 fired two torpedoes which missed the tug. U-156 then surfaced 3 miles (5 km) off Orleans and fired its two deck guns at the tug and its tow.[1] Perth Amboy was heavily damaged, and the schooner and three barges were sunk.[2]

Two Curtiss HS-2L flying boats from the recently completed Naval Air Station Chatham dropped bombs near U-156; but the bombs failed to explode because the airmen on watch that Sunday were inexperienced at arming the bombs. U-156 elevated its guns to fire at the aircraft, but missed. Some shells landed harmlessly in a deserted marsh and on Nauset Beach, giving the town of Orleans the distinction of being the only spot in the United States that received enemy fire during World War I, but there is no evidence that these were deliberately aimed at the shore. There were no targets of value in the area other than the vessels. There were no fatalities.[1]

Nearby Station No. 40 of the United States Coast Guard launched a surfboat under heavy enemy shellfire and rowed out to rescue the 32 sailors trapped aboard the tug and barges. After firing 147 shells in the hour-long engagement, U-156 submerged about 11:30 a.m.[1]

A sign above the beach commemorates the engagement:

"Three miles offshore, in the direction of the arrow, was the scene of attack of a German submarine on a tug and barges July 21, 1918. Several shells struck the beach. This is the only section of the United States' coast shelled by the enemy during World War I."[3]


U-156 escaped away and headed north, where it attacked other Allied ships. A few shells and craters were found on shore in Orleans and in the nearby marsh. Newspapers dubbed the engagement the "Battle of Orleans" and offered a reward for the discovery of submarine supply bases in the Bay of Fundy. The attack on Orleans was the only Central Powers attack on the contiguous United States during World War I. It was also the first time that the United States was shelled by artillery of an external power since the Siege of Fort Texas in 1846.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e Biggers, W. Watts (1985). "The Germans are Coming! The Germans are Coming!". Proceedings. United States Naval Institute. 111 (6): 38–43.
  2. ^ Neidell, Indy (16 June 2018). The Only German Submarine Attack On US Shore in WW1 I OUT OF THE ETHER (Video). The Great War Channel. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  3. ^ Klim 2014, p. Pg 2 of the Introduction.
  4. ^ Larzelere, Alex (2003). Coast Guard in World War One. Naval Institute Press, p. 135. ISBN 1-55750-476-8


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Coordinates: 41°47′23″N 69°59′25″W / 41.78972°N 69.99028°W / 41.78972; -69.99028