Attack on Orleans

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Attack on Orleans
Part of World War I,
Atlantic U-boat Campaign
Cape Cod Landsat 7.jpg
A view of Cape Cod, the location of Orleans, from space.
Date 21 July 1918
Location off Orleans, Massachusetts, United States, Atlantic Ocean
Result German victory, raid completed.
 United States  German Empire
Commanders and leaders
unknown German Empire Richard Feldt
1 tugboat
4 barges
9 Curtiss HS seaplanes
1 submarine
Casualties and losses
1 tugboat sunk
4 barges sunk, no human casualties
For similarly titled battles, see Battle of Orléans.

The Attack on Orleans was a naval and air action during World War I which took place on 21 July 1918. A German U-boat opened fire on the American town of Orleans, Massachusetts and several merchant vessels nearby. A tugboat was sunk, but shells fired in the direction of the town landed harmlessly in a marsh and on a beach.


On the morning on 21 July 1918, under the command of Richard Feldt, U-156 was positioned off Nauset Beach, located in Orleans, Massachusetts. U-156 surfaced and opened fire on the town with her deck guns, then with torpedoes and her deck guns on the 140 feet (43 m) tugboat Perth Amboy, which was surrounded by four wooden barges.

Men from the nearby Coast Guard station rushed up to the observation tower to see what the commotion was. One of them called Chatham Naval Air Station to inform them of the ongoing U-boat attack. Reuben Hopkins, a Coast Guard veteran of the engagement, reached the tower rail in time to see an enemy shell explode over the tugboat. The tug was quickly sunk and U-156 then started firing upon the barges. Escaping from the now burning Perth Amboy and barges were 32 merchant sailors and civilians, including the captain's wife and children.

Reuben Hopkins stayed behind as other men went to rescue the tugboat survivors who were coming ashore in lifeboats. Soon, Curtiss HS-2L flying boats and R-9 floatplanes arrived to bomb the U-boat, but the ordnance dropped either were duds or failed to hit the target and the warplanes had to fly back to Chatham, Massachusetts to reload.

Curtiss HS-2L flying boat.


U-156 got away and headed north, where it continued to attack other allied ships. Back in Orleans, a few shells and craters were found on shore; some also were found in the nearby marsh. The area sustained minor damage. The psychological effects on the population of Orleans were immediate as people began reporting the hearing of naval battles off the coast.

Others talked about the supposed "mother ship" for U-156. Newspapers dubbed the engagement as the "Battle of Orleans" and offered a reward for the discovery of submarine supply bases in the Bay of Fundy. Towns also banned lights for fear that German spies would use them to signal U-boats. The attack on Orleans was the only Central Powers raid mounted against the United States mainland during World War I.

It was also the first time the Continental United States was shelled by foreign enemy guns since the Siege of Fort Texas in 1846. There were no fatalities.[1] The Continental U.S. would be shelled again twice in 1942 by Japanese submarines during the Pacific War. These two engagements are known as the Bombardment of Fort Stevens along the northeast Pacific coast of Oregon, and the Bombardment of Ellwood near Santa Barbara, California.


  1. ^ Larzelere, Alex (2003). Coast Guard in World War One. Naval Institute Press, p. 135. ISBN 1-55750-476-8


  • Gibson, R.H.; Maurice Prendergast (2002). The German Submarine War 1914-1918. Periscope Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-904381-08-1. 
  • Sheard, Bradley (1997). Lost Voyages: Two Centuries of Shipwrecks in the Approaches to New York. Aqua Quest Publications, Inc. ISBN 1-881652-17-3. 

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