Tugboat Perth Amboy Involved in WWI Attack

The Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company owned the Perth Amboy during one of the tugboat’s most important years. The year in question was 1918, which some may recognize as the last year during which the First World War took place. Near the end of July of that year, the unsuspected Perth Amboy was involved in a rare attack on America. In fact, it was the only attack during the war that is known to have taken place in United States territory.

The tugboat was with four barges at the time. They were sailing just off the coast of Cape Cod, when they met with an unexpected enemy. A Germany submarine, U-156, suddenly rose to the water’s surface. Although the Allied ships were unarmed, the German sub began to fire its shells. Not all of these shells were aimed at the Perth Amboy and the barges, but some also hit nearby land. More specifically, they landed in the coastal town of Orleans, MA. This made Orleans unique, in that it was the only town in the entirety of the United States to receive fire from the enemy during the First World War, The Morning Call reports.

Those aboard the ships felt they were safe, though perhaps they had reason to be more cautious. Their sense of security mostly came from their close proximity to the shoreline; however, before the barges and the Perth Amboy were attacked, there was another ship sunken in nearby waters. The USS San Diego had been destroyed under somewhat mysterious circumstances, as no one could prove at the time that there was a German sub in the area. As such, those aboard the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company’s vessels did not know they were in danger.

Before the shelling began, the U-boat hit the tugboat with torpedoes. There were nearly three dozen people aboard the tugboat at the time, almost half a dozen of which were mere children. Miraculously, the Perth Amboy remained afloat, even when the bulk of the ship had caught on fire. There were some injuries, including one man who nearly lost his arm, but nobody was killing during the submarine’s attack.

The Perth Amboy was saved by the Coast Guard, but the submarine was not subdued during its attack. While the sole attack on American soil during the First World War was a failure in the sense that nobody was killed, those who perpetuated the attack made a clean escape. It was not sunk until it hit an underwater mine near Norway, at which point the sub finally went down. While not many are aware of the attack on Orleans and the Perth Amboy, Jake Klim has released an informational book, entitled Attack on Orleans: The World War I Submarine Raid on Cape Cod.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE