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Orleans under fire


Inside the torpedo chamber of U-156.

The southbound shipping lanes passing Cape Cod were busy as usual, with the 120-foot steel tug Perth Amboy and its barges—the Lansford, and barges 703, 740 and 766, which carried a cargo of granite (the others were empty)—making their way through. There were 32 people aboard the tug and barges, including four women and five children—captains often sailed with their families. Captain James Tapley had been notified twice of reports of periscopes off the seaward side of the vessel, but these were dismissed, as U-boats usually stayed well out to sea. The tug and her charges stuck to the outer shore of the Cape to avoid the fee of using the canal.

Feldt saw the Perth Amboy and her charges lazily chugging along parallel to the coast of Orleans. He gave the order to open fire—one round hitting Nauset Beach and sending sand shooting skyward. It was the first enemy naval gunfire to hit the U.S. mainland since the War of 1812. As if on cue, a local church bell began ringing out its ominous cadence—it was 10:30 a.m.

Next, shell from U-156’s deck gun hit the tug’s pilothouse, sending flame and debris flying, and also knocking the helmsman John Bogovich unconscious. The round also wrecked the Captain’s quarters, awakening Tapley as other rounds exploded in the sea around him—huge geysers of water soaring skyward. In all about 20 shots were fired at the tug. Tapley gave the order to abandon ship.

Seeing that the Perth Amboy was disabled, Feldt moved on to sink the Lansford, causing Captain Charles Ainsleigh and his family to also abandon ship. The U-156 next fired upon the Seiner Rose two miles away, but she escaped toward shore.

Surfman William Moore was on watch in the tower of USCG Station 40/USLSS Station 12 in Orleans, about 4.5 miles from the Perth Amboy. Moore dashed downstairs and informed Station Keeper Robert Pierce of what was happening. The surfboat was made ready—this was unlike anything Pierce had trained for. Before shoving off, he called the Chatham Naval Air Station and told them what was happening.

When the call came that morning from Station 40, Captain Eaton was cruising a few thousand feet searching for a lost dirigible. Back at the air station, flying boat 1693 was made ready for launch after initial delay in finding the crew—it was a Sunday morning. The plane had spark plug troubles and couldn’t take off. The next flying boat was readied, which too had mechanical troubles, but Eric Lingard and his crew fixed them, and at 10:54 a.m. they took off. They carried one bomb. At about this time, the surfboat had reached the Perth Amboy’s lifeboat and surfmen were administering first aid. They heard the droning of an engine to the south—it was a flying boat from Chatham Naval Air Station.

Lingard piloted his Curtiss HS-1L northward—by his side Ensign Ed Shields, and in front at the bombardiers seat Chief Ed Howard. Charged with dropping the plane’s one Mark IV bomb (120 pounds of TNT—within 100 feet could sink a sub), they had one shot to end the chaos off the Cape’s shores. It was 10:58 a.m., just a half hour after the sub appeared.

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