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Orleans under fire

Nauset Beach

Lifesaving crew reaches safety on Nauset Beach.

Howard gazed below at what unfolded before him: A  small lifeboat had just come ashore (Ainsleigh and his family), smoke filled the air from burning vessels, and about 30 men were running around on the deck of U-156—they had spotted the flying boat. The flying boat began a shallow dive. Lingard leveled her off at 800 feet and Howard pulled the trigger; nothing happened. Circling and dropping to 400 feet, again the bomb failed to release. Howard unbuckled his seat belt and climbed out on the wing—one hand on a strut, the other holding the bomb—and dropped it. The bomb hit the water just a few feet from the sub, but it was a dud. Had it exploded, it would have surely destroyed U-156.

Meanwhile, U-156 had fired upon barge 766 and 703, destroying both of them, but not before the crews escaped in their lifeboats. This is the definition of cruiser warfare rules: that subs can’t sink vessels until the crews have escaped. Also by this time, the crew of the Perth Amboy had reached the beach, and safety.

Captain Eaton had returned from his wild goose chase after the dirigible, and upon hearing the news of the failed bombing decided to have a shot at sinking the sub in an R-9 seaplane at 11:15 a.m. This Curtiss aircraft was specifically designed to combat subs. Eaton flew straight for the sub coming in at 500 feet and dropped his bomb—it too splashed close to the sub but was also a dud.

Lingard had been circling during Eaton’s attack and at this time headed for home to alert other vessels about the U-boat. Steaming southeast and out to sea, zig-zagging, U-156 disappeared from sight. It reappeared five minutes later, took one last potshot at Station 40, and then disappeared for good. The attack lasted an hour and a half, and the U-boat had fired 150 rounds at vessels and the shore.

A century later, the historic day is being remembered in Orleans. Several commemorative events are scheduled to take place in July, including a symposium on the attack at Snow Library on July 12 and a centennial ceremony on Nauset Beach July 21. To learn more, visit

Mark Wilkins is a Centerville-based historian, writer and lecturer who specializes in maritime and aviation history. In addition to being a contributor to Cape Cod LIFE, he is working on two books on WWI history.

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