|Book Review: ‘Attack on Orleans: The World War I Submarine Raid on Cape Cod’|
|Written by Heather Bailey|
Ask most people what was the only place on American soil that was fired upon during the first World War and they will most likely look at you with a blank stare. Surely they must be referring to World War II and somewhere out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far from the crowded shores of the U.S. East Coast. However ask someone from the outer parts of Cape Cod and you might just get a different answer. Lucky for us, native Cape Codder Jake Klim has chronicled the arrival of a German U-boat off the shores of Nauset Beach, located on the outermost part of the Cape's elbow. His book “Attack on Orleans, The World War I Submarine Raid on Cape Cod” tells a story that is little known but still a rather significant event in U.S. naval history.
The book illuminates events that occurred on a sultry Sunday morning, July 21, 1918. Most Americans were aware of the new German technology known as U-boats that were responsible for sinking allied ships throughout the North Sea and Eastern Atlantic for much of the war. It didn't seem possible at the time they could build those hulking steel submarines with enough range to actually make the transatlantic journey, but Klim's book sheds light on that innovation as well as many other capabilities these early submarines had, making them formidable weapons during the war.
The book does not simply cover the morning of the attack, which lasted approximately 2.5 hours, but delves briefly into the lives of the people who played a significant role in the battle. Klim introduces us to Robert Pierce, who ran Lifesaving Station #40 out on Nauset Beach and was responsible for saving the families on the Perth Amboy and the other tugboats that were attacked that fateful day. We also learn about Eric Lingard, who was one of the earliest Navy fighter pilots based at the new Chatham Naval Air Station and how he played a critical role in attempting to turn the tide in the attack on Nauset Beach. We are introduced to a whole host of men and women, ranging from other military personnel stationed in Chatham to the families and mates on the tugboats, to the Orleans residents who were both bystanders and first responders. There are a large number of historical photographs, many from the collection of noted Orleans historian William P. Quinn, that lend faces to these brave men and women, who were the only Americans to face foreign invaders on U.S. soil during the first great war.
It is easy for us as American citizens to take a back seat to the many conflicts our country is involved in because they rarely come close enough to home to make us acutely aware of them. For the summer cottage owners on the bluff we now call Nauset Heights that humid July morning, the war hit very close to home. Jake Klim's “Attack on Orleans” relates an important piece of U.S. history that is little known and reminds us that we were vulnerable then and we still are today.