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Navy Faces Fact of U-151 Attacks

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Jun 13, 2018

On June 2, 1918, after months of telling the American people there was no threat from U-boats, the U.S. Navy admitted the U-151 was attacking shipping off the Jersey Shore, including the sinking of the liner SS Carolina, bound from Puerto Rico for New York City. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels later remembered, “One of the liveliest days of the whole war for the Navy Department was Monday, June 3, 1918. It will be many a year before I forget it.

“Sunday a U-boat had suddenly bobbed up about forty or fifty miles off the New Jersey coast. … That was hard hitting for a war hypothetically 3,000 miles away. … It certainly stirred things up in our corner of Washington. When I received the newspaper correspondents that Monday morning I faced a fire of questions as rapid as that of any machine gun in France.

“‘What is the Navy doing to protect our shipping?’ ‘Why did it let the submarine sink those vessels?’ ‘Have you sunk the U-boat?’ ‘Won’t you recall our destroyers from Europe?’”

For most Americans the attack came as a total surprise. Daniels continued, “In twenty-four hours 5,000 telegrams, radio messages, phone calls and other inquiries were handled by the Navy. The halls and offices of the department were thronged with anxious people, shippers and ship owners, and friends and relatives of captains and crews. And everybody wanted information.”

In the overall scheme of the war effort, the coastal trade wasn’t a priority.

“We were doing everything possible, but we realized that we would have to accept the likelihood of some small craft being sunk. … ‘Our first duty,’ I said to the newspaper men that morning, ‘is to keep open the road to France, to protect troopships and supply vessels. We are doing all we can to protect all shipping and commerce, but that must be our first thought.’”

At about the same time, New Jersey Gov. Walter Edge was speaking to a convention in Atlantic City, attempting to reassure tourists that the Jersey Shore was safe, saying, “For years … the enterprising amusement promoters and the newspaper correspondents tried to wish the sea serpents onto the New Jersey coast, and we used to fear they would do us harm. But we found in the course of time that every sea serpent story increased the summer excursion rush.

“Now I see that they are trying to wish submarines upon us. Nobody in loyal New Jersey will worry about that. The hotel men know the U-boats cannot come within five miles of Atlantic City, because the sand bars will prevent them. There is not a probability that they will try. The chances are, after having bagged a few unarmed ships for a grandstand play, they are now hotfooting for German harbors, with Uncle Sam in hotfoot pursuit. I hope he gets them before they get beyond reach.”

The New York Herald noted that as the governor was giving his rousing speech was “about the time lifeboats were coming ashore here carrying survivors of the destroyed steamship Carolina.”

The Tuckerton Beacon reported that there was activity only a few miles to the north.

“Excitement reigned in this section Monday when two U.S. hydroair-planes who had been searching for the lurking U-boats came ashore at Beach Haven with the word that they had discovered seventy-five men in life-boats thirty-five miles off shore, believed to be survivors of some vessel which had been stabbed to death by the undersea invaders.

“About 2 o’clock Monday afternoon, the message was flashed along this coast that the Hun had carried the war straight to these shores. Two pilots turned up the hydroair-planes and with a supply of depth bombs took to the air on a hunting mission. … As the airships came within signaling distance of the craft they saw that the objects were three lifeboats.”

The aircraft were not equipped with radios.

“The hydroair-planes could not attempt the work of rescue unaided, so the pilots swung about and flew back to the shore, because their gas supply began to run low. They made a descent near the summer home of Chas. W. Beck and ran to the Coast Guard station with their message. The coast guard supplied fresh gasoline and the hydroair-plane turned and started back again over the ocean on their mission. … Instantly the orders were sent out for two patrol ships to be manned and sent to Beach Haven on its errand of rescue.”

For some locals the attacks didn’t come as a surprise.

“According to residents of Beach Haven the U-boats finished their work in that vicinity on Sunday. During the past week two submersibles have been seen off the coast here, but no particular attention was paid to them as they were believed to be U.S. vessels. They displayed no flags but this attracted no attention, but the fact leads to the belief that the Germans have been waiting off Barnegat for craft going to and from New York that often pass within sight of the shore.”

The lifeboats reported off Beach Haven may have been those of the Carolina, whose captain later reported that after spending the night drenched by thunderstorms, “At 11 a.m. June 3, I sighted a schooner standing to the northward and sent the second officer’s boat to intercept her. We saw her haul down her jibs and heave to. I ordered all the boats to proceed to the schooner, which proved to be the Eva B. Douglas. Capt. G. Launo, master of the schooner, and his wife and daughter received us with fine courtesy and placed all their supplies and stores at our disposal. After struggling with light and variable winds, the schooner finally anchored off Barnegat Inlet, about 11 a.m., Tuesday, June 3. I sent my chief officer ashore with a message to the owners of my vessel telling them where we were and requiring assistance.”

According to the Herald, “A small boat was sent ashore from the schooner with six members of the Carolina’s crew and two passengers. They made a report to Captain J.W. Cole, superintendent of the Coast Guard. … The first and second mates of the destroyed steamship, who were among those who came ashore, told Captain Cole they believed the Douglas picked up all the passengers and crew of the Carolina except about eighty persons.”

The message sent read, “I am aboard the Eva B. Douglas (a schooner), off Barnegat Light. I have 150 passengers and ninety-four of the crew with me. Carolina was sunk Sunday night by a German submarine. … Send tug to tow vessel to New York. Passengers restless and many poorly clad. Motor launch and lifeboat No. 5 with eighty passengers separated from other boats. Have not been seen. All with me saved.”

Government censors quickly struck the words Barnegat lighthouse, replacing them with “a certain lighthouse.” It was decided not to land survivors at Barnegat because according to the Carolina’s captain, “In the meantime the U.S.S.S.P. 507 appeared from the south and her captain, Ensign J.S. Fasset, U.S.N.R.F. offered his service to help out in any way we saw fit. S.P. 507 stood by and towed us to New York, arriving at 4 a.m., June 4. There were about 160 passengers, as near as I could judge, and 94 of the crew on board the Eva B. Douglas.”

The search for the U-151 was now a Navy priority while those on shore tried to answer the question was this just the beginning?

Next Week: Spies among us?

tpfcjf@comcast.net

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