German Submarine Mailed Letter at Newport then Sank 6 Ships

Front Page Photo of German Submarine U-53 in the Harbor at Newport, Rhode Island, on October 7, 1916 (York Daily, York, PA; Issue of Tuesday October 10, 1916)

Front Page Photo of German Submarine U-53 in the Harbor at Newport, Rhode Island, on October 7, 1916 (York Daily, York, PA; Issue of Tuesday October 10, 1916)

During the second year of WWI, a German submarine entered Narragansett Bay and dropped anchor in the harbor at Newport, Rhode Island; all within the shadow of the United States Naval War College and a host of U. S. Navy ships. The captain of the submarine was transported to shore, mailed a letter to the German Ambassador and called upon United States Naval Officers in Newport. The following day, in the Atlantic Ocean, just outside the three-mile territorial limit, the submarine sank six commercial ships; of British, French and Danish registry. All of this could happen, because even though WWI began in 1914, The United States remained neutral until 1917.

The caption of the photo on the front page of the October 10, 1916 issue of the York Daily states, “This is the German submarine U-53, just before she began raiding commerce vessels on the American side of the Atlantic. The picture shows her as she appeared in the harbor at Newport, R.I., where she weighed anchor for a few hours after her arrival in American waters.” The accompanying headline and article in the York Daily began:

LONE RAIDER SANK 6 SHIPS—Victims and Rescuers Agree that Only U-53 was Concerned—Newport, R.I., Oct. 9—The wholesale raid on foreign shipping south of Nantucket lightship Sunday [Oct. 8] was the work of one submarine, according to reports of American naval officers. Rear Admiral Albert Gleaves, commanding the torpedo boat destroyer flotilla, which did such remarkably speedy rescue work yesterday, said tonight that the reports of all officers agreed that to the best of their observation one raider only was concerned. This boat presumably was the German U-53, which called at Newport Saturday [Oct. 7] afternoon to mail a letter to Ambassador Bernstorff and then put to sea without taking on any ounce of supplies, although she was seventeen days from her base, according to the statement of her officers.

During WWI, the German submarine U-53 sent 87 merchant ships to the bottom of the ocean until it was captured during 1918. The following is a Library of Congress photo of the German submarine U-53 in the harbor at Newport, Rhode Island, on October 7, 1916. Click on this LINK for a Full View of the illustrations in this post; since the ydr.com site will occasionally cut off important details in the cropping of illustrations.

Photo of German Submarine U-53 in the Harbor at Newport, Rhode Island, on October 7, 1916 (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Photo of German Submarine U-53 in the Harbor at Newport, Rhode Island, on October 7, 1916 (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

World War I began in Europe, during 1914. WWI pitted the Central Powers of Germany and Austria against the Allies; England, France and Russia. The actions of the German fleet of 120 submarines, i.e. U-Boats, were the prime reason the United States entered the war. In January of 1917, the German Empire inaugurated total submarine warfare against all shipping; even attacking neutral ships. The increasing frequency of attacks on United States shipping resulted in a declaration war against Germany on April 6, 1917.

Some of the early posters, urging Americans to purchase Liberty Bonds, emphasized the disgusted feelings toward the actions of the U-Boats. The following 1917 poster is from the collections of the Library of Congress.

Poster for 1917 Liberty Bond Drive (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Poster for 1917 Liberty Bond Drive (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

Related World War I links include:

Reading the HEADLINES; A Quick Index to ALL YorksPast Posts

About Stephen H. Smith

Stephen H. Smith is a design engineer who worked at York International Corp. for 33 years before retiring several years ago to research and write books full time; his second career. The initial emphasis was on family history when he won a national award during 2002 for his first book “Barshingers in America." Positive feedback and that award were influential in his decision to retire early from engineering and start a retirement career.
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