Sea Shelled

An historic landmark bound to surprise you

capePhoto: Nicole Pasquale

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ired in the bloody, muddy trenches of Germany and France, World War I never reached American shores, right? No, wait—it did. The only place in America ever shelled by the enemy in World War I was the Nauset Heights section of Orleans, and you can see the site of the shelling, if you know where to look. After attacking the ocean-going tug Perth-Amboy and three barges off the coast on July 21, 1918, the German submarine U-156 turned its guns on the town. Curious residents rushed to the beach to watch as the shells landed harmlessly behind them. Word was sent to a Navy base in Chatham, which launched a seaplane to scare the sub away; the U-156 was reported sunk in the North Sea on September 25, 1918. A plaque marks the shelling site.

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The German submarine attack on the Perth-Amboy prompted the government to take over the Cape Cod Canal the next day from its then-private operators. A door from the Perth-Amboy riddled with German bullets is on display in the Schoolhouse Museum on Nauset Road, just across from the Cape Cod National Seashore’s Salt Pond Visitor Center. (It also has one of the original beams from Boston’s Old North Church, replaced during a renovation.)

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