National Press Club

Legionnaires hear tales of World War I German subs off U.S.

March 15, 2019 | By Ken Dalecki |

NOAA marine archeologist Tane Casserly

NOAA marine archeologist Tane Casserly

Photo/Image: Rex Allen Stucky

During the early days of World War I, "Americans didn't think German U-boats could reach the U.S.," NOAA marine archeologist Tane Casserly told National Press Club American Legion Post 20 members and guests on Thursday. "They were wrong."

By war's end in 1918, some 200 U.S. vessels were attacked by U-boats with losses from the Carolinas to New England.

Casserly, a research coordinator at Monitor National Marine Sanctuary in Newport News, Va., noted that two U-boats made U.S. port calls prior to American's entry into the conflict in late 1917. A civilian German cargo submarine, the "Deutschland," made celebrated port calls in Baltimore, Md., and New London, Conn., in 1916, the first of two such trips before being converted into a military submarine. The U.S. was still a neutral country in October, 1916, when the U-53 made a brief port call in Newport, R.I. It then sank non-U.S. ships off the coast before heading home.

A full account of the story of U-boats operating off the U.S. in World War I is available online.

Casserly said many wartime wrecks off the U.S. and around the world have been looted by souvenir hunters and that some warships in the South China Sea are currently being dredged up for salvage even though they hold human remains. He said his agency has had some success in getting U.S. dive shops to promote the preservation of unprotected sites in their own interest. Legislation to increase protection of such wrecks is working its way through Congress.

Post 20 is marking its 100th year as a part of the Club, having been founded at the urging of Gen. John Pershing, an associate Club member, leader of U.S. forces in Europe during World War I and a founder of the Legion.