The town of Orleans was named, of course, for the French family of royalty. The Valois-Orléans family provided several kings for France. But this post is about attacks on the town during two different world wars.
The first “world war” was, arguably, the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s. Orleans was attacked by the British from the sea during this war, causing its inhabitants to develop a strong dislike for all things English. These British attacks destroyed property, livelihoods, and caused enough damage that it took several years for the area around Orleans to recover economically. In fact, in a war some 25 years earlier, the British had even captured the town—twice. So, hostility towards the British spanned several generations in and around Orleans.
Ironically, in one of the next world wars, the Great War, also known as World War I, these residents of Orleans found that the British were their allies in facing the Germans on the Western front of France. The Germans , like the English attackers before them, attacked Orleans by sea. The intent of the attack, apparently, was to destroy some supplies that have been stored in the town.
However, the shelling by the German guns didn’t do the damage the British had done almost 130 years before. The attack occurred on July 21, 1918. A German submarine shot its deck guns at the town and also destroyed a tow boat and some barges. Luckily, no fatalities were incurred.
Now, it’s possible that some of you may have spotted something curious in the paragraphs above that describe the attacks on Orleans. “Wait,” you might be saying. “Orleans France isn’t a coastal town. How could the British and then the Germans attack Orleans by sea?”
The answer is, of course, this post is not about the city of Orleans in France. And it’s not about New Orleans in Louisiana, either. No, it is about the Orleans (population +/- 6000) that is located on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
Yes, the British captured the town twice during the American Revolution and caused damage during the War of 1812. These attacks are why the citizens chose the name Orleans; they wanted no English-sounding name associated with their town.
However, it was the attack by the German U-boat in 1918 that really put Orleans on the map. You see, it is this attack that is remembered in history as the only time Germany attacked the land of the United States during WW1.
True, it’s likely that the U-boat captain was only trying to damage the barges and tow boats in the harbor, causing some of his shells to miss their mark and land in and around the town. But, at no other time during World War I did Germany attack the soil of the United States—except at Orleans.