ORLEANS, Mass. -- An enemy submarine attacked a tow off tho easternmost point of Cape Cod yesterday, sank three barges, set a fourth and their tug on fire and dropped four shells on the mainland. The action lasted an hour and was unchallenged except for two hydropanes from the Chatham aviation station, which circled over the U-boat, causing her to submerge only to reappear and resume firing.
The crews of the tow, numbering 41, and including three women and five children, escaped amid the shell fire In lifeboats. Several were wounded, but only one seriously. This happened to be John Botovicu, an Austrian member of the crew of the tug. His right arm near the shoulder was torn away by a fragment of shell. The minor injuries of the others were from shell splinters.
The barges were being towed by the tug Perth Amboy, owned by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and were bound from Gloucester for New York. One was loaded with stone, but the others were light, being on their return trip after carrying cargoes of coal to New England. The attack was without warning and only the poor marksmanship of the German gunners permitted the escape of the crews.
The attack took place three miles south of the Orleans Coast Guard Station, which is midway between Chatham, at the Elbow, and Highland Light, at the extreme tip of the Cape. The firing was heard for miles and attracted thousands to the beach, from which the flashes of the guns and the outline of the U-boat were plainly visible. Possible danger to the onlookers was not thought of until a shell whizzed over their heads and splashed in a pond a mile inland. Three other shells burled themselves in the sands of the beach.
The survivors of the tow, with the exception of two injured, were, taken to the Orleans Coast Guard Station, communication with which by telephone under navy regulations, was not permitted. No information could be obtained from official sources on the Cape.
Botovich and another man from one of the barges, both of whose arms had been injured, were sent to the private hospital of Dr. James McHugh. Later Botovich was taken to a hospital in Boston.
The survivors lost all their personal effects and some of them who were having their turn in their bunks when the U-boat appeared came ashore in their night clothing.
The tug Perth Amboy with her four barges in line was puffing along leisurely just off the shoals, two miles from shore, at 11 o'clock this morning when the U-boat, of an estimated length of 400 feet, rose suddenly one mile seaward and trained her guns on the tow.
A moment later and without warning to the crew a shell struck the second barge amidships. The empty craft doubled up and sank so quickly that her crew barely had time to lower their small boat.
Captain J. H. Tapley, of the tug, had sounded his whistle as soon as the U-boat was sighted and ordered the barges abandoned.
The first shot was followed by a rain of shells that droped on and all about the Perth Amboy and her barges. A well aimed shot next sank the last barge. Meantime hits on the tug had set her afire, but she stood by her barges to the finish. The third barge in the line, the smallest of all, proved a hard mark and the German gunners occupied half an hour in disposing of her.
By this time the firing had alarmed the whole Cape, and cries for assistance were sent broadcast. No American warships, however, appeared to be In the vicinity and the exhibition of German gunnery went on methodically.
Then two hydro-aeroplanes rose from the station at Chatham and flying low darted toward the enemy as though to attack. It could not be seen that they droped any bombs, but the Germans evidently anticipated an attack from the air, for they stopped firing at the vessels and elevated their guns against the hydroairplanes. They did not fire, however, and a moment later submerged.
The planes circled about where the enemy was last seen and then turned their noses toward their station. Scarcely had they reached shore when the U-boat reappeared and resumed her attack on the tug and the one light barge remaining afloat. Both the tug and this barge were In flames and were held where they were by the sunken barges, one of which, with a load of stone, made an effective anchor.
When the firing began, the crews lost no time in abandoning the tow. Each of the four barges had one small boat intended to carry only five persons, and all the craft were greatly overloaded. In addition the occupants were exposed to constant danger from shell fire. Several merchant craft were In the vicinity and regardless of the menace to themselves went to the rescue of the crews and towed the small boats to shore. The men of the Perth Amboy, who stood by their ship until it was ablaze from bow to stern, were taken off by lifeboats from the Coast Guard Station.
The U-boat was still trying to find vulnerable spots In the Perth Amboy and the remaining barge when the hydroairplanes again approached. At sight of the planes the submarine again submerged and did not reappear.