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Lieutenant Commander John H. Boesch, Commander, Orion, to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations

U. S. S. Orion,


4 July 1917.

To:  Bureau of Operations, Navy Department, Washington, D.C.

SUBJECT:  Enemy attack, Submarine, at Ponta Delgada.

     1.   At 4:45 A.M., Wednesday, 4 July, 1917, an enemy submarine commenced rapid shell fire on City.1The General Alarm was sounded on board the Orion, and the officers and crew manned their stations and returned the fire. The Ship being at a 11º list, the only gun available to bear on the submarine was the after starboard gun. As soon as the fire was returned, the enemy submarine submerged and evidently proceeded out of range. When the submarine came to the surface, a ranging shot of about 4,000 yards was fired and it was then seen that the submarine was out of range of this vessel, and she lay to and remained on the service [i.e., surface] at a range of about 12,000 yards. The submarine fired about 18 shots, between the hours of 4:45 and 9:00 A.M., and the Orion returned with 13.2

     2.   Fragments of shell were picked up ashore, having demolished two houses, killed one girl 18 years of age, and severely wounding two other girls, who are now being treated in the hospital at this Port. Pieces of shell have been collected by the inhabitants and delivered by the Port Authorities to the Captain of the Orion, and from examination appears to be a 4.2 shell which was used by the enemy, both shrapnel and common. The submarine appears to be of the U-37-44 type, guns forward and aft.

     3.   Immediately upon commencement of fire, a broadcast radio message was sent, notifying all vessels in the zone that an enemy submarine is shelling the Port, also Fayal was notified by cable to notify vessels in her vicinity, of the danger. Immediately upon the broadcasting of the message, it was picked up first by the Italian steamer, Napoli, which was putting into this port for coal, bound for Italy. She took the necessary precautions and under cover of the Orion’S guns, safely made this port, and now lies moored inside the breakwater.

     4.   At about 9:30, the Harbor Master of this port, came inside the breakwater, having in tow a three-mast schooner. The schooner was moored alongside the Orion. A careful watch was kept in the direction of the submarine, and it was noticed that a small pulling boat was pulling for the breakwater, and when she was in reasonable distance, a Port launch went to her assistance, and towed her in, and the occupants of the pulling boat were delivered on board the Orion, accompanied by the Captain of the Port, and an interpreter, and the occupants narrate the story as follows:

     The Captain was sailing his three-mast schooner from Santa Maria for this port, when the submarine fired three shots over his bow, and had him lay to, which he did. There was on board the enemy submarine a German officer, who spoke Port<u>gese, and converse<d> with the Captain of the three-mast schooner as follows: He said “Get into your small boat with two men, and come along side,” which he did. At the same time the schooner kept on sailing for this port. Having gotten out some distance from the submarine, the officer on board the submarine said to the Master of the schooner, “I am going to sink your vessel. Order your men to lower their sails and heave to”, but in his excitement he pretended not to understand the officer, and in more of the conversation he was asked what kind of a cargo he had on board. He told him it was clay for a pottery concern in Ponta Delgada. While this was going on, the Orion fired another shot in the vicinity of the schooner and submarine, and, while it appeared, that the enemy paid little or no attention to the sinking of his schooner, ordered him into a boat and set him adrift. That is the story as it is narrated by the Master of the schooner, by interpretation. The Master of the schooner says that the submarine appeared to be 350’ in length, had one gun forward and one aft, after gun being covered at that time. The Captain of the Orion, satisfied himself that the Master of the schooner and his pulling boat’s crew that brought him in, had or delivered no information to the enemy. They were searched in the presence of the Commander of the Port, and nothing found on them. Their cargo is being discharged, and nothing therein other than that they specified.

     5.   The vessel has been put on even keel, so that the Forward gun can be brought to bear, and work on propeller has been temporarily delayed. Careful and diligent watch was kept on the submarine until about 10:00 a.m. when she was seen to disappear over the horizon, bound southward. The batteries have been manned at all times since the Orion arrived at this port and harbor patrol has been kept.

     6.   The shore batter<y> consist<s> of one obsolete gun, which is useless. It is recommended that this harbor be patrolled by some naval vessels, as there is no protection given by the Port, and as Ponta Delgada is a regular calling port for vessels bound east and west for bunkers.

     7.   The Captain of the Orion wishes to state, that the officers and his crew, immediately upon the sounding of the General alarm, went quietly and expeditiously to their stations, and re<ma>ined there continually until the disappearance of the submarine, when regular watches were resumed.


Lieutenant Commander


Source Note: Cy, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B. Distribution list below close: “C/C to Commander Chief/Commander Train/Supervisor Naval Auxiliaries.”

Footnote 1: Orion was a collier that was only in the Azores to unload a cargo of coal when it encountered this submarine. In response to the German attack on the city, the United States stationed anti-submarine craft, including American submarines, to defend the islands. Still, Crisis at Sea: 374-375.

Footnote 2: Boesch included a sketch of the submarine, which can be found in the July 1917 Illustrations page.

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