A Third U-boat Visits Newport

Fans of Newport’s naval history should be well-acquainted with the stories of the German submarines that appeared in Narragansett Bay and its vicinity during the two world wars. SM U-53 paid a visit in 1916 when the United States was still a neutral power, hoping to convince its leaders to stay out of the war in Europe. Then in 1945, U-853 arrived off the East Coast and was sunk near Point Judith just two days before Germany surrendered. But did you know that a third U-boat came to Newport 100 years ago this past Sunday?

The United States spent approximately $32 billion fighting the First World War, about 52 percent of its gross national product. Though the war ended in 1918, efforts to pay off the bills persisted into the 1930s. Organizers of the successful Liberty Loan campaign launched the fifth and final war bond drive in 1919. They now had at their disposal captured German military equipment to drum up sales, and those who purchased the bonds were treated to a close-up look at the tanks, airplanes, and submarines they had read so much about during the war.

One of those submarines was SM U-111. Surrendered at Harwich, England on November 20, 1918, it underwent repairs and testing until April when it was turned over to the United States Navy under the command of Lieutenant Commander Freeland A. Daubin. Sailing under its own power, Daubin’s crew took U-111 across the Atlantic and arrived safely in Portland, Maine on April 18. After spending two weeks at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, U-111 joined four other captured U-boats to promote sales during the Victory Liberty Loan.
U-111 in Boston
Boston Public Library

Following visits to Boston and New Bedford, U-111 appeared in Newport harbor early on the morning of May 5. Local newspapers fanned the public’s curiosity by incorrectly reporting that U-111 was one of the U-boats responsible for torpedoing American vessels during the war. According to the Newport Daily News, the U-boat “entered the harbor flying the Stars and Stripes above the German ensign...The white and black bunting appeared strange flying in Newport harbor and some remarked about it, but when others called attention to the fact that it was flying below Old Glory the critics seemed satisfied.”

U-111 tied up at Sullivan's Wharf in Newport
Newport Historical Society

The first thing most visitors noticed was its size. At 240 feet in length, U-111 was larger than the U.S. Navy’s submarines that Newport’s residents were used to seeing at Goat Island. Those who purchased bonds before their visit received permission to go inside the sub. According to the Daily News’ reporter, “the change from the bright spring sunlight and the fine air to the contracted interior, where the snugness of the quarters seemed to take hold of one and give one a compressed feeling, was rather oppressive. Many who went on board would have gone through about anything for the satisfaction of being able to say they had been through a captured Hun submarine.” Another feature that drew their attention was the deck armament. U-111 mounted two four-inch guns which were “large guns in the eyes of landlubbers.” Many visitors were unaware that U-boats carried anti-submarine net cutters and were puzzled by the saw mounted on the submarine’s bow.

Closeup of U-111's stern with Boston's Longfellow Bridge visible in the background
Boston Public Library

Unfortunately for Newport’s working residents, U-111 was scheduled to be in Providence by 5:00 on the evening of the 5th. Its late-afternoon departure meant that many never got the chance to see the submarine before it left for the larger crowds anticipated in Rhode Island’s biggest city. Still, the Liberty Loan salesmen did a healthy business in Newport during this brief but tantalizing visit by one of America’s war trophies.

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum


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