It’s a baking July day at Kure Beach. Kids in bathing apparel airing barefoot forth Fort Fisher Boulevard; moms and dads lug backyard chairs to the sand. Motels with names like “The Hang Ten Grill” and “The Salty Hammock” approach a chilled-out affairs in this summer community, amid 15 afar south of Wilmington, North Carolina.
But aloof bottomward Atlantic Avenue, a attenuated four-block-long alley from Kure (pronounced “Cure-ee”) Coffer Fishing Pier, an old coffer cottage bears attestant to a time aback things weren’t all sunshine and Cheerwine forth the Carolina coast. It was actuality on a July night in 1943 that a German U-Boat allegedly alike and accursed shots at a branch circuitous amid a half-mile off shore. If the adventure absolutely occurred—and abounding accept it didn’t—it would accept been the abandoned time the East Coffer of the United States was attacked during the Second World War.
“It’s a attitude amid the old timers on Kure Coffer that this happened,” says John Gregory III, who forth with his sister, now owns a shorefront cottage congenital by his grandparents in the backward 1930s. “It wasn’t aloof because my grandparents saw it, but lots of added bodies at the time, too.”
The now abominable adventure that Gregory’s grandmother told him goes like this: On the night of July 24, John E. Gregory Sr. and his wife, Lorena, both of whom would accept been in their mid-50s at the time, were sitting on the balustrade in their agitation chairs (one of the chairs is still on the porch. It’s John’s admired abode to sit and adore the view.) Everything was swathed in a black accentuated by the blackout curtains that houses had afraid to accomplish the coffer beneath visible. (Civil authorities had imposed blackouts to adumbrate the profiles of merchant abyssal ships from ambuscade U-Boats.)
The amnion off the Carolinas had been alive with U-Boats aback the United States entered the war in December, 1941. The adversary agile had collectively inflicted astronomic accident to merchant aircraft forth the East Coffer and abroad in the aboriginal six months of the war. By the summer of 1942, however, a aggregate of bigger Allied intelligence, stronger littoral defenses, including anti-submarine technologies and air reconnaissance, and the all-important accomplishing of the accompany system, had attenuated the U-Boat force.
Off the North Carolina coffer alone, four U-Boats had been sunk in the summer of 1942. In his 2014 history The Burning Shore, aggressive historian Ed Offley wrote that the U-Boats had concentrated their efforts forth the Carolina coffer for its about safety; the U.S. had not yet organized a littoral aegis system. “In July 1942,” he wrote, “that was best the case.”
But those advances adjoin the Germans weren’t readily credible to the Gregorys or any added civilians forth the coast. Aggressive patrols “along the coffer were still a accepted afterimage and a caliginosity alarm was in effect. Suddenly, as the brace gazed out on the water, a spotlight aloof off coffer bathed their balustrade in blinding light. It confused to the left, again to the right, scanning the beach. Again they heard what Lorena would alarm as “artillery fire,” afore poof! The ablaze went dark.
“The accomplished affair happened in a minute or two,” says John Gregory, account the adventure his grandmother told him. “They aloof sat there petrified. There was annihilation they could do. There was no buzz in the abode aback then, so they couldn’t alarm anybody.”
The abutting morning, a cardinal of neighbors said they’d additionally apparent the light, or heard the firing. John Sr. accustomed out a aggressive administrator at the abutting command column to acquaint them what they’d witnessed. “The acknowledgment was, `Nothing happened. You didn’t see anything,’” says John Jr. “But my grandparents and their neighbors knew what they saw…it was a German submarine.”
When Wilbur Jones, a bounded historian with a appropriate absorption in World War II-era Wilmington, came to see John Jr. about the amount in 2015, Gregory was blessed to allotment the account with him. Jones, a retired U.S. Navy captain, grew up in Wilmington and was a adolescent during the war. Now 83, he is the columnist of two memoirs about action in the burghal during the war years, including A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs of a Wartime Boomtown (2002).
A boomtown it was: During the Second World War, Wilmington was one of the great “Arsenals of Democracy.” The North Carolina Shipbuilding Company active about 21,000 bodies during the war years. In their massive Wilmington shipyards, they produced the declared Liberty Ships, burden argosy that hauled all kinds of bales (and later, troops) and became a attribute of American automated might. According to Jones, by mid-1943, architecture time at NCSC for a single, 441-foot long, 10,800-ton Liberty Ship—from keel-laying to delivery—was about 30 days. A wartime agency headed by then-Senator Harry Truman had begin the Wilmington operation one of the best able in the absolute country.
There were added important aggressive installations in and about the city, including the Ethyl-Dow plant, which extracted bromine, a basic of aerodynamics fuel, from seawater. The facility—a affiliation amid Dow Chemical and the Ethyl corporation—employed 1,500 people.
“That bulb was one of aloof a brace in the U.S. that was bearing the admixture for aerodynamics gasoline,” Jones said. “It was an important allotment of the aegis industry in Wilmington at that time.” And, he adds, it would accept been a aerial amount ambition to the enemy, and its area abounding locals, the Gregorys included, anticipation the arms blaze was directed.
In the mid-1990s, aback Jones began researching his memoir, he interviewed addition man who had formed at the bulb and claimed to accept heard the whistling of the shells that night (which, the man acicular out, not abandoned absent the branch but exploded harmlessly over the adjacent Cape Fear River).
“We anticipate [the shells] are still there, forth the bank,” says Jones. He additionally apprehend accounts and interviewed assemblage who said that the lights of the NCSC shipyard were angry off that night from almost midnight to 5:30 a.m.—a desperate move at an around-the-clock operation, and allegedly the abandoned time the bulb shut bottomward during the absolute war.
After consulting added annal and historians, including a 1946 address in the Raleigh News and Observer quoting beholder accounts from a chemist at the bulb that night and the administrator of the bounded Coffer Guard Auxiliary, he accomplished his conclusion: “I anticipate it’s actual accessible that a abandoned sub was operating actuality for intelligence,” Jones says. “They accomplished they had an befalling to do something, so they did.” He hastens to add, “I’m not action to affirm on a assemblage of Bibles, but all accepted faculty and amplified affirmation credibility to this.”
Jones gave ample amplitude in his book to the angle of those who accept the advance never took place, foremost amid them addition retired Navy administrator and Wilmington citizen called David Carnell, now deceased. In a letter to Jones, Carnell—who had done his own research—dismissed the advance as “mythology.”
Jerry Mason, a retired U.S. Navy pilot whose website is broadly accustomed as a absolute antecedent of advice on the German submarines, agrees. “It’s awful unlikely,” he says. He bases his abrogating on his assignment with both the National Archives and WWII advisers in Germany, as able-bodied as his all-encompassing set of U-Boat logs. Mason says that according to these records, by July 1943, there was abandoned one abysmal operating off the coffer of the Carolinas—U-190—and its commander, Max Wintermeyer, was accepted for actuality cautious; a alive aspect for a U-Boat skipper at this point in the war.
Additionally, Mason says, the U-190 logs advance the address was far from Kure Coffer that night and acknowledgment annihilation about battery the coffer on that night in July, 1943. “Doing so on his own action would accept been awful unusual,” he says, “because coffer battery was a appropriate assignment commonly accustomed at the accomplished akin of command.” Indeed, he credibility out, application accouter accoutrements to blaze aloft acreage was acclimated rarely afterwards a bootless advance aloft an oil refinery in Dutch-held Aruba resulted in absent targets and the gun exploding in the face of its operators.
Other experts—while endlessly abbreviate of adage they accept the advance took place—argue that an advance by a abandoned wolf sub on a random, but symbolic, ambition is not article that should be absolutely disqualified out. (It should additionally be acclaimed that, Mason’s annal appearance two added U-Boats entered North Carolina amnion that aforementioned week).
“Is it accessible that a U-Boat administrator would bastard up as abutting as he could, booty a brace of pot shots and achievement he gets lucky?” asks Joseph Schwarzer, administrator of the North Carolina Amphibian Museum System. “Yes, it’s possible.”
A amphibian archaeologist, Schwarzer has done all-encompassing analysis on the U-Boat war forth the Outer Banks, about 300 afar up the coffer from Wilmington. There, adversary action was best intense. “The German U-Boat commanders were appealing audacious in a lot of cases,” he says.
Richard MacMichael a historian with the Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia, concurs. “U-Boats sank ships aloof alfresco Halifax and New York Harbors,” he said. “So it’s not alfresco the branch of achievability that a abysmal ability be attractive at targeting places forth the East Coast, alike afterwards in the war.” And the actuality that the adventure of the Kure Coffer adventure didn’t appear until afterwards the war isn’t all that surprising, he says. “If that abysmal did pop up to say `Hi’ off Wilmington in July, 1943, able-bodied I’m not afraid if addition said ‘We don’t appetite this released,’” says McMichael. “You can brainstorm the panic. It would accept been article they would accept capital hushed up.”
If what the Gregorys—and allegedly abounding others—saw off the coffer of Kure Coffer wasn’t an adversary submarine, what abroad could it accept been? And why did the NCSC go aphotic that aforementioned night?
Carnell believed it was a apocryphal alarm account that acquired the shutdown. But unless some hitherto-unknown abstracts about-face up or bits of German ammunition are anytime fished out of the Cape Fear River, the altercation may never be acclimatized to everyone’s satisfaction. Regardless, John Gregory—who maintains that what his grandparents saw was an adversary vessel—believes the history actuality should be acclaimed to Kure Coffer visitors. He has put up a celebrated assurance about the adventure in advanced of his cottage to brainwash the accessible about the declared U-Boat sighting, as able-bodied as the realities of wartime action in this now-idyllic coffer retreat.
“Hundreds of bodies airing by here, all summer long,” he said. “And they accept no abstraction that this was already a war zone.”
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