FOUR SHORE STORIES FROM THE GREAT WAR

 

WRITEN BY  Chris Gaydos 

 

 

A little over 100 years ago during the early years of World War I (WWI), the New Jersey coastline was far removed from what Americans generally felt to be a foreign conflict. Even with a few shipwrecks, storms, and great white shark attacks, life along Long Beach Island and in its surrounding communities remained relatively unchanged. This time of innocence was not destined to last long. 

 

 

RADIO ESPIONAGE

 

On Hickory Island (now Mystic Island) the German government was busy operating a powerful transatlantic radio tower. Built in 1912, the Goldschmidt Wireless Tower, generally known as the “Tuckerton Tower,” stood 820 feet tall and relayed information across the Atlantic Ocean to a sister town in Germany. At that time it was the second tallest tower in the world, right behind the Eiffel Tower. German citizens built and operated the tower and were part of the Tuckerton community.

 

At the time of its construction, the U.S. government had little interest in the Tuckerton Tower; however, as World War I progressed and President Wilson called for radio neutrality, alarming rumors began to spread that coded messages were being sent to Germany and its Navy from the Tuckerton Tower. One unproven theory suggests that the Tuckerton Tower conveyed the message to attack and sink the prized British passenger liner, the Lusitania, in 1915. Over the next few years, the relationship between the U.S. and Germany would continue to be strained by world events leading to the U.S. entering the Great War on April 7, 1917. This development prompted the U.S. Navy to take over the Tuckerton Tower. German workers were sent to a POW camp and the Navy both operated and guarded the tower for the remainder of the war. Post-war, the radio operation was turned over to the newly formed Radio Corporation of America (RCA). The Tower became obsolete by the 1940s and was torn down in 1955 to make way for a housing development. The few pieces that remain of the Tuckerton Tower can be seen off of Radio Road in Mystic Island or at the Tuckerton Historical Society. 

Built in 1912 the Goldschmidt Wireless Tower, generally known as the “Tuckerton Tower,” stood 820 feet tall and relayed information across the Atlantic Ocean to a sister town in Germany.

 

 

U-BOATS OFF THE COAST

With the U.S. entry into WWI, the Western Atlantic became a dangerous place. German U-Boats—heavily armed, long-range, submarines—patrolled the U.S. waterways with a mission to sink ships, lay mines, and disrupt transatlantic communication. As the U.S. was ill prepared to detect and monitor these U-Boats, the vessels became notorious for surprise attacks. 

 

The German sub, U-117, was deploying mines off of Barnegat Light in August, 1917, when it spotted and torpedoed the Frederick R. Kellogg carrying crude oil. The explosion killed seven crewmen, with the majority of those on board saved on lifeboats before the ship quickly sank. Two months later, a ship called the San Saba became victim to one of the U117’s mines and sank in just 80 feet of water off Barnegat Light. Known today as the Magnolia Wreck, sea divers today can still recognize the San Saba in waters near the Barnegat Inlet. 

 

On June 2, 1918, a day that is still referred to as “Black Sunday,” Germany’s U-151 attacked and sank six U.S. ships in 12 hours immediately off the coast of New Jersey. Following “Cruiser Rules” that stated an unarmed ship must be warned before boarding or attacking, the officers of U-151 allowed each ship’s crew and passengers to sail safely away from the ship before it was destroyed. These survivors were usually “saved” by motorboats or lifeboats by other passing ships. Almost no loss of life was reported in all six Black Sunday attacks; one motorboat that overturned in a storm sustained a loss of 13 lives.

 

BEACH BOMBSHELLS

After WWI ended in 1918, surplus munitions containing black gunpowder and artillery fuses were disposed of at sea by the U.S. Army and munitions manufacturers. As late as 2007 and 2009, beach replenishment projects along LBI turned up over 1000 potentially explosive munitions devices in the sand pumped onto LBI’s coast from offshore. This resulted in beach closings and ongoing concern for the safety of those living on and visiting LBI. Since that time, the use of finer screening filters and deeper sand exploration has now minimized the threat of exposed devices near LBI’s shores.

 

SACRIFICE & MEMORY

The year 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the Great War. Boris Blai, founder in 1948 of the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences in Loveladies, fought for France during WWI. Alongside the Foundation’s main building entrance visitors can view war memorial reliefs created by Blai. A plaque honoring Ocean County residents lost in WWI appears below a larger piece entitled “Mother Victory.” In addition to commemorating local men in this sculpture (and creating the bust of General George D. Meade at Old Barney) Blai served military personnel by teaching art as a form of therapy for returning soldiers at nearby Fort Dix. As the memorial prompts us to keep in mind, many young men from LBI and surrounding communities signed up to fight in Europe, and some never came back.

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