U-Boat, Right Ahead!

Contributed by Travis Souther

Did you know a German U-Boat once sailed up the Cape Fear River right into the port of Wilmington? The U-117 was launched in December 1917 and commissioned into the Imperial Germany Navy on March 28, 1918. During its first four months at war, the ship sank 20 vessels and damaged 4 others.

postcard of U-117

Thankfully, when the German submarine entered the port of Wilmington it was not on a mission of ill-intent. The vessel’s first four months at war were its only four months at war.

The submarine was surrendered to the victorious Allies on November 21, 1918, 10 days after the armistice ending World War I. In the weeks that followed, the United States expressed an interest in obtaining a number of Germans subs as prizes of war to serve as floating exhibits for a Victory Bond Campaign. In March 1919, the U-117 became one of six subs given to the United States. The vessel was transported back to the United States and opened to the public for the enjoyment of tourists, photographers, reporters, and military and civilian engineers.

Sailing up and down the East Coast, the U-117 made ports of call in Philadelphia, PA; Wilmington, DE; Charleston, SC; Wilmington, NC; Norfolk, VA; Baltimore, MD; Annapolis, MD; and finally Washington, DC. The postcard images seen here show the submarine tied up along docks in Wilmington, NC. Prominent signs on the sub’s conning tower display posters for the Victory Bond Campaign.

On June 21, 1921, the submarine was anchored 50 nautical miles off Cape Charles, VA and used by naval aircraft for target practice. The submarine went to a watery grave within 7 minutes.

postcard of U-117
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