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America Fallen!/Chapter 12




The combined sea and land expedition for the capture of Boston by a surprise attack consisted of a division of dreadnoughts, some destroyers, a flotilla of six submarines, and a landing force of 5,000 picked veterans of the European war.

The defences of Boston consisted of seven forts. Two of these, Fort Heath and Fort Banks, were built on the eastern shore of the peninsula which incloses Boston Harbor on the north. The others were advantageously placed on five of the islands which cover the approaches to the harbor. Three of these, Forts Standish, Warren, and Revere, formed the outer line of defence; the inner line consisted of Forts Strong and Andrews. They were heavily armed with 10- and 12-inch rifles—the latter having an extreme range of 13,000 yards. There were also some 12-inch mortar batteries of approximately the same range.

Although the range exceeded the effective fighting range of any existing battleships at the time the forts were built, it was far short of the range of naval guns in the year 1916. Moreover, the Boston forts, like those defending New York, were open to attack from the rear. All of the guns and mortars pointed seaward. Furthermore, thanks to the parsimony of Congress, the whole of these defences were undermanned, there being only 1,100 men distributed among the seven forts.

The expedition timed its approach so as to be within a few hours' steaming of the Massachusetts coast at sundown, March 31, where it divided, the four transports carrying 5,000 men making for Salem, and the warships moving on Boston. The submarines, having filled their fuel tanks from the tender, pushed forward until they reached the outer defences, when they submerged and, under cover of the dark, worked their way carefully through the channels, reaching Boston Navy Yard in the early dawn. Here, at 4:30 A.M., they torpedoed and sunk every ship in the yard, sending to the bottom the armored cruiser Brooklyn, the scout cruisers Chester and Salem, the cruiser Chicago, the gunboat Castine, and two or three smaller units. The submarines then submerged to the bottom and went to sleep, awaiting developments.

The transports, favored by an unusually dark night, there being no moon, reached Salem undetected. Debarkation commenced at 2 A.M. The first troops to be landed consisted of a bicycle corps, 1,500 strong, which immediately made a dash for Boston, twelve miles distant. Five hundred of these followed the shore road, and at 4 A.M. rushed the garrison, 200 strong, of Forts Heath and Banks, which they took in reverse. The rest of the force, 1,000 strong, entered Boston, one half capturing the Navy Yard, while the other, crossing the Charles River, seized the large motor fishing boats and other motor craft at the docks and took them over to the Navy Yard.

Meanwhile the debarkation of the balance of the expeditionary force, 3,500 strong, was being effected. The troops landed in light marching order, with two days' rations in their knapsacks, and accompanied by strong batteries of machine-guns. By daylight the column was on the march, and at 8 A.M., after a sharp engagement in the suburbs, and almost within sight of Bunker Hill, with such of the militia as it was possible hastily to assemble, the enemy moved into the Navy Yard and began to embark on the miscellaneous craft which had been gathered there.

Meanwhile the German dreadnoughts had moved in on the outer line of seacoast defences. They anchored at a distance of 17,000 yards, or between 2,000 and 3,000 yards beyond the extreme range to which the guns of the forts could carry. Accompanying the fleet was an aëroplane tender, and by the time the ships were ready to open fire three aëroplanes were circling above the outer forts—Standish, Warren, and Revere.

The calm sea and clear weather which favored the operations of April 1st along the Atlantic Coast prevailed at Boston. Vision was exceptionally good, and the German gunners, being outside the range of the forts and quite unmolested, and being guided by aëroplane observation, quickly got on the target, and placed their
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high explosive 11-inch shells with deadly accuracy. After half an hour of bombardment a division of destroyers was sent in to draw the fire of the forts by steaming swiftly across their front at 10,000 yards' range. There was a vigorous reply from Forts Warren, Strong, and Andrews, but the fire from Forts Standish and Revere was feeble. The bombardment continued for another hour, the fire being directed chiefly at the inner forts.

It was now 9 A.M. and shortly thereafter one of the aëroplanes returned to report that the motor-boat fleet, carrying the land forces, had been descried moving down the bay to take the forts in reverse. The signal "cease fire" was made from the flagship, and the garrisons, already decimated and shaken up by shell fire, faced about to meet the new attack.

The motor-boat fleet moved upon the inner forts (Strong and Andrews) in two parallel columns, flanked on each wing by three submarines, which, moving awash, had broken out the 3-inch guns with which they were armed. Under the cover of these guns, which swept the landing with a storm of shells, the German troops were landed, and the garrison, consisting in each case of only four companies, after a spirited resistance, was forced to surrender. The expedition then moved on the three outer forts, and as there was only a single company in each, and half of these had been killed or wounded by the bombardment, they offered little or no resistance.

As soon as the Admiral saw the German flag flying over the forts, he moved into a position from which he could cover the whole of Boston with his guns. A launch, bearing a flag of truce, left the flagship, and within half an hour the city was confronted with an ultimatum, demanding the payment of three billion dollars, two hundred millions of which was to be delivered aboard ship within twenty-four hours. The custom house and the armories were to be occupied immediately by German troops. The Mayor was to remain in civil control, under the rules of German military occupation. Finally, the ultimatum stated that if any movement of the regular or militia forces, having in view the recapture of Boston, took place, the fleet would open on the city with all its guns.

The Mayor called a meeting of the leading bankers and an effort was made to obtain a mitigation of the terms. The truce was to expire at 2 P.M., April 2d; but on learning that the bombardment of New York had begun, the city at once capitulated.

That night one of the transports was sent round from Salem, and by noon of April 3d she had sailed for a German port with two hundred million dollars in her hold.

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On the afternoon of April 2d two German armored cruisers and two light cruisers arrived at Boston from New York, and that evening the German Admiral, leaving these ships, some destroyers, and the submarines to cover the city, sailed with his division of dreadnoughts for New York.

On the evening of April 3d the dreadnought fleet of Admiral Buchner put to sea and picked up the division from Boston, and the fleet of thirteen dreadnoughts sailed for the Caribbean.