America Fallen!/Chapter 8

 
 

VIII


CAPTURE OF NEW YORK HARBOR DEFENCES


Shortly before midnight, March 31, 1916, a couple of destroyers, there being no moon, the sky overcast, and the night intensely dark, sped swiftly through the Ambrose Channel, and turning into the old Swash Channel, cut the cable connecting Sandy Hook with New York. While this was being done, a boat was sent ashore to cut the telegraph and telephone lines between Sandy Hook and Seabright. Soon afterwards two transports of moderate draught with all lights out, following the same course, headed in towards the Shrewsbury River as far as the depth of water would allow. The ships' boats, loaded with troops, were already swung out on the davits ; and, within half an hour, a force of 1,000 men was landed about two miles below the fort and began its silent march over the sandy neck of the isthmus. As it approached the buildings at the southern extremity of the fort, the force was divided, one half proceeding along the beach on the ocean side, the other half advancing along the inner beach. At the time agreed upon, 1:30 A.M., the expedition closed in with a rush upon the garrison, which, consisting of only a few companies and barely awakened by the shots of the sentries, was quickly overpowered. Before 2 A.M. Fort Hancock was in the hands of the enemy.

At 11 P.M. on the night of March 31st, three large ships with lights out moved quietly into deep water anchorage between Far Rockaway inlet and the entrance to
 
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ROUTES FOLLOWED BY EXPEDITION IN THE CAPTURE OF NEW YORK'S DEFENCES.

 

the Ambrose Channel. They were surrounded by a cordon of destroyers. Had any fisherman's boat been allowed to pass the destroyers (which it was not), it would have seen that all of the boats on the transports were loaded with troops and swung outboard ready for lowering. The first boats to reach the water contained detachments of expert linemen and engineers of the German Imperial Army. They were towed by a ship's launch to the deserted beach, fronting the Brighton Beach Hotel, and, mounting their bicycles, they scattered and headed for the country lying back of Coney Island and the various beach resorts. The linemen cut all the telegraph and telephone lines leading to Brooklyn and New York; the engineers removed a rail from every trolley and elevated track leading to the city. Part of this detachment covered the highways leading from the Beach and turned back all late-returning automobiles.

Meanwhile, under the cover of an impenetrable darkness, a force of 4,000 men was quietly landed in the ships' boats, which, in strings of half a dozen, were towed by steam launches to the beach and rowed ashore through the scarcely perceptible surf. The whole force had landed shortly after midnight. Drawn up in column of fours, it commenced a rapid march on Fort Hamilton, some six miles distant.

Realizing that there was a bare chance that no warning had reached its garrison of 600 men, the commander of the expedition hurried forward a bicycle detachment, 300 strong, for a surprise attack. The main body advanced by the road which skirts the shore of Gravesend Bay. When it was within three miles of the fort, the distant roll of musketry fire showed that the garrison had been warned and was offering a heavy resistance. Soon, dispatch riders from the bicycle force came back with the news that it had run into a strong skirmish line, which the garrison had thrown out across the Bath Beach road. The main body of troops was now divided, a force of 1,000 being sent across the Fort Hamilton road with orders to advance from the north as soon as the main attack was pressed home from the south.

Despite the heroic resistance of the garrison, during which our regulars lived up to the finest traditions of the United States Army, the final rush of the German veterans could not be denied, and by 3:00 A.M. Fort Hamilton was in the hands of the enemy.

Leaving half of his force to hold the fort and entrench the position on the land side, the commander of the expedition, with 1,800 men, marched north by the shore road in the direction of Bay Ridge.

Between two and three on the morning of April 1st, a strange thing happened aboard the Staten Island ferryboat as it was about to leave its landing at the Battery. No sooner had the last passenger for Manhattan stepped ashore than the gates were closed, and two men entered the pilot house, covered the captain with their revolvers, and ordered him instantly to pull out from the dock and head for Staten Island.

"What are you fellows after, anyway?" asked the captain. "Money?"

"Not at all. We are officers of the German Naval Reserve. War has been declared by Germany against the United States; Forts Hancock and Hamilton are already in our possession; and," with a smile, "by your kind permission we shall make use of your boat to transfer troops for the capture of Fort Wadsworth. You will be so good as to hand the wheel over to me and take that chair, making yourself as comfortable in mind and body as the exigencies of the present situation will allow."

Commander Schultz, I. G. N., took the wheel and headed the big ferryboat for the Narrows. At the entrance he swung to port, and made for the dock of the Crescent Athletic Club, on the Brooklyn side. Not long thereafter was heard the tramp of marching men on the shore road, leading from Fort Hamilton, and in ten minutes' time the big ferryboat had backed away from the pier with 1,800 men aboard. The boat crossed the Narrows, and, the tide being at the flood, was enabled to push her nose up to the quarantine landing at Staten Island. But no sooner was she made fast than the shore line flashed with the rifle fire of the Wadsworth garrison, which had thrown out scouting parties in all directions in anticipation of attack.

The ferryboat backed quickly into midstream, while a flotilla of German destroyers searched the shore with a storm of projectiles from their rapid-fire and machine-guns. Under cover of this the debarkation was effected. The German force, 1,800 strong, deployed and moved on the fort. Its garrison, consisting of only 400 men, fought it out stubbornly from building to building; but against such odds the result was inevitable, and by 4:30 A.M. the last of the great defensive works of New York Harbor was captured.

And thus it came about that by daybreak of April 1st the mighty seacoast guns and the elaborate system of mortar batteries, which constitute the defences of New York, being utterly unprotected in the rear, fell into the hands of the enemy.