It’s true: Saboteurs wanting to keep America out of World War I blew up a ship right in Elliott Bay

Published: 16 November 2023

By Knute Berger
via the Inlander newspaper (WA) web site


When German U-boats sank the Lusitania in May 1915, the resulting tension led to sabotage across the United States, including in Seattle.

Years before the United States entered World War I, the war came to the U.S. As conflict exploded in Europe, the German Empire commenced a widespread plan of espionage and sabotage to sway American public opinion against entering the war and to disrupt shipments of war materiel from the neutral United States to Germany’s enemies, like Britain, Canada, France and Russia.

So while America would eventually go to war “over there,” the fight over here began years earlier. And one night the sound of that explosive campaign was loudly heard across Puget Sound.

In early May 1915, German U-boats were sinking cargo ships and civilian vessels at sea. An attack that had a major impact was the sinking of the British passenger liner, the Lusitania, off the southern coast of Ireland. Nearly 1,200 passengers and crew lost their lives, including 128 Americans. International outrage exploded. There were even so-called “Lusitania riots” as public wrath focused on Germans abroad. In Victoria, B.C., the military was called in to quell a weekend of anti-German rioting.

The coasts were particular targets for sabotage and spying. Busy West Coast ports from San Diego to Seattle were tracked by agents — Americans and Germans — working under the supervision of Germany’s diplomats and military attaches. They tracked rail shipments and freighter cargoes and schemed to plant bombs. A particular focus was war supplies being sent to pre-revolution Russia. A railcar with vehicles destined for Vladivostok was torched in Tacoma. Bombs were ordered placed on outgoing ships.

A cargo of dynamite from San Francisco also destined for Russia was moved to Seattle and placed in a scow anchored at a city buoy in the western waterway of the Duwamish River near Harbor Island. There it awaited loading onto a freighter bound for Vladivostok — 622 crates of Hercules dynamite covered by a tarp for nearly two weeks.

It was said that German agents were in Seattle and might try something. The owner of the scow said he received a threatening letter. A watchman known only as “Fat” was said to be posted near the load of dynamite to keep an eye on it.

War news filled the newspapers, including coverage of diplomatic fallout from the Lusitania tragedy and the government’s response. On May 29, Seattle was preparing for a Memorial Day celebration on Monday the 31st: A parade of Civil War veterans was planned.

But about 2 am on Sunday the 30th, an enormous explosion rocked the city, so loud it was heard and felt from Tacoma to Everett — some said even in Victoria. Plate-glass windows were shattered. Glass covered streets from Union Station to Queen Anne Hill, West Seattle to First Hill. Fire alarms blared, some phone lines went down, and shrieking people, some thrown from their beds, filled the downtown streets. Most people, including the police and fire department, had no idea what happened, or where.

Read the entire article on the Inlander web site.
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