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    When U-boats stalked New England

    An undated photo shows Oberleutnant zur See Hans-Gunther Kuhlmann (center) saluting the commander of the German U-boat U-166 on his boat.
    National World War II Museum/via Associated Press
    An undated photo shows Oberleutnant zur See Hans-Gunther Kuhlmann (center) saluting the commander of the German U-boat U-166 on his boat.

    Connecticut was abuzz Wednesday over reports that a Russian spy ship was cruising in the Atlantic within 30 miles of Groton, home of the US Naval Submarine Base.

    Military analysts downplayed the ship’s proximity, saying such patrols are routine. Still, the news fed the political storm swirling in Washington over Russian contacts with President Trump’s associates leading up to the November election.

    Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said the spy ship “has to be regarded very seriously because Russia is an increasingly aggressive adversary.”


    The episode recalled the 1966 movie “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” in which a Soviet submarine runs aground on fictional “Gloucester Island” off the coast of Massachusetts. But New England is no stranger to actual naval incursions. During World Wars I and II, the threat of German U-boats was a constant fear, and some Russian activity surfaced during the Cold War.

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    Here is a look back at some incidents:

     On the hot, hazy morning of July 21, 1918, a German sub appeared out of nowhere and opened fire 3 miles off the Cape Cod town of Orleans, sinking two empty coal barges and a third loaded with stone, and setting fire to a tug boat.

    The Daily Globe reported that more than 1,000 villagers and summer residents flocked to the bluffs and beaches and “watched with bated breath the work of destruction.’’

     On Aug. 11, 1918, a German submarine sank nine fishing schooners off Georges Bank. Captain Edward Proctor of the schooner Gleaner, which was not hit, told the Daily Globe: “We expected to see a shell whizzing at us at any minute, but we put on all sail and escaped.’’


     The Battle of Point Judith is a reminder of how close World War II came to our shores. On May 5, 1945, a U-boat torpedoed the freighter SS Black Point 7 miles off the Rhode Island coast as it ferried coal from New York to Boston.

    A day later, the submarine, known as U-853, was sunk by depth charges from the Navy destroyer Atherton. Fifty-five German sailors were killed. Germany surrendered the following day.

     In April 1960, US officials said a Soviet research vessel was plying the waters from North Carolina to New England, conducting surveys of a “definite military significance.” No attacks were launched, however.

    Lisa Tuite and Rosemarie McDonald contributed to this report. Roy Greene can be reached at