German Attack on Jersey City Damages Statue of Liberty

(Top) Black Tom pier after the explosion; (Bottom) Shells being recovered from the harbor afterwards; Ellis Island is in the background.

July 30 1916, Black Tom Island–The United States had been exporting vast quantities of munitions to Europe; due to the British blockade, essentially all of these went to the Allies.  German agents had been attempting to sabotage these shipments by fomenting strikes in munitions factories, starting fires on ships carrying munitions, and attempting to blow up a bridge to Canada.  On July 30, they had their greatest success yet.  

Over a thousand tons of munitions were located on the Black Tom pier in Jersey City, including 50 tons of TNT.  A fire broke out shortly after midnight on July 30, and at 2:08 AM a massive explosion engulfed the pier, with a force corresponding to a magnitude-5.5 earthquake.  Windows were broken throughout lower Manhattan, and shell fragments were strewn throughout Jersey City.  Several fragments hit and damaged the skirt and torch of the Statue of Liberty, located just offshore; visitors have not been able to visit the torch ever since.  Between five and ten people were killed, and up to a hundred injured.

The fire continued to engulf the pier, setting off subsidiary explosions.  Flying bullets and shrapnel prevented any attempts to fight the fire, which ultimately burned itself out.  The fire and explosion caused over $20 million in damages.

The explosion was at first believed to be an accident, but suspicion soon correctly fell on the Germans. However, no successful arrests were made and Germany escaped culpability for the attack until after the war.  Eventually, the culprit was determined to be Michael Kristoff, a Slovak immigrant, who, perhaps along with two Germans, set incendiary devices that caused the explosion.  In 1939, Germany was officially held responsible for the explosion, and would pay $50 million in damages after the Second World War.

Today in 1915: Germans Use Flamethrowers at Hooge Crater 
Today in 1914: Czar Nicholas II Orders Russian General Mobilization



On 1 July 2016, 1,400 volunteers took part in a national memorial to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. ‘We’re here because we’re here’ saw soldiers in First World War uniform appear unexpectedly in locations across the UK. Commissioned by 14-18 NOW, conceived and created by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre and 27 other organisations including Lyric Theatre Belfast, Manchester Royal Exchange, National Theatre of Scotland and National Theatre Wales.

The soldiers congregated without ceremony in public places up and down the country. Like ghosts, the soldiers remained silent throughout the day and when approached simply handed out a white card displaying the name, rank, battalion and regiment of a real soldier who had died at the Somme on July 1 2016.  All the volunteers carried the details of a different soldier.  

19,240 British soliders were killed on the first day alone of the Battle of the Somme.


May 3rd 1915: ‘In Flanders Fields’ written

On this day in 1915, Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the famous war poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. He wrote it sitting in an ambulance after presiding over the funeral of his friend who had died at the Second Battle of Ypres. Originally he was not happy with his poem, but once it was published it became very popular, and still is today considered one of the greatest poems of the First World War. Its references to red poppies growing over the graves of soldiers led to the use of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for fallen soldiers.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”