The Day New Jersey Was Almost Invaded
It was a wake-up call, a realization that the unexpected could unfold on any coast. As the threat of German U-boats loomed, South Jersey found itself at the forefront of concern, positioned strategically at the mouth of the Delaware River, becoming a potential prime target.
In the early 1940s, the Atlantic coast of the United States stood vulnerable to potential invasions. May 21, 1941, became a pivotal date as New Jersey braced for a potential German invasion.
Military officials speculated that U-boats might target Philadelphia, particularly its crucial Navy Yard, with South Jersey identified as a possible entry point.
The Forty-fourth Division, comprising 16,000 troops, positioned themselves along the New Jersey peninsula from Atlantic City to Wildwood, preparing for the worst.
Major Gen. Clifford R. Powell, the division commander, left nothing to chance. Troops lined the beaches, observers took positions in shore hotels, and intelligence reports hinted at possible enemy actions from overseas.
Commanders like Gen. Ralph K. Robertson and Colonel Charles E. McCarthy led their forces with precision. Infantry battalions stood guard along the beaches, reserves protected the mainland, and the 157th Field Artillery, armed with 75-millimeter cannons, stood ready to obliterate any potential threat on the water.
The Forty-seventh Brigade combat team moved into Belle Plain State Forest to establish a command post.
To counter the imminent threat, defensive measures were put in place. Coiled wire installations around Cape May Point and demolitions were set up to stop an enemy landing. Tension gripped the region, and strict blackout rules were enforced.
Civilians and troops adhered to these measures, operating in the shadows. Lanterns were shaded to escape air observation, and truck movements occurred under the cover of night, with troops remaining on high alert for any sudden developments.
Despite the tension, the feared invasion never materialized. May 21, 1941, marked a five-day staged event, a carefully planned exercise to ensure New Jersey was prepared to defend the homeland.
While the invasion did not become a reality, the story of New Jersey’s vigilance serves as a poignant reminder of the uncertainties faced by coastal communities during wartime.
In the face of an unseen enemy, New Jersey stood resilient, a testament to the nation’s readiness to protect its shores. The events of that day echo through history, highlighting the courage and preparedness that defined the American spirit during the early days of World War II.
New Jersey’s vigilance in the shadow of potential invasion remains a forgotten but significant chapter in the annals of American history.
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