The U-505 Submarine

For you, the war is over

“On June 4, 1944, a German submarine known as the U-505 was prowling off the coast of West Africa on a hunt for American and Allied ships, when depth charges from the USS Chatelain blasted the dreaded U-boat out of hiding.  It was the end of a violent run for U-505, which had terrorized the Atlantic Ocean as part of a massive U-boat campaign that almost altered the outcome of World War II.  The Museum of Science & Industry invites you to step inside the real U-505 — the only German submarine in the United States and, now, a national memorial to the 55,000 American sailors who gave their lives on the high seas in WW I and WW II.”

That’s a pretty good summary, considering that it had to fit on the back of this postcard.  Here’s the rest of the story:

A Naval Task Force consisting of the aircraft carrier Guadalcanal and five destroyer escorts, including Chatelain, searched the general area off the coast of Africa for two weeks in May and June of 1944, using radio direction finders to try to triangulate on the position of any radio transmitters — that is, any U-boats.  Their mission was to find and capture a U-boat, along with its Enigma codebooks.  By 4 June, they were running low on fuel and heading for Casablanca for more, when Chatelain made sonar contact with U-505 just 800 yards in front of them.

After six minutes of attacks with depth charges from Chatelain and from Guadalcanal aircraft, the sub, taking on water, surfaced 700 yards from Chatelain.  The ship opened fire on the decks with surface guns, and were joined by two other destroyers and two aircraft.  (One German sailor was killed, more were wounded.)  U-505‘s commander ordered his crew to abandon ship and, so efficiently did they do this, that they neglected to stop the engines or prepare the ship to be scuttled.

American sailors rescued the Germans, got aboard U-505, killed the engines, and grabbed their codebooks and cypher gear.  Guadalcanal‘s chief engineer managed to use U-505‘s engines to charge her dead batteries and pump out the water, and the sub was towed to Bermuda.

If word of U-505‘s capture had gotten out, the Germans would have known that some of their codes and cyphers had been compromised, and the Navy briefly considered court martialing Guadalcanal‘s captain, Daniel Gallery.  However, the capture remained a secret, and all involved were highly decorated.

After the war, U-505 was scheduled to be used for target practice.  However, Captain Gallery’s brother, a Chicago priest, learned of the plan and contacted the Museum, which had always been interested in acquiring a submarine.  The US Government donated it to Chicago in 1954, and the interior was refitted with parts provided by the Germans for free.  U-505 was exhibited outdoors for 50 years and, in 2004, was moved into an interior space in the Museum.  After some repairs, the exhibit was reopened in 2005.

This card came to me from Kristin, who volunteers at the Museum.  She sent it after learning that my last visit to the Museum was in 1988, and wanted to bring me up to date.  Postcards: the next best thing to being there.

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