The day I was born, a German U-boat lurked off the west coast of Africa, awaiting American and Allied ships. The submarine was part of the Nazi’s fleet of “wolfpacks,” terrorizing the Atlantic, and even the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States.
The U-505 was launched in May of 1941. She carried out a dozen patrols, sinking eight ships–three American, two British, one Norwegian, one Dutch, and one Columbian. This last one was a sailing ship belonging to a diplomat, giving Columbia political grounds to declare war on Germany.
After six botched patrols, according to Nathan Miller in The U.S. Navy: An Illustrated History, the U-505 was the only submarine in which a commanding officer took his own life.
The submarine was captured June 4, 1944, by the U.S. Navy off northwest Africa.
It was secretly towed to Bermuda and the crew interned at a U.S. POW camp, classified “top secret” to prevent the Germans from learning what happened to it. Codebooks, an Enigma machine, and other materials found on board bolstered Allied codebreakers.
Americans learned of the capture of the submarine nearly a year later–in May 1945, after VE-Day. The U-boat made a war bond tour, manned by American navymen and under her own power. The U-505 was on display that fall at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, for the Academy’s Centennial Exhibition.
It was one of six U-boats captured by the Allies during WWII, and the only German submarine ever boarded and captured at sea–the “first foreign man-o’-war so captured by the U.S. Navy since 1815,” according to the bronze plaque presented at the 1954 dedication ceremony.
The U-505 was donated to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, one of only four German WWII U-boats to survive as museum ships. The submarine was towed 3,000 miles from Portsmouth, NH, through the St. Lawrence River, and across four of the Great Lakes to Chicago.
The logistics of getting the huge boat across traffic lanes is fascinating. Over several days it was maneuvered into place.
You may tour the U-505 at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, which is where I learned the submarine had been captured the day I was born–two days before D-Day.
U-505: The Final Journey by James E. Wise Jr. Naval Institute Press. 2005.
Iowa’s Freedom Rock artist, Ray Sorensen, included Lt. Albert David, on the Freedom Rock at Maryville, Missouri. David was the only Navy man serving in the Atlantic Ocean to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, earned for leading the boarding party, which captured German U-boat 505, the first successful U.S. Navy boarding since 1815. As a result of his vigorous and heroic efforts, the submarine was eventually taken to Bermuda.
But someone urged me to read Twenty Million Tons Under the Sea: The Daring Capture of the U-505 by Daniel V. Gallery, who was the commander of the task group involved in this “first capture of a foreign man-of-war in battle on the high seas by our Navy since June, 1815”!
The author lines up his own logbook of the capture alongside that of the U-505, noting that it was such an improbable but inevitable coming together. He also ends up aboard the sub at one point, his first time. He stressed to about “three thousand young lads” in the task group, all of whom knew about the capture, how important is was to keep the capture quiet, enabling the Americans to read the German naval codes aboard.
Equally fascinating is what it took for the U-505 to become part of the exhibits of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, although since this book was written, the Uboat is now housed inside the museum.