1944

U505.jpgThe German U-Boat U-505 was captured by an American hunter-killer group on June 4, 1944, marking the first time an American force had captured an enemy warship since 1815.

June 6, 1944 will mark the mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of German-held france by Allied forces during WWII. I’ll talk more about that on the 6th, but in the meantime I’ll focus on some lesser-known events leading up to the famous day. Today’s event is the capture of the Unterseeboot 505, a German Type IX submarine commanded by Harald Lange. According to a detailed article on Wikipedia, U-505, which was launched in 1941, had a relatively successful career, sinking eight ships totaling 44,962 tons. One of her victims was a three-masted Colombian schooner, Roamar, which was sunk by gunfire. One of the U-505’s captains, Peter Zschech, suffered a breakdown during a depth-charge attack in the Bay of Biscay in 1943 and committed suicide.

In June of 1944, a hunter-killer group commanded by then-Captain (later Admiral and author) Dan Gallery, which was comprised of an escort carrier (USS Guadalcanal), and five Destroyer Escorts, was looking for German subs near the Canary Islands. After two unsuccessful weeks, the task force, running low on fuel turned towards Casablanca to refuel. Within minutes of the course change one of the escorts picked up a sonar signal and the hunt was on. Assisted by two Wildcat fighter planes from the escort carrier, the sub was spotted and DE-149, Chatelain, under the command of  Lt. Cmdr. Dudley S. Knox, USNR, proceeded to drop depth charges on the submarine. Thanks to accurate spotting by the Wildcats, the sub was damaged by the depth charges and forced to the surface, where it was immediately brought under fire by the Wildcats and three DEs. With its rudder jammed, its hull breached, and under heavy fire, the U-Boat’s commander ordered his crew to abandon ship.

Two of the DEs circled to pick up survivors while a motor whaleboat from DE-133, commanded by Lieutenant (JG) Albert David went to the sinking submarine. David and eight seamen boarded the U-505 in an incredible act of bravery. U-Boat commanders were under strict orders to scuttle their craft before abandoning them, and all had demolition charges rigged and ready to go to protect the secrets (including codebooks, the famous Enigma code machine, and other valuable intelligence) within, so boarding a U-Boat was, to say the least, dangerous. David and his crew scrambled below and, expecting the U-505 to sink or blow up at any moment, began gathering all the valuable data they could.

Within minutes, David and his crew were joined by one of the few men skilled enough to salvage U-505, Commander Earl Trosino, USNR, Chief Engineer of the Guadalcanal and a pre-war Merchant Marine chief engineer with Sunoco. Thanks to Trosino, the flooding was stopped using an ingenious method. He ordered his salvage crew to disconnect the boat’s diesels from her motors. This allowed the propellers to turn the shafts while under tow. After setting the main switches to charge the batteries, Guadalcanal towed the U-boat at high speed, turning the electric motors over and causing them to function as generators. This enabled the salvagers to recharge the submarine’s batteries. With power restored, the salvage crew could use the U-boat’s own pumps and air compressors to finish pumping out seawater and bring her up to full surface trim.

U-505 was towed to Bermuda and kept under wraps there until the end of the war, kept at the navy base in Bermuda and intensively studied. Many of the new technical advances incorporated into her were subsequently included in postwar US Navy diesel submarine designs. For purposes of maintaining the illusion that she had been sunk rather than captured, she was temporarily renamed the USS Nemo. Since the U.S. Government didn’t want anyone to know that U-505 and its secrets had been captured, its crew was also held in secrecy. Despite prisoner-of-war agreements that dictated that the German Government be informed of any captured servicemen via the International Red Cross, the Germans weren’t told about the 58-man crew’s survival and they were kept isolated from other prisoners of war. In fact, the last crewmember wasn’t returned to Germany until well after the war ended, well after the German Navy told their relatives that the crew was missing and presumed dead.

U-505 still exists, thanks to Admiral Gallery and the city of Chicago, to which it was donated in 1954. It was recently restored after suffering many years of weather damage and sits inside an underground, climate-controlled chamber at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. It is the only surviving Type IX submarine and serves as a permanent memorial to the sailors, soldiers, and airmen of all sides who died during the Battle of the Atlantic.

U-505chicago.jpgA fitting memorial to those who fought and died during the Battle of the Atlantic, 1939-1945

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