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World War II Names Still In Our Vocabulary - The U-Boat 505

Aug 17, 2007
During the days I travelled here and there as a systems consultant, one of my favorite cities to visit was Chicago. I always made time to see a performance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, especially if Brahms was on the playbill. Being an irrepressible train watcher, I was in seventh heaven visiting the greatest rail center in the United States. The steaks were mouth watering, plentiful, and great. Doing the bar scene on Rush Street was a nightly misadventure and I tried my best to stay out of perilous situations.

On one of my trips to the Windy City, I thought I'd return to one of my old haunts. This was the Museum of Science and Industry. This turned out to be a great experience. Fully enclosed in a new wing of the building was the German U-Boat U-505.

Building a separate wing of the Museum of Science and Industry was almost as incredible feat as getting the U-505 to Chicago. How the Allied forces won The Battle of The Atlantic was the most incredible feat of all. As I looked at the U-505 now sitting in its exhibit in Chicago, I could not get over the fact that the U-Boat almost won World War II for the Germans.

Under the command of Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, Germany rebuilt its U-Boat fleet after World War I. No country in the 1930s was brave enough to stop Hitler from rebuilding the German armed forces. As a result, Admiral Doenitz had a free hand in the design and building of state of the art U-Boats. The U-505 was a Type VII class U-Boat. Together with over 600 of its sister ships, the Germans sunk over a million tons of Allied shipping and warships in the North Atlantic and Carribean.

President Roosevelt and the US could not do a thing to help its British and Canadian allies. In 1940, the US was not at war with the Axis powers. All the US could do was watch helplessly as ship after ship was torpedoed right within sight of the American coastline. German submarines operated either solo or in "wolf packs." Whichever tactic Admiral Doenitz employed, the U-Boat almost caused the British to sue for peace.

FDR could not get the US Congress to declare war on Germany. Then, on December 1941, things changed dramatically. After the US acted swiftly to declare war on Japan after Pearl Harbor, Hitler retalliated by Germany declaring war on the US. FDR had gotten his wish. The US Navy and Coast Guard were now committed to war in the Battle of the Atlantic.

During the early years of the Battle of the Atlantic, the Allies did poorly. Sinkings of merchantmen and tankers hit record levels. But ever so slowly the Allies learned how to lock on to Admiral Doenitz' game plan. New ships like the baby aircraft carrier provided air coverage for Allied convoys. The Allies managed to crack the German message codes. Suddenly, the hunter started to become the hunted. What was missing was a U-Boat that the Allies could capture and study. However, German U-Boat captains were professionals that were told to scuttle their ships to avoid the possibility of capture.

Capture and Tow of the German U-boat 505

On May 16, 1945, one of the best kept secrets of World War II was released by the Department of the Navy. On June 4, 1944, a US Navy escort carrier task group captured, boarded and salvaged the German U-boat 505 and towed it 2,500 miles to the Naval Operating Base in Bermuda. The task group encountered the enemy submarine as it was returning to its base in Brest, France after an eighty day commerce destroying raid in the Gulf of Guinea.

Before sailing, Captain Daniel V. Gallery, Commander of the USS Guadalcanal and task group, gave his men orders to capture the first submarine they sighted. He told the pilots to concentrate attacks on personnel rather than the submarine, only sinking it if necessary. The aim of capturing a German submarine was to get their communications code. Gallery said, "it would be worth taking long chances".

At 11:10 am "one of the most improbable events of the Battle of the Atlantic" began when the destroyer escort Chatelaine radioed the Guadalcanal, "Frenchy to Bluejay - I have a possible sound contact". The U-Boat was in a perfect position to attack the Guadalcanal. Immediately, the carrier launched its planes. In the ensuing fight, the escort destroyers fired "hedgehog" depth charges that badly damaged the submarine, forcing it to surface.

On the surface, the submarine could not manuever because of the damage inflicted by the hedgehogs. Small calibre automatic weapons fire forced the German crew to abandon ship. In their haste, the Germans were only able to partially open one scuttling valve in an attempt to sink their U-Boat.

Captain Gallery ordered the submarine boarded as soon as it reached the surface. A boarding party of sailors from the destroyer escort Pillsbury were the first to reach the boat. They cleared it of all Germans with tommy guns and hand grenades. This boarding marked the first capture of an enemy man'o war by the US Navy since The War of 1812.

While denying the danger of booby traps and racing against time, the boarding party, reinforced by a larger crew from the Guadalcanal, proceeded to plug all leaks found. During salvage operations, it became necessary for a crew to enter the after torpedo room to manipulate the steering gear to allow the boat to move forward. Captain Gallery, himself opened a suspected booby trap on the hatch to the room.

The German crew had no option but to surrender. A cheer went up from the ships as the slack in the cable tightened and the submarine rose to the surface as the Guadalcanal picked up speed.

The task force first headed for Dakar, NW Africa until their orders were changed. Since Dakar was full of German spies and the U-boat's capture was to remain a secret, the task force was redirected to Port Royal Bay in Bermuda.

After three days, the fleet tug, Abnaki, arrive to relieve the Guadalcanal of the towing job. The tanker, Kennebec supplied the carrier with much needed fuel so it could complete the journey. On June 19, the task force brought the U-505 into Port Royal Bay, Bermuda. While there, Naval Intelligence found technical and operational data "which played an important part in clinching the battle of the Atlantic and thus shortening the war by some months". Among the important findings was a new type of torpedo, but most important was the German radio code used to direct U-boat operations. The US Navy now knew how to play Admiral Doenitz' deadly game of destruction on the high seas

For several months after the war, the U-505 made a tour of Eastern port cities and then tied up at the Navy Yard at Portsmouth, New Hampshire to await final disposition. Since Captain Gallery was from Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago saved it from being either scrapped or sunk at sea. The museum took great pains to have it transferred to a permanent resting place on its grounds "as a permanent memorial to those Americans who have thus lost their lives at sea."

The entire crew of Task Force 22.3 received the Presidential Unit Citation. The words of Captain Gallery during the award ceremonies sums up the capture:

"I consider this capture proof for posterity of the versatility and courage of the present day American sailor. All ships in this task group were less than a year old and 80% of the officers and men were serving in their first seagoing ships. All hands did their stuff like veteran sea dogs and airplane mechs became sub experts in a hurry when the chips were down. I'm sure Paul Jones and his men would have been proud of these lads and of the day's work when the US colors went up on the U-505"

It is now over fifty years since the book was closed on one of the most thrilling events of World War II. Captain Gallery overcame a blistering critique from Fleet Admiral Ernest King. Gallery was subsequently promoted to Rear Admiral, and after assuming several commands of naval districts in the United States and the Far East, he retired. Admiral Gallery was responsible for saving the U-505 from the salvage operations that followed, and became the principal executive in setting up the U-505 exhibit in Chicago. He died in 1977, but the U-505 lives on to delight the thousands of visitors like myself that come to Chicago each year.
About the Author
Bob Carper is a veteran consultant in information systems He holds a a MBA from Pitt. For additional information go to
http://www.secure-webconference.citymax.com. His blogsite is http://www.html-secrets.net/blog. You may also contact him at robertcarper06@comcast,net
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