When we last left U-505 (here), it was being towed by the U.S. Navy to Bermuda, the first enemy ship to be captured on the high seas since the War of 1812 (which, incidentally, began 210 years yesterday).
During the War
The capture of U-505, far from being widely publicized, was kept in the strictest secrecy, lest the Germans realize that all their Enigma codes had been compromised. All of this secrecy ended eleven months later, with Germany’s surrender on May 8, 1945. On May 16, 1945, the Navy finally put out a press release revealing the dramatic capture by Task Group 22.3 the year before.
Now what would become of U-505?
Initially, the submarine was pressed into service as an attraction for a war bond drive that was then underway. The boat traveled to cities up and down the Eastern seaboard. The public was encouraged to visit this unlikely war trophy—which they could actually tour, but only if they purchased a war bond. According to one historian “U-505 was a smash hit.”
With the surrender of Japan in September 1945, war bonds were no longer needed, and U-505’s role as a lure for war bond purchasers ended. It was quickly deactivated at Portsmouth, NH, to join other German U-boats which had recently arrived.
As part of their capitulation agreement, the Germany Navy had been required to surrender their entire existing submarine fleet of approximately 156 U-boats (by the end of the war Germany’s surface fleet had for all intents and purposes ceased to exist). These U-boats were to be delivered to the Allied Powers (U.S., Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union) with the understanding that each country would either scrap their share of the boats or else tow them out to sea and sink them within 2 years.
After the War
U-505 would have undoubtedly have been included in this mass sinking but for two important factors: 1) Captain Daniel V. Gallery, who was the commander of Task Group 22.3 which had captured U-505, and who was a native of Chicago, and 2) the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
As the 2-year deadline approached, Gallery learned that U-505 was indeed slated to be taken out to sea and sunk. As a lawyer, I admire the argument Gallery raised to save this special sub from its intended demise. The terms of the capitulation, he argued, applied only to ships “surrendered” to the Allies, not to ships which had been “captured.” Ergo, the U.S. was entitled to do whatever it chose with its hard-won prize.
So, U-505 was spared for the time being, but to what end?
Gallery relates in his own memoir, Twenty Million Tons Under the Sea:
“I had no immediate plans in mind for the sub at this time, but my boys had gone to a lot of trouble to prevent that U-boat from sinking off the coast of Africa, and I took a dim view of scuttling her now.”
Here’s where the Museum of Science and Industry, and its unique origins, comes into play.
The museum was established and endowed in 1926 by Julius Rosenwald, a noted Chicago philanthropist and Chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Co. In his gift, Rosenwald had explicitly requested that the new museum be patterned after the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany. Rosenwald had visited Deutsches Museum in the 1920s, and was impressed by its “hands-on” approach to capturing the interest of young museum-goers.
The Museum of Science and Industry opened its doors to the public on March 1, 1933, in the former Fine Arts Palace of Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition. Its first exhibit was a replica of a working coal mine—similar to just such a coal mine exhibit in the Deutsches Museum. Among its other featured exhibits, the German museum also contained a cutaway presentation of Germany’s first U-boat, U-1. Not surprisingly, the Chicago museum also hoped to get its hands on a submarine—a dream that had gone unfulfilled for years.
According to Captain Gallery, it was his priest-brother, John Gallery, who first broached the idea of finding a permanent home for U-505 in Chicago:
“Father John [a naval reserve chaplain] observed that there were monuments all over the country for the land battles in every war that this country had fought, but naval memorials were few and far between. Father John asked himself, ‘Why not bring the U-505 to Chicago and make it a memorial to the thousands of seamen who had lost their lives in the two great Battles of the Atlantic? These were two of the crucial battles in our history, and what could be a more appropriate monument to these battles than one of the very submarines around which the battle centered.’”
On to Chicago
While the museum was very receptive, much remained to be done. “It involved acquiring title to the U-boat, making it seaworthy, towing it [3,000 miles] to Chicago, dragging it out of the water and hauling it across the busiest thoroughfare in the city [Lake Shore Drive] to the Museum, restoring it to presentable condition, and installing it as a permanent addition to the Museum’s main building.” Nonetheless, with support from Chicago’s citizens and the Gallerys’ perseverance (both Dan and John), the necessary funds were raised, the task accomplished, and the museum’s dream come true.
U505 being towed to Chicago
On September 15, 1954, over ten years since its capture, and after years of effort, U-505 was dedicated as a memorial to the 55,000 Americans who lost their lives at sea during World War II. In a little over a decade 7.8 million visitors had toured the U-boat. By 1989 it was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 2004 U-505 was moved to a more permanent, sheltered, pavilion, at the museum, where it today stands on display.
The interior of U-505. Not for the claustrophobic!
If you ever get to Chicago, I highly recommend you visit U-505. You will not be disappointed.
Personal Note: I have often written about serendipitous events connected with Odd Nansen, and my connection to his story [here, here and here]. The visit to U-505 was no exception.
Shortly after my trip to Chicago this past May, I traveled to West Haven, CT for my 50th high school reunion. While there, I told several of my classmates about my fascinating day at the Museum of Science and Industry, including an old friend and classmate, Jimmy Bednarczyk.
At this point I will quote from a memoir written by Hans Goebler, a crewman aboard U-505, entitled Steel Boats, Iron Hearts. Dealing with the aftermath of the boat’s capture, he writes:
“The Americans found out that one of the boys in our crew, Ewald Felix, was half-Polish. They tried to use that fact to get him to talk. One of the members of the American boarding party that had captured our sub struck up a conversation with Ewald in Polish. Once they confirmed his mother was indeed from Poland, Captain Gallery had Ewald separated from us and interrogated him personally.”
The member of Gallery’s Task Group who conversed with Ewald Felix in Polish? Jimmy Bednarczyk’s uncle, Leon Bednarczyk.
U505 on display