Posts tagged U-505

The Saga of U-505 (Part II)


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

June 4, 1944: U-505 Captured


On this date in 1944, U.S. Naval Task Group 22.3 captured German U-boat U-505 on the high seas near the Cape Verde Islands.  It was the first successful capture by the Navy of an enemy ship on the high seas since the War of 1812.

USS Guadalcanal alongside the captured German U-505

I first became aware of U-505 while doing research on Odd Nansen’s diary, From Day to Day.  On September 19, 1943, Nansen describes the following somber scene: while reading an old newspaper, one of Nansen’s fellow prisoners, Ole Iversen, learns that his son, Magnus Iversen, age 25, died months earlier when his ship was lost at sea.  By Googling “Magnus Iversen,” I discovered the ship on which he served was the M/T Sydhav, an oil tanker.  By Googling “Sydhav” I discovered that it was torpedoed off the coast of west Africa on March 6, 1942, with the loss of 12 of the ship’s crew, by U-505.  Nansen relates: “Poor Iver. . . .  [H]e took it fearfully hard.  He just went and lay down on his bunk, lay down and shook with sobs.”

By June 1944 the so-called “Battle of the Atlantic,” the effort to keep the sea lanes open on the Atlantic Ocean, especially the critical routes between America and Great Britain, had long since turned in favor of the Allies in two respects: 1) the total tonnage of merchant shipping—Britain’s lifeline—lost to U-boats began to fall below the amount of new ship construction, and 2) the number of German U-boats destroyed began to outpace the rate at which new U-boats were being added to the fleet.

Thereafter, the combined effects of: 1) better Allied convoying; 2) better airborne reconnaissance of potential U-boat activity; 3) increased merchant ship construction; 4) better technologies, such as high frequency direction finding (aka HF/DF or Huff/Duff) ; and finally 5) the Allies’ ability to read the German’s top secret Enigma Code, all spelled doom to Germany’s attempt to starve England into submission.

Task Group 22.3 consisted of one escort carrier, USS Guadalcanal, and five fast destroyer escorts: USS Pillsbury, USS Pope, USS Flaherty, USS Chatelain and USS Jenks.  The Task Group was known as a “hunter-killer” group.  Its sole function was to chase down and destroy German U-boats.  Its leader, the skipper of the Guadalcanal, was Captain (later Admiral) Daniel Gallery.  A 1920 product of the U.S. Naval Academy, Gallery came from a family of high achievers: two of his younger brothers also became admirals. (Another brother, John Gallery, might also have reached that rank had he not chosen to become a priest instead—where he settled for being a Navy chaplain.)

Capt. Daniel V. Gallery

Gallery was nothing if not an independent thinker. [Fridtjof Nansen would have loved him.]  His task group became the first to successfully pioneer night-time carrier landings.  Until then, using carrier-based aircraft, for combat or reconnaissance, was strictly a dawn-to-dusk operation.  At the time German U-boats needed to periodically remain on the surface to recharge the batteries which powered them while submerged.  By 1944 the U-boats had long since learned to surface and recharge only at night.

By implementing 24-hour, round the clock aerial surveillance, TG 22.3 took away the U-boats’ last refuge.  Indeed, on the first night of aerial patrolling, the Task Group tracked down U-515 and sank it.  On the very next night it located U-68 and destroyed it as well.

But Capt. Gallery was after bigger game. He wasn’t content to merely hunt and destroy; Gallery wanted to capture a U-boat intact.  Accordingly:

“We . . . determined, in case opportunity arose in this cruise, to assist and expedite the evacuation of the U-boat by concentrating anti-personnel weapons on it, to hold back with weapons that could sink the sub, and to attempt to board it as soon as possible.   This was discussed at the departure conference of all Commanding Officers before sailing, and all the ships were ordered to draw up plans for capture and to organize boarding parties.”

In June 1944, with the aid of Ultra (the Allies’ reading of the Enigma Code), Gallery was notified that U-505 was nearby, close to the Cape Verde Islands.  Despite being very low on fuel and overdue for refueling in Casablanca, Gallery decided to take up pursuit.  Sure enough, planes from the Guadalcanal soon discovered U-505 and both they and the destroyer escorts attacked with depth charges, forcing the damaged and leaking ship to the surface.  U-boat captain, Harald Lange, soon gave the order: “Abandon ship!”

In the ensuing melee no one aboard U-505 thought to open all the seacocks to scuttle the boat.  As one writer points out: “The Germans . . . considered the capture of a U-boat at sea so unlikely training for such an event would have been a waste of time.”  Only one young sailor, Hans Goebeler, had the presence of mind to open one strainer valve to flood the ship. [Goebeler would ultimately move his family to America after the war, where he wrote a memoir of life in a German U-boat.]

While U-505’s crewmembers were bailing from the boat to save their lives, a boarding party, especially trained for just such an event, was speeding from USS Pillsbury to the stricken ship.  The head of the American boarding party, Lieutenant (j.g.) Albert David, had no idea, as he clambered down the main hatch, if 1) the boat was booby-trapped to explode, 2) there were armed German sailors still aboard to contest any takeover, or 3) whether he could even stabilize the damaged and alien craft before it sank and took him and his boarding party down with it.  David would later receive a well-earned Medal of Honor for his heroics, the only Medal of Honor awarded in the Atlantic Fleet during World War II.  Two Navy Crosses and a Silver Star were also awarded to crew members for their actions that day.  Gallery received a Distinguished Service Medal and the Task Group a Presidential Citation.

Captured U-505, now flying the U.S. flag

David and his crew succeeded in closing the strainer, stabilizing U-505, and attaching it to a tow line from the Guadalcanal.  Thus began the tedious return journey (together with all but one of the members of U-505 crew–now as POWS) across the Atlantic Ocean to Bermuda.  Once there, the Enigma machine and all the invaluable code books seized from the sub were immediately flown to the US mainland for cryptographic analysis.

Capt. Gallery had done the near-impossible—what a PR coup for the U.S. Navy!  There was but one big hitch: By publicizing the capture of U-505, the Allies would also be disclosing to the Germans that their top-secret Enigma codes were now also in Allied hands, compromising all of their important communications.  Once so notified—or even if only suspected—the Germans would instantly change all their Enigma settings.  Inasmuch as the capture of U-505 occurred 48 hours before D-Day, the ambitious cross-channel amphibious assault on Normandy, France, any changes to Enigma would have been an enormous potential setback. 

So the triumph of TG 22.3 had to be kept secret for the time being.  The sailors aboard the Task Group were required to sign an oath of silence, “on penalty of death.”  U-505 was quickly repainted and rechristened the USS Nemo (with a tip of the hat to Jules Verne) to avoid any nosy questions.

The German POWs were confined to a specially built camp in Louisiana, and, contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Convention, were not allowed to notify their families of their status. Such families were naturally forced to conclude that U-505 had been lost as sea, an increasingly common occurrence for German U-boats in the summer of 1944. It was not until the war ended that these families learned for the first time the miraculous news that their loved ones were actually alive and well.

The capture of U-505 is an amazing adventure tale.  But its capture is only one-half of its incredible career.  For rather than being junked by the U.S. Navy after the war, the boat ended up on display at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.  On a recent trip to Chicago to speak to the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce, I had a chance to tour the U-505.

How this deadly German warship ended up on display in Chicago is another amazing tale.  But that is a tale for another day!  Stay tuned!

M/T Sydhav Postscript: The Fate of U-505


Recently I wrote (here) about the role of Norway’s merchant marine during World War II, and the ill-fated M/T Sydhav, sunk on March 6, 1942, killing 12 of its crew, including Third Mate Magnus Iversen.  Iversen was the son of Ole Berner Iversen, a fellow prisoner with Odd Nansen in Grini and Veidal camps.  I wrote of the particularly painful way Iversen learned of his son’s death—six months earlier—via an old newspaper circulating in Veidal.

The German submarine which torpedoed the Sydhav, U-505, was also ill-starred in many ways.  She experienced casualties as well—both self-inflicted and from enemy fire, and suffered an ignominious end.

After an initial shakedown cruise, U-505 engaged in 11 combat patrols.  During her career she sank eight ships totaling 44,962 tons.  Her most productive patrol was her first, where she sank four ships (including the Sydhav).  On her second patrol she sank three, which included a three-masted schooner, and on her third, only one ship, for 7,173 tons.

That same third patrol was cut short when U-505 was surprised on the surface by a patrol aircraft of the Royal Air Force near Trinidad, and severely damaged in a low-level attack—so low that the resulting explosion also destroyed the plane, killing all of its crew.  U-505 barely survived the attack and somehow made it back to its home base in Lorient, France.

After six months of repairs, U-505 was again ready for action, but she would never sink another ship in her fighting career. This failure had several causes: sabotage by increasingly restive French workers in Lorient, and improved anti-submarine methods—both tactical (better convoying) and material (more and better ships, planes and technology).

The net result was that U-505 was hunted almost as soon as she left port, and often had to return to Lorient to fix enemy bomb damage or sabotage.  This latter included faulty welds, pencil-sized holes drilled in her diesel tanks (which would leave a telltale oil slick in her wake), and other equipment failures.

On her ninth combat patrol, a British destroyer spotted U-505 east of the Azores and initiated a depth-charge attack. During the height of the attack, the sub’s skipper, Captain Peter Zschech, killed himself by a shot to the head in front of his crew.  This is the only known instance of a commanding officer committing suicide while in battle.

Her next, and final, patrol began March 6, 1944, exactly two years to the day since the Sydhav had been sunk; perhaps the ghosts of the Sydhav were dogging her path as she set forth.  By 1944 the tables had been almost completely turned in the battle for control of the seas.  By now, Allied “hunter-killer” task groups prowled the oceans using high-frequency direction finding, and aerial and surface reconnaissance, to locate and destroy U-boats.

One such group, Task Group 22.3, sailed from Norfolk, VA on May 15, 1944.  It consisted of an escort carrier (USS Guadalcanal) and five destroyer escorts (Chatelain, Flaherty, Jenks, Pillsbury and Pope), under the overall command of Captain Daniel V. Gallery.  It is a measure of the Allies’ complete naval dominance by this time that on June 4, 1944, when TG 22.3 and U-505 collided, the U.S. Navy could devote all of these vessels to search and destroy missions in the Atlantic when the greatest amphibious assault ever attempted—the Normandy landings—was scheduled to occur the same week.  [D-Day involved 6,939 ships: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft, 1,736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels.]

Captain Daniel Gallery

Capt. Gallery’s task group had already sunk two U-boats on a previous deployment, one of which, U-515, was forced to the surface and destroyed with gunfire.  The significant effort needed to eventually sink the sub gave Capt. Gallery the idea that it might be possible to board, and capture, a German submarine before she was scuttled or destroyed, and he drew up plans and began training accordingly.

When TG 22.3 picked up U-505 on sonar, the task group immediately went into action with depth charges and hedgehogs.  Within minutes the sub was forced to the surface, heavily damaged, and her skipper ordered all to abandon ship.  However, her crew failed to take all the measures necessary to quickly scuttle her, and a boarding party from the Pillsbury, led by Lieutenant (j.g.) Albert David, entered the slowly sinking deserted ship, and secured her.

Lieutenant Albert David

The sub was towed to Bermuda, to be intensively studied by U.S. Navy intelligence and engineering officers.  It was the first capture by the Navy of an enemy vessel on the high seas since the War of 1812.  The entire capture was filmed, and can be found on YouTube (here).

U-505 captured (note U.S. flag)

This feat, however, was not considered an unalloyed success at the time.

One of the most closely guarded secrets of the war was the Allies’ ability to crack the Enigma code, and thereby read Germany’s most important communications.  The capture of U-505 included of course its code books, with the latest Enigma settings.  If the Germans learned of U-505’s capture, they would be able to deduce that the Allies now had the means of deciphering Enigma, which the Germans had hitherto felt was impregnable.  This in turn might lead to the use of an entirely new code.  The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Ernest King, even contemplated court-martialing Capt. Gallery for not sinking U-505 instead.

To protect the secret regarding Enigma, the capture of the sub was never publicized, U-505’s crew was interned in a separate camp, their existence was never acknowledged, and they were denied access to the Red Cross.  To further confuse the enemy, U-505 was painted to look like a U.S. submarine, and christened USS Nemo.  The German Navy ultimately concluded that U-505 had been lost at sea, and the crew’s families were notified that they were dead.

With the secret of Enigma still safe, Capt. Gallery, rather than facing a court-martial, was instead awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.  Lt. David, who had led the boarding party, received the Medal of Honor—the only Atlantic sailor to receive such a distinction during World War II.  Unfortunately, Lt. David did not live long enough for the medal to be presented to him.  He suffered a heart attack fifteen months after his heroic action, and died on September 17, 1945, age 43.   TG 22.3 received a Presidential Unit Citation.

But the saga of U-505 was not yet over.

After the war, with no further use for the sub, the Navy decided to use U-505 for target practice.  Daniel Gallery, now a rear admiral, suggested instead that Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) might be interested in it.  Established by Chicago businessman Julius Rosenwald (an early co-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company), MSI was indeed interested.  Private subscriptions paid for towing and installation of the boat.  On September 25, 1954, she was officially donated to the City of Chicago and dedicated as a permanent exhibit.

In 1989 U-505 was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Even enemy submarines sometimes have second acts.

U-505 on display at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry


The Sinking of the Sydhav


Do you know what happened seventy-six years ago today (March 6, 1942)?

I didn’t think so.

After all, it was not one of those iconic dates associated with World War II: December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor); June 6, 1944 (D-Day); February 23, 1945 (Flag raising on Iwo Jima); August 6 and 9, 1945 (Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki); May 8, 1945 (V-E Day); August 15, 1945 (V-J Day).

No, March 6, 1942 was just another typical day in the war.  Which is to say it was intense, bloody, and widespread.  Germany and Russia were locked in mortal combat on the Eastern Front.  The Battle of Java Sea had just concluded (on March 1, 1942), a major U.S. naval defeat.  The first deportation train from Paris to Auschwitz was being readied for departure (March 11, 1942).  The Japanese were days away from capturing Rangoon, Burma (March 8).  On March 6 alone, twenty-three ships of all nations were sunk, scuttled, mined, bombed, or collided.  Several ships were torpedoed by enemy submarines, off the coasts of Bermuda, Iceland, and Delaware.

One such ship was the M/T (Motor Tanker) Sydhav.  It had departed Curaçao on February 17, and was heading to Freetown, Sierra Leone, a major port city on Africa’s west coast, with 11,400 tons of oil, where it expected to meet up with a convoy for the journey north.

Motor Tanker Sydhav

The Sydhav had been part of Norway’s merchant marine fleet.  Comprising 1,300 vessels totaling more than 4.4 million gross tons and manned by 30,000 seamen, Norway’s merchant fleet was the world’s fourth largest, and most modern, at the start of the war.  Like most of that fleet, the Sydhav was at sea when Germany invaded Norway on April 9, 1940.  Also, like most of the fleet, it ignored German calls to head for Norway, or other German-occupied ports, and instead placed itself at the service of the Allies.  At one point the Norwegian fleet was transporting nearly 60% of Britain’s oil and half of its foodstuffs.  One British official observed, with perhaps only slight exaggeration, that the fleet was worth more to England “than an army of a million men.”

The Sydhav never reached Freetown.  On the morning of March 6, it was spotted by U-505, a recently commissioned German submarine operating as a lone wolf on its first combat patrol off Africa’s west coast.


Struck by two torpedoes, Sydhav exploded and sank within three minutes.  A crewmember aboard U-505, Hans Goebeler, who emigrated to the U.S. after the war, later published a memoir of his wartime experiences in Steel Boat, Iron Hearts: A U-Boat Crewman’s Life Aboard U-505.  Here is how he described the attack:

“A sharp explosion was followed immediately by a deafening roar.  A moment later, a gigantic shock wave hit us, knocking us off our feet and rocking the boat like a baby’s cradle.  Huge waves blocked the periscope’s vision for almost two minutes.

“When the periscope view finally cleared, all that could be seen was an enormous plume of white smoke.  The tanker, which had evidently been loaded with gasoline, had exploded like a bomb when the torpedoes hit.  Inside the sub we could still hear low, rumbling explosions several minutes after the first detonation.”

The Sydhav’s crew had no chance to lower any lifeboats, and jumped into the water to save themselves, where they were pulled under by the ship’s suction.  Twenty crewmembers surfaced; eleven did not, including Captain Nils Helgesen, First Mate Hans Hansen, and Third Mate Magnus Iversen.

News of the sinking of a small oil tanker traveled slowly in wartime Europe.  A maritime hearing was held a month later in London, but such events were not highly publicized, both for reasons of morale and wartime security.  Nonetheless, the sinking was eventually reported in Norwegian newspapers.  Not surprisingly, those held in Nazi custody were even slower to receive any such information.  But eventually even they did, too.

Here is part of Odd Nansen’s diary entry for Saturday, September 19, 1942, over six months after the event:

“Newspapers arrived [in camp] as well.  Old indeed, but with one or two things of interest in them.  When the food was consumed and the hut cleaned up for the evening, the chaps sat on, full, lazy, and contented, reading the newspapers round the tables.  As we’re sitting like that, [Andreas] Onstad shoves his paper across to [Ole] Iver[sen], our waiter, and asks him: Isn’t that somebody you know?

“And he points to an item about seamen from Haugesund who have lost their lives while sailing for the Allies.  That was how Iver learned that his son was dead.  Among the lost was his name, Magnus Iversen, mate, aged twenty-five.  Poor Iver.  And he took it fearfully hard.  He just went and lay down on his bed, lay and shook with sobs.”

Before the war ended, 706 Norwegian ships would be lost, representing almost half the nation’s total tonnage at the beginning of 1940.

“Forty thousand sailing Norsemen,
One and all they chose the battle,
Homelessness and lonely ocean,
Chose to die from horrid gangrene
Or in flames on burning tankers,
Chose to drift on slender raft boards
Thousands of miles from help and care—
Deathless honor shall be theirs.”
Nordahl Grieg

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