A German U Boat is Found in Chicago

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Captured during WWII, a German U boat is now in the Museum of Science and Industry of Chicago. Did this U boat move undetected into the St. Lawrence River, through the Great Lakes, and into Lake Michigan? And was it lurking just off the coast of Chicago waiting to attack our mainland during WWII? Well… actually, no.

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This famous U boat, the U-505 was actually captured in the Atlantic, and then towed to Bermuda in secret. Afterward, her crew was held at a prisoner of a war camp in extreme secret. So secret in fact, they were even denied International Red Cross visits. Everything about this submarine and their captives was top secret. But why?

This mission was commanded by Captain Dan Gallary of the USS Guadalcanal, and was called the Hunter-Killer Task Force. There was no “official” mission to capture a U boat. The official Task Force mission was to destroy U Boats found in the sea. However, Captain Gallary didn’t just want to destroy U boats. U Boats were impossible to capture. Gallary wanted to make a capture all the same. In fact, his crew was trained in secret to do just that. By the end of their training, they were experts at how to find, corner, disable and board a German sub.

So the Task Force mission from the US Navy was to destroy German subs, and Gallary’s underlying mission with the crew of the Guadalcanal, was to capture a German sub. Gallary also knew from his years of experience, that inside these subs contained coding information. Information that could lead to helping Allied troops in the air, on land, and in the sea. In June of 1944, The Task Force spotted the U-505.

The Deadly German U Boat

The U Boat 505 had been known as the Terror of the Sea and was the length of a city block. Elusive and deadly, this boat was being tracked for weeks and Captain Gallary had almost given up hope. But there she was, under their scopes and in their grasp. She was a faint blip on the sonar. These subs were difficult to find because at the time, the sonar capabilities were not what they are now. And, because of temperature gradients, sonar was almost impossible even at best.

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Most U boats had to be destroyed after they returned to the surface or gave themselves away during battle. But again, there was U 505. And this was their chance to do something that had not been done. To help the war by destroying this U boat. Or to maybe actually win the war by capturing the ship and getting the information located on board.

The Capture

The intense training of Gallary’s crew paid off and they were able to corner the sub, disable it, and force the sub to the surface, with only one German casualty. The USS Guadalcanal had assistance from a nearby destroyer and aircraft, with the capture in mind. When the sub surfaced to surrender, the crew of the Guadalcanal, was victorious. They were also in the midst of disbelief at what this wartime victory might mean for them, and the nearing end of the war.

The Significance of U Boat 505

Upon boarding, Gallary and the crew realized the ship could be saved and began plugging holes where the sub had been pierced. They had planned to destroy the sub after gaining the info, but the explosives were disconnected and the crew then began plans to tow the sub westward toward the Bahamas.

The codebooks and the Enigma machine that had been found on board were funneled quickly to Allied code breakers.

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This was a major feather in Gallary’s cap. This was the first capture of a foreign ship since the War of 1812. After WWII was over, the sub was going to be scuttled. But Gallary intervened. After the public was notified of the capture in 1945, the sub went on a short tour along the east coast of the United States. Gallary finally worked out a plan to have the U 505 permanently displayed in Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry.  

Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

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Peggy DeSeure

Writer

Peggy is an author, freelance writer, teacher, and mom of two beautiful daughters who were born in the 80s. Hence, Peggy loves all things 80s! One of her joys is passing down stories of her favorite movies and fun pictures from the 80s to grandkids. And, there are many talks spent reliving those days with friends and reminiscing about that thrilling decade!