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The 70th Anniversary of the Capture of the U-505 Next Month, Part I

Originally, the Museum of Science & Industry displayed the U-505 outdoors.
Originally, the Museum of Science & Industry displayed the U-505 outdoors.
Museum of Science & Industry, Chicago

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 will be the 70th anniversary of the capture of the U-505, a IX-C U-boat now at the Museum of Science and Industry (M.S.I.). She was captured by the United States Navy Task Group 22.3 on June 4, 1944 south of the Cape Verde Islands (a Portuguese colony from 1456 to 1975) and west of Cape Blanco in what was then French West Africa, Cape Blanco now being part of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

Though Oberleutnant zur See Harald Lange and his executive officer, Paul Meyer, were badly injured during the engagement, and Lange later had to have a leg amputated in Bermuda, only one of the German sailors, radioman Gottfried Fisher, was actually killed. None of the Americans involved were killed or seriously injured.

British intelligence had alerted the U.S. Navy as to the presence of the U-505 somewhere off French West Africa, and Captain Daniel V. Gallery (1901-1977) decided to enact a plan to capture a U-boat if he could force it to the surface, a plan he developed after witnessing the men of the U-515 evacuate their U-boat when he sank her on April 9, 1944. After evading Gallery’s task force for two days Oberleutnant Lange was running so low on energy he had to recharge the U-505’s batteries during daylight hours.
The soundman heard the approach of ships, and alerted Lange, who was having lunch. Lange saw Allied warships and a fighter plane approaching with his surface periscope, so he dove again to a point thirty feet beneath the surface.

Since this time he was caught near the surface during the day, the two Wildcat fighter plane pilots in the air – Lt. Wolffe W. Roberts and Ensign J. W. Cadle - were able to see the U-boat, they shot at her to mark her position, and four of the five destroyer escorts in the task group closed in on the boat. The first to arrive was the destroyer escort U.S.S. Chatelain, which dropped a combination of depth charges and hedgehogs over the U-505.

By the time they exploded, Lange was 500 feet beneath the surface, but the explosions rocked the boat nevertheless, damaging the electric steering and knocking out the lights. The rudders were jammed in place so the helmsman was forced to tell Lange they were stuck going in counterclockwise circles.

One of the four dive planes was jammed, too, so at first they couldn’t stop diving. They were able to fix the problem with the dive plane, but not the rudders.

Lange ordered the use of compressed air to blow out the ballast water and return to the surface, but they were still stuck going in circles. They were also leaking fuel, and the Aft Torpedo Room seemed to be leaking.

According to some accounts, at this point Lange fired an acoustic torpedo at one of our ships, but it went far off course. In any event, Lt. Cmdr. Dudley S. Knox, commander of the destroyer escort U.S.S. Chatelain saw the boat turn towards him, he naturally feared it was going to fire a torpedo at his ship, he fired one at it, but his torpedo passed by the U-505 without impact.

Lange ordered his men to abandon ship, expecting them to scuttle (sink) her to keep her out of American hands. However, they panicked because both of the Wildcat fighter planes strafed the boat and three of the destroyer escorts were shooting at as well, wounding Lange and Meyer, and killing Fisher.

Only one of Germans, made a serious attempt to sink the boat, taking the cap off the sea strainer in the Control Room, but one of the first five American sailors to storm aboard, Zenon Lukosius, a machinist second class found the cap in the water and darkness and put it back on. Gallery had groups of volunteers ready on all six of his ships, waiting to storm aboard a U-boat, and Lukosius was part of Lt. Albert David’s boarding party from the U.S.S. Pillsbury.

Another officer from the Pillsbury, Commander Earl Trosino, who took over the boat, figured out two days later how to pump out the water that had already come inside with the help of Ewald Felix, a half-German, half-Polish submariner who defected.

Initially, the U-505 was to be towed by the Pillsbury, but when the ship pulled alongside the U-boat, the forward dive plane on the U-505’s starboard side tore a hole in the ship’s hull and broke off in the Pillsbury’s engine room. The flagship of Gallery’s task force, the escort carrier U.S.S. Guadalcanal, towed the U-505 most of the way to Bermuda, rendezvousing with the deep sea tug boat U.S.S. Abnaki and then escorting her to a British naval base in Bermuda.

There, she was re-named the Nemo (in honor of the captain of the Nautilus in Jules Verne’s classic science fiction novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) so if the Germans overheard transmissions about the U-505, they would not know they were hearing about one of their missing U-boats. After his release from the hospital, Lange spent an additional six months in Bermuda under special guard. His fifty-seven surviving men were secret prisoners of war, like him, and were held mostly at Camp Ruston, in northern Louisiana.

In 2002, the Discovery Channel aired the documentary Attack and Capture: The Story of U-Boat 505, using videotaped oral history interviews then-Curator Keith Gill had conducted with the surviving American and German veterans. In the 1990s, Gill, Timothy Mulligan, and other writers collaborated on a book about the U-505, the anthology Hunt & Kill: U-505 and the U-Boat War in the Atlantic.

On May 20, 1945, the U-505/U.S.S. Nemo departed Bermuda for the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where she would be used to promote the sale of war bonds while the U.S. was still at war with the Japanese Empire. Later, the U-505/USS Nemo would travel from Philadelphia to New York City for the same purpose.

Why is the U-505 at the Museum of Science & Industry? Captain - later Admiral - Dan Gallery was from Chicago. His brother, Father John Gallery, then pastor of St. Cecelia’s Parish Church on the South Side of Chicago, was able to approach Major Lenox Lohr, President of the Museum of Science & Industry, to ask him if M.S.I. desired a submarine. The Deutsches Museum, the German science museum that inspired Sears executive Julius Rosenwald to found M.S.I., had the U-1 submarine from the German Imperial Navy, so the trustees and staff had always wanted a submarine.

With encouragement from Colonel Robert R. McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Congress passed a law allowing the U.S. Navy to donate the U-505 to M.S.I., but M.S.I. would have to pay to move it. A quarter of a million dollars was needed, as well as the donation of services.

Finally, in 1954, $250,000 had been raised, which was enough to pay to have the U-505 towed from Portsmouth New Hampshire, up to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, down the St. Lawrence River across four of the five Great Lakes – crossing from Lake Eerie to Lake Ontario by way of the Welland Canal – down Lake Michigan to the Chicago River, bring her down the Chicago Lakeshore in a floating dry dock, beach her, and pull her across Lake Shore Drive. Forty-two mechanical jacks and a power winch were used to pull the U-505 across Lake Shore Drive on a timber and rail track and deposit her in dry dock between the south face of the East Pavilion and the east face of the Central Pavilion, where she stayed through fifty Chicago winters.

The actual labor in rolling the U-505 across Lake Shore Drive and onto concrete slabs was provided by members of Machinery Movers, Riggers, and Erectors Local 136 (Chicago). The U-505 was designated a National Historic Landmark on June 29, 1989.

She was on display in dry dock behind M.S.I.’s East Pavilion from 1954 to 2004. Up to that point, visitors had taken tours of the U-505 using hallways that extended out from the museum building to the U-505 and back.

The last surviving member of the Pillsbury boarding party, Wayne M. Pickels, Jr. (1922-2014), died on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at age ninety-one. He was survived by his wife Jacqueline M. Pickels; his sons and daughters-in-law, David E. Pickels and wife Maria Pickels, and Douglas G. Pickels and wife Rebecca L. Pickels; three grandchildren Daniel Pickels, Leslie Leemauk, and Dr. Tracy Tomlinson; and three great-grandchildren (with a fourth expected to be born in May).

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