To preserve the U-505, which suffered badly from rust damage as a result of exposure to the elements for fifty years, M.S.I. lowered her underground, in front of the East Pavilion, in April of 2004. After building the walls in the pit in front of the East Pavilion, contractors lowered the U-505 using cribbing towers and enormous jacks, then built the roof over the boat, and did landscaping to restore the front yard.
The floor of the McCormick Tribune Foundation Exhibition Hall is at the same level as the Burlington Zephyr in the Entry Hall (called the Great Hall, like in a castle, at the time the time the new U-505 exhibit was built and for several years after it opened). After completion of restoration work on the U-505, the installation of simulators, the installation of display cases, and placement of artifacts and archival documents in those display cases, the new exhibit The U-505 Experience opened to the public on June 5, 2005, the day after the 61st anniversary of the U-505’s capture. The tour guides aboard the U-505 also had to learn a new script augmented by new light and sound effects.
A new book published in 2005, covering the U-505’s restoration and move underground, was offered for sale at the grand opening, U-505: The Final Journey by James E. Wise, Jr. On May 7, 2006 some of the footage of the U-505’s move underground was seen in The History Channel Mega Movers special “Mega Movers: Moving the Impossible.”
To see the U-505 now, one goes, on the Lower Level, from the Central Pavilion to the East Pavilion, or from the Henry Crown Space Center to the East Pavilion, and makes a choice between taking elevators down or walking down stairs and ramps. Either way, one will pass a television monitor showing a short documentary explaining how the U.S.A. was drawn into World War II, enlarged copies of newspaper front pages from the World War II era, and a timeline with graphics illustrating how many merchants ships the U.S. alone lost to U-boat attacks in the Battle of the Atlantic.
At the point where the hallway forks and one must decide whether to take the elevator (to the right) or the stairs and ramps (to the left), there is a life-size, three-dimensional representation of two Merchant Marines in life jackets on a raft in front of a mural depicting two exploding, sinking ships. It reminds visitors of the human cost of U-boats, which had no room to take aboard prisoners-of-war, sinking merchant ships.
Unless a member of one’s party is in a wheelchair or a baby stroller, one should take the stairs and ramps down to see the U-505 because the long way down includes more simulators to place the U-505 and her capture in the context of the war and one will encounter the 252-foot-long vessel in a more dramatic fashion, facing her bow at deck level and proceeding downward until one is level with the keel.
Taking a tour of the U-505 requires an extra ticket, but it costs nothing to walk down the ramp around her and use the simulators and look at artifacts and archival documents on display on the starboard side of the U-boat. The artifacts on display include a real Enigma machine, a T5 Acoustic Torpedo, personal effects of the German crew, and cans of food discovered inside the U-boat’s hull.
Throughout the exhibit, there are short documentaries narrated by journalist and documentary maker Bill Kurtis. The new exhibit includes a small theater, the Gallery/Lange Theater, which shows a short film of Admiral Gallery and Oberleutnant Lange meeting at M.S.I. on June 4, 1964, the twentieth anniversary of Gallery’s capture of the U-505 and Lange. The exhibit also includes a flat-screen television screen monitor that shows time-elapsed footage of the U-505’s move underground.
The simulators on the starboard side of the U-505 include four interactive touchscreen stations concerning Enigma coding machines. The Diver Trainer is a recreation of the control room that gives two visitors at a time a sense of what it was like for the U-505’s two planesmen to work in tandem, using the two sets of dive planes at the bow and stern during an emergency dive.
“Life Aboard” is a recreation of crew quarters that gives visitors an idea of what it was like for the fifty-nine officers and crewmen of the U-505 to hot bunk on shifts in thirty-five bunks. “On Patrol” gives two visitors at a time a sense of what it was like for U-boat officers to stand in the conning tower using the aerial-navigation periscope and attack periscope.
“Buoyancy Challenge” is an eleven-foot-tall water tank with a U-505 cutaway. Guests learn how the submariners of the era would fill ballast tanks with the right ratio of water and air to dive deep or rise to periscope depth.
On the way to the elevator bank to exit the exhibit, one passes through the Tribute and Memorial Area. It features multiple displays that honor the men and women who made the tale of the U-505 possible.
The names of the more than 2,000 American sailors and pilots of Task Force 22.3 are represented on glass panels, as are the officers and crewmen of the U-505, and the government bodies, foundations, and families who provided funds for the new exhibit. There is also a model of a kind of merchant ship called a liberty ship, the sort of vessel U-boats targeted.
Back above ground, if one has posed for a photograph in front of the U-505 taken by a professional photographer, one can purchase the picture. There is also a U-505 gift shop where one can purchase a book or memento.
There are seven other full-size U-boats that are museum ships in addition to post-World War II U-boats the German defense industry has built for the Bundesmarine (post-World War II German Federal Navy) and other navies. Of these, three are Kriegsmarine (Third Reich German Navy) U-boats, one is an experimental mid-19th Century U-boat, one is a pre-World War I U-boat from the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy), and two are Bundesmarine U-boats from the 1960s.
A very early experimental sub, the Brandtaucher, built by Wilhelm Bauer in 1850, has been at the Militärhistorische Museum (Military History Museum) in Dresden, Saxony since 1972. The U-1, the first U-boat in the Kaiserliche Marine, has been at the Deutsches Museum von Meisterwerken der Naturwissenschaft und Technik (German Museum of Masterworks of Science and Technology) in Munich since 1921. The Deutsches Museum also has three Kriegsmarine midget subs.
The U-995, a type VII, class C/41 is on display at the Marine Memorial at Laboe. The U-2540, a type XXI electro-diesel U-boat from the Kriegsmarine, which was commissioned into the Bundesmarine as the Wilhelm Bauer, is on display at the Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum (German Maritime Museum) at Bremerhaven, which also has a midget sub.
The Deutsches Marinemuseum (German Navy Museum) at Wilhelmshaven, Lower Saxony has both a Kriegsmarine midget sub and a full-size post-World War II submarine, the U-10, an S 188, 25 Class U-boat commissioned into the Bundesmarine in 1967 that has been on display since 1998. The Marine Museum annex of the Technikmuseum Speyer (Technical Transport Museum in the city of Speyer) in the Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany has the U-9, an S 188, 205 Class U-boat that was commissioned into the Bundesmarine in 1967 that has been on display since 1993, as well as three Kriegsmarine midget subs. There are also Kriegsmarine midget subs at the Strandmuseum at Cuxhaven in Lower Saxony; the Wehrtechnische Studiensammlung at Koblenz in the Rhineland-Palatinate; and the Uboot-Lehrgruppe at Neustadt in Holstein in the Ostholstein district of Schleswig-Holstein.
There is one full-size U-boat and two German midget submarines in England. The U-534, a Type IX, Class C/40, similar to the U-505, but with bigger fuel tanks, is on display in four sections at Woodside Ferry Terminal, Mersey Ferries, Birkenhead, Woodside, Merseyside, England.
After being brought to the surface in 1994, she had been on display at the Nautilus Maritime Museum in Birkenhead, Wallesey outside Liverpool, but that museum went out of business in 2006. The Liverpool City Region’s travel authority Merseytravel acquired the sub in 2007, cut her into five sections to move her to the Woodside Ferry Terminal and then subsequently rejoined two of the pieces.
The new exhibit is called U-boat Story. The Imperial War Museum in London and the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Gosport near Portsmouth each has one midget sub.
There are three Kriegsmarine midget subs in the U.S. and one in Canada. These are at the United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum of the Massachusetts Military Research Center in Quincy, Massachusetts; the New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.’s Old Navy Yard; and the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Several Kriegsmarine midget subs are in continental Europe outside Germany and one is in South Africa. In addition, while the Vesikko, which is on display at a Finnish naval museum near Helsinki isn’t technically a U-boat, it was designed by a German company and is considered a prototype for the Kriegsmarine’s type II, class A coastal U-boats.