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A diesel-powered Type IX-C submarine, a member of Germany’s World War II fleet of U-boats, the U-505 was built by Deutsche Werft in Hamburg, first launched on May 25, 1941, and commissioned for Kriegsmarine service on August 26, 1941. Operating out of Lorient, France as a long-range patrol boat, she regularly carried a crew of 48 and boasted four torpedo tubes, with storage space for 10 torpedos.

During 1942, U-505 sank at least eight Allied ships before herself becoming heavily damaged and disabled after being bombed by a British seaplane on November 11, 1942. She eventually limped back to port and was repaired, remaining in port for much of 1943 for repeated repairs following a sabotage incident, several mechanical breakdowns, and a couple of depth charge attacks, during one of which Captain Peter Zschech committed suicide.

In the spring of 1944, the USS Guadalcanal task group under the command of Captain Daniel Gallery was assigned the task of capturing a U-boat, in an attempt to learn German intelligence secrets thought to be vital to the Allied cause. An Enigma machine used to encrypt and decrypt coded messages, believed to be carried on all U-boats, would have been the big prize.

With the assistance of Allied codebreaking efforts, U-505 was tracked, and on June 4, 1944, she was spotted by aircraft from the Guadalcanal near the Cape Verde Islands and attacked by the destroyers in the group. “Hedgehog” depth charges from the USS Chatelain destroyed U-505’s rudder control and forced her to surface, and then sailors from the USS Pillsbury boarded and captured U-505, keeping her from sinking despite efforts of the German sailors to scuttle the submarine by opening some of the valves. This was the first time an enemy warship had been captured by the U.S. Navy since the USS Peacock’s capture of the HMS Nautilus during the War of 1812.

Much of the equipment was removed from the U-505 for study by the Allies, including the acoustic torpedos. As it turned out, there were not one, but two Enigma machines on board, one a regular model and one a new experimental model with an attached message printer, plus plenty of documentation and code books.

The capture of U-505 remained a secret until the end of the war (and the fact that Enigma machines had been taken from the ship by the Allies was not public knowledge until the 1980s). The submarine had been towed to Bermuda after the capture with the American flag flying from the conning tower above the Nazi flag. The Navy planned to use U-505 for target practice until then-Admiral Gallery’s brother Father John Gallery contacted Lenox Lohr, the president of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, and asked if the museum would be interested in a German submarine exhibit. Lohr claimed he’d been thinking for 10 years that a submarine was just what the museum needed, and so he set about raising money to bring U-505 to Chicago.

$250,000 was raised over the next few years, and U-505 was towed up the East Coast, through the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes to the west shore of Lake Michigan, where she was placed in a dry berth next to the museum on the south side of Chicago. On September 25, 1954, she was rededicated and became a permanent exhibit, and has been one of the most popular sights at the Museum of Science and Industry, with over 20 million visitors taking a tour through the submarine in her 47-plus years on display. U-505 is in essentially the same condition in which it was found in 1944, albeit with large doorways cut in the sides to move visitors through, as well as fake food stored throughout the ship to demonstrate how cramped U-boats were.

U-505 is the only Type IX-C U-boat still in existence, and the only German submarine of any type in the United States. The United States Navy considers U-505 a memorial to the sailors and Merchant Marines who were engaged in the Battle of the Atlantic. In 1989, U-505 was named a National Historic Landmark by the United States government.

References: Numerous, although www.msichicago.org was a good start. Also, I’ve been through it myself several times (and find it more interesting than the coal mine).

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