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Capture of U-505 on 4 June 1944

On 4 June 1944, a hunter-killer group of the United States Navy captured the German submarine U-505. This event marked the first time a U.S. Navy vessel had captured an enemy vessel at sea since the nineteenth century. The action took place in the Atlantic Ocean, in Latitude 21-30N, Longitude 19-20W, about 150 miles off the coast of Rio De Oro, Africa. The American force was commanded by Captain Daniel V. Gallery, USN, and comprised the escort CarrierGuadalcanal (CVE-60) and five escort vessels under Commander Frederick S. Hall, USN: Pillsbury (DE-133) Pope DE-134), Flaherty (DE-135), Chatelain (DE-149), and Jenks (DE-665).

Alerted by American cryptanalysts, who--along with the British--had been decrypting the German naval code, the Guadalcanal task group knew U-boats were operating off the African coast near Cape Verde. They did not know the precise location, however, because the exact coordinates (latitude and longitude) in the message were encoded separately before being enciphered for transmission. By adding this regional information together with high-frequency direction finding fixes (HF/DF)--which tracked U-boats by radio transmissions--and air and surface reconnaissance, the Allies could narrow down a U-boat's location to a small area. The Guadalcanal task group intended to use all these methods to find and capture the next U-boat they encountered through the use of trained boarding parties.

The task group sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, on 15 May 1944 for an anti-submarine patrol near the Canary Islands. For two weeks they searched unsuccessfully, even steaming as far south as Freetown, Sierra Leone, in a vain effort to locate a U-boat. On Sunday, 4 June 1944, with fuel running low, the warships' reluctantly turned north and headed for Casablanca. Ironically, not ten minutes later at 1109 that morning, USS Chatelain (DE-149), Lieutenant Commander Dudley S. Knox, USNR, made sonar contact on an object just 800 yards away on her starboard bow. Guadalcanal immediately swung clear at top speed, desperately trying to avoid getting in the way, as Chatelain and the other escorts closed the position.

In the minutes required to identify the contact definitely as a submarine, however, Chatalain closed too rapidly and could not attack--as her depth charges would not sink fast enough to intercept the U-boat. The escort held her fire instead, opened range and setup a deliberate attack with her "hedgehog" (ahead-thrown depth charges which explode on contact only) battery. Regaining sonar contact after a momentary loss due to the short range, Chatelain passed beyond the submarine and swung around toward it to make a second attack with depth charges.

As the ship heeled over in her tight turn, one of two General Motors FM-2 "Wildcat" fighter planes launched overhead by Guadalcanal, sighted the submerged U-boat and dived on it, firing into the water to mark the submarine's position.Chatelain steadied up on her sound bearing and moved in for the kill. A full pattern of depth charges set for a shallow target splashed into the water around the U-boat. As their detonations threw geysers of spray into the air, a large oil slick spread on the water; the fighter plane overhead radioed "You struck oil! Sub is surfacing!" Just six and one-half minutes after Chatelain's first attack, U-505 broke the surface with its rudder jammed, lights and electrical machinery out, and water coming in.

As the submarine broached only 700 yards from Chatelain, the escort opened fire with all automatic weapons that would bear and swept the U-boat's decks. Pillsbury, Lieutenant George W. Casselman, USNR, and Jenks, Lieutenant Commander Julius F. Way, USN, farther away, and the two "Wildcats" overhead all joined the shooting and added to the intense barrage. Wounded in the torrent of fire and believing that his submarine had been mortally damaged byChatelain's depth charges, the commanding officer of U-505 quickly ordered his crew to abandon ship. So quickly was this command obeyed that scuttling measures were left incomplete and the submarine's engines continued to run.

The jammed rudder caused the partially-submerged U-505 to circle to the right at a speed near seven knots. Seeing the U-boat turning toward him, the commanding officer of Chatelain ordered a single torpedo fired at the submarine in order to forestall what appeared to be a similar attack on himself. The torpedo passed ahead of U-505, which by now appeared to be completely abandoned. About two minutes later, the escort division commander ordered cease fire and called away Pillsbury's boarding party.

While Chatelain and Jenks picked up survivors, Pillsbury sent its motor whaleboat to the circling submarine where Lieutenant (junior grade) Albert L. David, USN, led the eight-man party on board. Despite the probability of U-505 sinking or blowing up at any minute and not knowing what form of resistance they might meet below, David and his men clambered up the conning tower and then down the hatches into the boat itself. After a quick examination proved the U-boat was completely deserted (except for one dead man on deck - the only fatality of the action), the boarders set about bundling up charts, code books, and papers, disconnecting demolition charges, closing valves, and plugging leaks. By the time the flood of water had been stopped, the U-boat was low in the water and down by the stern.

Meanwhile, Pillsbury twice went alongside the turning submarine to put over tow lines and each time the escort's side was pierced by the U-boats' bow plane. Finally, with three compartments flooded, she was forced to haul clear to attend to her own damage. The boarding party was then reinforced by a party from Guadalcanal. Led by Commander Earl Trosino, USNR, the carrier's men completed temporary salvage measures, and took a towline from Guadalcanal. The salvage crew was later joined by Commander Colby G. Rucker, USN, who arrived with the seaplane tender Humbolt (AVP-21).

In an ingenious solution to the heavy flooding, the salvage crew disconnected the boat's diesels from her motors. This allowed the propellers to turn the shafts while under tow. After setting the main switches to charge the batteries,Guadalcanal towed the U-boat at high speed, turning the electric motors over which recharged the boat's batteries. With power restored, the salvage crew could use the U-boat's own pumps and air compressors to finish pumping out seawater and bring her up to full surface trim.

After three days of towing, Guadalcanal was relieved of her burden by the fleet tug Abnaki (ATF-96). Arriving with the tug was the tanker Kennebec (AO-36), sent to provide much-needed fuel to the hunter-killer group. On Monday, 19 June 1944, U-505 was brought into Port Royal Bay, Bermuda, after a tow of 1,700 miles.

Fifty-eight prisoners had been taken from the water during the action. One man had been killed and three (the commanding officer, executive officer, and one enlisted man of the U-boat) wounded. For his part in saving the abandoned submarine, Lieutenant (jg) David was awarded the Medal of Honor; Torpedoman's Mate Third Class A. Knispel and Radioman Second Class S. E. Wdowiak, each received the Navy Cross; and Commander Trosino received the Legion of Merit.

The task group itself was awarded the Presidential Unit citation, in part because of the unique and difficult feat of boarding and capturing an enemy warship on the high-seas--something the U.S. Navy had not accomplished since the 19th-century. More significantly, however, the capture of codebooks on U-505 allowed American cryptanalysts to occasionally break the special "coordinate" code in enciphered German messages and determine more precise locations for U- boat operating areas. In addition to vectoring in hunter-killer task groups on these locations, these coordinates enabled Allied convoy commanders to route shipping away from known U-boat locations, greatly inhibiting the effectiveness of German submarine patrols.

Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll, Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, cited the Task Group as follows:

"For outstanding performance during anti-submarine operations in the eastern Atlantic on June 4, 1944, when the Task group attacked, boarded and captured the German submarine U- 505."

"Setting out on an anti-submarine sweep with the stated purpose of capturing and bringing back to the United States a German submarine, all units of the Task Group worked incessantly throughout the cruise to prepare themselves for the accomplishment of this exceedingly difficult purpose. Locating a single U-boat after a long period of fruitless searches, the entire Task Group participated in intensive search and hold down operations which terminated in the sighting of the submerged submarine by an airplane. An extremely accurate initial depth charge attack by the USS Chatelain forced the U-boat to surface where it was subjected to the combined automatic weapons fire of three destroyer escorts and two aircraft. This anti-personnel attack completely achieved its pre-conceived objective in forcing the entire enemy crew to abandon ship while inflicting relatively minor material damage on the submarine."

"Completely unmindful of the dangers involved all units of the Task Group then proceeded to carry out their assigned duties in accomplishing the actual capture. The USS Pillsbury, badly damaged in a series of attempts to go alongside the erratically maneuvering submarine in order to transfer a mass boarding and repair party, was forced to withdraw and to transfer necessary personnel by small boat. Undeterred by the apparent sinking condition of the U-boat, the danger of explosions of demolition and scuttling charges , and the probability of enemy gunfire, the small boarding party plunged through the conning tower hatch, did everything in its power to keep the submarine afloat and removed valuable papers and documents. Succeeding, and more fully equipped, salvage parties, faced with dangers similar to those which confronted the first group to enter the submarine, performed seemingly impossible tasks in keeping the U-boat afloat until it could be taken in tow by the USS Guadalcanal. After three days of ceaseless labor the captured U-boat was seaworthy and able to withstand, with constant care, the vigors of a twenty-four hundred mile tow to its destination."

"The Task Group's brilliant achievement in disabling, capturing, and towing to a United States base a modern enemy man-of-war taken in combat on the high seas is a feat unprecedented in individual and group bravery, execution, and accomplishment in the Naval History of the United States."

Disposition of U-505

As the U.S. Navy was far more interested in the advanced engineering design of fast underwater U-boats--such as the streamlined German Type XXI and XXIII submarines--rather than the familiar fleet-boat types illustrated by the U-505, the captured submarine was investigated by Navy intelligence and engineering officers during 1945 and then promptly slated for disposal. The intention was to use the hulk for gunnery and torpedo target practice, a fate similar to those of many other captured enemy submarines.

In 1946, however, Father John Gallery learned of this plan from his brother (then Admiral Daniel Gallery) and called the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) President Lenox Lohr to see if MSI would have an interest in savingU-505. The museum, established by Chicago businessman Julius Rosenwald as a center for "industrial enlightenment" and public science education, specialized in interactive exhibits, not just view displays and artifacts. Lohr immediately revealed 10-year old plans to include a submarine in the exhibits of the museum and began a plan to bring the U-505 to Chicago.

The people of Chicago raised $250,000 to help prepare the boat for the tow and installation at the museum. In September 1954, U-505 was donated to Chicago at no cost to the U.S. Government. On September 25, 1954 U-505 was dedicated as a war memorial and as a permanent exhibit. In 1989, the U-505--as the only Type IX-C boat still in existence--was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Select Bibliography

"Capture of Nazi Submarine in 1944 Revealed" Navy Department Press Release, 16 May 1945. [Located in Naval Historical Center, Ships' History Branch, USS Flaherty (DE-135) file].

Hinsley, F. H. et al. British Intelligence in the Second World War: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations. vol. 2. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981. [See p.552 for information on codebooks captured on U-505].

Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Atlantic Battle Won: May 1943-May 1945. vol. 10 of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1960. [For a description of the capture see pp. 290-93.

Ratcliff, R. A. "Searching for Security: The German Investigations into Enigma's Security" Intelligence and National Security 14, no.1 (Spring 1999): 146-167. [See p.156 for information on codebooks captured on U-505.].

Wise, James E., Jr. U-505: The Final Journey. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2005. [An extremely useful illustrated history.]

Unpublished Original Documents:

  • Microfilm reel NRS 202 for Task Group 22.3 report of 19 June 1944 which contains the reports of the participating ships and aircraft; USS Guadalcanal, Escort Division FOUR, USS Chatelain, USS Pillsbury, USS Pope, USSFlaherty, USS Jenks, and Composite Squadron EIGHT (VC-8).
  • Microfilm reel NRS 1974-35 for papers taken from U-505.

20 October 2005


Published: Wed Aug 23 15:58:27 EDT 2017