The Capture of the U-505
Contributor: David Stubblebine
ww2dbaseThe German submarine U-505 was a Type IXC U-Boat commissioned 26 Aug 1941 at Hamburg, Germany with Kapitänleutnant Axel-Olaf Loewe in command. U-505 completed 11 war patrols as command passed through Oberleutnant-zur-See Peter Zschech to Oberleutnant-zur-See Harald Lange. In those patrols, U-505 sank eight ships totaling 45,000 tons. On 16 Mar 1944, Oblt. Lange guided the U-Boat out of Brest, France on the submarine's twelfth patrol and headed toward the waters off the West African coast.
ww2dbaseBy the spring of 1944, Allied anti-submarine efforts had come a long way from where they had been during the U-Boat Happy Times of earlier years. Convoy escorts were more numerous with vastly improved technologies and long range patrol bombers were much more plentiful. So abundant were their resources that the Allies were able to open a whole new form of anti-submarine warfare, the hunter-killer groups that operated in the mid-Atlantic and actively sought out German submarines without any convoy responsibilities. One such group was Task Group 22.3, formed around Escort Carrier USS Guadalcanal with five Destroyer Escorts, USS Pillsbury, USS Pope, USS Flaherty, USS Chatelain, and USS Jenks. The group was under the overall command of the Guadalcanal’s commanding officer, Captain Daniel V. Gallery.
ww2dbaseOn 15 May 1944, Task Group 22.3 departed Norfolk, Virginia, United States to begin another sortie of sub-hunting in the Atlantic, but things were a little different this time. Capt. Gallery and his group had been very successful in their earlier patrols. On 16 Jan 1944, aircraft from Guadalcanal’s Composite Squadron 13 successfully sank U-544 in the U-Boat refueling zone northwest of the Azores. On 9 Apr 1944, depth charges from Pope, Pillsbury, Chatelain, and Flaherty brought U-515 to the surface 650 miles off Casablanca where Guadalcanal’s new air squadron, Composite Squadron 58, used rockets to complete the sinking. The next day, rockets and aerial depth charges from Guadalcanal's Avengers sank U-68. When the Task Group returned to Norfolk for replenishment, Capt. Gallery talked with his escort captains about adjusting their tactics. If the group could get another U-Boat to surface as U-515 had, Capt. Gallery wanted to have a plan in place to be able to quickly board the submarine and capture it, if possible. By the time they sailed on 15 May 1944, they had such a plan.
ww2dbaseEvery day of the patrol, certain people were pre-designated to be boarding party members and prize crew members for that day. The motor-whale boats were cleared away and made ready for quick launches. On 4 Jun 1944, 150 miles off the coast of Africa, they got their chance. Quick coordinated efforts by the aircraft and the Destroyer Escorts resulted in depth charge damage to the rudders of the shallow-running U-505. Knowing his boat was doomed, Oblt. Lange decided to save his crew by surfacing the boat and abandoning ship. Surface attacks by U-Boats had been a common practice for German submarines so the Americans did not automatically interpret the surfacing of the U-Boat as an act of surrender. As the German crew scrambled out the hatches and into the water, American gunners raked the boat with all manners of small arms fire, partly also to encourage them to get away from the submarine. One German sailor was killed by machine gun fire as he tried to get out of the conning tower before the "Cease Fire" order was given. Then Capt. Gallery gave the order "Away all boarders," the only time this order was given by an American combat commander between 1815 and the present day.
ww2dbaseLt. (jg) Albert L. David, the assistant engineering officer from the escort Pillsbury, led the initial boarding party into the submarine through the conning tower. The party entered the U-Boat with complete uncertainty about whether scuttling charges might explode in their faces or if there might be hidden crew members ready to ambush them. They did not find either one but they did locate one open sea valve. Casting aside thoughts of booby traps, the party quickly fixed a cover over the valve and stopped the flooding. The capture was complete. Several mail bags were filled with code books, charts, and two coding machines – Enigma Machines. All of the submarine's crewmen except the one sailor who was killed were rescued from the water while the prize crews took control of the boat. Lt. (jg) David was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, the only Medal of Honor issued in the Navy's Atlantic Command during World War II.
ww2dbaseThe U-505 was afloat but riding low aft due to the water taken aboard in the attempted scuttling. Nevertheless, she was taken under tow bound for Casablanca in French Morocco (now Morocco). USS Pillsbury was damaged trying to pass a tow line so the U-Boat was towed by the Guadalcanal herself.
ww2dbaseCapt. Gallery sent a coded radio message reporting the capture and giving a simple description of the coding materials seized. For reasons Capt. Gallery could not even imagine, the news nearly floored the American commanders. Within an hour, Guadalcanal received new orders. They were not to tow the U-Boat to any African port but to Bermuda, almost 2,700 miles across the Atlantic. There were two vital pieces of information Capt. Gallery did not know: the British code breakers had been regularly reading German Enigma messages since 1940 and the Allied invasion of France was set for the very next day, 5 June 1944. If the Germans heard about the Americans towing an in-tact U-Boat into port, German codes would be changed just as the Allied invasion was getting under way, something that could prove disastrous for the Allies. Absolute secrecy was essential.
ww2dbaseCapt. Gallery had pulled off an amazing feat. His Task Group made the US Navy's first capture of an enemy warship on the high seas since the War of 1812 and yet, Chief of Naval Operations Ernest King seriously considered court martial charges against Capt. Gallery for the grave jeopardy these events created for the Normandy Invasion and the ULTRA secret. In the end, King realized Gallery could not be held accountable for things he could not have known and Gallery was given the accolades his excellent piece of sailoring deserved.
ww2dbaseThe capture of the coding materials may not have been as special as Capt. Gallery thought and there was nothing overly remarkable about the U-Boat itself, but U-505 carried two of Germany's new Zaunkönig acoustic torpedoes. These were examined very closely by the Allies and proved to be very informative, as were the radio and direction finding equipment.
ww2dbaseIn the end, Germany knew nothing of U-505's capture until they were told about it in 1947. After the war, the submarine's crew was returned to Germany after being held in complete secrecy since their capture.
ww2dbaseU-505 was held in Bermuda throughout the war where everything about it was thoroughly studied. To maintain secrecy, the U-Boat was called "USS Nemo" while in Bermuda. After the war, the sub was moved to Portsmouth Navy Yard in New Hampshire and the Navy made plans to sink it as a target in gunnery exercises. Capt. Gallery, now Rear Admiral Gallery, heard about plans to sink his prize and he made some inquiries. Gallery's brother, a catholic priest and Navy chaplain, knew that a museum in their home town of Chicago, Illinois wanted a submarine to display. After some bureaucratic wrinkles were ironed out, the U-Boat made its way up the St. Lawrence Waterway and through the Great Lakes to Chicago. U-505 is now on permanent display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
US Navy War Diaries
US Medal of Honor Society
USS Guadalcanal-Task Group 22.3 Association
Daniel V. Gallery, USN (Ret)
Chicago Museum of Science and Industry
The Capture of the U-505 Interactive Map
The Capture of the U-505 Timeline
|16 Mar 1944||German Type IXC submarine U-505 left Brest, France on the submarine's 12th patrol, with Oberleutnant-zur-See Harald Lange in command.|
|15 May 1944||Anti-submarine hunter-killer Task Group 22.3 departed Norfolk, Virginia, United States with Escort Carrier USS Guadalcanal as flagship and Captain Daniel V. Gallery in command. The remainder of the Task Group consisted of Destroyer Escorts, USS Pillsbury, USS Pope, USS Flaherty, USS Chatelain, and USS Jenks.|
|4 Jun 1944||USS Guadalcanal's anti-submarine hunter-killer group with Captain Daniel V. Gallery in command captured the German U-505 in-tact, including all code books, two Enigma machines, and two Zaunkönig acoustically-guided torpedoes. One German crew member was killed in the initial attack but all others, including the U-Boat commander Oberleutnant-zur-See Harald Lange, were captured. The U-Boat was taken under tow bound for Bermuda. This was the US Navy's first capture of an enemy warship on the high seas since the War of 1812. The US leader of the initial boarding party, Lieutenant (jg) Albert L. David, was awarded the Medal of Honor.|
|19 Jun 1944||USS Guadalcanal's anti-submarine hunter-killer group with the captured German Type IXC submarine U-505 in tow arrived in Bermuda where the U-Boat would remain for the rest of the war to preserve the secret of its capture.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945