Get # Captured Depths: The U-505 Submarine’s Voyage from War to Museum

It’s a tale of WWII Allied wile, nerve and ingenuity in the effort to defeat the U-boat menace – an adversary that, had it not been brought to heel, might have spelled a different outcome to the war – which we know, could have taken a different course, had not the U-505 proved its undoing on that day in June 1944. That the submarine travelled under its own power from the perils of wartime ocean fighting to its place as a trophy in a museum does more than commemorate naval warfare, technological enterprise and historical preservation in one shining vessel.

The Genesis of Hunter-Killer Task Group 22.3

In the teeth of the human-submarine firestorm of the Second World War, these Allies had needed a new approach. Hunter-Killer Task Group 22.3 measured their shift to a more aggressive anti-submarine warfare. Commanded by the USS Guadalcanal, the group was the flagship of a fleet of destroyer escorts, small, fast ships specially fitted out to find and destroy underwater enemies. This task force would steal an enemy ship that many thought invincible: the U-505.

The Perilous Hunt

Task Group 22.3 headed across the open Atlantic on intelligence they received from the secret F-21 operation, while the U-505 herself was playing a cat-and-mouse game. Late on 3 June, the US destroyers USS Chatelain and USS Ellyson spotted smoke on the horizon and ranged ahead to investigate. They delivered a killing blow to the U-boat, hitting her with a barrage of advanced acoustic homing torpedoes and depth charges until she was rendered disabled and forced to the surface. Gummi’s crew were ordered to abandon ship. And yet, despite that order, the US Navy attempted to seize, rather than destroy, the boat.

A Daring Boarding Party

It all depended on the courage of a boarding party heading into an unknown and danger-filled world – a sinking submarine belonging to the enemy. They came to secure the U-505 and retrieve any possible intelligence that could influence the outcome of the Allied fight against the Axis. As the flooding capsules of a scuttle charge intended to sink the U-505 were exploding and surging water imperiled the sub, the boarding party tore the Audacious free from her hold. Luckily for Haines and his men, they were able to save the U-505 from sinking, and transform the sub into a prize trove of enemy intelligence.

Navigating Homeward Bound

The hard part was still to come, however, as getting the U-505 2,500 nautical miles back to US soil while towing a semi-flooded submarine underway in 1944 would be a dicey proposition. Commander Earl Trosino’s feats of heroism below decks, fighting the clocks and the elements, also helped to keep her afloat.

War Crimes for a Greater Good?

What’s more, in its capture of the U-505, the US had raised a troubling moral question: in order to preserve the element of surprise, and make use of the information the sub’s crew was destined to relay to German authorities, parts of its crew were isolated and not told the truth about their situation. This was a violation of the Third Geneva Convention. Regardless of how you balance the ethics of the situation, such decisions were instrumental in winning the battle of the Atlantic.

The U-505’s Second Act

The US Navy considered scuttling it immediately after the war or towing it to a firing range, but fate had other ideas. A campaign, spearheaded by the late US Congressman Daniel V Gallery and including the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, mobilised to salvage the sub and preserve it as a monument to the inventiveness and courage of the Second World War. Today, the ship is as magnificent to behold as ... [TEXT TRUNCATED DUE TO CHARACTER LIMIT]

Jun 16, 2024
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