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World War II: Capture of U-505

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World War II: Capture of U-505

American sailors secure U-505 on June 4, 1944

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center

Conflict:

American forces captured U-505 during World War II.

Date:

Captain Daniel Gallery's men boarded U-505 on June 4, 1944.

Commanders & Fleets:

US Navy

  • Captain Daniel V. Gallery
  • 1 escort carrier, 5 destroyer escorts

Germany

  • Oberleutnant Harald Lange
  • 1 Type IXC U-boat

Capture of U-505:

On May 15, 1944, antisubmarine task force TG 22.3 consisting of the escort carrier USS Guadalcanal and the destroyer escorts USS Pillsbury, USS Pope, USS Chatelain, USS Jenks, and USS Flaherty departed Norfolk for a patrol near the Canary Islands. Commanded by Captain Daniel V. Gallery, the task force was alerted to the presence of U-boats in the area by Allied cryptanalysts who had broken the German Enigma naval code. Arriving in their patrol area, Gallery's ships searched fruitlessly for two weeks and sailed as far south as Sierra Leone. On June 4, Gallery ordered TG 22.3 to turn north for Casablanca to refuel.

At 11:09 AM, ten minutes after turning, Chatelain reported a sonar contact located 800 yards off its starboard bow. As the destroyer escort closed to investigate, Guadalcanal vectored in two of its airborne F4F Wildcat fighters. Passing over the contact at high speed, Chatelain confirmed that it was a U-boat and turned away to set up an attack run with its depth charges. Buzzing overhead, the Wildcats spotted the submerged submarine and opened fire to mark the location for the approaching Chatelain. Surging forward, Chatelain bracketed the U-boat with a full spread of depth charges.

Aboard U-505, the submarine's commander, Oberleutnant Harald Lange, attempted to maneuver to safety. As the depth charges detonated, the submarine lost power, had its rudder jammed to starboard, and had valves and gaskets break in the engine room. Seeing sprays of water, the engineering crew panicked and ran through the boat yelling that the hull was breached and that U-505 was sinking. Believing his men, Lange saw few options other than to surface and abandon ship. As U-505 broke the surface it was immediately peppered with fire from the American ships and aircraft.

Ordering boat to be scuttled, Lange and his men began to abandon ship. Eager to escape U-505, Lange's men took to the boats before the scuttling process was complete. As a result, the submarine continued to circle at about seven knots as it slowly filled with water. While Chatelain and Jenks closed to rescue the survivors, Pillsbury launched a whale boat with an eight-man boarding party led by Lieutenant (junior grade) Albert David. The use of boarding parties had been ordered by Gallery after a battle with U-515 in March during which he believed the submarine could have been captured.

Nearing U-505, David led his men aboard and began gathering German code books and documents. As his men worked, Pillsbury twice attempted to pass tow lines to the stricken submarine but was forced to withdraw after U-505's bow planes pierced its hull. Aboard U-505, David realized that the submarine could be saved and ordered his party to begin plugging leaks, closing valves, and disconnecting demolition charges. When alerted to the submarine's status, Gallery dispatched a boarding party from Guadalcanal led by the carrier's engineer, Commander Earl Trosino.

A merchant marine chief engineer with Sunoco before the war, Trosino quickly put his expertise to use in salvaging U-505. After completing temporary repairs, U-505 took a tow line from Guadalcanal. To stem the flooding aboard the submarine, Trosino ordered that U-boat's diesel engines be disconnected from the propellers. This allowed the propellers to spin as the submarine was towed which in turn charged U-505's batteries. With electric power restored, Trosino was able to use U-505's own pumps to clear vessel and restore its normal trim.

Aftermath:

With the situation aboard U-505 stabilized, Guadalcanal continued the tow. This was made more difficult due to U-505's jammed rudder. After three days, Guadalcanal transferred the tow to the fleet tug USS Abnaki. Turning west, TG 22.3 and their prize set course for Bermuda and arrived on June 19, 1944. U-505 remained at Bermuda, shrouded in secrecy, for the remainder of the war.

The US Navy's first capture of an enemy warship at sea since the War of 1812, the U-505 affair led to some concern among the Allied leadership. This was largely due to worries that if the Germans were to know that the ship had been captured they would become aware that the Allies had broken the Enigma codes. So great was this concern that Admiral Ernest J. King, the US Chief of Naval Operations, briefly considered court martialing Captain Gallery. To protect this secret, the prisoners from U-505 were kept at a separate prison camp in Louisiana and the Germans informed that they had been killed in battle.

In the fighting for U-505, one German sailor was killed and three wounded, including Lange. Lt. (jg) David was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for leading the initial boarding party, while Torpedoman's Mate 3/c Arthur W. Knispel and Radioman 2/c Stanley E. Wdowiak received the Navy Cross. Trosino was given the Legion of Merit while Gallery was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. For their actions in capturing U-505, TG 22.3 was presented with the Presidential Unit Citation and cited by Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Royal Ingersoll. Following the war, the US Navy initially planned to dispose of U-505, however it was rescued in 1946, and brought to Chicago for display at the Museum of Science & Industry.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Naval Warfare
  5. Naval Battles: 1900-Today
  6. World War II
  7. World War II at Sea - Pacific
  8. Capture of U-505 - World War II Capture of U-505

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