Captured in secret

Captain Daniel V. Gallery, Jr. and Lieutenant Junior Grade Albert L. David.
Photographed on board USS Guadalcanal, June 1944. 
When America entered World War II, a menace lurked off the nation’s east coast. German submarines, called U-boats, had been stalking British and other allied shipping in the North Atlantic since the outset of the war, and upon America’s formal entry into the European war these fearsome warships were sinking American ships, some within sight of the U.S. coast.

One of these U-boats was U-505, a Type IX-C submarine which entered service in the German Navy in 1941. U-505 had an effective first year, attacking and sinking allied shipping off the coast of West Africa and in the Caribbean Sea. The loss of thousands of tons of shipping and cargo to the torpedoes and gunfire from these submarines threatened to starve the British into submission and strangle the war effort.

Something had to be done.

The Allied navies developed tactics for protecting shipping from U-boats, including devising a system of convoys and introducing lighter, faster warships for anti-submarine duty. As the war in the Atlantic entered 1944, these ships were organized into hunter-killer task groups of ships and aircraft which would track down, detect and sink the U-boats before they could strike.

One of these task groups was placed under the command of an Illinois native, Captain Daniel V. Gallery. Gallery commanded the light escort aircraft carrier USS Guadalcanal and five small destroyer escorts, affectionately known as “tin cans” by their crews. Gallery’s ships were assigned to the waters of the Cape Verde Islands south of the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea.

Gallery made his intentions very clear to the men under his command.

“This ship will be employed on hazardous duty. We will either sink the enemy or get sunk ourselves depending on how well we learn our jobs now and do our jobs later,” he wrote to sailors as they reported aboard. “Anyone who prefers safer duty, see me, and I will arrange to have him transferred.”

USS Guadalcanal. 
The addition of carrier-based aircraft brought a new dynamic to the hunt for U-boats far out at sea. The aircraft could patrol a larger area than the ships, spotting U-boats when they surfaced either visually or using radar, and then tracking them when they submerged. A key tool in these missions was the sonobuoy, an air-dropped listening device which picked up and tracked the sounds of the underwater submarine, allowing the hunters to follow and attack it with underwater bombs known as depth charges.

Gallery proved to be an exceptionally talented submarine hunter. In a single month in 1944, Gallery’s task group sank three U-boats in the Atlantic. But rather than focusing on sinking the enemy ships, Gallery began to work on a different idea: he sought to capture one.

The payoff for such a capture would be enormous. Seizing and examining the German technology would not only help the Allies improve their own subs, but would be useful in developing effective countermeasures to the German weapons. Capturing the communications and coding equipment would be a gold mine: it would help the Allied navies locate and track U-boats all over the world and intercept them far away from their targets. In the spring of 1944 he got authorization to attempt his plan.

Gallery began training his crews in the difficult task of boarding and seizing an enemy submarine. The challenges to be overcome were enormous: locate the submarine, somehow get it to the surface, defeat it without sinking it, and then board it before its crew could sabotage the equipment or scuttle the ship altogether.

Then Gallery caught a break. Navy intelligence had been getting reports of a sub off the west African coast intermittently for weeks. By the time Gallery’s ships arrived in the area, however, contact had been lost, and on June 4, 1944, he ordered them to break off the hunt in order to refuel. At that moment, a sonar operator aboard one of the destroyers, USS Chatelain, heard something.

“There wasn’t a wave in the ocean,” recalled signalman Don Carter who was aboard Guadalcanal. “It was calm, and the Chatelain came over the radio; it says we have a sub contact, and we’re getting ready to attack. Then all hell broke loose.”

The U.S. Navy had located U-505.

Fighter planes launched off the deck of Guadalcanal, while two other destroyer escorts, USS Pillsbury and USS Jenks moved in to surround the U-boat. While the fighters fired their guns into the water to mark the spot of the sub, Chatelain attacked with depth charges which exploded close enough to the sub to damage it and force it to surface.

U-505 shortly after capture. 
Chatelain and Jenks moved in to rescue survivors from the water, while a boarding party from Pillsbury approached the sub itself. On board, German crewmen had set demolition charges and opened the sub’s sea strainer, a large pipe which allowed seawater to flood into the ship. Lieutenant Albert David, “boldly led a party from the Pillsbury in boarding the hostile submarine as it circled erratically at 5 or 6 knots on the surface.”

The boarding party of nine American sailors rushed through the sub’s passageways, disarming explosives and locating the cover for the sea strainer to stop the flooding. By the time they did so, the ship’s stern was already flooded and only the conning tower remained above the surface. All the while they had to remain alert for any German crewmembers who had stayed behind to put up a fight.

In the end, all 59 German crewmembers were taken off the sinking sub, with only one loss of life. American sailors now swarmed over the half-submerged submarine, locating equipment, code books and other materials which would be of immense value to the Navy.

Now Gallery had to bring the sub into an Allied seaport—no easy task given its condition.

One of Gallery’s officers, Commander Earl Trosino, “spent hours down in the bilges, crawling around in the oily water under the engines, tracing pipelines and closing valves to make the boat watertight,” Gallery wrote after the war. “He risked his life many times by squirming into inaccessible corners under the floor plates where he wouldn’t have a chance to escape in case the sub started to sink. Thanks to Trosino’s uncanny instinct for finding the right valves, and his total disregard of his own safety, we succeeded in saving the U-505.”

While the Navy analyzed its newly-acquired treasure trove of information, it was faced with another challenge: keeping the matter a secret. U-505 was towed more than 2000 miles to Bermuda, where it was disguised as an American submarine. If the Germans learned that so much valuable material had been captured they would take measures to render it moot, such as changing their codes and procedures. The crew was hastily moved to a prisoner of war camp in Louisiana and kept in strict isolation, on orders from the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Navy, Admiral Ernest J. King. The crew was returned home after the war.

Armed with this new information, the allied navies aggressively hunted down the remaining U-boats in the North Atlantic, turning the tide of the war at sea and opening supply lines for allied armies now advancing across Western Europe.

Tug USS Abnaki tows captured U-505. 
Eleven months after the battle, Nazi Germany surrendered and the war in Europe ended. A week after the surrender, the Navy announced the capture in a press release, and Gallery told his story in the Saturday Evening Post. U-505 toured the east coast as part of a war bond drive, during which some members of the audience got the chance to board the captured sub, after purchasing war bonds to help fight the still-raging war in the Pacific.

After the war, the Navy sought to dispose of the German sub by using it as a target for training exercises. Gallery, who had been promoted to Rear Admiral, sought a different outcome for the first enemy ship to be boarded and captured in combat by the U.S. Navy since the War of 1812. He believed a museum or a memorial was a more appropriate disposition of U-505.

And friends in his home town proved more than willing to help.

Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry had already expressed interest in acquiring a submarine for an exhibit. Now Gallery connected with Lenox Lohr, president of the museum, to appeal to the Navy in 1953 to donate U-505 to the museum. The Navy agreed, but only if the museum or the city could raise the funds to pay for transporting the submarine to Illinois. More than $250,000 was raised by the museum, city leaders and private citizens to bring the sub to Chicago.

In 1954, U-505 was towed from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, through the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes to Chicago, arriving just days after the tenth anniversary of its capture. Having traveled 3000 miles, the most difficult part of the journey looked to be the final 800 feet: across Lake Shore Drive and into its new home. Thanks to some brilliant engineering and a lot of patience, the sub was able to cross the road over the course of a week. It was put on exhibit at the museum in September 1954.

Admiral Gallery wrote a book, Twenty Million Tons Under the Sea, about the U-505 capture and the war against the U-boats in the Atlantic. He died in 1977 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The Navy named an anti-submarine guided missile frigate for him and his brothers in 1980. When the Navy closed its flight training school in Glenview, Illinois, in the 1990s, a 60-acre parcel was re-purposed into a park which was named in Gallery’s honor. Lieutenant Albert David, who led the first boarding party onto the sub received the Medal of Honor, and the entire crew was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Today, visitors to the Museum of Science and Industry can still see the battle-scarred German submarine which had once been the terror of the North Atlantic. They can examine the ship up close and even climb aboard and tour its cramped passageways, battle stations and quarters. The sub is housed in a specially designed exhibit room which tells the account of its capture and the larger story of the years-long war at sea in the Atlantic.

It stands as a memorial to those sailors who lost their lives and all those who fought in the largest naval war in the history of ma