I’ve wanted to see the U-505 for a few years now. I remember seeing the replica of the U-36 in Raiders of the Lost Ark and wondering how a tiny little ship with wooden decks would survive beneath the waves. The submarine service fascinates me. And like many men my greatest regret, or at least mild curiosity (in the realms of what if) is not having served in the Military. Specifically the Navy like my father did.
After reading the book Das Boot and a series of other trashy novels on submarine warfare, (The Hunt for Red October and Patrick Robinson’s entire Sub series) my imagination was prime playground for seeing the Submarine museum.
The U-505 was captured on June 4, 1944. (see picture above) Two days before D-Day, June 6th 1944. The U-boats prior to 1944 had steamed about the Atlantic with near impunity sinking allied shipping bound for England. The U-boats in their wolf-packs managed to sink 17,600,000 tons of shipping in three and half years.
Beginning in 1943 the allies got smart and started the Hunter-Killer Groups. These anti-submarine units roamed the Atlantic in search of German U-boats. The wolves became sheep.
On 4 June 1944, the hunter-killer group known as 22.3 of the United States Navy captured the German submarine U-505.
This momentous event marked the first time a Man of War had been taken as prize since the War of 1812.
The code books, enigma machines, and other intelligence gathered from the materials on board helped further the knowledge of the enigma code, and it’s use for German code setting. It also allowed the US access to the Gyroscopes the Germans used on their torpedoes. The boat was actually saved by a small twist of fate. The ship was sinking fast when the American boarding party took her. A seaman noticed that the sea strainer cover was off, (an open pipe to the sea). He checked it for booby traps and then put it back on and sealed it. Lucky for him and for us.
Gabriel, my father, and I made a mad dash after the Tut exhibit to the Museum of Science and Industry on Lake shore drive to see the U-boat exhibit.
The U-boat was moved inside the museum in 2005. The paint job has been restored. They left the bullet holes, and still allow tourists to stroll through. They get a bit tetchy about you taking snap shots. I managed a few which you see here, but under an extreme veil of secrecy and threat of ejection from the exhibit.
My first impression was not unlike many other folks. Holy crap is this cramped! Then pack in another 50 smelly sailors. The mens couldn’t bathe for weeks at a time due to fresh water rationing. They might get a salt water sponge bath if they were lucky. Then imagine sleeping in someone else’s stink during your off duty hours. Oh I forgot to mention one of the toilets on the outward leg of the journey is filled with food. So try holding it while the other 50 guys go first every morning. Is this starting to sound like a layer of Dante’s Purgatorio?
Gabriel and I got to sit at the planing controls while the tour was conducted in the control room. They actually face the port side of the sub. That seemed pretty whacky. From all of my movie watching I always imagined the planing controls faced forwards. As part of the tour the lights went out, and the red trouble lights went on. All I could see were the illuminated faces of the dials in the control room.
They started playing recorded sounds of depth charges. The recording was clear enough to hear them hitting the water, and then dropping closer, and closer until detonation. The inside of the control room vibrated with the sound. I think my imagination added in the impact from the explosion for effect. I felt the hull shake. A cold sense of dread filled me and I found myself looking up and meekly wondering about mercy and grace. How could the men take this? How could they stand the fear?
I don’t know if there is an answer. Maybe its just one of those things like the Holocaust. It just defies explanation or extemporaneous speech.
So maybe I should be glad I was never forced to serve. But what if?…
The Spartans believed no man could be a citizen in their city-state without military service. Israel uses compulsory military service in their society. Should we do the same so that all share the burden equally? I don’t know. I hope to spare my son from what is happening now in the middle-east. Would I want to spare him if I thought the cause was just?
General Patton said: _”It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”_ I wonder if I could ever feel that way about my own son?