By AARON GETTINGER
On June 4, 1944, at 11:09 a.m., the USS Chatelain registered sonar contact with a German submarine, the U-505, 800 yards away off the North African coast. The Navy dropped weapons at 11:16 and 14 more 5 minutes later.
The German captain believed the submarine to be damaged, and the enemy crew abandoned ship without scuttling it. Then nine U.S. sailors boarded and retrieved the Enigma machine and codebooks. The U-505 was towed to an Allied base in Bermuda. On May 16, 1945, just after the war in Europe ended, the government announced its capture.
In 1954, the government donated the U-505 to the Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, after retired Adm. Daniel Gallery, a Chicago Native, and then-MSI President Lenox Lohs convinced the Navy not to use it for target practice. It was towed across the Great Lakes that year and, on Sept. 25, it was dedicated as a permanent exhibit and war memorial.
The U-505 was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989; it is the only U-boat in the United States and one of only four left in the world. On June 4, 2019, MSI and the City of Chicago celebrated the 75th anniversary of its capture at 11:09 a.m. Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared it U-505 Day in Chicago.
Bill Curtis, the announcer on NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” news quiz and narrator of the museum’s U-505 exhibition, spoke at the ceremony for “the first U.S. Navy capture of an enemy warship on the open seas since the War of 1812 … setting in motion a series of events that would provide Allied forces with much-needed knowledge and insight into the secret German codes, enemy plans and movements, information that would ultimately lead the U.S. to victory.”
Sailors from the Naval Station Great Lakes in Lake County, Illinois, laid a wreath in memory of the U.S. sailors who captured the submarine as “Taps” played.
David Mosena, president and CEO of MSI, said “it is the absolute honor of the museum to be the caretaker of the U-505,” noting the recent completion of a nearly two-year conservation project on the submarine that removed corrosion, abrasions and broken steel fixings, restored structural components returned the control room and galley to their original state and restored the submarine’s life raft.
“As we mark the 75th anniversary of the sub’s capture and, later this week, the anniversary of D-Day, the need to preserve these stories is more urgent than ever,” Mosena said, noting that all nine U.S. sailors who first boarded the U-505 are now deceased.
In honor of the anniversary, MSI opened “U-505 Submarine: 75 Stories” with 75 artifacts from their collection and archives, including personal journals and belongings of German and U.S. sailors, a U-505 board game and a comic book celebrating the capture. It will run through May 2020. Tours of the submarine are available daily.