The Capture of U-505

Some ships are unlucky.  U-505 was arguably the most unlucky submarine in the German Navy during the Second World War.  Her career didn’t begin that way though – her first patrol was short and uneventful, and her second was a success with four Allied merchantmen to her credit.  Her third patrol also appeared to be a success with three vessels sunk, but one of her victims was a Columbian sailing ship named Urious, the sinking of which resulted in Columbia declaring war on Germany.  On her fourth patrol she claimed her eighth victim, but her luck changed when she was caught on the surface by an RAF Hudson with an Australian crew and hit by a 250 pound bomb aft of the conning tower.  While she managed to return to Lorient, she was the most seriously damaged U-boat to survive and make port.

After repairs she was repeatedly deployed again, only to return in short order each time after being damaged, or as a result of sabotage by French workers.  She gained the reputation as a “dock queen” which could not deploy effectively.  On her tenth patrol she endured a severe depth charging from British destroyers.  Her Captain, Kapitänleutnant Peter Zschech broke under the strain and committed suicide in the control room, the only submarine Captain to do so during the war.

While not the best quality, this photograph shows the damage to U-505’s deck and conning tower caused by the bomb from an RAF Hudson during her fourth war patrol on 10NOV42. The Hudson was caught in the bomb blast and was lost, along with her crew. After two weeks of work, the U-505’s crew was able to make repairs and make her way back to their base at Lorient.
On the morning of 04 June 1944 the U-505’s luck ran out. She encountered an American anti-submarine group centered upon the escort carrier USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60) and was detected by sonar by USS Chatelain (DE-149). Chatelain immediately fired a salvo of Hedgehogs without effect, then circled back to drop depth charges. These were on target, damaging U-505 and causing an oil slick visible to aircraft circling overhead.
U-505 surfaced, her crew immediately abandoning ship. Her rudder was jammed causing her to circle and her engines had been left running. Chatelain engaged the U-boat with gunfire and fired a torpedo, which missed. USS Pillsbury (DE-133) launched a whaleboat in an attempt to place a boarding party aboard. The photograph shows Pillsbury’s whaleboat pursuing the abandoned U-505, which was still making 7 knots.
Pillsbury’s boarding party scrambled aboard the sinking U-505 and entered through the conning tower. Inside they found the U-boat was flooding rapidly, her crew having removed an 8-inch (20 cm) strainer cover to flood the boat. The Americans were able to locate and replace the strainer cover, but by that time the U-505 was well down by the stern.
Pillsbury came alongside and attempted to take the submarine under tow. However, the ships collided, holing Pillsbury in three compartments and causing flooding. In the meantime Chatelain and USS Jenks (DE-665) were busy rescuing the submarine’s crew. All 58 survived but one, signalman Gottfried Fischer was killed by gunfire.
A boarding party from USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60) then came aboard and attempted a tow. The photograph shows the towing line being passed from Guadalcanal to the U-505.
With the U-505 in tow the Guadalcanal was able to resume flight operations. Here an Avenger makes her approach.
The Commanding Officer of the Guadalcanal and Task Force Commander CAPT Danial Gallery is seen atop the U-505’s conning tower. Note the damage to the tower and wear to her paint. Her captors have painted the slogan “CAN DO JUNIOR” on the conning tower.
German U-boats stowed extra torpedoes outside of their pressure hulls under deck panels. One of U-505’s reloads was found to have been damaged by gunfire and was jettisoned.
U-505 with Guadalcanal in the background. This photograph shows the wear to her paint, a useful reference for modelers.
After three days the Guadalcanal was met by the fleet tug Abnaki (ATF-96), which towed the U-505 to Bermuda. Her capture was classified Top Secret, out of concern that the Germans might change their naval codes (which the Allies had already broken) if word of her capture leaked out. Her crew was kept in isolation from other prisoners until after the war, not even the Red Cross was notified. The U-505 is currently on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Video of the capture is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIgyF1R1D88&ab_channel=ZenosWarbirds