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How a German U-Boat Ended Up In Chicago

1900s | March 4, 2019

French warship 'Sirocco' sinking German U-Boat, 24 November 1930. French destroyer sank two submarines. From British 'Epic Series' Postcards, No. 8. 'Passed for Publication by Ministry of Information'. Source: (Culture Club/Getty Images)

One of the highlights of a visit to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry is a trip down to the underground portion of the museum’s sprawling building to see a captured German U-Boat from 1944. Although the rumors that the submarine was found lurking in Lake Michigan, just off the coast of Chicago, are untrue, the museum’s acquisition of the captured sub is an improbable story of an ambitious Chicagoan and a German U-Boat. 

Source: (nationalinterest.org)

U-Boats Threatened Military and Cargo Ships

During World War II, German U-Boats posed a threat to all military, passenger, and cargo ships. Allied forces had to escort merchant ships across the Atlantic to protect them from attack. In 1943, the United States had had enough. The U.S. Navy formed a special unit to track down and destroy German U-Boats. It was called the Hunter-Killer Task Groups.  

Captain Dan Gallery (left) with Lt. Albert David. Source: (navalhistoryblog.org)

Captain Dan Gallery Headed the Hunter-Killer Task Group

An experienced Naval officer, Captain Dan Gallery of Chicago was tapped to head up the Hunter-Killer Task Force. Although the group’s mission was to eliminate the threat to commercial shipping by the German U-Boats, Gallery had a loftier goal in mind. He wanted to capture a U-Boat. 

The USS Guadalcanal was one of the ships that aided in the capture of the U-Boat. Source: (ibiblio.org)

Plans Were Set to Seize an Enemy Sub

Gallery and his crew prepared to capture an enemy submarine, no easy task. The U-Boats were smaller and more agile than ships so they could avoid detection and capture. The crew trained on how to detect, corner, disable and board a submarine. Of course, their training was done in complete secrecy. 

The USS Chatelain carried the Hunter-Killer Task Group. Source: (navsource.org)

A Target was Spotted and Captured

On June 4, 1944, the Task Group’s sonar alerted them to a U-Boat in the area. Their ship, the USS Chatelain attacked the sub before it could attack them. Their efforts were supported by a few nearby destroyers and aircraft. The sub, a U-505, was quickly forced to the surface. Only one German sailor was killed in the attack. The others were taken prisoner and transported to the Chatelain. The U-Boat was towed to the Bahamas where the Navy combed through it for any information that would be useful to the war effort. 

Captured U-Boat. Source: (uboatarchive.net)

After the War, the Sub was to be Scuttled

At the conclusion of World War II, the captured U-Boat was no longer needed by the U.S. Navy. The government officially announced the capture of the U-Boat to the public on May 16, 1945. After that, the sub went on a short tour of cities along the East Coast as part of an effort to sell war bonds. After that, the Navy intended to use the sub as target practice. But Captain Gallery had another idea. 

Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. Source: (chicagotribune.com)

The Sub Should be Preserved

Captain Gallery wanted to bring the sub home to his native Chicago. By chance, the Museum of Science and Industry was interested in adding a submarine to its exhibits. Working with the museum president, Lenox Lohr, Gallery approached Charles S. Thomas, the Under Secretary of the Navy who agreed to donate the U-Boat to the museum…if the museum would cover the cost of transporting it there. 

Tags: 1943, Military history, WWII, German U-Boats, Chicago museum, 1900s

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.