Saturday, January 6, 2018

U-Boat 505 and the Enigma Coding Machine


Capturing the U-505 German Submarine in World War II

    It turned out to be a real adventure when we visited the Museum of Science+Industry in Chicago to explore  the capture of the U-505 German Submarine during World War II.

    Would we find a way to stop the devastation the U-Boats were creating on our supply ships crossing the Atlantic?  Would we capture a U-Boat before its crew could blow it up?  What would be find that would help us end the war? 

    No expense has been spared to provide answers to those and other questions by the use of a remarkable collection of archival film footage, 200 artifacts and interviews and testimony from the survivors, including the German captain of the sub.

    We started down a hallway covered with newspaper headlines about the start of the war and the ongoing battles.  Charts indicated the number of merchant ships sunk each year, peaking in 1942 with 1,150 ships sent to the bottom of the Atlantic.  The subs were working in wolf packs. England was on the verge of starvation.  The subs had to be stopped.




A diorama of survivors of a ship sunk by a German U-Boat



    The Allies had to coordinate their various forces and a central office was developed that took messages from the air, the ground and naval forces.

     With antisubmarine intelligence, electronic tracking and attack aircraft we set up our own Hunter-Killer Task Groups. 

    One of the visuals is a life- sized hologram of six people in a central control center gathering details and putting together an organized approach that led them to a sub off the coast of Africa that destroyers and attack planes surrounded.   

    The wolf pack hunters had now become the hunted.

    Another large display with two ships' officers watching a large screen that shows the film taken at that time of the subs capture.  We see the dropping of a special explosive that will damage but not sink a sub but would bring it to the surface.  

    It works and later we get to watch the members of the destroyer's crew go aboard the sub to get papers, maps and anything else that will tell us about Germany's war plans.

    There is considerable danger because of the 14 timed explosives that should have been set.  Fortunately for the American sailors it had all happened so quickly there was not time to set them to explode. Instead a sea strainer cover had been opened and water was rushing in. The cover was put back on.




The sailors who went about the sinking U-Boat 505 and rescued the Enigma coding machine



    Sacks of materials were taken off, but most important was the capture of the German M4 enigma coding machine.   This was to be a gift without price, since now the Allies could decode German messages.  

    To do this we needed to keep secret the capture of U-Boat and lead the Germans to believe it had been sunk and all of the crew killed. 

    Only one German died, the others were all taken to a secret prison camp in Louisiana.  The boat itself was towed to  Bermuda without being discovered by the Germans.

    One display shows how the captured German crew tried to send messages out that they were still alive, but fortunately failed.

     At the end of the tour a film showed these sailors meeting with their families who had believed they were dead . Being captured probably kept them from being killed because once the Allied forces got its act together, 70% of the German subs were sunk.





The U-505 has been reconditioned and is in great condition.  Tours can be taken through it.



    The U-505 has been reconditioned and looks in marvelous condition.   Tours are available for an extra charge, but so much is going on around the boat that the interior tour is not really necessary.  We had taken the interior tour shortly after the boat was moved to Chicago.

    The children visitors were getting a real thrill using the material on exhibition.   Enigma machines were on display along with a screen on which the visitor could code and decode messages.  The living quarters were there to see what the sleeping and eating arrangements were on board.  Periscopes were available to use.

    Toward the end of the exhibition a film from 1964 is shown of interviews with the German Captain Harald Lange of the U-Boat and Admiral Dan Gallery who had captured him.   They had become friends in the interim. 

    So much more can be seen.   If you are interested in World War II, this is a must see for the vast archives and artifacts that have been drawn on to make this excellent exhibition.






Visitors can operate some of the submarine equipment

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