More Trouble Than It Was Worth? How the Navy Once Seized a Nazi U-Boat

By Unknown author - U.S. Navy photo 80-G-49172, Public Domain,
December 22, 2020 Topic: History Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: World War IINazi GermanyKriegsmarineU.S. NavyU-boat

More Trouble Than It Was Worth? How the Navy Once Seized a Nazi U-Boat

This U.S. captain came home with a surprise catch that actually landed him in deep trouble with his superiors.

Gallery did not believe such a connection would be made. He took a close look at the wiring and could not find anything suspicious. It seemed to him that the crew had abandoned the submarine too quickly—before they had the chance to set any charges. He thought the fuse box was harmless. As everyone held their breath, he slowly closed the cover. Nothing happened.

As soon as they opened the hatch to the torpedo room, the four men discovered that the compartment was dry. Commander Trosino had been wrong about that as well. The men entered the compartment, manhandled the steering gear to put the rudders amidships, and left as quickly as possible. The trip back to the control room was an uphill walk. As he climbed back to the bridge, Captain Gallery thought, “The fresh salt air sure smelt [sic] mighty sweet.”

Now that the U-boat was no longer turning to starboard, the next step was to pump the boat dry and bring her up to an even keel. “Junior,” as Guadalcanal’s crew now called U-505, was still half submerged, which made the boat a lot more difficult to tow. In fact, the sea was actually breaking over the conning tower hatch. When Gallery climbed through the hatch into the control room, he had to close the hatch behind him to keep from flooding the compartment.

Trosino had an idea for re-charging the U-boat’s storage batteries, even though Gallery would not let him run the diesel engines. Gallery was afraid that someone would turn the wrong valve and sink the boat. Trosino disconnected the clutch on the diesels and requested that Gallery tow the U-boat at 10 knots—quite a high speed for a tow. The forward speed turned the submarine’s propellers, which also turned the armatures of the electric motors, which, in turn, charged the batteries. With the batteries fully charged, there was enough electric current to run the boat’s pumps. The boat was pumped dry and brought up to full surface trim. U-505 was finally out of danger.

During the night, CINCLANT (Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet) sent orders to Captain Gallery. He was not to attempt taking U-505 to Dakar. Although Dakar was the nearest port, it was also full of German spies who would report the U-boat capture to Berlin. Instead, he was to take his prize to Bermuda. To assist with the long trip, the fleet tug Abnaki and the oiler Kennebeck were diverted from an Africa-bound convoy to join Gallery’s task group.

Admiral King Threatened to Have Gallery Court-Martialed for Bringing U-505 in as a Prize.

Gallery rendezvoused with the two ships in the mid-Atlantic. Ships of the group refueled from Kennebeck, while Abnaki took over towing duties from Guadalcanal. On June 9, the group formed a screen around Abnaki and U-505 and headed for Bermuda, still 2,500 miles away.

All prisoners from U-505 were safely aboard Guadalcanal; 59 German sailors out of a complement of 60, including officers and Captain Lange. Gallery decided to visit Lange in the carrier’s sick bay. He described the German captain as “a big, angular man of about 35,” who looked more like a preacher than a U-boat skipper. Lange’s leg wounds had been treated, and he was sitting up in his bunk. Gallery introduced himself as the captain of the ship and told Lange, “We have your U-boat in tow.”

Lange blinked at Gallery and shouted, “No!” Because of his wounds, he had spent all of his time below decks after being rescued, and refused to believe that his orders to scuttle the submarine had not been carried out. He would not accept the fact that U-505 was still afloat and had been captured until Gallery sent a crew member over to the U-boat to retrieve family pictures from Lange’s cabin.

Seeing his personal photographs convinced him. He told Gallery in perfect English, “I will be punished for this.” After the war, Lange wrote Gallery a letter informing him that he had landed a good job on the Hamburg docks. Apparently, his gloomy prediction did not come true.

While the remaining ships of Guadalcanal’s group escorted the Abnaki and U-505 to Bermuda, the Jenks had been sent ahead at maximum speed with the U-boat’s Enigma machines and 10 sacks of code books and secret documents, which weighed about 1,100 pounds. When news of the U-boat’s capture reached Washington, it was greeted with anything but elation. The main fear was that German intelligence would find out that one of their submarines had fallen into Allied hands and that they would immediately change all the Enigma codes. If that happened, all Allied codebreakers would be plunged into darkness for many weeks. Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, the bad-tempered chief of naval operations, was furious with Captain Gallery for jeopardizing Allied naval intelligence and their control of Enigma. He threatened to have Gallery court-martialed for bringing U-505 in as a prize.

Fortunately, no word ever reached German intelligence. Gallery told all hands attached to the task group that nothing must be said about what happened during the cruise, and amazingly the men did as they were told. The public did not find out about U-505 until after the war. Also, the Allied landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944, two days after the submarine was captured, pushed most other thoughts out of the minds of German intelligence. Berlin officially listed U-505 as sunk and made only routine changes in the naval codes.

The intelligence materials taken from U-505 allowed Allied Naval Intelligence to read U-boat signals as fast as the Germans themselves, which helped them in their already successful war against Admiral Dönitz and his submarine fleet. All the elaborate grids and tables the Kriegsmarine had been using to track Allied shipping were now used against the U-boats. Far from being the disaster feared by Admiral King, Gallery’s decision to take U-505 intact turned out to be an enormous advantage for Allied codebreakers.

On June 19, 1944, just over two weeks after Lieutenant David and his crew made their way into U-505’s control room, Gallery’s task group arrived in Bermuda. A huge U.S. flag flew above a much smaller German naval ensign on the U-boat’s flagstaff. The 59 prisoners were turned over to the commandant of the naval base. They were, in turn, kept in an isolated camp until the war ended. Absolutely no chances were being taken that might jeopardize the secrecy of U-505’s capture, including mixing the submarine’s crew with other German prisoners.

The U-boat was also turned over to the base commander, who issued a receipt: “One Nazi U-boat, U-505, complete with spare parts.” When the boat was inspected, a 14th demolition charge was found—in place and still very much alive.

For his part in the operation, Lieutenant Albert David was awarded the Medal of Honor. The two men who went down the U-boat’s conning tower hatch with him, Radioman Stenley E. Wdowiak and Torpedoman Arthur W. Kinspel, were given the Navy Cross. Captain Gallery did not receive a decoration, although he did get the Distinguished Service Medal for his work in antisubmarine warfare.

Gallery took very little credit for the success of the operation. He attributed it to thorough planning, helped along by a lot of good luck. As an afterthought, he added, “Maybe our daily morning prayers had something to do with it.”

David Alan Johnson has written extensively on World War II for more than 20 years. His book The Battle of Britain: The American Factor was well received in both the United Kingdom and the United States. He is currently working on a book about Anglo-American relations since Colonial times. This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network and first appeared on TNI in 2016.

Image: Wikipedia.