U-boat U-505 (Type IXC)
Diesel-Electric Attack Submarine
The German U-boat U-505 was captured intact by American naval forces in 1944, yielding valuable wartime intelligence and useful technology.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
U-505 served the German Kriegsmarine (Navy) during World War 2. She is infamously remembered for one of her captains committing suicide in her control room and famously remembered for her intact capture by the Allies. U-505 was part of the large Type IX class of German boats specifically developed for deep sea service, granted inherently long endurance at the expense of agility and dive times. The Type IX boats were produced across four major groups as the Type IXA, Type IXB, Type IXC and Type IXD numbering a total of 283 units. Type IXA boats were original production models which were followed by the improved Type IXB line and then came the Type IXC which was further broken down into the Type IXC and IXC/40 groups. Type IXC models proved the most numerous with 54 and 87 units built (respectively) while the final group became Type IXD. Type IX boats were produced from the period spanning 1937 into 1944 and commissioned throughout the war from 1938 into 1945.
U-505 was a diesel-electric vessel in that she utilized her diesel engines while on the surface and ran on electric motors when submerged (though at a much reduced speed in the latter). Surface propulsion was through 2 x MANM9V40/46 supercharged 9-cylinder diesel marine engines of 4,000 horsepower output and submerged travel was made possible by 2 x SSW GY345/34 electric motors generating 1,000 horsepower. This allowed the U-boat a maximum surface speed of 18 knots with a submerged speed of 7 knots out to a range of 11,000 nautical miles. Her total crew complement numbered 59 and onboard storage allowed the vessel to remain at sea for up to three months and underwater for up to 36 hours (food was stored virtually in any open space including the "heads", better known as bathrooms). The engines drove 2 x screws under the stern, fitted just ahead of each rudder assembly. As with other diesel-electric submarines of the period, the U-505 was required to surface to dispense of dangerous built-up CO2 gases, take in fresh oxygen and recharge her batteries - this was the primary limiting factor of submersion technology of the war and represented the boat at its most vulnerable time.
Dimensions included a running length of 252 feet, a beam of 22.3 feet and a draught of 15.4 feet. She displaced at 1,120 tons when surfaced and 1,230 tons when submerged. Her deck was flat and her designed was tapered at both ends for maximum hydrodynamic efficiency. Torpedo tube doors were covered over in powered plates which opened to expose the tube when firing. Dive planes were fitted at the bow and the conning tower at over the control room at near-amidships.
U-505 was well-armed as an attack submarine with four forward torpedo tubes and two aft tubes. Up to 22 x 533mm (21") torpedoes were carried and these could be replaced by naval mines if required (Type IXC boats were seldom fitted as such. Surface armament included 1 x 105mm (10.5cm) SK C/32 deck gun and 30mm and 20mm anti-aircraft cannons and traversable mountings near the conning tower.
U-505 was constructed at the docks of Hamburg, Germany with her keel laid down on June 12th, 1940.She was officially launched on May 25th, 1941 and formally commissioned on August 26th, 1941. Her early work included training and no combat action greeted her on her first wartime patrol. U-505 went on to complete a total of twelve war patrols to which her crews claimed eight Allied vessels from various countries. U-505 was credited with 46,447 tons of Allied goods sunk. Her first claim was the British vessel Benmohr on March 5th, 1942 which was followed the next day by the Norwegian vessel Sydhav. In April, U-505 claimed its first of three American ships when West Irmo was sunk. The Dhutch ship Alphacca was claimed a day later. Two more American vessels followed on June 28th and 29th in 1942 and these became the Sea Thrush and Thomas McKean. July 22nd, 1942 saw the Columbian vessel Urious successfully targeted and sunk while the U-505's final credit was the British vessel Ocean Justice on November 7th, 1942. Back on September 6th, Kapitanleutnant Peter Zschech took command from Kapitanleutnant and was to kill himself in the control room of U-505 on October 24th, 1943 when coming under heavy fire from British destroyer depth charges. Oberleutnant Harald Lange became her (final) commanding officer for the vessel's eleventh and twelfth war patrols and would be the boat's captain when she was captured and interred by the Allies in 1944.
It was not until her twelfth war patrol that the U-505 saw her end as Allied decryption services allowed for improved tracking and targeting of German submarine activities in the Atlantic. United States Navy Task Group 22.3, under the command of Captain Danial Gallery, was sent to the Cape Verde area off of the Western African coast in the South Atlantic to contend with German U-Boat operations. The U-505 was detected on June 4th, 1944 and entered into a series of cat-and-mouse maneuvers with the Allies who applied considerable pressure from depth charges and aerial reconnaissance launched from USS Guadalcanal. The U-505 eventually took damage to her rudder, forcing her to enter into a turn and lose useful control. Additional damaged then forced her to the surface under the Captain Lange's orders.
Once surfaced, officers (including Lange) made their way to the conning tower to assess the situation and were greeted by heavy-caliber gunfire from surrounding Allied ships. The shooting claimed one of U-505's crew - the only recorded casualty of the U-505's capture (Captain Lange was also injured but survived). The U-505 was ordered scuttled and abandoned by her captain to which her evacuated personnel were recovered by American warships. An Allied boarding party arrived at U-505 and disarmed awaiting charges and managed to cap a drain set up to take on seawater (the Germans mistakenly left the cap right next to the open port). The final room to be checked was the aft torpedo room which was found to not be booby trapped by the German crew. Now contained from dangers and sinking, the U-505 was claimed by the American Navy and towed under secrecy to Bermuda for internment and extensive review by the USN. The German boat revealed thousands of pages of vital intelligence and information as well as an Enigma machine showcasing the latest codes in use. American naval engineers were also able to delve into the newer German acoustic homing torpedoes with yielded highly sensitive information on their design - rather advanced for the period. The capture of U-505 proved such a treasure trove that its design qualities influenced the future post-World War 2 line of American submarines to come.
After her usefulness had been expended by the USN, U-505 was set to become a target boat for USN munitions. However, now-Rear Admiral Gallery arranged for the boat to be placed in the care of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois. The USN donated the boat for permanent display at the museum where it resides today (2013) and available as a walking tour. U-505 originally was berthed outdoors, subject to the ever changing weather of Chicago until a concrete housing was erected and the submarine moved indoors. She now resides in a climate-controlled environment for long-term preservation as part of an exhibit detailing World War 2 submarine warfare.