Periscope Reunited with WWII German U-boat

Story Number: NNS030207-14Release Date: 2/7/2003 1:22:00 PM
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By Jack A. Green, Naval Historical Center Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- A thirteen-year search has resulted in the location and return of the periscope removed from the captured World War II German U-boat U-505 by the U.S. Navy for testing after the war.

Now on exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, the U-505, a Type IXc "long range" U-Boat, was captured by U.S. Navy anti-submarine forces in 1944.

However, sometime between its capture and then transfer to the museum 10 years later, the Navy removed the periscope. Thirteen years ago, the museum's curator for U-505, Keith Gill, began a search for the periscope, but the records as to where it was taken were incomplete.

But when the Navy's old Arctic Submarine Laboratory at Point Loma, Calif., was being demolished last fall, the U-505 periscope was found there in working order and recovered from the lab's cold-water tank. The Navy called the museum to see if they were interested in it.

"I was absolutely thrilled to get that phone call," Gill said, "but at the same time was somewhat skeptical. Was this one really from our boat? We have people calling us all the time claiming to have pieces of the U-505."

A check of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory's records showed that the periscope was more than likely from U-505.

The Naval Historical Center (NHC) was then contacted for assistance. The NHC immediately accepted the transfer of the periscope from Commander, Navy Region Southwest. From there, it was accessioned and cataloged into the Navy's central artifact database in Washington, D.C. Finally, they facilitated the legal and logistical issues with the loan of the periscope from the Navy to U-505.

"It's a great piece of World War II and Cold War history," said Mark Wertheimer, assistant curator, NHC. "While in U.S. Navy service, the periscope was used for basic research on ice and cold weather and to develop techniques for under-ice submarine operations."

Soon afterwards, the 1,000 pound piece of equipment was trucked to Chicago. It is currently on display at the Museum of Science and Industry and will eventually be reunited with the submarine during its current major restoration.

U-505 was launched in Hamburg, Germany, May 25, 1941, and commissioned for action August 26. In 1942, it sank eight allied ships (three of them American) totaling 44,962 tons. Nov. 11, 1942, the sub was severely damaged by a bomb dropped from a British Hudson anti-submarine bomber, which was shot down during the attack. The damage to the boat was so severe in fact that it took four weeks to return to port.

From this point on, bad luck haunted U-505, with the next six attempts to leave port stymied by sabotage, air attacks and mechanical breakdowns. Oct. 24, 1943, her captain, Kapitanleutant Peter Zschech, committed suicide while the boat was under a severe depth charge attack. This was the only case of a U-boat captain killing himself in combat during WWII. The executive officer brought the boat back to port.

Her run of bad luck continued through June 4, 1944, when she was captured at sea west of Africa by ships and aircraft of U.S. Navy task force 22.3, which consisted of the escort carrier USS Guadalcanal (CVE 60), and the destroyer escorts USS Pillsbury (DE 133), USS Chatelain (DE 149), USS Flaherty (DE 135), USS Jenks (DE 665), and USS Pope (DE 134). Of her 60-man crew, 1 was killed and the other 59 became prisoners of war.

This was the first time the U.S. Navy had captured an enemy vessel on the high seas since the War of 1812.

For the rest of the war, her capture was one of the most closely guarded secrets. Had the Germans learned of it, they would have known that their secret Enigma U-boat communications codes were compromised.

After the war, the Navy planned to scuttle U-505 as a target ship. But Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry asked for the boat, and the people of Chicago raised $250,000 to have it moved and installed at the Museum in 1954. U-505 is the only Type IXc U-boat still in existence and in 1989, was declared a National Historic Landmark.

A boarding party from the USS Pillsbury (DE 133) works to secure a tow line to the newly captured German U-boat U-505 on Jun 4, 1944
030205-N-0000X-001 Washington Navy Yard (Feb. 5, 2002) -- A boarding party from the USS Pillsbury (DE 133) works to secure a tow line to the newly captured German U-boat U-505 on Jun 4, 1944. Note the large U.S. flag flying from the periscope. While the U-505 has been on exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago since 1954, this periscope has been missing from the submarine since the Navy removed it for testing after World War II. The two were recently reunited when the periscope was discovered during the demolition of the Navy's old Artic Submarine Laboratory in Point Loma, Calif., and it was sent to the museum. It will be reinstalled during the U-boat's current extensive restoration. U.S. Navy photo.
February 5, 2003
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