US Vet Recalls U-boat Hidden In Bermuda

January 23, 2011

1U-505InspBermudaA US Navy veteran is attempting to track down other participants in one of the most highly classified missions of World War Two — the capture of a Nazi U-boat on the high seas which was then towed almost 2000 miles to Bermuda under a veil of secrecy.

Former Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Philip Kornely Jr. tells a Florida newspaper today how the Task Group 22.3 Association is still looking for members from among US Navy veterans who took part in the 1944 action — the first capture of an enemy vessel by American ships since the 19th century.

“Just send us a letter to P.O. Box 3071, Wenatchee, Washington 98807, USA” he said.

Mr. Korneley served on the USS “Pope”, a destroyer in the US Navy task group which seized the U-505 — allowing Allies to capture a prized Nazi Enigma code machine which was then used to read encrypted German messages.

The U-505 was towed to Bermuda (it is pictured above in Port Royal) and was was camouflaged and hidden here under heavy guard for the remainder of the war. The crew was held incommunicado on the island and later in the US without access to the International Red Cross until the Nazis surrendered in 1945.  The subterfuge was designed to persuade German authorities the U-505 had been sunk so they would not change codes used by submarines patrolling the Atlantic — codes the Allies could break as a result of seizing the Enigma.

The United States Navy captured the German submarine U-505  on June 4, 1944 in an action in  the Atlantic Ocean about 150 miles off the coast of Rio De Oro, Africa. The American force was commanded by Captain Daniel V. Gallery and comprised the aircraft carrier “Guadalcanal” and five escort vessels: “Pope”, “Pillsbury”, “Flaherty”, “Chatelain” “Jenks”.

Alerted by American cryptanalysts, who-along with the British-had been deciphering the German naval code’s the “Guadalcanal” task group knew U-boats were operating off the African coast near Cape Verde, according to an official US Navy account of the battle.

They did not know the precise location, however, because the exact coordinates in the message were encoded separately before being enciphered for transmission. But by adding this regional information together with high-frequency direction finding fixes (HF/DF) — which tracked U-boats by radio transmissions — and air and surface reconnaissance, the Allies could narrow down a U-boat’s location to a small area.

The “Guadalcanal” task group intended to use all these methods to find and capture the next U-boat they encountered through the use of trained boarding parties.

The task group sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, on 15 May 1944 for an anti-submarine patrol near the Canary Islands. For two weeks they searched unsuccessfully, even steaming as far south as Freetown, Sierra Leone, in a vain effort to locate a U-boat.

On Sunday, 4 June 1944, with fuel running low, the warships’ reluctantly turned north and headed for Casablanca. Ironically, not ten minutes later  USS “Chatelaine” made sonar contact on an object just 800 yards away on her starboard bow.

“Guadalcanal” immediately swung clear at top speed, desperately trying to avoid getting in the way, as Chatelain and the other escorts closed the position.

In the minutes required to identify the contact definitely as a submarine, however, “Chatalain” closed too rapidly and could not attack — as her depth charges would not sink fast enough to intercept the U-boat.

The escort held her fire instead, opened range and setup a deliberate attack with her “hedgehog” –  ahead-thrown depth charges which explode on contact only — battery. Regaining sonar contact after a momentary loss due to the short range, “Chatelain” passed beyond the submarine and swung around toward it to make a second attack with depth charges.

As the ship heeled over in her tight turn, one of two fighter planes launched overhead by “Guadalcanal” sighted the submerged U-boat and dived on it, firing into the water to mark the submarine’s position. “Chatelain” steadied up on her sound bearing and moved in for the kill. A full pattern of depth charges set for a shallow target splashed into the water around the U-boat.

As their detonations threw geysers of spray into the air, a large oil slick spread on the water; the fighter plane overhead radioed “You struck oil! Sub is surfacing!” Just six and one-half minutes after “Chatelain’s” first attack, U-505 broke the surface with its rudder jammed, lights and electrical machinery out, and water coming in.

As the submarine broached only 700 yards from “Chatelain”, the escort opened fire with all automatic weapons that would bear and swept the U-boat’s decks. “Pillsbury” and “Jenks” and the two Wildcats fighters overhead all joined the shooting and added to the intense barrage.

Wounded in the torrent of fire and believing that his submarine had been mortally damaged by “Chatelain’s” depth charges, the commanding officer of U-505 quickly ordered his crew to abandon ship. So quickly was this command obeyed that scuttling measures were left incomplete and the submarine’s engines continued to run.

The jammed rudder caused the partially-submerged U-505 to circle to the right at a speed near seven knots. Seeing the U-boat turning toward him, the commanding officer of “Chatelain” ordered a single torpedo fired at the submarine in order to forestall what appeared to be a similar attack on himself.

The torpedo passed ahead of U-505, which by now appeared to be completely abandoned. About two minutes later, the escort division commander ordered cease fire and called away “Pillsbury’s” boarding party.

While “Chatelain” and “Jenks” picked up survivors, “Pillsbury” sent its motor whaleboat to the circling submarine where Lieutenant Albert L. David led the eight-man party on board. Despite the probability of U-505 sinking or blowing up at any minute and not knowing what form of resistance they might meet below, Lieutenant David and his men clambered up the conning tower and then down the hatches into the boat itself.

After a quick examination proved the U-boat was completely deserted (except for one dead man on deck — the only fatality of the action), the boarders set about bundling up charts, code books, and papers, disconnecting demolition charges, closing valves, and plugging leaks. By the time the flood of water had been stopped, the U-boat was low in the water and down by the stern.

Meanwhile, “Pillsbury” twice went alongside the turning submarine to put over tow lines and each time the escort’s side was pierced by the U-boats’ bow plane. Finally, with three compartments flooded, she was forced to haul clear to attend to her own damage. The boarding party was then reinforced by a party from “Guadalcanal.”

Led by Commander Earl Trosino, the carrier’s men completed temporary salvage measures, and took a towline from “Guadalcanal”.

In an ingenious solution to the heavy flooding, the salvage crew disconnected the boat’s diesels from her motors. This allowed the propellers to turn the shafts while under tow. After setting the main switches to charge the batteries, “Guadalcanal” towed the U-boat at high speed, turning the electric motors over which recharged the boat’s batteries. With power restored, the salvage crew could use the U-boat’s own pumps and air compressors to finish pumping out seawater and bring her up to full surface trim.

After three days of towing, “Guadalcanal” was relieved of her burden by the fleet tug “Abnaki”. Arriving with the tug was the tanker “Kennebec”, sent to provide much-needed fuel to the hunter-killer group.

On Monday, 19 June 1944, U-505 was brought into Port Royal Bay, Bermuda, after a tow of 1,700 miles.

Fifty-eight prisoners had been taken from the water during the action. The German submariners were held in Bermuda for several weeks before being transferred to a Prisoner of War Camp in Ruston, Louisiana although the U-505′s commanding officer stayed here so he could be treated for his wounds.

The submarine remained in Bermuda, shrouded in secrecy, for the remainder of the war. It was moved to the US at the end of hostilities and is now exhibited at Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry.

For his part in saving the abandoned submarine, Lieutenant David was awarded the Medal of Honour.

Task Group 22.3 was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, in part because of the unique and difficult feat of boarding and capturing an enemy warship on the high-seas. More significantly, however, the capture of codebooks on U-505 allowed American cryptanalysts to occasionally break the special “coordinate” code in enciphered German messages and determine more precise locations for U- boat operating areas.

In addition to vectoring in hunter-killer task groups on these locations, these coordinates enabled Allied convoy commanders to route shipping away from known U-boat locations, greatly inhibiting the effectiveness of German submarine patrols.

An exhibit telling the remarkable story of the capture of the German U-505 and the subsequent decision to hide it on the island is the subject of a permanent display at the Bermuda Maritime Museum’s US Navy Room at Commissioner’s House.

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Comments (12)

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  1. Triangle Drifter says:

    Nice article. I knew about the incident & that the U Boat was brought here before eventually winding up in Chicago but never knew the details. Nice bit of Bermuda wartime history.

  2. UncleSam says:

    What an amazing story. With all of the recent hub-bub about our wayward sailors we shouldn’t forget the role Bermuda and her waters have played in some real history! Kudos to the Maritime Museum for picking up on this and dedicating space to keep the story alive. Thank you Bernews for highlighting this Maritime History piece, keep ‘em coming!

  3. Terry says:

    Well I am sure Dr. Edward Haris would have something to say about this.

    I do remember my father mentioning a submarine in Little Sound.

  4. Lee says:

    Good video. Adm. Daniel V. Gallery who was on Guadalcanal, wrote a book about the planning and capture of U505. I think that’s him with the flapping collar at about the 1:55 mark. He also wrote several other pretty good stories about Navy life in his day.

  5. Patbar says:

    As soon as I saw the U-505 headline, I immediately sought the full story, which I read and watched the videos, as I am originally from Chicago and have been in that boat many times!

    It was at our Museum of Science & Industry, and schools always went there on field trips. I later came to Bermuda and met my future husband, so I took him to see the submarine when he was in Chicago, and he elaborated on his knowledge of when it was held here, and how they were able to decode secret information.

    I think the videos are the most valuable record of what actually transpired, and anyone still living who was a part of that event, should be forever thanked for their unbelievable, courageous efforts, in keeping it from sinking and collecting all the documents and other code-breaking items.

    Watching the videos made me remember how dedicated the men were, who fought in World War 2, and how all of us should be proud of them and also respectful of their compassionate treatment of the German prisoners they captured…… I wonder if prisoners are still given the same consideration, or are they treated very differently in today’s conflicts????

    “War’ IS definitely HELL,” – and we can only hope that, one day, it will be eliminated from our vocabulary for all time…..

  6. gramma momo says:

    My dad was on the Gaudalcanal. I know there is some information I may be able to provide any survivors.

    • G F Johnston says:

      During the mid-1970′s I worked with “Pete” Petersen at The Inmont Corp., Toledo, Ohio. Pete told me of how he was a German Submariner during WWII. This was quite remarkable since Pete stood some 6’6″ tall!!! He also related that during a Chicago visit, he and his family toured the U-505 and Pete was overheard when he described the functions of the various systems and instruments. The Curator subsequently asked Pete to extend his stay and help them label in English said instruments, etc. Pete did so and all of those little signs posted throughout the boat can be attributed to him.

      Frank Johnston

      Mesa, AZ.

  7. James says:

    Very nice article, THIS is the sort of history that should be taught in our schools.

  8. Redman says:

    I have read and still Adm. Gallery’s book, as a matter of fact I have just re-read it. It’s called ‘Clear the Decks’ an excellent read. This story is testimony to proper preparation as Adm. Gallery had made it a feature to train his carrier group for just this sort of scenario. The Guadalcanal was a ‘Jeep’ Carrier who’s role was anti submarine warfare.

    The Group arrived in Bermuda waters after dark but due to the wartime black out was unable enter harbour, this meant that the had to wait at sea until morning. This obviously caused some frustration and consternation as there was a real fear was that another Uboat could have spotted them and may have attempted to sink U-505 and also alert the Kriegsmarine that one of their Uboats had been captured thus causing them to change their codes. This would have been catastrophic and even though the Allies had already captured an enigma machine when HMS Bulldog sunk and captured U110 in May 1941.

    The Bermuda pilot who guided them in knew it was a German Uboat the minute he saw it despite the attempted camouflage and is remembered as saying that he felt like running the &*%@$ aground!! All involved where of course sworn to secrecy but he did speak about it after the war.

  9. Kit Ko says:

    The U-505 did NOT remain in Bermuda for the remainder of the war. It was studied, and then sent back out to sea with an American crew to help end the war. My grandfather was on that crew…died of lung cancer caused by the asbestos insulation in that boat. I cannot find any reference anywhere online to the U-505/uss Nemo leaving Bermuda, but I know it did, and it hurts my heart that the American crew is never recognized.