Posted by: mcjangles | July 23, 2007



This past week I was in Chicago for work and got a little free time to visit the U-505 at the Museum of Science and Industry. The U-505 was captured by the US Navy off the coast of Africa on June 4th, 1944. Besides the obvious historical attraction of being the only WWII German submarine on US soil, the U-505 has a special connection to East Coast wreck diving. Being a Type IX-C u-boat, the U-505 is the same build as the U-853 and the U-869 which are both accessible to divers on the East Coast of the US. Having dove the U-869 I have been trying to work in a trip to Chicago to visit this sub for a while.

To those not familiar with Chicago I must first say that Chicago’s public transportation system is pretty well organized and even has an online trip planner which is kind of like Mapquest for public transportation (I hope SEPTA is taking notes). If you are traveling to Chicago:

This made getting to the Museum from O’Hare airport a snap, and a train and bus later I was excitedly buying my ticket.

I only had a couple hours to kill so I made a b-line directly to the sub. The Museum did look like it has a lot to offer although mainly to the younger crowd. They did have a very interesting flight exhibit complete with planes.

The route to the sub starts with a hallway of WWII era military (mostly Navy) recruiting posters and sets the mood to remind us that 60 years ago the Germans were attacking us right off our own shores.

I have been to the Becuna exhibit at Penn’s Landing but being in the water (and right next to the Olympic) it does not really prepare you for the first time you walk into the exhibit hall housing the U-505. The entire submarine is on display in a huge room and really gives you a feeling to the size of these “iron coffins”. The rest of the exhibit is done very nicely and includes videos and displays that chronical the capture and return of the U-505 to US soil for study. I found it particularly interesting that since it was so crucial that the Germans not know the US had captured the sub (so they did not know we had cracked their codes), each crew member involved was signed to secrecy under the penalty of death, and the German POW’s were not allowed to write family members of their whereabouts which was in violation of the Geneva Convention.

U-505 (the pictures don’t do it justice)

Also on display are numerous artifacts from the sub including personal effects from the German and US sailors, as well as the infamous Enigma machine. In addition there is a hands on replica periscope, a dive simulator, and a dissected T-5 acoustic torpedo.

The finale was an inside tour of the submarine. This was what I was most looking forward to, and I hate to say it but it was also the most disappointing part of the exhibit. First they would not allow photography inside the sub, and second there were also some “modifications” they have made which are no doubt the result of the litigious society we live in. The most noticeable of which is that they have cut out all the hatches to allow easy walking through the short tour, which I think does an great injustice to getting a true idea of how cramped these sailors were on their long journeys. It was still a great experience, albeit I could have spent all day inside checking out details instead of the 15 minutes you are alloted. Overall I thought the exhibit was very impressive and well worth the time and effort to get there. The other nice thing is that the Museum is right by Lake Michigan and provides a great view of the Chicago skyline.

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