On June 4, 1944, the U-505 German submarine was captured off the coast of West Africa in a dangerous mission by the U.S. Navy.
In a top secret move, the U-505 was towed to Bermuda and its crew placed as isolated prisoners of war in Louisiana.
Sixty years ago, the U-505 was donated to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and placed outside the museum in an engineering feat that involved moving the enormous submarine across Lake Shore Drive.
Measuring 252-feet long, or the length of a city-block, the 750-ton sub is three times as heavy as the Statue of Liberty and three stories high.
Local historian Rod Sellers, who is a director at the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum housed at the Calumet Park Fieldhouse, noted that there is a collection of photographs from moving day available online at neiu.edu/~reseller/esu505albm.htm. The collection depicts the sub as it is pulled from a dock and prepared for the move to the museum.
“When we got the photos, they were just stuffed inside an envelope. I tried to line them up in what seemed like the correct sequence,” said Sellers, who has been involved with the museum for about 25 years.
“It was out of the water in sort of a U-shaped container that was floating. It ends with the submarine about to be off-loaded. They have iron rollers that they were going to roll it on, but the pictures don’t capture that,” Sellers said.
The U-505 has the obvious historical significance for Sellers, a retired teacher, but he also has fond memories of the first time when, as a youngster, he was able to go inside the sub before it became an exhibit. He was about 8 at the time, he said, and his friend's father was superintendent at Great Lakes Dredge and Dock company.
“One Saturday, his father went over to do some work in the office and took a few of us neighborhood kids over to play on the sub while it was in dry dock. I don’t remember a lot of specifics, but I remember it was quite an experience for a bunch of kids to go running around a sub.”
The submarine Sellers set foot on was much different from the restored version that you see in the Museum of Science and Industry today.
“It smelled and it was dirty, but it was a ball for a bunch of us kids to be on it,” Sellers said. He also remembers the enormity of the U-505 and how massive it seemed to him as a young boy.
“There were several ladders and in my 8-year-old mind it seemed like they were tremendously high,” he said.
It took a great effort and a lot of maneuvering to get the U-505 from the West African coast to Bermuda to Chicago to its permanent home at the museum.
Ten years ago, the submarine was relocated to a permanent underground climate-controlled exhibit space at the Museum of Science and Industry in efforts to preserve it following decades of damage caused by harsh Chicago weather.
It now serves as a memorial to the 55,000 American sailors who perished on the high seas during World Wars I and II.