Nov 10

Wrangling a Runaway U-Boat

Tuesday, November 10, 2015 12:01 AM


Captain Daniel Gallery (left) stands with Lieutenant (j.g.) Albert David, who received the Navy Cross for his role in the in-tact capture of U-505. (National Archives)

Captain Daniel Gallery (left) stands with Lieutenant (j.g.) Albert David, who received the Medal of Honor for his role in the intact capture of U-505. (National Archives)

One of the U.S. Navy’s most celebrated feats of World War II was the 4 June 1944 capture of U-505, complete with enigma machines, codebooks, and bags of official communications. Much of the credit goes to Captain Daniel V. Gallery, commander of Task Group 22.3—a “hunter-killer” group composed of his flagship, the escort carrier Guadalcanal (CVE-60), and five destroyer escorts. After TG 22.3 sank U-515 on 9 April 1944, Gallery planned to capture the next U-boat he encountered and ordered that each of his group’s ships organize boarding parties.1

What follows is an excerpt from Captain Gallery’s account of seizing U-505.2

We hunted for this fellow about four or five days and nights, had numerous indications that a submarine was nearby, such as disappearing radar contacts, noisy sonar buoys, TAG bearings, but we never did sight this fellow and we were finally about to give up the hunt. As a matter of fact for all practical purposes we had given it up and were on our way to Casablanca but were keeping fighter planes in the air so serve as escort and also on the outside chance we might still find the fellow, when on June 4th, Sunday morning, at about 11:10, 150 miles west of Cape Blanco in French West Africa, the Chatelain [DE-149] reported that she had a possible sound contact.

Within a half-minute she reported contact evaluated as U-boat and in accordance with the doctrine of our task group, without further orders from me, she and the two destroyers nearest to her started the attack while the Guadalcanal and my other two escorts turned away from the contact. The Chatelain, having the sound contact, was the attacking ship and the Pillsbury [DE-133] and Jenks [DE-665] were assisting ships. ComCortDivFour, Commander Hall, was in the Pillsbury and as ComCortDivFour was in tactical command at the scene of the attack.3

As soon as the Chatelain’s report came into the combat information center on the Guadalcanal we vectored our fighting planes over to the Chatelain. All ships and aircraft guarded the same radio frequency so the fighters that heard the report were already on the way. The fighters sighted the sub running fully submerged.

The Chatelain’s first attack with hedgehogs apparently was ineffective and at this point the sub sighted the task force, fired one acoustic torpedo, and reversed course. This temporarily shook off the Chatelain, but our fighters saw the sub reverse course, and being on the same radio frequency with the Chatelain, told her what was happening, coached her to reverse course too and then coached her on a collision course with the sub.

She very soon picked up the sub again with her sound gear and following the indications of the sound gear and of the fighter planes in the air, she made a depth charge attack firing a full pattern which rolled the sub on her beams end under the water. The fighter planes immediately reported, “Chatelain you struck oil, sub is surfacing.” Then in a few seconds the sub broke surface and found herself practically in the center of a group consisting of the Chatelain, Pillsbury, and Jenks.

These ships and the two aircraft immediately opened fire on the submarine with anti-personnel ammunition. The planes fired .50-caliber guns, the destroyers fired 20-mm and 40-mm guns and some 3-inch shells of high explosives rather than armor piercing.

The Nazis scrambled overboard as fast as they could. They attempted to man the guns but there was just too much stuff flying and they went overboard pretty fast. As soon as it was apparent that most of them had gone overboard, Commander Hall . . . issued the order, “Cease firing,” “Away boarding parties.”

The Jenks, Pillsbury, and Chatelain all put boats in the water, and Commander Hall then ordered the Jenks and the Chatelain to pick up survivors while the Pillsbury would board the sub.

Lieutenant David’s boarding party (bottom right) approaches the unmanned but still running U-boat. (National Archives)

Lieutenant David’s boarding party (bottom right) approaches the unmanned but still moving U-boat. (National Archives)

The sub was left running at about 10 knots with her rudder jammed hard right and in just about full surface trim. The Pillsbury’s boat had to chase the sub and cut inside the circle to catch her, which she did, and the boarding party, consisting of eight enlisted men and Lieutenant (j.g.) Albert Leroy David, leaped from the boat to the circling sub and took possession of it.

On the deck there was one dead man. They didn’t know what was down below. They had every reason to believe, from the way the sub was still running, that there were still Nazis left below engaged in scuttling, setting booby traps or perhaps getting rid of confidential gear. At any rate David and two enlisted men, one named Knispel, the other Wdowiak, plunged down the conning tower hatch carrying hand grenades and machine guns ready to fight it out with anyone they found below.4 They very definitely put their lives on the line when they went down the hatch. However, they found no one below.

The did find that water was pouring into the U-boat through a bilge strainer about eight inches in diameter which had the cover knocked off, and that all the vents were open and the boat was rapidly flooding. When they found there was no one else below they called the other boarders below and went to work closing vents. They found the cover to this bilge strainer, slapped it back in place, screwed up the butterfly nuts on it and checked the flooding, just in the nick of time.

As an Avenger from the Guadalcanal passes overhead, the U-505 is perilously low in the water. Inside, sailors feverously worked to stop the flooding. (National Archives)

As an Avenger from the Guadalcanal passes overhead, U-505 is perilously low in the water. Inside, sailors feverously worked to stop the flooding. (National Archives)

In the meantime another boarding party, from the Guadalcanal, arrived under the command of Commander Earl Trosino, chief engineer of the Guadalcanal, and took charge of the salvage operations. At this time the sub was so low in the water that to prevent the swells from washing down the conning tower hatch they had to close the hatch on the people who were working below. Those people down below wouldn’t have had any chance whatsoever to escape in case the sub had gotten away from us.

The Pillsbury meanwhile was attempting to come alongside and take the sub in tow. She sent a message to the sub to stop the engines so she could get alongside. However, when they pulled the switches and stopped the engines, the stern of the sub sank so far in the water that it looked like she was going to up end and sink so they had to throw the switches to full speed ahead again to get the lift of the stern planes to keep the stern up, and the sub circled some more.

The Pillsbury then tried to come alongside while she was still circling, actually did get alongside and get a line aboard but, of course, with the sub circling she couldn’t hold her position very well and the two ships swung together, and the bow flippers of the submarine ripped a long underwater gash in the side of the Pillsbury and flooded two main compartments. So the Pillsbury had to back clear.

Incidentally, while the Pillsbury was chasing the sub, from the bridge of the Guadalcanal it looked for all the world like a cowboy trying to rope a wild horse in a rodeo. And when she finally got her first line aboard, I broadcasted on the TBS, “Ride ’em cowboy.”

Boarding party sailors secure a line to the bow of the U-boat, which would be towed to Bermuda. (National Archives)

Boarding party sailors secure a line to the bow of the U-boat, which would be towed to Bermuda. (National Archives)

Well, the Pillsbury finally had to back clear and sent a message saying that the sub had to be towed to remain afloat but she didn’t think a destroyer could do it. So I sent back and told the destroyers to stand clear that I’d take her in tow myself.

So we maneuvered the Guadalcanal into position. I had them stop the engines on the sub and pulled up as quickly as we could, shoved our stern up against her [the U-boat’s] nose, got a tow line aboard and got her going again.


  1. Samuel Eliot Morison, The Atlantic Battle Won: May 1943–May 1945, vol. 10, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1956), 282, 290.
  2. CAPT Daniel V. Gallery, USN, “Capture Nazi Submarine U-505,” recorded 26 May 1945, World War II Oral Histories, Interviews and Statements, RG 38, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD.
  3. CDR Frederick S. Hall commanded Escort Division Four.
  4. Torpedoman Third Class Arthur W. Knispel and Radioman Third Class Stanley E. Wdowiak.


To learn more about U-505, which is a featured exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, click here

To read about the Navy’s Battle of the Atlantic “Hunter-Killer” groups, click here

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