America’s U-boat

I’m struck by how narrow the sub is inside—and how efficiently the small space was used. A peek into the bunk-lined torpedo room reveals that some crewmembers slept just inches away from the boat’s deadly ammo. Of the two tiny bathrooms, one doubled as food storage, and there was no place for the men to bathe. There were 59 men aboard the U-505 during its final patrol; I’m claustrophobic in my tour group of 12.

Compared to most German subs, though, the U-505 is the luxury sedan of U-boats—a Type IXC. It was designed for long, solitary journeys, not the wolf pack hunts often associated with submarines, and so the interior is a bit roomier than that of the average U-boat. Though the U-505’s record was unremarkable, the Type IX was one of the Kriegsmarine’s most successful models: Type IXs constitute 8 of the 10 most successful U-boats of all time. This submarine was once a ruthless and efficient killing machine—which must have made seizing the U-505 all the more satisfying for the Americans who took it down. That was a turning point: the moment the obscure became known. I can understand why Gallery felt such drive to preserve it; he called the captured U-boat “a unique symbol of victory at sea.” It is his, and Chicago’s, war trophy.

I linger at the end of the exhibit, still spellbound by this powerful weapon and the fantastic voyage that brought it here. I find I’m not the only visitor who’s found it hard to leave. Clearly the boat’s final lucky break was lucky for us as well.

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