With the distinction as the “most heavily damaged U-boat to successfully return to port,” the U-505, a German Type IXC submarine built during World War II was quite unfortunate throughout her career. It broke down several times, its commanding officer took his own life, and the US Navy Task Group captured it. Although its crew members protest against the moniker that it was unlucky, saying the boat had always brought them back, regardless.

The U-505 was laid down in Hamburg, Germany, on June 12, 1940. Throughout her career, she conducted 12 patrols and sank eight ships.

Misunderstanding

 On May 1941, Kapitänleutnant Axel-Olaf Loewe commissioned the boat. Everything was going well until July 22, 1942, when he misunderstood a command and shot off the mast of a sailing boat with no flag. The boat, which belonged to a Columbian diplomat, sank. After the incident, Columbia declared war with Germany while Loewe was relieved of his position and was replaced by Kptlt. Peter Zschech. He didn’t know what was coming his way.

The Suicide

Zschech had a good reputation as a commander, and expectations were high when he was given the U-505. In November 1942, U-505 was heavily damaged by an air attack in the Caribbean Sea. They were surprised by the low-level attack of the Lockheed Hudson maritime patrol aircraft, which successfully landed a 250 lb bomb directly on the deck from just above water level. The explosion killed one officer, wounded another, tore off the anti-aircraft gun on its mounting, and severely breached their hull. The boat was extremely damaged, and the repair took six months. Zschech attempted to take U-505 to sea, but his crew kept hearing strange noises six consecutive times, said to result from sabotage by French dockyard workers. So back into drydock she went.

In October 1943, the ship finally sailed again. However, she drew the attention of a pair of Allied destroyers and came under concentrated depth charge attack. It is said that Zschech had a mental breakdown, pulled his pistol, and took his life.

The Capture of the U-505

A boarding party from the US Navy destroyer escort USS Pillsbury (DE-133) working to secure a tow line to the bow of the captured German submarine U-505, 4 June 1944.

Oberleutnant zur See Harald Lange was the next commanding officer. In June 1944,  US Navy Task Group 22.3 got a radar hit 50 miles east followed by sound contact. It was, of course, the U-505. The USS Chatelain attacked first, forcing the submarine to resurface. The anti-aircraft gunners and machine gunners fired the U-505 before it was towed to Bermuda, and the remaining crew was detained at a US prisoner of war camp.

U-505 survivors
Survivors from U-505 climbing a ladder to board Guadalcanal. The National WWII Museum New Orleans

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