HYDE PARK — Navy veterans gathered Wednesday at the Museum of Science and Industry to mark the 70th anniversary of the capture of the U-505 German submarine during World War II.
“It was a great experience, but I don’t know if I would ever do it again,” said Gordon Hohne, who was part of the team of sailors that jumped aboard the sub and captured it off the coast of West Africa in 1944.
The U-505 is the only German submarine captured by American forces during World War II.
The sailors who took over the sub have made a yearly pilgrimage to the U-505 since it arrived at the Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr. But this will be the last year they come en masse, as many of the sailors who were teens during the capture move into their 90s.
Hohne has been back to the sub many times since its capture, but this will be his last time at age 89.
He said he wanted his youngest grandson to get a chance to see where the surrendering Nazis jumped from the bow into six-foot waves.
“It was just nine of us,” Hohne said of the boarding crew dispatched from the U.S.S. Guadalcanal aircraft carrier in tiny boats. “You had to jump from the boat onto the sub and grab the railing.”
One man died, crushed between his boat and the 254-foot-long sub. Hohne, who guarded the deck and radioed back to the carrier, is now the last of eight who boarded the U-505 still alive.
“Our men went in there knowing there might be explosive charges, booby traps,” said Don Baker, 89, who watched the boarding crew from the deck of the Guadalcanal.
Baker said it was a moment of pride, the first time U.S. forces had captured an enemy vessel since 1815, but the sailors couldn’t boast.
“It had to be kept secret, no one could talk about it,” Baker said of the approximately 3,000 men involved in the capture that were sworn to secrecy. “The Germans never found out about it, not until after the war.”
About 20 veterans came to the submarine to somberly note their accomplishment during a private ceremony.
The museum is marking the anniversary with free admission through Friday.
Chief Petty Officers from the Great Lakes Naval Base, as well as former submariners, will be at the exhibit all week to talk about the submarine.
The museum will also screen “D-Day: Normandy 1944” in the Omnimax Theater through May, 21, 2015.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: