Saturday, October 31, 2009

The fabulous shrinking submarine...

For those of you who don't know, the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago sports one of the neatest exhibits: An entire WWII German U-Boat, captured intact.

I shot my very first roll of film in that sub, on a school fieldtrip, using a little 126 Instamatic to snap Sylvania flash cube illuminated pictures of my classmate's backs while we took the tour. (Good photo composition being something somewhat beyond me in the first grade.)

Funny, I seem to recall the U-505 being a lot... well... roomier inside. Maybe the Jerries should have looked into using six-year-olds for sub crews in the interest of reducing claustrophobia. Given the loss rates the Kriegsmarine was taking by 1944, they were probably heading in that direction anyway...

I forgot my camera back at Roseholme Cottage, but they don't let you take pictures in the sub anymore, so it didn't much matter.


Don M said...

But Tam, you are fully 6 foot tall, in the top percentiles of German adults back then. Stop by an Aircraft Carrier. They have plenty of room.

So glad you are not one of those
"5 feet 12 inch" girls.

Ed Foster said...

The American Nuke misslesub at the Intrepid Museum is kinda the same way. I think it's still the only missle boat in the world you can walk around on.

They stacked cartons of canned food on the decks, so as the trips got closer to done, the amount of overhead increased dramatically.

I'm kind of suprised nobody's pulled the pintle pin on one of those Ma Deuce hanging over the side of the destroyer and walked off with a neat toy.

It also seems kind of wierd to see a Mig-15 and an SR-71 on a carrier deck, but I'm glad that they're there to drool over.

The hanger deck is to kill for, and also kind of humbling when you stand at the in-floor memorial where the Kamikaze hit.

Bruce B. said...

I hope you got through with your scalp unbruised.

I remember touring the U-505 with my family as a child. When I went back for an 8th grade field trip as one of the tallest in my class I kept braining myself on overhead obstacles that cleared everybody else.

Did you see the film on the capture of the U-505?

Turk Turon said...

The U-505 story is fascinating.

I'm sorry I missed it the last time I was in Chicago. I went to the Art Institute instead. But there are two things I must see the next time I'm in Chicago: the U-505 and Emma Goldman's grave.

Anonymous said...

No pictures? Did they have any rational reason for that?


rickn8or said...

"No pictures? Did they have any rational reason for that? "

It's POLICY, it doesn't need a reason.

Anonymous said...


I know the feeling of view as a kid vs. as an adult. For me it is the Pere Marquette 1225 steam engine. (hit the web if you are interested). As a kid it was something I played on, crawled around and messed with when I was at kindergarden.

I saw it this summer as an adult operating. I was amazed how much smaller it had become. Dang thing shrunk somehow. It was something huge. Now it is only about 400 tons and 16 ft tall. It sort of lost its size in the last 40 odd years.

I could still take pictures of it though. On my screen backdrop is my daughter standing next to the drivers. She barely makes it to the crank at 4th grade.

Linoge said...

There is definitely a reason I chose a floating tin can as opposed to a (intentionally) sinking tin can.

Even so, I could not manage to make it out without some interesting crown scars.

As for they UBoat, they did not call them "pig boats" for nothing, right? :)

Stranger said...

Locomotives should have side rods and valve gear. And preheaters. Although I'm more fond of Mallets than Berkshires.

No pix in U-505? What idiot made that rule? There's no technology worth stealing there. Besides, I have snaped pix of the 505 with a Speed Graphic and #2 Flashbulbs.

Height as an issue? When you grow up with your Dad's best friend taping 6'8" vertically, 60" around the chest, and 37" around the waist - anything less than 84 inches vertically is unremarkable. An 84" waist might be an issue, though.


Kristophr said...

Museums have started forbidding flash cameras because some items are damaged by excessive UV ... simply banning them is easier than expecting a museum guard or a photographer to think.

Since most idiots don't know how to disable the flash on their cameras ... the camera gets banned completely.

Retired Spook said...

I remember reading Adm. Daniel Gallery's book about the capture of the U-505, way back when. Seems it was the only time in the 20th Century the command "Away Boarders" was used. The book is long out of print, but if you can find a copy, it's very entertaining reading.

(He wrote several books, and I don't remember which one had the U-505 in it.)

Rabbit said...

My uncle served about the Trutta (SS-421). He's always been a big man, but he had to lose weight before they'd certify him at Groton.

I was a guest aboard the Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) about 7 months before she caught the Iranian mine. Positively spacious in comparison. I think I only hit my head once, and that was going down a deck too quickly.


Castr8r said...

One of the very few reasons for me to go back to the "Skunk Place" is to see the U-505 again. And if you've never read Dan Gallery's books- well, you're in for a treat!

BTW, one of my uncles served on a "can" during WW II. The last time I saw him (he's since passed on) I asked him if the destroyer was a 'ship' or a 'boat'. He got a startled look, then cracked up, saying he wasn't sure- he thought they'd been under water in heavy seas more than they'd been above!

Roberta X said...

At 5' 9", my ex is an inch shorter than me and nearly as skinny (or he was, it's been awhile; we did not part friends). When we saw U-505 some years back, we were at the back of our tour group. Past the control room, the guide was talking about the close quarters and said to him, "You're about average size -- hop up in that top bunk and show how small it is!" He hesitated but the guide told him to go ahead and there's not much room at all. He was careful getting out, so much so the guide of the next group saw him and began to chew him out. "You're not supposed to be up there!"
"But our guide told me to!"
"Dammit, I wish he'd stop doing that..."

Big fun.

That was before they enclosed the submarine. The exhibit they were touting at the time was the restored Silver Streak, which was faboo!

Joseph said...

I believe the book by Gallery was "Clear the Decks"...I have an old paperback somewhere...supposedly the U-505 is the only remaining (unsunk) type of that sub in existence. It is a pretty neat exhibit.

I recall an American submariner from WWII quoted as saying that submarines were designed around the machinery, and the crew "quarters" were an afterthought.

Ed Foster said...

November 12th, 1942, off Curacao NEI, my old man was on the USS Erie, PG50, a gunboat about the size of a DE but beamier, with ballast tanks so she could fire her 6 inch guns without rolling over.

He was on the after deck, crew chief for the floatplane (Erie was flagship for the Mosquito Fleet out of the Panama Canal), and he got the urge to go below and grab a hamburger. He was reaching for it when the torpedo hit the avgas tanks under his battlestation.

A hell of a story to go with what came after, and every time we were transferred he was usually written up in the paper as the most decorated man on base.

He was home on survivor's leave when he met my mother, so I guess I owe my birth to the U-boat that got the Erie. Maybe I should check the U-505 out.

RHT447 said...

I read Adm. Gallery as a young lad as well. Wonderful stuff, hilarious true stories with the names changed to protect the guilty.

I also remember a news clip (maybe from when the U-505 exhibit first opened?) with both Gallery and the U-505 captain present. Gallery had kept the captain's binoculars as a souvenir. In the clip, Gallery returned the binoculars to the captain, saying with a smile something to the effect of "In war, you can lose your boat and they'll give you another one, but lose a set of binoculars, and they'll hound you forever!"

WV = lionisid. Hmmm..I believe id is.

Anonymous said...

Admiral Gallery wrote several books. While "Clear the Decks" does contain info on the capure of the U-505,it also contains a lot of other "sea stories."

His book "U-505" is just about the sub and his capture.

I believe he also wrote a book called "Now hear this." All are worth reading, but "U-505" is the best for info specifically on the 505.

Btw, the new exhibit showcasing the U-505 is great. If anyone hasn't seen it since it was restored and moved, it is worth going back. It's a whole different experience now that you can see the exterior much better.


Bob@thenest said...

"U-505" is available at; I just ordered a copy. It's been many years since I went through the sub in Chicago, but I remember it well..

Bob said...

All of Admiral Gallery's books can be found in his Wikipedia entry. Most of us who have been in the Navy have read at least one of them; I've read most of them, myself. The fiction books are great fun, being humorous books of sea stories that mostly revolve around the antics of BM1 "Fatso" Gioninni. The Brink is a fictionalised account of what might have happened to USS Scorpion, and would have made a good movie.

RevGreg said...

I had the same experience with the USS Torsk in Baltimore. Stick one leg through the manway, sit on the frame of the door, duck and squeeze my upper body through and then bring my trailing leg through. Not built to be a WWII submariner, that's for sure!

Anonymous said...

The technology museum in Speyer, Germany also has a U-boat you can go through. When I was there last (1994) I had the thing to myself and could poke around to my heart's content. It was cozy, and I'm only 5'2". The engine room of the USS Houston was also a bit snug, as I recall. Not that I would ever poke around the interesting bits of the Houston. No, wasn't me. I stayed right where I was supposed to. Really.

perlhaqr said...

My father had all of Adm. Gallery's books. Funny stuff. I recall laughing so hard the first time I read one of them (I think it was the story about "Curly" Cue and the boys flying inverted, and getting a confused PBY to try and match their attitude) that I nearly got thrown out of the school library. I think the librarian would have been madder about the noise in the Sanctum, except she looked a bit concerned that I might hurt myself.

Ken said...

Kristopher, thanks for the input. Photography is still allowed on USS COD (SS-224), and the volunteers there are so top-notch I would hate to contribute to the deterioration of the boat. I'll make sure the flash is shut off.

My sons and I go, at minimum, on Labor Day weekend (when the Cleveland Air Show is on, and the WWII reenactors are at the COD) every summer. I could spend days crawling around in there.

For anyone reading this and finding themselves in Cleveland in the summer, USS COD is open from about Memorial Day through Labor Day. There is also a Lakes ore boat, the WILLIAM H. MATHER, within an easy walk and staffed by excellent volunteers (and they have a neat model of USS WOLVERINE in the display area, converted from one of the holds).

Anonymous said...

When I went thru that sub in 1969 I bought a piece of the metal they had cut out for the door. It's roughly 2" x 2" and 1/2" thick. It's easy to tell which side faced out; it's badly pitted.

By the way Tam, have you read Georg von Trapp's memoirs of his service in the Austro-Hungarian navy during WWI? His granddaughter recently translated it from the German into English. Ever wonder how a naval captain owned a spread like he and Maria enjoyed with the children in The Sound of Music?

TOTWTYTR said...

No pictures? Must be the PATRIOT Act. I blame George Bush.

Gewehr98 said...

Spent lots of time as a young pup crawling through U-505 at the Museum of Science and Industry. That was before they restored her, and the smell of diesel fuel permeated the entire boat.

I do have pics somewhere, but they were Polaroids, and Gawd knows whether they've since aged gracefully.

Don't forget to visit the Shedd Aquarium next time you visit Mordor on Lake Michigan, Tam.

Ian Argent said...

Many low-end cameras have no way of disabling the on-board flash.

Nonetheless, a "No FLASH photography" sign would work just fine...

markm said...

Anonymous 2:51 pm: The "von" in von Trapp meant he was a nobleman, and this was back when that meant something. Noble titles traditionally came with large estates, which provided the main support for the nobility. They also traditionally came with an obligation to serve in the military. So von Trapp didn't buy that estate out of his naval officer's pay, he inherited it - but his service was a kind of continuing payment for it.

markm said...

A couple of weeks ago, I toured the USS Blueback with my son and his kids. This is an exhibit at OMSI in Portland, OR. It was the last diesel-electric sub commissioned in the US Navy. That makes it nearly twice the size of the U505 and considerably more advanced, but it's still pretty cramped.