This is the story of Chicago's other U-Boat, the UC-97. On June 7, 1921, the first explosive shells fired on the Great Lakes since Admiral Perry tangled with the British on Lake Erie in September of 1813 was directed toward the German U-Boat UC-97, sinking it in Lake Michigan about 20 miles east of Fort Sheridan, Illinois.
Due to Engine problems, the UC-97 would be escorted from New York to Halifax, Canada by USS Bushnell (AS-2), and then handed off to the naval tugboat USS Iroquois (AT-46) for the remainder of its journey to the mouth of the Canadian controlled St. Lawrence canal system. It is through this system that UC-97 would reach the Great Lakes.
|WWI German subs, UB-88, UB-148, & UC-97, surrendered to allies, 1919.|
|Surrendered German U-boats are at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, April 29, 1919.|
|Inside a German WW I UC-Class Submarine.|
For a time, the Navy considered a more permanent, and dry change of address, perhaps giving the submarine to the Field Museum or putting it in Lincoln or Grant Park. Ultimately, the Navy decided that the terms of the armistice treaty required sinking its prize. The UC-97 was in no condition to go very far, so she was towed out into Lake Michigan to be used as a target on June 7, 1921, by the Navy reserve vessel USS Wilmette.
Ironically, the gunboat that sank the German U-Boat was the USS Wilmette (which was a gunboat training ship for naval reservists) which was refitted from the Great Lakes passenger steamer, the SS Eastland, on which 844 people lost their lives when it turned over in the Chicago River on July 24, 1915.
The Navy made a big production out of sinking the UC-97. The first shot from one of Wilmette’s four 4-inch guns was fired by Gunner’s Mate J. O. Sabin, who had been credited with firing the first U.S. Navy shot in the Atlantic during WWI. The last shot was fired by Gunner’s Mate A. H. Anderson, who had fired the first torpedo at a U-boat during the war. After being hit by 13 4-inch rounds of 18 fired, the UC-97 sank. The famous ship was then immediately forgotten, for decades.
|Photo of UC-97 as viewed in the monitor during the recovery expedition.|
The UC-97 measured 185 feet in length, weighed 491 tons while surfaced, and had a crew of 32. By comparison, the U-505 manufactured some 20 years later, was 252 feet long, weighed 1,120 tons, and had a crew of 59.
|World War II Nazi Germany U-505 submarine.|
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.