Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Chicago's Other German U-Boat, the UC-97.

We're all familiar with the World War II Nazi Germany U-505 submarine which was captured by the U.S. Navy on June 4, 1944. The U-505 was donated to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago in 1954 and is still on public display.
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.
The UC-97 was one of six U-boats that the Navy received as part of the armistice agreement which ended WW I on November 11, 1918. The UC-97 crossed the Atlantic in the spring of 1919 to participate in a ceremony in New York City that honored the victims of submarine attacks during the war.
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.
From there it transited the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes until August when engine trouble laid it up at Municipal Pier, today's Navy Pier, in Chicago.
Inside a German WW I UC-Class Submarine.
The UC-97 spent the winter of 1920 on the North Branch of the Chicago River, where the U-boat received its post office address: Cherry Avenue and Weed Street (Today that would be at the north end of Goose Island, opposite the Whole Foods store on Kingsbury). 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.
In August of 1992 salvage partners Taras Lyssenko and Al Olson of A and T Recovery,  located the submarine. It drifted considerably from where it went down, and for years no one could locate it. The costs of raising and restoring the submarine, which some estimate to be near 50 million dollars, along with the shaky legal question of who would have the legal rights to the sub when raised, have kept it at the bottom of the lake.

Size Compairson
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.
The USS Seawolf, the Navy's latest generation, nuclear-powered attack submarine, is nearly twice as long and weighs more than 16 times as much as the UC-97, with a crew complement almost four times greater.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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