Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Museum Unveils Captured Submarine Exhibit


By Deanna Bellandi
June 06, 2005

CHICAGO -- A captured World War II German submarine that's been a crowd favorite for more than 50 years at the Museum of Science and Industry has resurfaced inside a $35 million exhibit. Visitors who remember the sub from school field trips will hardly recognize the 700-ton U-boat, except for its lingering musty sub smell. The U-505, the only German submarine captured by the
U.S. Navy during World War II, has undergone a massive restoration and been relocated to a 35,000-square-foot, climate-controlled underground space.

Since its arrival at the museum in 1954, the sub had been outside, exposed to the harsh Chicago summers and even harsher winters. Visitors could enter its cramped quarters to see the controls and bunks, but their only view of the sub's exterior was through small windows.

Now, a walkway encircles the 252-foot sub, and the U-boat is bathed in a blue light as if its dark gray hull is sliding through the water.

David Mosena, who runs the museum, said the display is meant to be dramatic, especially for people who have seen the U-505 before — it has had 24 million visits over five decades — and think they know what to expect.

"You've never seen this before," Mosena said.

The exhibit, which opened Sunday, takes visitors on a trip through history, starting with reproductions of newspapers that announce the start of World War II and ending with the U.S. Navy's capture of the U-505 off the coast of Africa in June 1944.

Two galleries that visitors pass through before reaching the sub use high-tech wizardry to re-create the drama of the day. Video projections of actors depict a scene from the Navy's secret submarine tracking room in one gallery. In the other, authentic film footage shows the capture.

The drama leads visitors to a close-up look at the sub, giving them a sense of what the sailors might have felt when they first saw the U-505 rise from the water. The capture was made by the Navy's USS Guadalcanal Task Group 22.3, led by Capt. Daniel V. Gallery, a Chicago native.

While a walk around the sub gives visitors a chance to appreciate its girth, a visit inside shows off the tight quarters shared by the 59 crew members. The bunks have rough wool blankets and blue gingham sheets and pillowcases. In the kitchen, a stove illuminated from below appears hot to the touch. The guts of the ship are crowded with knobs, pipes and lighted dials, leaves squeezing around pipes and through some passages the only way to get around the inside.

As visitors tour the interior, an audio track re-creates the sounds the crew might have heard, from men's voices to the sounds of the engines running and depth charges.

"It makes it even more real" Mosena said.

One of the submarine's guns has been left off the U-boat so people can see it up close, and a periscope is in a display case because the ceiling isn't high enough to accommodate it.

Outside the sub are interactive exhibits that let visitors decode messages such as those sent by the Enigma code machine the German forces used to scramble communications. Guests can also pretend they are in the sub's control room and experience life onboard in a re-creation of the crews' quarters.

Getting the sub into its new space was no easy task. The old exhibit closed in January 2004, and it took two weeks to move the U-505 on remote-controlled dollies 1,000 feet around the museum to its new home. The roof was installed only after the sub moved in.

Keith Gill, the U-505 curator, spent part of one of the remaining days before the exhibit opened Sunday assembling a World War II torpedo to be displayed in a case.

To Gill, the sub exhibit has turned out better than he expected.

"I knew it was going to be a great thing ... but I never imagined this," he said.

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