Hunting New England Shipwrecks

U-Boat Facts and Legends

The Facts

Throughout World Wars I and II, German U-boats prowled the east coast of the United States and Canada in search of merchant and military ships. They sank numerous ships in World War I, but were a much more deadly threat during World War II. Early in World War II, they sank many vessels. But as time went by, the U.S. and its allies developed new equipment and techniques for foiling the U-boat attacks and destroying enemy subs. By 1944, the tables were turned, and the allies were sinking U-boats in large numbers and doing their best to protect merchant ships.

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There are three documented sinkings of German U-boats in the waters off New England during World War II. Below are some details on these sinkings.

The U-550 was sunk by US Navy destroyer escorts on April 16, 1944, after it torpedoed the American tanker Pan Pennsylvania, while traveling in a convoy. Twelve members of the U-550s crew, and 56 members of the Pan Pennsylvania's crew survived the incidents. Both the Pan Penn and the U-550 sank near each other, approximately 70 miles south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. The wrecks of these two vessels have both been located by divers in recent years, but at a depth of about 300 feet, they are off limits to most recreational divers. 

On May 5, 1945,  the U-853 torpedoed and sank the American collier Black Point off Newport, Rhode Island. When the Black Point was hit, the Navy immediately chased down the sub and began dropping depth charges. The next day, when an oil slick and floating debris appeared, they confirmed that the U-853 and its entire crew had been destroyed. In recent years, the U-853 has become a popular dive site. Its mostly-intact hull, with open hatches, is located in 130' of water off Block Island, Rhode Island.

And far to the east of Boston (about 200 miles), lies the wreck of the U-215. That boat was sunk by depth charges in 1942. The exact location of the U-215 wreck was unknown for many years, but in the summer of 2004, it was located and identified by a group of Canadian researchers. The wreck lies at a depth of 270 feet, in Canadian territorial waters.

When the war with Germany ended in May 1945, all German military vessels were ordered to surrender to allied forces. Soon after that order was given, a number of  U-boats patrolling our east coast surrendered to the U.S. and Canadian Navies. Since the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (at Portsmouth, New Hampshire) was the largest submarine base on the U.S. east coast, four subs were towed to Portsmouth to be studied by the Navy and await their fates. The subs surrendered at Portsmouth included the U-234, U-805, U-873 and U-1228. The U-505, captured earlier by the U.S. Navy, was later towed to Portsmouth to join the collection. 

The surrendered subs remained at Portsmouth for a year or two while they were examined by the Navy. Then eventually they disappeared from the yard. Navy records of their final dispositions are lacking in details, but indicate that they were towed out to sea and scuttled in deep water somewhere off the New England coast. The only one that stayed at Portsmouth was the U-505. It remained there until 1954, when it was towed through the Great Lakes to Chicago. There it became a permanent walk-through exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. Today the U-505 is the only German U-boat on exhibit in North America. 

One other U-boat surrendered off the U. S. east coast in May 1945. The U-858 surrendered at Fort Miles, DE and was later taken to the Philadelphia Naval Yard for study. According to Navy records, the U-858 was eventually scuttled in deep water somewhere off the New England coast. 

The Legends

Legends about German U-boat sinkings from Rhode Island to Maine are commonplace in New England. Over the years, a number of magazine articles, newspaper stories and Web pages have been written on the subject. None of these legends have ever been verified, but if all of them proved to be true, the coastline would be dotted with subs. It's very likely, however, that one or more of these legends is based on facts, and if that's the case, we may someday hear of an interesting discovery.

The Quest

With all these German U-boats reportedly sunk off the New England coast, the question on the minds of most divers is - where are they located? And the answer is - no one really knows. Most of the real ones are probably sunk way beyond the depth limits of scuba divers. But we'll never know for sure until someone finds them!


Links to Related Websites

Uboat.net (Excellent U-boat research site)
Map of East Coast U-boat Wrecks (from Uboat.net)
SeacoastNH.com (History of the Portsmouth U-boats)
Hazegray.org (Canada's surrendered U-boats)
Hitler's Lost Sub (NOVA - TV production)
U-505 (Museum of Science & Industry - Chicago)
U-505 Photo Gallery (on this website)
Surrendered U-boat (New York Times article)
Portraits of War (Portsmouth U-boat photos)
uboataces.com (U-boat photo gallery and more)
FortMiles.org (U-858 surrender report & pictures)


U-Boat Photo Gallery
Click on thumbnail images to see larger views
u805-portsmouth.jpg (36781 bytes) uboat-periscope2.jpg (46321 bytes)
The U-805 arrives in
Portsmouth Harbor
(Associated Press photo)
U-Boat periscope view
of an allied ship
(Author's collection)
Freighter sinks in N. Atlantic
torpedoed by U-boat
(Author's collection)
class-xxi-section.jpg (36566 bytes) uboat-periscope.JPG (19100 bytes) convoy2.JPG (19287 bytes)
Class XXI boat
under construction
(Author's collection)
U-boat commander
manning the periscope
(Author's collection)
Escorted convoy
crossing the Atlantic
(Author's collection)
germanwarposter1.JPG (25538 bytes) warposter4.JPG (20734 bytes)
German recruiting poster
for WW-II U-boat service
(Author's collection)
U-boat in heavy seas
(Author's collection)
U.S. Navy recruiting poster
World War II
(Mariners Museum)
depth-charges1.JPG (14570 bytes)
Sinking of U-853 in 1945
off Block Island, RI
(Author's collection)
Back of a dinner plate
from the U-853
(Photo by author)
Depth charging a U-boat
the fate of U-853
(Author's collection)
u-boat-torpload.JPG (34345 bytes) uboat-courierpost.jpg (387918 bytes) u-boatnight1.JPG (35299 bytes)
Loading a torpedo
compare to picture below
(Author's collection)
U-boat Graphic
(N.J. Courier-Post))
Sinking of a freighter
by a German U-boat
(Tom W. Freeman, Artist)
u853-torphatch-lee79.jpg (23353 bytes) u853-bow-lee.jpg (12443 bytes) u853-galleystove-lee69.jpg (27789 bytes)
U-853 torpedo loading hatch
compare to picture above
(Jim Lee deepscape.com)
diver explores bow
(Jim Lee deepscape.com)
U-853 galley stove
compare to picture below
(Jim Lee deepscape.com )
u505-illus-HiRez-MSI.jpg (354547 bytes) u505galley.jpg (23692 bytes)
U-505 captured in 1944
is now on exhibit in Chicago
(Museum of Science &
U-505 illustration
(Museum of Science & Ind.)
U-505 galley stove
compare to picture above
(Photo by author)
u-592-crewmen-1942-uboataces.com.jpg (84620 bytes) u-boat watch-crew-1943-uboataces.com.jpg (287732 bytes) uboat-prepping-torpedoes-uboataces.com.jpg (156550 bytes)
U-592 crewmen - 1942
U-boat watch crew
Crewmen prepping torpedoes
uboat-portsmouth-1945-nyt.jpg (244160 bytes) uboat-stalking-a-convoy-1943-uboataces.com.jpg (38570 bytes) u-boats-portsmouth-1945-portraitsofwar.wordpress.com.jpg (233272 bytes)
U-boat at Portsmouth
New York Times article
20 May 1945
Stalking a convoy -1943
Surrendered U-boats at
Portsmouth Naval Yard - 1945

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Copyright 2001 by Dave Clancy
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