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Vince Staten: Amazing Chicago road sign has equally amazing story behind it

VINCE STATEN • Jun 6, 2013 at 11:41 PM

I’ve seen some odd, strange and unusual road signs in my life.

But the Most Amazing Road Sign I’ve ever seen was in Chicago last week.

Now to qualify as amazing, I think a road sign has to be real.

The Internet is full of fake photos:

Speed Limit

2x = (360/4) Solve for x

And …

Error 404

Road Not Found

I prefer the real thing. I’ve actually seen a “Bighorn Sheep Crossing” sign in Utah.

But the Most Amazing Road Sign I’ve seen was this one:




It’s real, it dates to 1954 and the story behind the sign is even more amazing than the sign itself.

In 1954, Lakeshore Drive in Chicago really was shut down for a short time while a submarine was transported across to the Museum of Science and Industry.

It was the legendary U-505, a German U-boat (German name for submarine) that was captured during World War II by an American Navy crew lead by Chicago native Capt. Dan Gallery.

Gallery was in charge of the Navy’s anti-submarine Hunter-Killer Task Group 22.3. The group’s mission was to hunt down U-boats and sink them.

But Gallery had another idea. He wanted to capture a U-boat and in preparation for that task, he created an elite boarding group that could land on an enemy U-boat before it could be scuttled.

In late May 1944, the Navy dispatched Task Group 22.3 to the central Atlantic, where intelligence indicated a group of U-boats was operating. And on the morning of June 4, 1944, two days before D-Day, the sonar operator on Capt. Gallery’s escort carrier Chatelain reported a ping some 800 yards off the starboard bow. It was the U-505 and the chase was on.

Soon there were three fighters in the air, each homing in on the target. Meanwhile, the Chatelain was firing Hedgehog mortars and following them up with depth charges.

Then came the message from the air, “Sub is surfacing!”

When water began flooding into the sub, U-505 commander Oberleutnant Harald Lange ordered his men to abandon ship and the 59 sailors came clamoring up through the conning tower.

An eight-man boarding party from the escort Pillsbury took off for the U-505. The men of the boarding party quickly closed the scuttling valves and reinstalled the sea strainer cap, gathering charts and code books as they disabled the detonators.

The U-505 had been captured, the first foreign man-of-war captured on the high seas in 132 years.

When the boarding party did a full sweep of the sub, they uncovered a treasure trove of intelligence, including two Enigma coding machines.

And here may be the most remarkable part of the operation. Capt. Gallery convinced his men of the need for secrecy and they went along with his order. The U-boat was towed secretly to the Bahamas, where it rode out the rest of the war. And the German prisoners were taken to Louisiana where they were sequestered from other POWs.

The Germans were told that their sub had been sunk and all aboard killed. And American and British intelligence officers could read secret German messages with impunity.

End of story, at least for 10 years. That’s when now-Admiral Gallery got the idea to bring the U-505 to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

And that’s when they blocked off Lakeshore Drive with that amazing sign: Drive Carefully — Submarine Crossing.

I saw the sub in the museum last week and tracked down the sign at a pub about a mile away. Not even the bartender had any idea what the sign meant until I told him the story.

So next time you are in Chicago, check out the submarine in the Science Museum. Then travel a mile or so west to the Woodlawn Tap in Hyde Park and check out the Most Amazing Road Sign Ever.

Contact Vince Staten at vincestaten@timesnews.net or via mail in care of this newspaper. Voicemail may be left at 723-1483. His blog can be found at vincestaten.blogspot.com.

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