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The U.S. Navy Repsonds

Unleashing the Hunter-Killers

By 1943, the tide began to turn against the German U-boats due to Allied advances in antisubmarine intelligence, electronic tracking and attack aircraft. The U.S. Navy decided it was time to hunt down U-boats one by one. The U-boats were so elusive, no single ship could do the job, so the U.S. Navy organized special antisubmarine escort ships and dispatched them in units called Hunter-Killer Task Groups.

In May 1944, Hunter-Killer Task Group 22.3 was formed. It consisted of a small aircraft carrier escort named the USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60) and five light destroyer escorts. By pooling their technologies and going on the offensive, Task Groups like 22.3 turned the tables on the U-boats. The hunters became the hunted.

The Task Group in Action

The lead ship of Task Group 22.3 was the antisubmarine escort carrier USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60). Her fighter planes and torpedo bombers were responsible for fanning out and hunting for U-boats beyond the range of Allied land-based planes. Speed and altitude enabled the fighter planes to search many more square miles of ocean than a ship could alone.

Pilots used their eyes to scan the seas for U-boats during the day and relied on radar at night. They also dropped sonobuoys, underwater equipment used to listen for submerged U-boats. When a pilot located a U-boat, he instinctively dove down and fired into the water to mark its position. The Task Group destroyers could then launch explosive underwater depth charges at the submarine.

The Destroyer Escorts

Supporting USS Guadalcanal in Hunter-Killer Task Group 22.3 were five destroyer escorts:

  • USS CHATELAIN  (DE-149)
  • USS FLAHERTY (DE-135)
  • USS JENKS (DE-665)
  • USS PILLSBURY (DE-133)
  • USS POPE (DE-134) 

Destroyer escorts were lighter, smaller, faster and more maneuverable than conventional, heavily armored destroyers—perfect for hunting and attacking the elusive U-boats. Each "Tin Can", as U.S. sailors fondly called them, was equipped with radar to locate surfaced U-boats. Submerged U-boats could be detected using sonar and hydrophones.

Destroyer escorts had guns and torpedoes for attacking surfaced U-boats, small hedgehog bombs that exploded when they hit submerged U-boats, and powerful underwater depth charges that could be set to explode at specific depths. U-boat captains did everything in their power to avoid the destroyer escorts.

Captain Dan Gallery

The U.S. Navy selected Captain Daniel V. Gallery, Jr. to be commander of the Hunter-Killer Task Group 22.3. He had the perfect background for the job.

In September 1943, Gallery returned to the U.S. and was appointed commander of USS Guadalcanal. In January 1944, he led USS Guadalcanal in Task Group 21.12, which sank three German Submarines: U-544, U-515, and U-68.

"I Think We Can Capture a U-Boat"

During his last antisubmarine patrol with Task Group 21.12, Gallery began to think it might be possible to capture a U-boat. It would be a monumental feat and provide the Allies with secret German naval technologies including U-boat torpedo guidance systems, communication codes and the attack tactics used by U-boats.

Upon returning to the U.S. in April of 1944, Gallery ordered each ship in the Task Group to prepare a plan for capturing, boarding and towing a U-boat. The boarding parties began their training exercises immediately, though there were many unknowns in preparing for something that had never been done before.

In May of 1944, the Hunter-Killer Task group 22.3, with Gallery in command, set sail into the Atlantic with authorization to capture a U-boat, if possible.