Saturday, June 7, 2014

Chicago's OTHER Submarine -- June 7, 1921

On this date, June 7, in 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 about 20 miles east of Fort Sheridan.

The UC-97 was one of six U-boats that the Navy received as part of the armistice agreement that ended World War I.  It 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.  From there it transited the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes until August when engine trouble laid it up at what is today Navy Pier in Chicago.  [Chicago Tribune, January 28, 1998]

The submarine was an immediate hit.  A sign that read “Welcome UC-97” was even hung at City Hall.  Visitors were allowed aboard, passing a disclaimer as they boarded that said . . .

The Navy Department assumes no responsibility for the safety of persons coming aboard this vessel.  Visitors may take their own risks.  Visitors are cautioned not to touch any valves or gear.  To do so might have fatal results and might even cause the sinking of the submarine.  Smoking below decks is extremely dangerous and forbidden.  Children not allowed.

The UC-97 on the North Side (A&T
During the winter of 1920 the submarine was tied up on the North Branch of the Chicago River at Cherry Avenue and Weed Street.  Today that would be at the north end of Goose Island, opposite the Whole Foods store on Kingsbury.  Although some thought was given to displaying the UC-97 in a park or at a Chicago museum, the Navy ultimately decided that terms of the armistice treaty required the destruction of the boat.

Historical ironies and connections abounded as the steamship Hawk towed the U-boat into position off Fort Sheridan.  The gunboat with the four-inch guns that sank the German boat was the Wilmette, an old Great Lakes passenger ferry, formerly the U. S. S. Eastland, on which over 800 people lost their lives when it turned over in the Chicago River in July of 1915.

Keeping watch, more or less (A&T
On board the Wilmette the man who fired the first shot at the UC-97 was Gunners’ Mate J. O. Sabin of Muscatine, Iowa, the man who four years earlier had fired the first Navy shell of the war from the S. S. Jupiter.  Gunners’ Mate A. H. Anderson fired the shell that sent the UC-97 to the bottom.  He had launched the first torpedo of the war at another German submarine.  [Chicago Tribune, June 8, 1921]

In August of 1992 salvage partners Taras Lyssenko and Al Olson located the submarine, but 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.

No comments: