Rhode Island

Flashback Photo: The Battle of Point Judith

Just before Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allied powers, 67 men were killed in the Battle of Point Judith off the coast of Rhode Island. Casualties included 55 German submariners and 12 American merchant mariners.

Sailors aboard USS Moberly firing on U-853.

Sailors aboard USS Moberly firing on U-853.

The Nazi  submarineU-853,  was harassing  U.S. ships off the New England coast in May 1945. Previous U.S. efforts to hunt her down were so elusive she was nicknamed Moby Dick. U-853 was on her third patrol and had already sunk a U.S. Navy vessel, the USS Eagle Boat 56.  Only 13 of the crew of 67 survived the attack.

As World War II came to a close, orders were given to all German submarines and naval ships to return home. U-853 either didn't get the message or ignored it.

Battle of Point Judith

The Battle of Point Judith began on May 5, when she torpedoed the SS Black Point, a ship carrying coal to Boston, at Point Judith on the western side of Narragansett Bay. Black Point capsized within 15 minutes. Twelve men died, while 34 made it into lifeboats and were rescued by the SS Kamen, a Yugoslavian freighter. It was the last ship sunk by a U-boat in U.S. waters.

News of the attack was relayed to naval headquarters on the East Coast.

The crew of U-853

The crew of U-853, which lost the Battle of Point Judith

Four warships en route to Boston for shore leave headed toward Point Judith, arriving at 7:30 pm. Coast Guard cutters, frigates, a destroyer and two blimps joined in the search-and-destroy mission.

At first the U-boat tried to flee, then it tried to hide by lying still in 18 fathoms of water. Sonar detected the submarine’s bearings, and the crews of the USS Atherton and the USS Moberly dropped depth charges and hedgehogs over the spot where they thought they'd found the U-853.

They hit their target around midnight, and 55 German sailors perished with the vessel.

Aftermath

The U-boat still lies at the bottom of the Atlantic. It has continued to claim lives, as it is a popular, but dangerous, site for divers.

In 1960, a recreational diver brought up one of the bodies. That prompted clergy and former navy admirals to ask the U.S. government for restrictions on disturbing war dead. The government declared the site a war grave, and buried the German submariner with full military honors in Newport, R.I. Every year, a small service is held at Point Judith for the men who died.

The commander of the USS Atherton, Lewis Iselin, found a new career as a renowned sculptor living in Camden, Maine.

This story about the Battle of Point Judith was updated in 2018.

 

 

 

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Molly Landrigan

    Molly Landrigan

    May 6, 2014 at 10:19 am

    What a shame! I never knew this.

  2. Jeanne Gale

    May 7, 2015 at 10:57 am

    This happened 4 years before I was born, in my backyard. This is the first time I have ever heard of this. We are not passing on our history to well!

  3. peter lydon

    July 1, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    I was told that a plaque exists commemorating the battle some where in Point Judith. If some one knows of it’s whereabouts or existence, I would be grateful

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