Just before Germany surrendered to the Allied powers, 67 men died in the Battle of Point Judith off the Rhode Island coast. Casualties included 55 German submariners and 12 American merchant mariners.
The German submarine, U-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 U-853 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 went to naval headquarters on the East Coast.
Four warships en route to Boston for shore leave then 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. 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.
The U-boat still lies at the bottom of the Atlantic. It has continued to claim lives as 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 then 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.
And in 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with a robotics company took photos of the German U-boat sunk in the Battle of Point Judith. They also created images of three other U.S. submarines sunk to test torpedoes.
To see the photos, click here.
This story about the Battle of Point Judith was updated in 2021.