Monday, June 15, 2009


As I mentioned a few days ago, on Friday during our trip to Chicago we went to the Museum of Science and Industry in the Hyde Park neighborhood. The museum was having a day of no admission (except for special exhibits), so the place was jammed. While I was glad to get in without any cost in money, the cost was in having to deal with the crowd. Lynda and Charles wanted to see the Harry Potter special exhibit; I didn't. I've seen the five movies with Lynda, but haven't read any of the books whereas she's read all seven. I also had a problem with things so new being in a museum. Museums are for old stuff, not for things from a mere five to seven years ago, or less. So I avoided the Harry Potter exhibit.

So I used the time to see the U-505 exhibit. This is the World War 2 German U-boat that was captured intact by the US navy, towed to Bermuda and then on to the US east coast, where it was inspected, injected, dissected, folded, spindled, and mutilated.

The story of the capture is amazing, and well told in the exhibit. You begin with a television screen with Bill Curtis (of A&E channel fame) narrating a couple of minutes of the story, beginning with the havoc the U-boat wolf packs were having on our merchant marine fleet and crews. On the walls are various explanations of and expansions on what Curtis said. Then, just a few steps down the corridor was another TV monitor with the next few minutes of the story. At times the corridor opened into a room, giving more exhibits to go with the sequential narration. Once the narrations was done by "actors". I think these were really projected on a screen, but it had a 3-D appearance behind a sheer curtain.

Eventually you arrive at the main hall, where the sub resides. All around the walls and on the floor around the sub were exhibits, mainly of the workings of the sub and its weaponry, but also of its capture. This is the first submarine I've seen out of the water, and getting a look at the diving planes and the trim tank was great. This gave "flesh" to what I've read in several books.

I was also amazed at the torpedoes. Two rested on platforms next to the sub, one in cut-away view and one mostly intact. The innards of the torpedo were quite complicated: motor; batteries; gyros for navigation system; warhead (or gas canister for floating a test torpedo); structural frame; skin. An exhibit also showed how these critters were loaded and launched, also putting before my eyes what I've read in books.

On the way out, the exhibits covered the relocation of the sub to Chicago after the navy was through with it, and then the construction of the building wing to house it and actually moving the sub to the open building then closing the building over the sub. As I wrote before, this was quite an engineering feat and worthy of showing. Except, that happened in 2003, so I'll have to go back on my previous statement about museums showing only old stuff.

One part of the exhibit saddened me. The incredible complexity of the torpedoes demonstrated the huge effort that goes into making war. These fish are manufactured to tight tolerances. Each has a thousand parts. It's a huge effort to make each one. This sub carried about twenty of them, and with a couple of hundred U-boats in the fleet, that means about 4,000 torpedoes were being moved at any given time. Add in equal amounts of American, British, Russian, Japanese, and you have a massive industrial work all for the purpose of killing others. Then add to that the sub itself, and the cost to humanity is geometric. How sad.

Still, if you are ever in Chicago and have the time, go see this exhibit. It's well worth your time.

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