US Navy Hero Who Captured German Submarine U-505 Dies

U-505 shortly after being captured
U-505 shortly after being captured

Wayne Pickels was the name of a sailor who helped to capture a U-boat in 1944. Aboard the German submarine, U-505, Pickels and the crew feared they may go down with the ship. The Germans were prepared to sink the submarine using timed explosives in the event an enemy boarding.

Although the German submarine was sinking quickly at the time of boarding, Pickels and his team managed to board anyway and save the vessel. Not only that, but they managed to find the device used by the Nazis during WWII to send encrypted messages. There was much else on the vessel which helped the Allies in their efforts toward intelligence gathering as well, but the encryption device, known as the Enigma machine, was by far the most important find.

Seventy years later, Pickels was the only one of his crew who was still left alive. That changed on March 18th, when he passed away at 91 years of age. Earlier in his life, Pickels had attended the Southwest Texas State Teachers College. He made this move to San Marcos after having gone to Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio, and it was early in his collegiate career in 1941 that the attacks on Pearl Harbor occurred, inspiring many Americans to join the war effort, the MYSA San Antonio reports.

Pickels was among those Americans, and joined the Navy before graduating college. He had no idea what he would later do on the German submarine U-505, only knowing that he wanted to help in the fight for freedom. He and a friend tried to hitchhike to a recruiting office in Florida, but were told by the teacher who drove them that they had to tell their parents in San Antonio first. Pickels found his father to be much more accepting than he had worried, telling him simply to do his best.

Pickels went back to school long after the incident with the German submarine. Having met his wife on leave, he became an electrician and spent thirty-five years in that capacity before being promoted to manager of Westinghouse Electric. He and his wife toured the United States following his retirement, granting him the opportunity to see the German submarine once again when they saw the U-505 at the Museum of Science and Industry. Now that Pickels has passed on, there are no surviving members of the crew that brought the Enigma machine home to the Allies, marking a turning point for the intelligence side of the war.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE