Former German Submarine: dp. 491 (surf.), 571 (subm.); l. 184 1/4'; b. 18 3/4'; dr. 12 1/2'; s. 11.5 k. (surf.), 6.6 k. (subm.); cpl. 32; a. 3 20" tt., 1 3.4", 6 mine tubes, 14 mines; cl. UC-90.
UC-97, a minelaying submarine, was laid down late in 1917 at Hamburg, Germany, by Blohm & Voss and launched on March 17, 1918. She was never commissioned in the Imperial German Navy because the armistice of November 11 ended hostilities before the submarine was ready for sea. She was surrendered according to the terms of the armistice and was probably interned at Harwich, England.
In any event, the United States Navy expressed an interest in acquiring several of the surrendered German submarines for display purposes in conjunction with a Victory Bond drive. Early in 1919, UC-97 and five other U-boats were allotted to the United States. Officers and sailors went to England in March and took possession of the boats on March 23. Soon thereafter, UC-97 was placed in special commission for the voyage to the United States, Lt. Comdr. Holbrook Gibson in command.
The American crew worked feverishly to prepare the submarine for the voyage across the Atlantic. However, faulty machinery kept UC-97's crew from completing their mission until she was well out to sea. Thus, when she put to sea with UB-88, U-117, and UB-148 on April 3, 1919, Bushnell (Submarine Tender No. 2) had to tow her. However, by late afternoon of her first day at sea, the U-boat's American crew succeeded in getting her diesel engines running; and, for the remainder of the voyage, she moved under her own power.
Her unit, which received the interesting name, Ex-German Submarine Expeditionary Force, steamed first to Ponta Delgada in the Azores and thence to Bermuda. From Bermuda, the four U-boats and Bushnell set course for New York City, where they arrived on April 27 after a rough voyage. At New York, the boats became the objects of interest to a horde of visitors. Reporters, photographers, and tourists joined Navy Department technicians and civilian submarine builders in swarming over and through UC-97 and the other boats. Soon, however, the U-boat received her itinerary for the Victory Bond campaign. Of the six regions into which the coastal areas and major waterways of the United States were divided, UC-97 drew the Great Lakes region. That assignment required her to negotiate the locks of the Canadian-controlled St. Lawrence canal system. UC-97's refusal to break with traditional practice on board a man-of-war and fly the Union Jack at the fore caused trouble at each Canadian port of call along the way. However, her commanding officer, Lt. Comdr. Charles A. Lockwood, Jr. - who later rose to fame in World War II as Commander, Submarines, Pacific Fleet - stuck to his guns and was later vindicated by Canadian naval officers who applauded his pertinacious observance of time-honored naval tradition.
Once she cleared the last locks and entered the Great Lakes, UC-97 began a whirlwind series of visits to American ports, large and small, along the littoral of Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron, and Michigan. Though scheduled to visit Lake Superior ports as well, the U-boat had to cut short its voyage because of wear on the engines. Thus, in August, 1919, she started back down the coast of Lake Michigan toward Chicago, where she arrived at the beginning of the last week of the month. At Chicago, her crew turned UC-97 over to the Commandant, 9th Naval District. She was laid up at the Great Lakes Naval Station until June 7, 1921 when she was taken out into Lake Michigan and sunk as a target during naval reserve gunnery drills [by the U.S.S. Wilmette, formerly known as the S.S. Eastland].
Source: DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN NAVAL FIGHTING SHIPS, Vol. VII, pp. 384-85.
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