We Value Your Privacy

This site uses cookies to improve user experience. By continuing to browse, you accept the use of cookies and other technologies.


An Interview with Charles Lachman, Author of Codename Nemo

His new book focuses on the hunt for a Nazi U-boat.

photo of Charles Lachman and the u-boat u-505
  • camera-icon
  • Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Charles Lachman.

One of this summer’s most anticipated releases is Codename Nemo, available now. This thrilling book tells the true story of the capture of U-505, a Nazi U-boat, and the secretive mission to crack its Enigma machine and decipher coded Nazi messages. Author Charles Lachman takes us into the heart of the action in his “exciting account of a daring military maneuver” (Publishers Weekly).

We had the opportunity to ask Charles Lachman several questions about the book and his experience writing it. Keep reading to discover his insight, then download the book!

As the executive producer of television news program Inside Edition, how did you come to write history books?

It’s not too much of a stretch that the executive producer of a TV news magazine show would also write history books. After all, it’s said that print journalism is the first draft of history and the same holds true for TV news. I’ve always been fascinated by history. I’ve written about Lincoln and the politics of the Gilded Age, but researching Codename Nemo has really hooked me on World War II.

You first encountered the saga of U-505 at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, where the actual U-boat is on display. What did you learn there, and how did you realize you had a bigger story on your hands?

Witnessing this exhibit is an extraordinary experience. At first, you can’t believe a Nazi U-boat from World War II is on display all these decades later in a museum in Chicago. I was intrigued by the story of how this came to be. The first step was to read all the previous books about U-505. Most were dry and technical. I thought there was room for a fresh take that looked at the U-505 seizure from a “people” point of view. The museum was gracious enough to give me access to its archives where I found the reminiscences of the U.S. sailors who participated in the raiding party. Several German sailors from U-505 also sat for interviews in 1999. As I conducted this deep dive I realized the full story of U-505 had yet to be told in a compelling work of narrative non-fiction.

What was the most surprising fact you learned in your research?

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous battle of World War II. It started in 1939 and didn’t end until Nazi Germany’s surrender in 1945. The U-boat menace threatened to turn the tide of war in favor of Germany. Fortunately, the Allies figured out how to eliminate the threat. I don’t think a lot of Americans today know much about the Battle of the Atlantic, or how many U-boats were operating right off the Eastern Coast. I was also struck at how little recognition is given to the U.S. Merchant Marines who risked their lives shipping war supplies to England and the Soviet Union. They are the unsung heroes of the war.

What types of primary sources did you use for your research? Did you find it difficult to piece together the whole story, especially from the German perspective?

Access to the archives in the museum in Chicago was a big step. Rear Admiral Dan Gallery, who conceived the raid when he was a Navy captain, donated all his papers related to U-505 to the museum. One sailor in the raiding party (Wayne Pickels) kept a war journal and his family permitted me access. There were also other first-hand recollections of the sailors who were involved in the U-505 seizure. There is combat audio of the raid that is held in the National Archives. Same with the U.S. Naval Academy. Dan Gallery wrote several memoirs after the war, and they were a huge help. 

From the German perspective, the first captain of U-505 corresponded with Dan Gallery after the war. His long letters were a gold mine of information. Seven of the Germans sailors who served on U-505 came to America after the war and agreed to sit down for interviews with the museum archivists. One German who was killed in the raid left behind a diary, which was recovered. The most important source was a little-known memoir written by a U-505 sailor which vividly detailed life on board.

If you had the opportunity to ask one question of the sailors involved, what would it be?

I think it would be this: 80 years after U-505’s capture, what lessons do you want your grandchildren and their children to learn about World War II?

The capture of U-505 may have hastened the end of the war. Can you elaborate on the importance of this event, and how history may have unfolded differently if it never happened?

The raid resulted in the Allies obtaining the cipher codes for the U-boat fleet in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans for the last two weeks of June 1944. This meant the Allies’ codebreakers were able to read U-boat communications in real time, as fast as the Germans received them. That freed 13,000 hours of precious decoding computer time in those all-important weeks following the D-Day invasion

In addition, the raiding party also obtained the German Navy cipher code that was scheduled to go into effect on July 15, 1944, and on August 1, 1944, laying out the Enigma machine settings for all U-boats and Nazi surface ships.

U-505 was loaded with the latest German technology, including acoustic torpedoes, which were causing great damage to Allied shipping. U.S. Navy scientists were finally able to figure out what made these torpedoes tick.

About 300 U-boats were destroyed between the raid on June 4, 1944 and V-E Day. It’s impossible to say how many U-boats met their end because of the capture of U-505 and the Enigma machine and secret German code books. But you can make the case that many lives of Allied sailors and Merchant Marines were saved because all those U-boats were taken out.

Codename Nemo: The Hunt for a Nazi U-Boat and the Elusive Enigma Machine

Codename Nemo: The Hunt for a Nazi U-Boat and the Elusive Enigma Machine

By Charles Lachman

The white-knuckled saga of a maverick captain, nine courageous sailors, and a US Navy task force who achieved the impossible on June 4, 1944—capturing Nazi submarine U-505, its crew, technology, encryption codes, and an Enigma cipher machine.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.