Albert Leroy David, then a LTJG, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his daring and heroic action on June 4, 1944, when he led a boarding party down the conning tower hatch aboard a sinking German submarine and materially assisted in keeping it afloat. The crew of the U-boat had abandoned the damaged boat, the aft deck was already covered with water and unknown perils awaited as the boarders entered the submarine lit only by dim emergency lights and the sound of gushing water. It became the only submarine to be captured by the U.S. in either world war, and was the first foreign warship to be boarded and captured by the U.S. Navy since 1815. LTJG David received the only MOH awarded in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Albert Leroy David was born on July 18, 1902, in Maryville, Missouri, and enlisted in the Navy at Kansas City, Missouri, on September 30, 1919. Following recruit training at Naval Training Station, San Francisco, he served on the battleship USS ARKANSAS (BB-33) during the remainder of his first enlistment. He reenlisted at Omaha, Nebraska, on July 19, 1921, and served his second enlistment in a succession of ships: USS NEW YORK (ACR-2), USS PRSTON (DD-327), USS DELEWARE (BB-28), USS UTAH (BB-31) and USS TEXAS (BB-35). Aboard the TEXAS he reenlisted on May 12, 1925, and then served aboard USS TRENTON (CL-11), USS CINCINNATI (CL-6) and USS SALT LAKE CITY (CA-25). He again reenlisted on June 15, 1931, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and reported to the destroyer tender USS DOBBIN (AD-3) where he served until transferred to the Fleet Reserve on August 10, 1939. Less than a month after World War II broke out in Europe, David was recalled to active duty on September 27, 1939. While assigned to the Submarine Repair Unit, San Diego, he was promoted to the rank of Ensign on June 15, 1942. After a period of instruction for diesel engineers at the University of Wisconsin, he was assigned to the fitting out crew of the destroyer escort USS PILLSBURY (DE-133) which was commissioned on June 7, 1943. While PILLSBURY was fitting out, David was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade and served in that ship as she operated in the Atlantic escorting convoys into Casablanca and Gibraltar.
On June 4, 1944, LTJG David was the Assistant Engineering and Electrical Officer aboard PILLSBURY. This ship was part of Task Group 22.3, a hunter-killer group around the escort carrier USS GUADALCANAL (CVE-60) sailing off the West Coast of Africa. For several days the Group had been attempting to locate a submarine believed to be in the area, and in preparation of attacking it the Task Group Commander, CAPT Daniel Gallery, formulated a plan and trained his personnel on an audacious plan to disable the submarine, drive the crew overboard, and then board and capture the U-boat. As the CAPT Gallery later said, The plan worked to perfection!
At approximately noon on Sunday, June 4, 1944, one of the escorting ships detected a submerged submarine, the German U-505. One of the escorts made an unsuccessful depth charge attack on the submarine but two escort planes flying from GUADALCANAL spotted the submerged submarine and shot their fixed guns into the water directly over it. This time the escorts knew where to lay their depth charges and they found their mark. The submarine was heavily damaged and its captain ordered it to the surface. Upon surfacing the U-505 found itself in the middle of Task Group 22.3 and as had been planned, all the ships commenced firing at it only with small caliber weapons so that heavy damage would not be done to the submarine. The U-505 Captain sensed that a fight would be futile and ordered the crew to abandon ship and to open the scuttling valves. As the crew emerged onto the deck they tried to man their deck guns but were quickly driven overboard by gunfire. The depth charge attack had jammed the U-505 rudder and it was still underway running at about 6-knots as it circled and started to sink.
As the German crew jumped overboard whaleboats from the surrounding ships were lowered with a command not heard in the U.S. Navy for over a hundred years, Away boarding parties. The boats commenced chasing the sinking U-boat but had trouble reaching it in their chase. The boat from PILLSBURY steered across the circle and laid the whaleboat alongside as it arrived. It was the first to reach the runaway submarine and several of the men managed to climb onto its slippery deck. Undeterred by the sinking condition of the U-boat, the danger of explosions of demolition and scuttling charges, and the probability of enemy gunfire below deck, a group of three ignored the dangers and plunged down the conning tower hatch. David, then a LTJG, led the charge closely followed by TM3 Arthur William Knispel and RM2 Stanley Edward Wdowiak. Below deck they found the submarine empty. The trio raced to the radio room where they smashed open a couple of lockers and grabbed the cryptographic equipment, the current codebook, the cipher machine with its list of keys, and hundreds of messages with parallel plain text and cipher texts. Their find was quickly passed topside as the submarine remained in serious danger of sinking.
The trio was soon joined by others in the boarding party who performed numerous heroic and remarkable acts in preventing their damaged prize from sinking. They had boarded the U-boat in a foundering condition with water pouring into the hull in many places. Most of the boarders had never been on a submarine before, but despite the danger of booby traps and working against time, which was rapidly running out, the boarding parties plugged all leaks, found and closed the scuttling valves. To prevent the seas from washing down the conning tower hatch as the sub sank lower in the water, LTJG David had ordered closing the hatch behind the boarding parties, thus barring their only avenue of escape if the U-boat foundered. Their unique feat was cited by the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, whose remarks included, The Task Group's brilliant achievement in disabling, capturing and towing to a United States base a modern enemy man-of-war in combat on the high seas is a feat unprecedented in individual and group bravery, execution, and accomplishment in the Naval History of the United States.
The whole task group was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. For his leadership and heroism, LTJG David was awarded the Medal of Honor. RM2 Kdowiak and TM3 Knispel were each awarded the Navy Cross and all others in the PILLSBURY's boarding party were awarded the Silver Star. Very shortly after this incident David was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. He died of a heart attack on September 17, 1945, in Norfolk, Virginia, three weeks before the Medal of Honor could be presented to him. His widow, Lynda Mae David, was presented his Medal by President Truman on October 5, 1945, in a ceremony at the White House. LT David has been buried at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California. In his honor, the USS ALBERT DAVID (DE-1050) was named after him.
Submitted by CDR Roy A. Mosteller, USNR (Ret)