Home Flashback Photos The WWII Battle of Point Judith off the RI Coast

The WWII Battle of Point Judith off the RI Coast

67 died the day before Germany surrendered


Just before Germany surrendered to the Allied powers, 67 men died in the Battle of Point Judith off the Rhode Island coast. Casualties included 55 German submariners and 12 American merchant mariners.

Sailors aboard USS Moberly firing on U-853.

Sailors aboard USS Moberly firing on U-853.

The German submarineU-853,  was harassing  U.S. ships off the New England coast in May 1945. Previous U.S. efforts to hunt her down were so elusive she was nicknamed Moby Dick. U-853 was on her third patrol and had already sunk a U.S. Navy vessel, the USS Eagle Boat 56.  Only 13 of the crew of 67 survived the attack.

As World War II came to a close, orders were given to all German submarines and naval ships to return home. U-853 either didn’t get the message or ignored it.

Battle of Point Judith

The Battle of Point Judith began on May 5, when U-853 torpedoed the SS Black Point, a ship carrying coal to Boston, at Point Judith on the western side of Narragansett Bay. Black Point capsized within 15 minutes. Twelve men died, while 34 made it into lifeboats and were rescued by the SS Kamen, a Yugoslavian freighter. It was the last ship sunk by a U-boat in U.S. waters.

News of the attack went to naval headquarters on the East Coast.

The crew of U-853

The crew of U-853, before it lost the Battle of Point Judith

Four warships en route to Boston for shore leave then headed toward Point Judith, arriving at 7:30 pm. Coast Guard cutters, frigates, a destroyer and two blimps joined in the search-and-destroy mission.

At first the U-boat tried to flee, then it tried to hide by lying still in 18 fathoms of water. Sonar detected the submarine’s bearings. The crews of the USS Atherton and the USS Moberly dropped depth charges and hedgehogs over the spot where they thought they’d found the U-853.

They hit their target around midnight, and 55 German sailors perished with the vessel.


The U-boat still lies at the bottom of the Atlantic. It has continued to claim lives as a popular, but dangerous, site for divers.

In 1960, a recreational diver brought up one of the bodies. That prompted clergy and former navy admirals to ask the U.S. government for restrictions on disturbing war dead. The government then declared the site a war grave, and buried the German submariner with full military honors in Newport, R.I. Every year, a small service is held at Point Judith for the men who died.

The commander of the USS Atherton, Lewis Iselin, found a new career as a renowned sculptor living in Camden, Maine.

And in 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with a robotics company took photos of the German U-boat sunk in the Battle of Point Judith. They also created images of three other U.S. submarines sunk to test torpedoes.

To see the photos, click here.

This story about the Battle of Point Judith was updated in 2023.


Molly Landrigan May 6, 2014 - 10:19 am

What a shame! I never knew this.

Jeanne Gale May 7, 2015 - 10:57 am

This happened 4 years before I was born, in my backyard. This is the first time I have ever heard of this. We are not passing on our history to well!

peter lydon July 1, 2015 - 7:18 pm

I was told that a plaque exists commemorating the battle some where in Point Judith. If some one knows of it’s whereabouts or existence, I would be grateful

U-Boat Attacks Of World War II: 6 Months of Secret Terror in the Atlantic - New England Historical Society January 13, 2016 - 4:53 pm

[…] last U-boat was sunk in American waters during the Battle of Point Judith off the Rhode Island coast, U-853 sunk a collier ship on May 5, days before Nazi Germany […]

The Legend of the Ghost Ship Palatine - New England Historical Society January 23, 2016 - 6:00 pm

[…] eight miles long, rising out of the ocean between Montauk and Gay Head, and lying nearest to Point Judith, on the Rhode-Island shore, from which it is about five miles distant." Located in the middle of […]

The Six Places That Suffered the Coldest Temperature Ever in a New England State - New England Historical Society April 14, 2018 - 8:23 am

[…] May 5, 1945, a German U-boat would sink a merchant ship off Point Judith, R.I., less than 20 miles away from […]

The Surprising German U-boat Visit to Newport, RI, During WWI - New England Historical Society September 23, 2018 - 6:59 am

[…] The sub, skippered by Kapitanleutnant Hans Rose, was first spotted near Point Judith, R.I. […]

The World War II Bomber That Crashed In New Hampshire - New England Historical Society January 16, 2019 - 7:56 am

[…] The two men belonged to the crew of a B-18 assigned to patrol the coast of New England. In those days, German U-boats were harassing merchant ships, sinking them with abandon. […]

Comments are closed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!