(Orange, Texas)

Local News

July 5, 2014

Behind the picture

Sinking U-656, first German sub sunk in WWII

ORANGE — A man, 23, laid on his stomach looking out a small 18-inch by 2-foot window in a plane while using a Fairchild camera and took a picture that has shipwreck hunters excited.

The picture was taken 72 years ago March 1, 1942 as confirmation of sinking U-656, the first German submarine to be sunk by the US Navy during WWII.

Truett Hawley, 95, of Orange, was the mechanic aboard the plane on that day and the one who took the picture.

“I recall the camera was a boxy thing with bellows,” Hawley said. “The lens was enormous compared to the small lens of a Brownie. I did not develop the film, I just used the camera to take the picture.”

Brownie was a small camera popular during that time.

Hawley was not aware on that day of the significance of the picture he took, preserving a piece of history.

“I did not know it was the first one sunk. I always thought it was another crew,” Hawley said. “I found out when Jerry Eliason came to talk to me.”

Eliason, a shipwreck hunter, will lead a group in mid-July to Newfoundland in search of U-656, according to a letter he wrote to Hawley.

US Navy Squadron VP-82, Hawley’s squadron, sank the first two U-boats by US forces; U-656 on March 1 and U-503 on March 15, 1942 according to


Read more in the Weekend edition of The Orange Leader.

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