An underwater excursion in the Gulf of Mexico has succeeded in uncovering some long-forgotten ghosts of World War II.
It was all the way back in July of 1942 when the Nazi U-boat U-166 was prowling for American ships in the warm waters of the gulf, far from the better-known battlegrounds of the North Atlantic.
After successfully sinking three smaller ships, the German boat set its sights on a passenger steamer bound for New Orleans from Trinidad. The submarine torpedoed the SS Robert E. Lee south of Louisiana, killing 25 people.
But a U.S. Navy vessel escorting the Robert E. Lee immediately responded, blasting U-166 with depth charges. The submarine sank, with all 52 hands lost.
The wreckage of both ships was found back in 2001, about 5,000 feet below the surface of the water. And now, we're getting a better look at both vessels thanks to the man who found the sunken remains of the Titanic.
Dr. Robert Ballard's team is spending the month exploring the wreck of the U-166, the Robert E. Lee, and a few of the Nazis' other targets. The Ocean Exploration Trust has been feeding back photos and even live video of their explorations from aboard the E/V Nautilus.
Most Americans are not aware of how close the Nazi boats came to our coast. But between 1942 and 1943, over 20 U-boats operated in the Gulf of Mexico, sinking dozens of ships.
U-166 is the only known U-boat to have sunk. It's now considered a war grave and cannot be disturbed, but the Ocean Exploration Trust team is conducting high resolution mapping in addition to visual surveys to create 3-D images of the wreck sites for further study.
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