Sunken German U-Boat Found
45 Miles From Mouth Of Mississippi
MSNBC News Services

NEW ORLEANS - Two oil companies on Friday announced another big discovery in the Gulf of Mexico " but this time it was a sunken World War II German submarine rather than oil or natural gas. The wreckage of the U-boat was found 5,000 feet below the surface, and it may may rewrite a bit of wartime history.
"This is the find of a lifetime. It really is." - Robert Church - marine archaeologist
BP and Shell, two of the world,s largest energy companies, stumbled upon the U-166 submarine in 5,000 feet of water last month while surveying a location for a planned underwater pipeline.
The only submarine sunk in the Gulf of Mexico during the war, U-166 lies near the U.S. passenger freighter S.S. Robert E. Lee, which it attacked with a torpedo July 30, 1942.
The 375-foot Robert E. Lee - a private vessel commissioned by the Navy - was loaded with 268 passengers, many of them victims of prior U-boat attacks who were coming back to the United States from Trinidad.
When a torpedo hit the ship, the Coast Guard patrol PC-566, about a half-mile in front of the Lee, turned back immediately and dropped six depth charges.
A tugboat and two Navy vessels rescued nearly everyone, but 15 crew members and 10 passengers died on the Robert E. Lee.
Until March, historians thought that the U-166 had survived that attack and was sunk two days later and about 120 miles away.
"This is the find of a lifetime. It really is, said Robert Church, a marine archaeologist with C Technologies, which identified the wreckage in March. Video taken May 31 and June 1 confirmed the find, which lies about 45 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Since 1942, an airplane was thought to have sunk the U-166.
It was known that a plane had bombed a submarine on Aug. 1, 1942, two days after the U-166 sank the American passenger-freighter Robert E. Lee.
But the location of the sub and its condition may show that the Robert E. Lee,s Coast Guard escort actually sank the U-166, said Jack Irion, a marine archaeologist with the U.S. Minerals Management Service.
Submarines did a tremendous amount of damage in early 1942, before the Navy organized convoys and escorts for U.S. shipping, said Nathan Miller, author of "War At Sea: A Naval History of World War II.
BP and Shell made the discovery using a remote-controlled submarine and have decided to choose a different route for the pipeline, they said in a statement. Their survey took only sonar and video images. Nothing else will ever be taken from either wreck.
"Both the Robert E. Lee and the U-166 are protected by international treaty, Church said. "They are war gravesites. They can,t be disturbed. They can,t be dived upon. They can,t be recovered.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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