Most people today are unaware that German U-boats actively worked the waters off our Gulf coast in the spring of 1942.
Beginning in May, as many as 24 German cruised the Gulf, seeking to disrupt the vital flow of oil carried by tankers from ports in Texas and Louisiana. Within just a year they sank 56 merchant vessels and damaged 14 others.
After their initial devastating successes, U-boat attacks in the Gulf became rare by the end of 1943 after merchant vessels began cruising in armed convoys.
Only one German sub, the U-166, is known to have been sunk in the Gulf, and only after it had succeeded in sinking the SS Robert E. Lee, a passenger ship bound from Tampa to New Orleans in late July, 1942. Twenty-five passengers were killed. The submarine lies in 5,000 feet of water within a mile of the SS Robert E. Lee. There is dispute as to whether the U-166 was sunk by a torpedo dropped from a Coast Guard aircraft or by depth charges from the Robert E. Lee’s naval escort, the U.S. Navy sub-chaser, PC-566.