In the summer of 1942, the Gulf of Mexico was one of the most dangerous water bodies on Earth. German U-boats entered the Gulf of Mexico with the explicit intent of sinking vessels to disrupt merchant shipping and Allied supply lines. Between 1942 and 1943, U-boats sank 56 ships in the Gulf, including oil tankers, cargo and passenger freighters, and fishing vessels. Once merchant vessels began arming themselves, the success of the U-boat campaign in the Gulf waned.
As a result of oil and gas surveys in the Gulf required by BOEM, a number of these shipwrecks have been rediscovered and investigated by archaeologists. Several have been investigated during BOEM-funded environmental studies (click here for more information). Four steel-hulled, World War II-era shipwrecks will be investigated as a part of the current study. Three of these wrecks, the tanker Halo, the passenger freighter Robert E. Lee, and the German U-boat U-166, are casualties of World War II. U-166 is the only U-boat sunk in the Gulf of Mexico. The fourth wreck, Anona, is a steam yacht lost in the Gulf in 1944. Halo, Robert E. Lee, and U-166 were investigated as part of a 2004 BOEM (then MMS) study, “Archaeological and Biological Analysis of World War II Shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico: Artificial Reef Effect in Deep Water.” Though Anona was not investigated during the 2004 study due to weather conditions, more information about her history can be found in the study report (Church et al 2007). Visit the Deep Wrecks project webpage for more information.
While Halo, Robert E. Lee, and U-166 represent the remains of World War II casualties in the Gulf of Mexico, it should not be forgotten that these vessels are war graves and the final resting place for their respective crews. Although these sites can provide scientists with a wealth of environmental information, the loss of human life is inextricably linked with them forever.