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Exploration of war wrecks from the Gulf of Mexico

Very interesting material was provided by a research expedition led by Robert Ballard and a team of scientists, who decided to go to the depths of the Gulf of Mexico to visit World War II wrecks. The main targets of the expedition were the SS Robert E. Lee and the German submarine U-166. The Ballard
Published: July 28, 2014 - 14:51
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 07:37
Exploration of war wrecks from the Gulf of Mexico

Very interesting material was provided by a research expedition led by Robert Ballard and a team of scientists, who decided to go to the depths of the Gulf of Mexico to visit World War II wrecks. The main targets of the expedition were the SS Robert E. Lee and the German submarine U-166.

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The Ballard team’s underwater reconnaissance lasted a month, and the progress and footage recorded by the ROV (along with commentary from the scientists) could be followed on nautiliuslive.org, which we announced on our Facebook page. For those who caught the live broadcast, it was certainly a unique experience. It is not often, after all, that one can participate in exploration works conducted at the depth of 1.5-2km.

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The unit SS Robert E. Lee was carrying survivors from a sister ship torpedoed near Trinidad, to New Orleans, Louisiana. 30 June 1942. When the steamer was only 25 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River, an explosion sounded after being hit by a German torpedo. At this point, the fates of SS Robert E. Lee and U-166 begin to intertwine and rapidly accelerate towards an inevitable end.

According to the available information, before the torpedo reached its target, it was spotted and the convoy’s guard in which the American ship was sailing was immediately alerted. The USS PC-566, an American submarine chaser, came into action at that moment, immediately acting and dropping depth charges with the expected result.

[ot-video type=”youtube” url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hqb9X8McMhg”]

The German submarine U-166, which only a short while ago was acting as a hunter, very quickly became a game. The rapid reaction of the American chaser proved deadly. The U-boat with 52 crew members was sent to the bottom. There were no survivors.

Those on board the American ship were much luckier. The quick reaction saved almost all passengers and crew members. Although the Robert E. Lee was under water 15 minutes after being hit, only 15 of the 283 people on board died.

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“I didn’t know that World War II was taking place in the back garden of our house ” is how Robert Ballard summed up the presence of a German submarine and the events of 30 June 1942. As you can see, even the discoverer of the “Titanic” and one of the most famous explorers of the deep can be surprised.

Photos and film footage collected during the research show that despite their depth, the wrecks have become a place where underwater life thrives. The sides and rails are overgrown with colourful corals, just like everything else in the area.

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“These wrecks are a real time capsule. Sunk in the depths, they have been frozen in time as they disappeared underwater,” said Richie Kohler, well known to our readers, who is also involved in the project as an expert on U-boats and historical wrecks

What influences the excellent behaviour of all surrounding wrecks is the environment in which they have found themselves. At such enormous depths the oxygen content is negligible, and additionally there is a lack of light and organisms which could accelerate the destruction of the wrecks. One could say that it is almost like a museum exhibit reminding us of an episode of World War II that took place just off the coast of the USA. Between 1942 and 1943, more than 20 U-boats operated in the Gulf of Mexico, responsible for the sinking of some 70 vessels.

Source: chron.com, nautiliuslive.org

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Małgorzata Brykała
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