In 1942, U-166, a German Type IX-C submarine, went on a voyage to the Western Hemisphere and never returned. And on August 1, 1942, two pilots of the American Coast Guard aviation reported to their command that they had noticed and attacked an unknown submarine in the Mississippi Delta near New Orleans. Former pilot Boggs is still convinced that he sank an enemy submarine more than 80 meters long. However, at the place where the bomb was dropped, the sunken submarine was not found.

In the spring of 2001, measurement work was carried out in the Gulf of Mexico for laying a deep-sea oil pipeline. Quite by chance, two hundred kilometers from the place where the American plane allegedly bombed the German submarine, they found the skeleton of a huge steel “cigar”.

Very close to the hull of the boat lie the wreckage of the steamer. Why were they at the bottom in such close proximity?

A group of German historians undertook to restore the course of events and clarify the circumstances of the death of the submarine U-166. Looking for documents related to the fate of the submarine and its crew, they were surprised to learn that the entire archive of the commander of the boat Kuhlmann is stored in the house of his relatives, and no one has yet become interested in it. But there are not only letters and technical documentation, but also numerous photographs, as well as a cassette with an amateur film – the only film shots with the U-166 submarine. In personal letters written by the 25-year-old Hans-Gunther Kuhlmann a few hours before his last sailing, one can catch clear hints about the special mission of U-166 – mining the coastal waters of the United States.

After the Japanese attack on the American military base at Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared war on the United States and gave the order to launch an “underwater offensive” in the vastness of the Atlantic. Admiral Karl Doenitz sent his “gray wolves” across the ocean, submariners whom Nazi propaganda extolled in every way.

The United States lost many ships, far more than they could build to make up for the losses. A critical situation arose off the coast of North America: German submarines were in charge and almost completely controlled the territorial waters of the United States. But the American government did not consider it necessary to inform the public about this.

The Gulf of Mexico in 1942 became the most dangerous area for navigation. 19 German submarines hunted tankers, merchant ships and military transport ships almost unhindered from April to September. They sank more than 60 ships during this period. Older fishermen still remember the terrible impressions of their youth: burning tankers and black smoke above the sea, drowning people clinging to the wreckage, and countless corpses that the sea threw onto sandy beaches …

In the summer of 1942, U-166 patrolled the Gulf of Mexico in search of another victim. On July 30, 70 km from the mouth of the Mississippi, the steamer “Robert E. Lee” appeared. A passenger ship with a displacement of 5184 tons sailed from Trinidad, accompanied by the cruiser PC-566. There were more than 400 passengers on board the steamer, mostly technical specialists and rescued sailors from the crews of the sunken The cruiser radioed the coast station and reported its coordinates – this was a fatal mistake, because his conversations were heard on a German submarine.

The commander of U-166 Kuhlmann ordered to immediately open torpedo fire on the ship. From the side of the passenger steamer they saw a white foamy trail on the surface of the sea, followed by a torpedo explosion. “There was a sharp push,” recalls Marshall Charlton, who served as a deckhand on the Robert E. Lee. The ship seemed to hit a stone wall. The torpedo hit the engine room and blew it to pieces. “The ship, which received a large hole, quickly sank, but the passengers of the Robert E. Lee were relatively lucky, most of them managed to save, 25 people died.

German submariners were eager to find out: was the hunt successful? They were already so accustomed to impunity that they lost all caution, the submarine U-166 surfaced. Navy sailors from the cruiser PC-566 rescued the passengers of the sunken steamer, but noticed an enemy submarine that had surfaced and bombarded it with depth charges. One of the bombs hit the bow of the boat. The imminent disaster occurred in a matter of minutes, the boat broke into two parts and sank. The wreckage lay on the bottom at a depth of about one and a half thousand meters in the Mississippi submarine canyon. Not far from the dilapidated hull of the boat, the clumsy carcass of a steamer torpedoed by a submarine was piled up …

In Germany, they waited in vain for messages from U-166. After July 30, 1942, no information was received about her fate, U-166 and her crew of 52 people were considered missing.

Almost 60 years have passed. At the beginning of 2001, studies of the seabed were carried out on the order of oil concerns for the construction of an underwater oil pipeline. The place of the death of the steamer “Robert E. Lee” at that time was already known, its skeleton was discovered back in 1986. However, during the measurement work, underwater robots signaled strange anomalies of the seabed near the bulk of the steamer. Marine archaeologists joined the research and established, that the wreckage of a class IX-C submarine lies next to the steamer.

However, what kind of boat did the pilots bomb near the Mississippi Delta? On July 24 and 25, 1942, U-166 carried out her secret mission in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi, the submarine laid mines. At this point, U-166 met U-171, an underwater giant of the same type. A few days later, an American plane spotted U-171.

The pilots decided to attack the submarine. “They had one 120-kilogram deep-sea bomb on board,” says submarine specialist Krist. “If they managed to sink a Type IX-C submarine with such a bomb, it would be a rare, incredible case. But a miracle did not happen.”

The pilots circled for an hour over the place where the bomb was dropped. They even saw an oil slick on the surface of the sea, so they were sure that they had sunk the boat. But of all the German submarines that plowed the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, only one did not return from there – U-166. And the submarine U-171 is unlikely to have been seriously damaged by the bomb dropped on it, because U-171 left the American coast. But her days were also numbered: off the French coast, already on the way to her base near Lorient, the boat was blown up by a mine. Part of the U-171 crew managed to escape, 22 people died.

U-166 suffered the same fate as most of the other Nazi German submarines. For ten years, from 1935 to 1945, out of 1167 submarines, more than half did not return from a combat mission. German historians sum up the depressing results of enemy losses – 2900 ships and 33 thousand sailors at the cost of the lives of 30 thousand German submariners.

Underwater shots of the hull of the submarine U-166 and the ship sunk by it produce a painful impression. Hunter and prey, killer and prey lie side by side in their deep-water grave, covered in sand and silt, almost forgotten. Another reminder of the horrors of that war.