New research reveals World War II patrol boat destroyed German U-Boat

A wronged US patrol boat captain, 72 years after the incident, has been honoured and commemorated for his role in sinking a German U-Boat of the coast of Louisiana.

In 1942, Captain Herbert Claudius and his crew of a brand new US patrol boat, PC 566, were sent to escort a passenger ship, the Robert E. Lee, heading for New Orleans with hundreds of survivors of U-boat attacks.

The coast of the United States had come under severe attack from German submarines since it was ill-equipped at the time to protect its coastline and marine vessels, both military and civilian. In total,  20 German U-boats sank more than 70 Americanships just off the US coast from 1942-1943.

During the journey, the Robert E. Lee was attacked by German submarine U-166, and it sank the passenger ship along with 25 of its passengers and crew. Around 404 survived since Captain Claudius and his crew attacked the U-Boat with their guns and depth charges.

When the patrol boat crew spotted oil on the ocean and debris surfacing, they believed they had destroyed the U-Boat and reported it to their command centre.

Unfortunately, the Navy did not believe the reports since it was just a patrol boat, and the crew had not been trained in anti-submarine warfare. In addition,  US aircraft had also engaged with bombing German U-Boats in the area.

With no one 100% sure about what happened, Captain Claudius was sent back to  training school for specific instruction on anti-submarine engagement.

Herbert died in the early 1980s after spending more than 30 years in the Navy. He died never being sure of the entire truth.

Now a new team of investigators have visited the site where the U-Boat sank close to 5,000 feet below sea level in the Gulf of Mexico, just south of the Mississippi River, the National Geographic reports.

The team recovered damning evidence that shows the U-166 was destroyed by a depth charge explosion and not aviation artillery. This proves that Captain Claudius’s patrol boat had in fact been the true victor.

This was a bitter-sweet ending since Herbert never knew if he had really been successful or not. His family recalls how he would say he “thought he had sank an enemy submarine once”.

Now, with the new evidence, Herbert was posthumously honoured at the Pentagon with the US Secretary of the Navy announcing that Herbert’s patrol boat had indeed destroyed the U-166. Herbert’s son accepted a medal on his father’s behalf.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE