The Minerals Management Service, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, manages the energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf. Using oil industry deep water surveys and conducting its own investigations, MMS has produced a report on the shipwrecks of World War II in the Gulf of Mexico. The purpose of the report is to document the biological and archaeological aspects of these wrecks. But, what what emerges from the report is both a little known history of World War II and fascinating glimpse of a thriving undersea world within these wrecks.
In 1942, Hitler ordered German u-boats to the coast of America to disrupt shipping and supply lines. While the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines had taken precautions against u-boat attacks, the Gulf Coast had not. The report notes that “.. [w]hen U-boats entered the Gulf of Mexico many German commanders noted coastal lights burned as in peacetime.”* During 1942, German u-boats sank fifty-six ships in the Gulf. Of those fifty-six, six vessels are profiled within the report. Also included in the report is a discussion and pictures of the wreck U-166, the only u-boat known to have been sunk in the Gulf.
It’s not only the historical aspects that make this report interesting. These wrecks also provide scientists the opportunity to study the flora and fauna that grow on wrecks; a sort of “artificial reef effect.” Throughout the report are pictures and descriptions of species of plants and animals that thrive on these artificial reefs as well as discussions on what happens to those reefs once time and the sea water breaks them down.
R. Church et al., Archaeological and Biological Analysis of World War II Shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico; Artificial Reef Effect in Deep Water (Dep’t of the Interior, OCS Study, MMS 2007-015).
* see p. 7.