(Photo of the U-166 by the Ocean Exploration Trust)
On August 1, 1942, the US Navy subchaser PC-566 was escorting the passenger vessel Robert E. Lee out of the mouth of the Mississippi River. 25 miles off the coast, the German submarine U-166 attacked the Lee, sinking it.
The PC-566, then led by Lt. Comm. Herbert G. Claudius, counterattacked. It dropped depth charges on the u-boat. An oil slick formed on the surface of the water, which was evidence that the Americans had at least damaged the German sub and possibly destroyed it.
Claudius's senior officers did not credit him with sinking the sub. To the contrary, they criticized his actions, relieved him of command, and sent him to anti-submarine warfare school for retraining.
Now, 72 years later, Captain Claudius's record is finally clear. The famous undersea explorer Robert Ballard located the wreck of the U-166, right where Claudius said it would be. The US Navy has responded by amending Claudius's record. Brian Clark Howard writes for National Geographic:
But on Tuesday, Claudius was posthumously vindicated at the Pentagon, as the U.S. Secretary of the Navy announced that his ship had indeed fired the depth charges that sank German U-boat U-166.
"Seventy years later, we now know that [Claudius's] report after the action was absolutely correct," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a small ceremony attended by members of Claudius's family.
"[Claudius's ship] did sink that U-boat, and it's never too late to set the record straight," Mabus said, as he presented the late captain with a posthumous Legion of Merit with a Combat "V" device, which recognizes heroism in battle.
Claudius's son, Gordon Claudius, accepted the medal and said that he wished his father could have known about the correction to a largely forgotten chapter in American history.
"He would have felt vindicated," Gordon Claudius said.