The Navy rejected reports 72 years ago that Lt. Cmdr. Herbert Claudius sank a German U-boat off the Louisiana coast during World War II. In fact, Officials criticized his depth-charging tactics and sent him to anti-submarine school so he could learn how to do it the right way.
It turns out the Navy — not Claudius — was off target.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert set the record straight on Dec. 16, when they posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit with combat "V" to the patrol coastalPC skipper. His son, Herbert Gordon Claudius Jr., namesake received the award on behalf of his father.
The CNO shared the news on his official Facebook page, and said he was "honored" to recognize Claudius' sighting and sinking German submarine U-166 in the Gulf of Mexico.
"LCDR Claudius' actions reflected great credit upon himself, and it was a true pleasure to be able to share the presentation with his family and set the record straight," Greenert wrote.
Claudius commanded Patrol Coastal 566 when it engaged the U-boat on June 30, 1942. The German vessels were hunting merchant ships along the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. That day, U-166 torpedoed the passenger freighter Robert E. Lee about 25 miles off the coast. She sank in five minutes.
PC-566, which was 1,000 yards forward, turned toward the torpedo wake and gave swift chase, according to a Nov. 14 analysis by Naval History and Heritage Command. A periscope was spotted at 2,000 yards; sound contact was made within 250 yards of the location and again at 120 yards. Claudius ordered a five-charge pattern of depth charges fired off the port and starboard sides. The course was reversed, a second sound contact was made and Claudius ordered a repeat of depth charges. Two subsequent passes gave no sound contact. An oil slick 200 feet wide was soon observed, but there was no debris to confirm a sinking.
Claudius later reported that the "definiteness of the attack to the submarine's position when firing depth charges which was confirmed by sound search and sight that the submarine was sunk or so mortally wounded that she would never return to base."
Navy officials dismissed Claudius' report, however. Instead of a hero's welcome, they removed him from command and sent him to anti-submarine warfare school. Even when German documents seized after the war confirmed the U-boat was lost in the area, the Navy gave credit to a Coast Guard aircrew that dropped depth charges there more than one month later.
But in 1986, Shell Offshore Inc., came across two shipwrecks during an underwater survey. They were believed to be the Robert E. Lee and Alcoa Puritan, a cargo ship sunk in May 1942 by a German U-boat. A 2001 survey determined the second to be a submarine, according the NHHC report. Five subsequent surveys confirmed the wreckage to be U-166, and that its damage was consistent with the depth charge attack described in Claudius' report. The National Geographic Society supported that exploration.
The NHHC report cited "sufficient evidence" that the Coast Guard aircraft had attacked but failed to sink U-171, and recommended PC-566 be credited with the sinking.
"We take seriously our role of preserving, protecting, understanding and promoting the rich history and heritage of America's Navy,' said Paul Taylor, head of communications for Naval History and Heritage Command. "It's gratifying when time and technology shed new light on historic events like this one, and allow us to appropriately recognize the service and sacrifice of our Sailors, especially in wartime."