For the last three days I have had the pleasure of being on board the E/V Nautilus, the research ship run by famous deep sea explorer Bob Ballard. Best known for his discovery of the wrecks of the Titanic and Bismarck, to name just two of his amazing accomplishments, we are on a mission to explore the wreck of the WWII German U-boat 166. It was sunk by a US Navy patrol boat, with the loss of all hands. It had blown its cover when it torpedoed and sunk the US steamer Robert E Lee, close to the US coast in the Gulf of Mexico. Our journey began in Gulfport, Mississippi, to an undisclosed location over 12 hours steam away. Despite being in deep water, the position is kept secret to stop salvage companies from disturbing the wreck, which is also the grave of the 52 crew that perished when the submarine sank. Our mission is to investigate the circumstances of her sinking.
At 211ft (64m), Nautilus can host a scientific team of 31 and is operated by a crew of 17. Multibeam sonar is used to do the first pass of targets followed by the deployment of the ROV’s Hercules and Argus. This creates detailed 3D images, followed by a HD video feed. Unlike many research organizations, the folks at Nautilus believe in immediately connecting with the public. This outreach program enables them to help educate people about the wonders of the ocean, both in terms of biological stories, but as in this case, also focusing on the rich historical artifacts hidden beneath the waves. Reporting from the field is banned on many shoots I go on, due to a fear from the television networks that another will try to create a better show and beat them to air…. It is therefore very refreshing to work with the team from Nautilus, as the video feed from the ROV’s, and from on board, stream live to the web.
The amazing footage captured by the ROV’s will be incorporated into a documentary I am helping to shoot for production company Lone Wolf Media. The show will air as a National Geographic / PBS NOVA co-production that will air later this year (date TBD)
Not only I am working with the great team from Nautilus but also the NG/NOVA crew led by producer Kirk Wolfinger of the Lone Wolf Media, sound man Rob Sylvain and last but certainly not least, undersea explorer and shipwreck expert Richie Kohler. Kirk and Richie collaborated on the television series “Deep Sea Detectives” (History Channel), so they are veterans of this kind of adventure and it has been a real pleasure to be invited to be part of the team on this expedition.
The main focus of our shooting has been the story of the exploration of the wreck of the U-166 to investigate the circumstances of her sinking. A great story that will be revealed in the NOVA episode. Most of our time has been spent shooting in the control room for the ROV’s, which looks like the inside of a space ship. A talented team of ROV pilots and video technicians work under the direction of Bob Ballard. Richie joined Bob to share is incredible knowledge of wrecks, and in particular, U-Boats. His knowledge grew out of a fascination for solving the mystery of another U-Boat wreck off the coast of New Jersey, U-869. This is an epic story of determination to solve another mystery and it would take a whole other post to do it justice. For more information go to www.u869.com
The adventure will continue for another three days as we explore the wrecks of other US shipping that fell victim to WWII German submarines that along with U-166, were also part of operation Drumbeat. The mission brought the war to US shores and was surprisingly unknown to most people, even during the war. In just the first six months of this mission, they sank 397 ships, totaling over 2 million tons, costing roughly 5000 lives…. greater than the loss of life on 9/11. To watch the highlights of yesterdays dive go to U-166 to go the dedicated feed on www.nautiluslive.org . For more details on this epic tale, watch out for an update on when the show will go to air..