U-boat sunk in Potomac joins marine preserve

By Leonard Sparks - Capital News Service


The carcass of a World War II-era German submarine has rested for 60 years on the bottom of the Potomac River in southern Maryland, visited only by sport divers and marine archeologists.

But now Maryland officials charged with protecting the U.S. Navy-owned U-boat are moving to add it to a new federal system of protected marine areas being created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"It's nice to be part of a larger scientific system," said Susan Langley, underwater archeologist for the Maryland Department of Planning. "It's sort of bragging rights for Maryland."

The submarine's location, designated as the Black Panther Shipwreck Preserve, is one mile west of Piney Point Lighthouse in St. Mary's County.

The sub was launched into service in June 1944 as part of the feared German U-boat fleet which patrolled the Atlantic Ocean in search of Allied supply convoys.

Better naval tactics, the cracking of Germany's "Enigma" code and the use of radar and sonar combined, sinking more than 750 U-boats, soon helped the Allied forces reverse control of the Atlantic.

But technological advances continued on both sides. The Maryland sub is one of an estimated 10 that were coated with an experimental rubber skin designed to elude Allied sonar; it earned the nickname "Black Panther."

"It was an early attempt at stealth technology," Langley said. "It does seem to be the precursor to the rubber coating that the Russian and American subs began using later."


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World War II German submarine Potomac River Black Panther Shipwreck Preserve Maryland National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration