During the Second World War the northern Gulf Coast of Florida was patrolled by the Civilian Air Patrol #14 stationed at an airfield near today’s 11th St. and Balboa Ave. Among the members of CAP 14 was long-time Panama City resident, Johnny Reaver.
Mr. Reaver’s recollections have been published in the ‘Rich Heritage of Panama City Beach’ authored by Marlene Womack. Reaver tells how CAP 14 spots a German U-boat one mile off shore near the intersection of Hwy 79 and Front Beach Road.
Immediately the authorities at near-by Tyndall Field are notified but they are forced to relay the alert to Pensacola Naval Air Station due to the lack of planes equipped to drop bombs at Tyndall Field.
The Navy quickly dispatches a Consolidated PBY Catalina to the scene with a bomb load of several 100 pound bombs.
Meanwhile, before the PBY arrives all of the German sailors appeared on deck. This action evidently prompts a mission by local authorities to arrest and detain the sailors.
When it arrived, the PBY ‘Flying Boat’ easily sank the abandoned submarine. This is the point in the story where the secrets start.
It is common knowledge that the news about U-boat activity was suppressed during the war. But, the evidence in this particular incident was a little too close to hide.
So, how did the incident become such a well kept secret? Why is there only the one confirmed sinking of the highly publicized U-166 sunk on 30 July 1942 off the coast of Louisiana?
Why did the sailors of the mystery sub surrender? What happened to the captured sailors?
Why is this incident not considered a sinking of a U-boat in the Gulf by the US Navy? What part did the Coast Watchers play since their quarters were directly on the beach at the “Y” or Hwy 79?
It gets even a little weirder. Some time after the war the mystery U-boat was considered a hazard to navigation and was dynamited by the Corps of Engineers of the US Army.
There exists thousands of web blogs and several professionally produced documentaries that aired in prime time about the wreck of U-boat 166.
I rather doubt there is a single photograph of the U-boat abandoned so close to the beach that the prisoners-of-war could have swum to shore.
To add to the mystery, I personally interviewed witnesses of this incident.
Ms. Carolyn Stiles Pemberton was a child that lived in the Dixie Sherman Hotel in downtown Panama City during the war. Her father, Clifford Stiles, owned the Dixie Sherman and several other hotels in the southeast.
In the summer of 2017, Carolyn related to me how she and her sister were grade schoolers when they joined their parents for a beach picnic the day this mysterious submarine appeared.
When her mother screamed at the sight of the ship, Carolyn and her sister were hastily swept up by their parents and rushed back over the steep dunes that fronted the roadside.
This is a mystery that deserves the attention of someone with the skills to unravel it. How can the surrender of a U-boat go unnoticed?
Why would the US Navy bomb a perfect example of German submarine technology? How can anything that’s a hazard to navigation go unnoticed, even after it’s been blown-up by the US Army…and where is ’60 Minutes’ when you need them?