BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Eighty years ago today, World War II came to the Panhandle’s doorstep.
On June 29th, 1942, a German submarine, also known as a U-boat, sank the H.M.S. Empire Mica 20 miles off the coast of Cape San Blas.
The vessel was on its way from Texas to Great Britain with a shipment of fuel for the Royal Air Force.
“There was actually a lot of U-boat activity in the Gulf of Mexico,” Captain Anderson’s Owner Jimmy Patronis said. “As you think about the supply chains to fight the war in Europe, all of these goods and services and supplies, a lot of them came down the Mississippi River and as they came out the Mississippi River they would go around the Keys and into the Atlantic and out to help the theater in Europe.”
The Empire Mica was fairly new, having been built a year earlier. A little before 8:00 on the morning of June 29, 1942, the ship crossed paths with German U-boat 67.
“U-boat 67 was patrolling in the Gulf waters, happened to see it, struck the Empire Mica twice, 33 lives perished, the boat burned for about three days,” Patronis said.
Captain Anderson’s is home to several artifacts from the Empire Mica, including the massive propeller outside of the front entrance of the restaurant.
“It turns out the prop wasn’t really the technology needed for today’s vessels,” Patronis said. “So it was basically a big piece of scrap metal. So we saw the opportunity to buy it from Captain Reinhart and post it as kind of a tribute and memorial to those who served in the Gulf in various capacities and our role that we contribute to support the effort in the European theater.”
The Empire Mica wreckage is a popular site for advanced divers.
“Every time we go out there and we have great conditions, you sit back later on and think, ‘Wow, this was amazing. I wish I could do this more often,'” Panama City Dive Owner Pat Green said.
Green has visited the ship several times, noting the changes to the ship over the years as it rests under the currents of the Gulf of Mexico.
“So I’ve been diving it for about 30 years now. I’ve seen it when it was still upright and completely intact to watch a few sections collapse and now it’s collapsed all the way so it’s a lot of stacked metal debris. You can still make out the features like the boilers, the engines, the spare prop,” Green said.
Patronis said it’s important to remember the Empire Mica because it’s a big piece of Northwest Florida’s history.