Kretschmer, Otto “Silent Otto”

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germanyKriegsmarineU boat commander

Kretschmer, Otto, born 11-05-1912 in Heidau, Liegnitz. At the age of seventeen he spent eight months living in Exeter, where he learned to speak English fluently. He joined the Reichsmarine  in April 1930, attaining the rank of Seekadet, naval cadet, after completing officer training courses as well as three months aboard the training ship Niobe.   He then spent about a year serving aboard the light cruiser Emden. In the second half of 1932 he briefly served on the survey vessel Meteor for navigation training. In December 1934 he was transferred to another light cruiser, the Köln.  Kretschmer remained aboard the Köln until he was transferred to the U-Boat force in January 1936, where he received extensive officer training and was promoted to Oberleutnant zur see.    Kretschmer’s first command was the U-35,  a Type VIIA U-Boat, in 1937. This appointment coincided with Germany’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War; the boat was ordered to patrol an area off the Spanish coast. U-35 returned to Germany after an uneventful patrol during which no ships were sunk. In September 1937, Kretschmer took command of U-23, a Type IIB coastal U-Boat. His most successful patrol occurred in November and December 1940 when U-99 sank three British armed merchant cruisers,

HMS Laurentic , HMS Patroclus  and HMS Forfar  . Laurentic and Patroclus were attacked on the night of 3/4 November after they responded to distress calls from the 5.376 ton British freighter Casanare, which U-99 had mortally wounded about 250 miles west of Ireland. Forfar was sunk on 2 December while steaming to join up with and escort the outbound convoy OB-251. The three AMCs totalled over 46.000 gross tons. These three successes earned Kretschmer the number-one spot on the Aces list, and was never surpassed. Kapitänleutnant der U boat, U-521, Klaus Bargsten   served aboard U-99 under Kretschmer, before being promoted to captain himself and becoming the sole survivor of U-521 on 02-06-1942. Siegfried von Forstner , he sunk age 33 on 13-10-1943 in the North Atlantic, was another of Kretschmer’s student officers aboard U-99 who later received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross

  for sinking 15 ships as commanding officer of U-402 Kretschmer was meticulous in his conduct towards the crews of torpedoed ships. He earned the nickname “Silent Otto” both for his successful use of the “silent running” capability of the U-boats as well and for his reluctance to transmit radio messages during patrols When attacking lone merchantmen in the days before wolfpack, attack in tactics began in earnest, he had been known to hand down bottles of spirits and blankets into lifeboats and give them a course to the nearest land. On one patrol in September 1940, Kretschmer had also recovered a survivor of another torpedo attack who was alone in the Atlantic on a small raft and took him aboard, transferring him to a lifeboat after his next successful attack.

   On his last patrol in March 1941, he sank 10 more ships, but these were to be his last victims. On 17-03-1941, during a counterattack by the British escorts of Convoy HX-112, U-99 was disabled after repeated depth charge attacks by the destroyers Walker and Vanoc. Kretschmer surfaced and under fire from the British vessels, scuttled his boat. Three of his men were lost, but Kretschmer and the remainder of U-99 ‘s crew were captured. That same day the British escorts scored another success against the Kriegsmarine when the noted U-Boat skipper, Joachim Schepke,   was killed, age 29, on 17-03-1941 aboard U-100, having being depth charged, rammed and sunk by Vanoc. Kretschmer’s usual standards of conduct were evident during the sinking of his boat; he signaled Walker asking for rescue for his men, taking care to ensure as many left the submarine as possible, and assisted some of his crew towards the rescue nets hung from the British destroyer. Kretschmer’s strength was evidently failing in the cold ocean; his own rescue was at the hands of a British sailor who climbed down the nets and plucked him from the water. Following his capture he spent almost seven years as a POW, prisoner of war, in the hands of the British and Canadians. In 1943, the German command tried to rescue him, in Operation Kiebitz, but that daring plan failed. In December 1947 he was allowed to return to Germany. Four of those years were spent in Canada at Bowmanville POW camp.

Death and burial ground of Kretschmer, Otto “Silent Otto”.

While on vacation in Bavaria in the summer of 1998, after an accident on a boat on the Danube, while celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary, he stumbled and was unconscious,

      he died two days later, old age 86, on 05-08-1998. He was cremated in his hometown Straubing and his ashes were scattered at the Ostsea. Two other famous Word War II personalities had a sea grave, the pilot of the Enola Gay, bomb on Hiroshima, Paul Tibbets and Hitler’s adjutant SS Sturmbannführer, Otto Günsche.

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