Topp, Erich, “Silent Otto”.

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Topp, Erich. Silent Otto
germanyKriegsmarineU boat commander

Topp, Erich, “Silent Otto” born 02-07-1914 in Hanover , the son of engineer Johannes Topp and wanted to go to sea from childhood. He spent his childhood until his eighth year in Celle – then he went back to Hanover. After his baccalaureate, he undertakes studies in human medicine. During this time, he spends several months to England in order to learn the language there. Erich joined the Reichsmarine in April 1934 as a petty officer, serving his first stint after being commissioned as Leutnant zur See on the light cruiser Karlsruhe in 1937, before transferring to the U-Bootwaffe in October 1937. In May 1933, Topp joined the Nazi Party   and in 1934 also joined the Allgemeine-SS  He served as Watch Officer on U-46 under the command of Korvettenkapitän Herbert Sohler       and took part in four combat patrols before he was given his first command on U-57 on 05-06-1940.   Topp led U-57 on two missions during which the boat managed to sink six ships. She was sunk after a collision with a Norwegian vessel on 3 September 1940. Korvettenkapitän Herbert Sohler, born 25-07-1908 in Attendorn, Westphalia, died 22-06-1991, age 82. Topp survived to take command of U-552, a Type VIIC boat — on 04-12-1940.  With U-552, Der Rote Teufel , he operated mainly against convoys in the North Atlantic, sinking 30 ships and crippling several others on ten patrols. One of his victims during this period was the destroyer USS Reuben James, the first US warship to be sunk in World War II on 31-10-1941. While leading to diplomatic consequences with the United States, it was his sinking of the SS David H Atwater the following year that some writers have elevated into a controversy. When Topp spotted the coastal steamer David H. Atwater  off Chincoteaque, Virginia on 03-04-1942, he surfaced U-552, overtook it from astern, and attacked with his deck gun, which was common practice. Topp fired 93 rounds and set the ship on fire. From his KTB: “93 shots 8.8 cm, ran off at high speed.” Steamer sinks. Most of the crew jumped overboard and drowned. At least one writer claims Topp’s gunners turned machine guns on the crowded small craft, but this unverified claim falls apart upon close examination.   First, the flames and gun damage made it impossible to use the damaged and destroyed lifeboats. Second, it was dark and other than the outline of the ship, there was little to be seen because U-552 was between 600 and 800 yards distant. Third, using a machine gun against a ship made no sense whatsoever, especially when ammunition was limited and it might be needed to fight off aircraft. Fourth, Topp’s KTB is absolutely silent on the matter. Last, Topp would never been allowed into the diplomatic corps after the war and stationed in Washington, DC, had he intentionally machine-gunned American merchant sailors. Twenty-four of the 27 sailors aboard were killed. Almost certainly many men were killed or wounded by the gunfire, but there is absolutely no evidence that this was intentional, or that machines guns were used, although it has been reported that way in a few books.

In October 1942, he was given command of the, based in Gotenhafen which put him in charge of introducing the new Type XXI Elektro Boot boats to active service. He wrote the battle manual for the Type XXI, and shortly before the end of the war, he took command of U-2513, on which he surrendered on 08-05-1945, in Horten, Norway. From 20 May to 17-8-1945, Topp was a prisoner of war in Kragerog, Norway.

Topp was the third most successful of German U-Boot Experten commanders of World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.   He sank 35 ships for a total of 197,460 gross register tons (GRT). Topp was also one of the few captains to remain active throughout the war. After the war he served with the Bundesmarine, reaching the rank of Konteradmiral..

Death and burial ground of Topp, Erich, “Silent Otto”.


After the war Topp worked for some months as a fisherman before becoming a successful architect. In March 1958 he joined the Bundesmarine (Federal German Navy).  He then spent four years in the USA as a staff member of the Military Committee of NATO.  Later he served in several staff positions, and for a month was deputy commander of U-boats. Konteradmiral Erich Topp retired in December 1969. He was decorated in that year with the Großes Verdienstkreuz (Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Federal Germany). From 1970 to 1984 he worked as an industrial consultant for, among others, the Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft shipyard.

Erich Topp spent his old age in the house in Remagen, which he himself designed, and gladly made his knowledge available. He got around a day. 2-3 letters which he had made himself answer to. He had survived his heavy traffic accident in 1993 well. Broken bones, brain damage with loss of language, etc .. He trained his mind with memorizing poetry. Erich Topp, however, (regretfully) stated that his field of activity had gradually diminished over time.

Topp died unspecified on 26-12-2005, in Süssen at the age of 91,  he was survived by two sons, Peter Kay (born. 1945) and Michael (born. 1950), and five grandchildren. He was cremated after a military funeral and his ashes were scattered by his sons in the North Sea.


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