Kriegsmarine Officers – U-Boat Commanders

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Korvettenkapitän Gerhard Bigalk

Gerhard Bigalk (26 November 1908 – 17 July 1942) was a Fregattenkapitän with the Kriegsmarine during World War II and commander of U-751. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Bigalk spent some years in the merchant marine before joining the Kriegsmarine in April 1934. He initially trained as an observer in the naval air force, and saw service during the Spanish Civil War, making 21 combat flights in 1937. He joined the U-boat force in November 1939. He trained into 1940, taking command of the school boat U-14 between June and August 1940. He then took command of the newly built submarine U-751 when it commissioned in January 1941.

Between June 1941 and July 1942 Bigalk commanded U-751 on seven combat patrols, sinking six ships totalling 32,412 tons, and damaged one ship of 8,096 tons. This included the 11,000 ton British escort carrier HMS Audacity, sunk on 21 December 1941 during his fourth patrol, for which Bigalk was awarded the Knight’s Cross.

Bigalk died on 17 July 1942 when U-751 was sunk with all hands by depth charges dropped by a Whitley bomber from No. 502 Squadron RAF and a Lancaster bomber from No. 61 Squadron RAF in the North Atlantic north-west of Cape Ortegal, Spain.

Bigalk received a posthumous promotion to Korvettenkapitän on 5 April 1945

Korvettenkapitän Heinrich Bleichrodt

Heinrich Bleichrodt (21 October 1909 – 9 January 1977) was one of the most successful German U-boat commander of the Second World War. From October 1939 until retiring from front line service in December 1943, he sank 25 ships for a total of 152,320 gross register tons (GRT). For this he received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, among other commendations. He earned the nickname “Ajax” during his time with the U-boats.

Fregattenkapitän Albrecht Brandi

Albrecht Brandi (June 20, 1914 – January 6, 1966) was a German U-boat commander in World War II. Together with Wolfgang Lüth he was the only Kriegsmarine sailor who was awarded with the Knight’s cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds. Brandi was well known as a daring and aggressive U-boat commander.

During his naval career Brandi destroyed twelve ships, including one minelayer and two destroyers. With these victories Brandi became the U-boat commander who destroyed the most warships. However, he is not the U-boat commander with the most ships sunk; that record is held by Otto Kretschmer with 47 victories. Brandi is ranked number 24 on the top scoring list of Germany’s U-boat commanders.

Korvettenkapitän Peter-Erich Cremer

Peter-Erich Cremer (25 March 1911 – 5 July 1992) was a German U-boat commander during the Second World War. He was half-English on his mother’s side. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Commander Engelbert Endrass

Lieutenant Engelbert Endrass (German: Engelbert Endraß) (2 March 1911 – 21 December 1941) was a German U-boat commander in World War II. He commanded the Type VIIB U-boat U-46 and the Type VIIC U-567, sinking twenty-two ships on ten patrols, for a total of 118,528 tons of Allied shipping, to become the 23rd highest scoring U-Boat ace of World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. It was Germany’s highest military decoration at the time of its presentation to Engelbert Endrass.

Kapitänleutnant Friedrich Guggenberger

Friedrich Guggenberger (6 March 1915 – 13 May 1988) was a German admiral and U-boat commander in the Second World War. He was highly successful during the war. From November 1940 until his capture in July 1943, he sank 17 ships for a total of 66,848 gross register tons (GRT) and damaged another for 6,003 GRT. He was also responsible for sinking the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal in November 1941. For these achievements he received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, among other commendations. After the war he became the Deputy Chief of Staff in the NATO command AFNORTH.

Korvettenkapitän Robert Gysae

Robert Gysae (14 January 1911 – 26 April 1989) was a Korvettenkapitän with the Kriegsmarine during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Gysae commanded U-98 and U-177, sinking twenty-five ships on eight patrols, for a total of 146,815 gross register tons (GRT) tons of Allied shipping, to become the fifteenth highest scoring U-Boat ace of World War II.

Korvettenkapitän Reinhard Hardegen

Korvettenkapitän Reinhard Hardegen (born 18 March 1913) is a German U-boat commander who sank 22 ships, amounting to 115,656 gross register tons (GRT) sunk, making him the 24th most successful commander in World War II. He was never known to be a virulent Nazi supporter, however.After the war, he spent a year in British captivity before running a successful oil company and serving in Bremen’s Parliament for over 32 years.

Korvettenkapitän z.V. Werner Henke

Lieutenant Commander Werner Henke (May 13, 1909 – June 15, 1944) born in Thorn, Germany (now Toruń in Poland) was the commander of U-515 in the Battle of the Atlantic of World War II. U-515 was sunk by the US task group 22.3, commanded by Daniel V. Gallery on April 9, 1944 and Kapitänleutnant Henke was captured along with about 40 of his crew. He was shot and killed while attempting to escape from the POW interrogation center in Fort Hunt, Virginia in the United States.

Otto Kretschmer

Otto Kretschmer (1 May 1912 – 5 August 1998) was the most successful German U-boat commander in the Second World War and later an admiral in the Bundesmarine. From September 1939 until his surrender in March 1941, he sank 47 ships, a total of 274,333 tons. For this he received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, among other awards. He earned the nickname “Silent Otto” both for his successful use of the “silent running” capability of U-boats as well as for his reluctance to transmit radio messages during patrols. After the war, he served in the German Federal Navy and retired in 1970 with the rank of Flottillenadmiral (flotilla admiral).

Korvettenkapitän Georg Lassen

Corvette Captain Georg Lassen (12 May 1915 – 18 January 2012) was a German U-boat commander who served with Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine during World War II. He was a Watch Officer on U-29 at the outbreak of the war and later the skipper of the U-160 and winner of the Iron Cross. He sank 26 ships for a total of 156,082 gross register tons (GRT) during 4 patrols, leading to a remarkable average of 39,020 GRT per patrol. His total tonnage made him the 10th most successful U-boat ace of the war.

Commander Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock

Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock (11 December 1911 – 18 April 1986) was a German naval officer and submarine commander during World War II. He was sixth among the top ten Aces of the Deep during the Second Battle of the Atlantic against the Allies, in terms of tonnage of merchant ships sunk. He commanded four U-boats, and his most notable and successful tour was commanding the U-96 a Type VIIC U-boat, which gained widespread recognition when one of its patrols was documented and publicized by an accompanying war correspondent Lothar-Günther Buchheim. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) for his achievements as a U-boat commander. The story of the U-96 was eventually made into a mini-series and film called Das Boot, in which he was portrayed by Jürgen Prochnow.

Commander Heinrich Liebe

Commander Heinrich Liebe (29 January 1908 – 27 July 1997) was a highly decorated German naval officer who served as a U-boat commander during World War II until transferred to Oberkommando der Marine (Naval High Command). He sank 34 ships for a total of 187,267 gross register tons (GRT), placing him fourth on the Aces of the Deep list. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. It was Nazi Germany’s highest military decoration at the time of its presentation to Heinrich Liebe.

Captain Wolfgang Lüth

Kapitän zur See (Captain) Wolfgang August Eugen Lüth (15 October 1913 – 14 May 1945), was the second most successful German U-boat ace of World War II. His career record of 46 merchant ships plus the French submarine Doris sunk during 15 war patrols, with a total displacement of 230,781 gross register tons (GRT), was second only to that of Korvettenkapitän (Lieutenant Commander) Otto Kretschmer, whose 47 sinkings totaled 272,958 GRT.

Lüth joined the Reichsmarine in 1933. After a period of training on surface vessels, he transferred to the U-boat service in 1936. In December 1939 he received command of U-9, which he took on six war-patrols. In June 1940 he took command of U-138 for two patrols. In October 1940 he transferred again, this time to the ocean-going submarine U-43 for five war-patrols. After two patrols on U-181, the second being his longest of the war, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten). He was the first of two U-boat commanders to be so honored during World War II, the other recipient being Albrecht Brandi.

Lüth’s last service position was commander of the naval academy at Mürwik (Flensburg).

He was accidentally shot and killed by a German sentry on the night of 13/14 May 1945. Lüth was given the last state funeral in the Third Reich, the only U-boat commander to be so commemorated.

Kapitän zur See Karl-Friedrich Merten

Captain at Sea Karl-Friedrich Merten (15 August 1905 – 2 May 1993) was a German U-boat commander during World War II. He is credited with the sinking of 27 ships for a total of 170,151 gross register tons (GRT) of allied shipping. For this achievement he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Fregattenkapitän Victor Oehrn

Victor Oehrn (21 October 1907—26 December 1997) was a Fregattenkapitän with the Kriegsmarine during World War II. He commanded the U-boats U-14 and U-37, sinking twenty-four ships on four patrols, for a total of 104,846 tons of Allied shipping, to stand 28th on the list of highest scoring U-Boat aces of World War II.

Lieutenant Commander Günther Prien

Lieutenant Commander Günther Prien (16 January 1908 – presumed 7 March 1941) was a German U-boat ace of the first part of the Second World War, and the first U-boat commander to win the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) and the first member of the Kriegsmarine to receive the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. It was Germany’s highest military decoration at the time of its presentation to Günther Prien.

Under Prien’s command, the submarine U-47 sank over 30 Allied ships totaling about 200,000 gross register tons (GRT). His most famous exploit was the sinking of the British battleship HMS Royal Oak at anchor in the Home Fleet’s anchorage in Scapa Flow.

Korvettenkapitän Adalbert Schnee

Lieutenant Commander Adalbert Schnee (31 December 1913 – 4 November 1982) was a Korvettenkapitän with the Kriegsmarine during World War II. He commanded the U-boats U-6, U-60, U-121, U-201 and U-2511, sinking twenty-one merchant ships on twelve patrols, for a total of 90,847 gross register tons (GRT) of Allied shipping, and received the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves. He is thirty-seventh in the list of U-Boat aces of World War II.

Kapitän zur See Herbert Schultze

Kapitän zur See Herbert Schultze (24 July 1909 – 3 June 1987), was a German U-boat commander of the Kriegsmarine (the German navy in World War II). He commanded U-48 for eight patrols during the early part of the war, sinking 169,709 gross register tons (GRT) of shipping and earning him eighth place on the Aces of the Deep list.

Due to several incidents of openly broadcasting his sinkings to alert the Allies of the plight of the crews, he became quite a celebrity, even on the Allied side. He was also a recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. It was Nazi Germany’s highest military decoration at the time of its presentation to Herbert Schultze.

Commander Reinhard Suhren

Reinhard Johann Heinz Paul Anton Suhren (16 April 1916 – 25 August 1984) was a German U-boat commander in World War II and younger brother of Korvettenkapitän (Ing.) and Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) recipient Gerd Suhren.

Suhren was born in Langenschwalbach, the second of three children, and grew up in the Weimar Republic and Third Reich. He joined the navy in 1935 and began his U-boat career in March 1938. He spent a year as 1st watch officer on U-48 where he received the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross for his contribution in the sinking of 200,000 gross register tons (GRT) of merchant shipping. In April 1941 he took command of U-564. As a commander, he is credited with the sinking of 18 merchant vessels of 95,544 GRT, 1 war ship of 900 metric tons (890 long tons; 990 short tons) and damaged four merchant vessels of 28,907 GRT for which he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub mit Schwertern).

Suhren left the boat and became an instructor in October 1942. He then served in the 27th U-boat Flotilla along with Korvettenkapitän Erich Topp. During the last year of the war Fregattenkapitän Suhren was the Führer der Unterseeboote Norwegen (Leader of U-boats in Norwegian waters) and from September 1944 the Commander-in-Chief of U-boats of the North Sea. After the war he worked in the petroleum industry and died of stomach cancer on 25 August 1984.

 Korvettenkapitän Erich Topp

Rear Admiral Erich Topp (2 July 1914 – 26 December 2005) 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 (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. He sank 35 ships for a total of 197,460 gross register tons (GRT).

Other U-Boat Commanders

  • Kapitänleutnant Heinz-Ehlert Clausen

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German Military History with a focus on World War 2 History including other areas of German History