By Tom Dare
INCREDIBLE IMAGES illustrating the career of the most successful submarine commander of any navy during the Second World War are due to be published as part of a new book, giving a rare insight into the deadliest war in human history from the German perspective.
Images from ‘Otto Kretschmer: The Life of Germany’s Highest Scoring U-boat Captain’ by Lawrence Paterson show Kretschmer, who was responsible for the sinking of 47 vessels in the space of just 18 months, with a nervous look on his face as he is presented an award by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Further images from the book show Kretschmer sharing a beer with colleagues following a successful mission, with another seeing him barking out instructions to his crew ahead of one of his many dives.
Despite only serving in U-boats for 18 months before being captured, Kretschmer was responsible for the sinking of 273,043 tons worth of ships as commander, more than any other navy commander throughout the entirety of the war.
During his service he was credited with a string of awards by Germany, including the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, the Wehrmacht Long Service Award, the Iron Cross and the U-boat war badge. Indeed, George Creasy, Director of Anti-Submarine Warfare for the British Admiralty, was so intrigued by Kretschmer that he arranged a private meeting at his flat in London shortly after he had been captured, in an attempt to get in the mind of the man himself.
And author Lawrence Paterson says that, were it not for the advancements in technology to combat U-boats in between the First and Second World War’s, it’s very likely that Kretschmer would have been the most successful U-boat commander of all time.
“Otto Kretschmer remains almost legendary within the annals of submarine warfare,” he writes.
“During the Second World War he was the highest scoring ‘ace’ of the German U-boat service, about which so much has been written. Kretschmer was not history’s most successful U-boat commander…his credited tally of commercial shipping lies at 273,043 tons sunk and five other ships damaged, plus four warships destroyed. That ranks Kretschmer as the fourth most successful U-boat commander ever.
“However, the Second World War presented considerably greater difficulties for Kretschmer and his fellow second generation of German U-boat commanders. During the previous conflict, submarine warfare was fresh territory, whereas by 1939 weaponry and tactics for combating U-boats had already been developed and successfully used. That is not to say that further development was not required – it most certainly was – but the obstacles faced by a man like Kretschmer would not have been present for Arnauld de la Perière during his years of combat. In a letter dated 12 July 1989 Kretschmer himself expressed an opinion on this:
“The top scorer of WWI, Arnauld de la Perière, has told a friend of mine, Herbert Schultze – captain of U48 – that in his time everything was much easier because there was no ASDIC and he almost never experienced a depth charge, which in WWII was almost our daily bread, dropped from both aircraft and escorts.”
Otto Kretschmer: The Life of Germany’s Highest Scoring U-boat Captain by Lawrence Paterson is published by Greenhill Books, and can be pre-ordered here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Otto-Kretschmer-Germanys-Highest-Commander/dp/1784381926