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SHARKHUNTERS Salutes Veterans

OTTO KRETSCHMER (122-1985)

Kriegsmarine, U-Bootwaffe
     the
MOST Successful Submarine Skipper of World War II


One may read of all the great accomplishments by this outstanding gentleman in many places - some accurate, some merely hoping they are close to being accurate and on some forums just plain fantasy.  We will cover his accomplishments on another page.  Here, however, we focus on OTTO KRETSCHMER, the man.  We will tell you accurately;
  *  How it was almost KRETSCHMER who sank HMS ROYAL OAK;
  *  Why you never saw him with the traditional "White Cap";
  *  Why his average daily tonnage sinking equaled that of de la Perrier;
  *  How the "Golden Horseshoe" became the boat emblem;
  *  Where he got his nickname "Silent Otto";
  *  His last Feindfahrt;
  *  He was almost lost in this action
  *  What kind of man he really was;
  *  How he really died
  *  What happened to his medal;

KRETSCHMER and U-23 to sink HMS ROYAL OAK?  Well, almost.

   


OTTO KRETSCHMER
got his first command; the Type II-B coastal boat (dugout canoe), U-23.  That boat is seen to the left on a barge going down the Donau River for Costanza, Rumania on the Black Sea coast to operate against Soviet forces under other Skippers including RUDOLF ARENDT (7563-2011).

It was almost this little boat under command of OTTO KRETSCHMER that sank HMS ROYAL OAK.  He was aware that the battleship was in the Home Fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow and he was formulating a way to enter and sink the ship.  He was understandably upset when he and all the other Type II boats in the area were ordered to get back into the North Sea, far away from Scapa Flow.  He was upset, but he was a proper officer and obeyed his orders.

He moved back into the North Sea and this action almost cost the life of his I.W.O., Adalbert Schnee, who later commanded U-201.  Schnee had the con and OTTO was in his bunk.  Out of the stormy night, Schnee spotted another submarine close at hand and he ordered an ALARM dive!  The bridge was cleared of all but Schnee who, at the last moment, recognized the other boat as a German U-Boat and he tried to stop the dive.  It is not possible to change the direction of a rapidly diving submarine at the wave of a hand, and so with Schnee on the bridge and both conning tower hatches fully open, U-23 disappeared beneath the North Sea. 

     
 

In his bunk, OTTO felt the sharp downward angle of the boat and was immediately on his feet as the bridge watch tumbled past him - all by Schnee, and now green water was flooding through the open hatch from the Zentralle to the conning tower.  OTTO reached into the torrent, grabbed the lanyard and slammed the hatch - but where was Schnee?  He did not come through the hatch - he must be lost at sea.

When U-23 was stabilized at her depth and the sound man could no longer hear any noises of the other boat, they came to periscope depth, confirmed that all was safe, and KRETSCHMER was ready to begin the hopeless task of looking for Schnee's body. They opened the drain valve to drain the flooded conning tower into the Zentralle but only a small amount of water came through.  Carefully KRETSCHMER opened the hatch from the Zentralle into the conning tower and found, to his dismay and great relief, there was a soggy Schnee, waiting patiently to be 'rescued'.

Seeing that the boat was still diving and the hatch beneath him to the Zentralle had slammed shut, Schnee had the presence of mind to close and secure the hatch above him to the bridge, thus saving the boat.........and himself.



 

     
 

Okay, back to the story of U-23 and HMS ROYAL OAKOTTO knew that the battleship was in this protected harbor, but he felt that a small boat, like his Type II-B, could penetrate the narrow entrance, make a successful attack and withdraw safely.

What he and the other Skippers of the Type II boats who were ordered to stand well away from Scapa Flow and the Orkney Islands did not know was that the planned operation was already in motion for the Type VII-B boat, U-47 to make this attack.

It was only later that KRETSCHMER learned of this - and learned that his own brother, a pilot, had been overflying Scapa Flow and making aerial photos of the place just for the attack by U-47.  His brother was later killed in action.


Never the "White Cap"

 

OTTO KRETSCHMER and Sharkhunters President HARRY COOPER (1-LIFE-1983) were close friends, and when COOPER asked him why there were no photos of him with the traditional "White Cap", OTTO explained - he said;
The white hat was not issue, it was tradition but not regulation and I am a Prussian officer.  I obey the rules.  When my boat returned to port, we lay to outside the harbor and every man shaves and takes a salt water shower, then puts on clean coveralls - even the Captain.  We do not come into port looking like pirates with dirty uniforms, untrimmed beards and with legs hanging over the side.  The first watch is at attention on the foredeck and the second watch is at attention on the after deck.

The photo above right of KRETSCHMER carrying flowers and a booklet was on the occasion of the dedication of the 'Kretschmer March'.  The booklet was the music and award document, and the flowers were handed to him by Fraulein von Ribbentrop.

OTTO's New Boat, the Type VII-B boat U-99

 
At the Indienststellung (commissioning) of U-99.  Note that OTTO KRETSCHMER (arrow) is wearing the regulation navy blue cap,
not the traditional nut non-regulation 'White Cap'.
  U-99 is preparing for her first Feindfahrt (war patrol), taking on
supplies.  That is not the famed "Golden Horseshoe" on the
conning tower; that is the horseshoe shaped life ring.


The Greatest Submarine Commander of all time was Lothar von Arnaud de la Perrier who sank nearly 200 ships in World War One.  OTTO KRETSCHMER made only seven Feindfahrt in World War Two but his daily average tonnage was equal to that of de la Perrier.  Why?

 

As U-99 returns from an early Feindfahrt, we see that the crew is neatly arranged (photo left) on the deck and there is no 'White Cap' on the Skipper'.  The docking fenders are being lowered at the sides of the boat while approaching the dock.

Once secured dockside, the crew poses for a triumphant photo.  Again, there is no 'White Cap' and we see KRETSCHMER directly behind the deck gun and next to the crewmember who is wearing a white cap of sorts - this is the 'Weißemütze' worn by the 'Smutje', the ship's cook.  Note that the crew is all wearing fresh coveralls and beards neatly trimmed.  As OTTO said;
 "I am a Prussian officer; we are not pirates!"

 

When a U-Boat returned from patrol, almost any and all U-Boats, the Skipper, officers and crew were in great haste to head for the recreation areas where there was plenty of wine, women and song.........or whatever.  It was not this way with U-99.  The boat went to the yard for repairs and OTTO left no doubt that he wanted his boat and his crew back at sea in the shortest possible time.  There were two reasons for this;
OTTO KRETSCHMER was a professional military man and a Prussian officer.  He attended the same military school as Baron Manfred von Richtofen and other great warriors and it was his duty to sink enemy ships.  To OTTO KRETSCHMER, duty and honor were everything;
*  As fierce and bold as he was in battle, OTTO KRETSCHMER was timid around women! Rather than hanging around places like Scheherazade as we saw in the movie 'das Boot' (there really was such a place - many of them in fact), OTTO would rather have been at sea attacking enemy ships.

He was tough but he had a heart and was chivalrous as well.  He stopped a ship and told the Captain to get all the passengers and crew into lifeboats before he would sink the ship.  As the passengers got into the lifeboats, OTTO noticed a great number of women and children.  He then ordered the merchant Skipper to put everyone back aboard then gave him a course to steer for one of the German bases on the French coast, and ordered the merchant Skipper to surrender the ship to the harbor authorities there.

The 'Golden Horseshoe'

 

Almost every U-Boat had one or more emblems PAINTED on their conning tower fairweather.  This was not case with U-99.  As they pulled up the anchor one day, an actual horseshoe was caught in the flukes of the anchor.  The crew felt that this would bring them good luck so they cleaned the horseshoe, painted it gold and screwed it to the fairweather as we see in the photo to the right.

"Silent Otto"
It is well known that this was the nickname of OTTO KRETSCHMER, but there are several explanations given as to how he came by this nick name - most of them incorrect.  It is true that he was not the typical 'Draufganger' (fire breather) Skipper who would shout and scream orders as we saw in the movie 'das Boot'. This was not OTTO KRETSCHMER!  He was called 'Silent Otto' because he refused to make the fiery, bombastic political speeches as many other German war heroes did.  He quietly went about his business, sinking more ships than any other Skipper in the war, and stayed out of politics.

His Last Feindfahrt
U-99 was returning from her seventh Feindfahrt (war patrol) and this was to be OTTO's last Feindfahrt.  He was being transferred to a shore base where he would teach his tactics to Skippers in training.  He was the best of the best - he knew how to penetrate a destroyer screen and because he had lived in England and studied at Cambridge prior to the war, he read the English and French tactical books on anti-submarine warfare in the captured French HQ in Brest - he knew what depth settings the Royal Navy used and so he kept his boat at depths they did not set on their charges.  So how was it that he was sunk?
     His I.W.O. KLAUS BARGSTEN (328-1987) and his II.W.O. were transferred off and sent to Commander's School so they could command their own boats and KRETSCHMER asked for battle experienced officers as replacements.  Instead, OKM sent him an administrative officer, H. J. von KNEBEL-DOBERITZ (681-1988) as his new I.W.O.  After a running convoy battle in which KRETSCHMER did not sleep for two days straight, he exhausted his torpedoes and set course for home.  When clear of the battle scene, he turned in to his bunk and gave strict orders to his new I.W.O. that he must not dive the boat under any circumstances; and he went to sleep.
     Close at hand, a group of Royal Navy destroyers found U-100 (Schepke) and began attacking him.  The sound of the depth charges nearby rattled von KNEBEL......and he dived the boat!  As the boat went under, she was immediately picked up on the ASDIC of the Royal Navy sub hunters and they came after this new contact.  This was the first ever in the history of warfare that a submarine was detected on sound gear, tracked by sound gear, attacked by sound gear and destroyed - all by the use of the sound gear.  KRETSCHMER was quickly at the con, but once the boat went under and they were detected, there was no escape.
     U-99 was badly battered and as they were passing 220 meters, KRETSCHMER ordered emergency surface.  Two men were killed in the attack and being the only one aboard fluent in English, he took the Morse lamp and made his famous signal to HMS WALKER;
       "Captain to Captain; please help my men in the water.  I am sunking."
Yep - "Sunking" is the word he used.  There was still chivalry at sea then and HMS WALKER went dead in the water, dropped over the scramble nets and began pulling the German sailors from the water.  OTTO and his L.I. (Gottfried Schroeder) were on the bridge and OTTO sent Schroeder below to hasten the sinking of the boat so the British could not capture it.  He warned Schroeder that the boat was nearly at neutral buoyancy and was 'riding on the vents' so he should open the valves slowly and carefully.  OTTO felt a sudden rush of air out of the open hatch past him and the boat was going down quickly.  Schroeder never returned.

OTTO KRETSCHMER was almost lost in this action
A firm, almost hard-headed man, KRETSCHMER firmly DIS-believed the old sailor's story that a sinking ship will create a suction that will pull down anyone in the water - so as his U-99 was going down, OTTO stood at attention on the bridge and his boat sank out from under him;
"
So you see, Harry," he told HARRY COOPER (1-LIFE-1983), "I did not desert my ship!  My ship deserted me!"
He survived the sinking of his submarine but he was not clear yet.  HMS WALKER had drifted several hundred yards from the spot U-99 had disappeared and, still wearing his full set of leathers AND sea boots (filled with water), OTTO made the difficult swim to HMS WALKER only to grab onto the scramble nets as the destroyer was beginning to pick up speed - they didn't know he was on the nets!  Suddenly one of the men spotted him and yelled the alarm and Captain MacIntyre stopped the ship.  Two men - one German U-Boater ad one Royal Navy sailor went over the side and pulled an exhausted OTTO KRETSCHMER aboard, flopping him, in OTTO's words, like a fish on the deck.  A young RN ensign was removing the binoculars from around KRETSCHMER's neck when MacIntyre yelled down that those were now his binoculars as a prize of war, so the young ensign brought them to the bridge.
     Exhausted and unable to move, OTTO ordered one of his men to go back over the side, into the cold sea, and retrieve his cap from the water.  The seaman did as he was ordered and brought the cap back to OTTO.  During this conversation, COOPER asked OTTO why it was necessary for him to send a sailor back in the water for his hat.  OTTO replied;
"It was necessary.  I had to surrender my ship to the British Captain and I had to be in complete uniform."
Shortly after he surrendered, OTTO KRETSCHMER fell asleep in an overstuffed chair in the Captain's cabin on HMS WALKER.  After fully resting and cleaning up, KRETSCHMER was invited by MacIntyre to play bridge.....with officers of some of the merchant ships that OTTO had just sunk!  They all got along perfectly, and MacIntyre told KRETSCHMER that these were the only truly good bridge games he'd had during the war.  Chivalry was still at work at this time and former enemies who had been killing each other the previous day could play cards together.

What Kind of Man was OTTO KRETSCHMER?
His crew loved and respected him, and would have got into hell if that was the order he gave.  When giving their wartime histories, the normal U-Bootfahrer would tell what boat he rode.  Not the crew of U-99.  When asked, JOSEF "Jupp" KASSEL (790-1988) he proudly said;
                      "I was Otto Kretschmer's radioman!"

Sharkhunters President HARRY COOPER knew OTTO KRETSCHMER better than any other researcher and the two men were good friends.  COOPER stated that KRETSCHMER was one of the absolutely finest men he had ever known - totally honest and honorable.

How Did OTTO KRETSCHMER Die?
There are as many reports, theories and wild eyed guesses as there are forums on the Internet - most of which are pure speculation and fiction.  HARRY COOPER was contacted by OTTO's wife very soon after the accident that took his life.  On 3 August 1998, they were on a luxury cruise boat on the Donau (Danube) River celebrating their 50th (Golden) wedding anniversary.  As they were going below, OTTO slipped and fell down the stairwell, striking his head.  He was rushed to a nearby hospital in München but it was to no avail.  Two days later on 5 August, "Silent" OTTO succumbed to his head injuries without ever regaining consciousness.  His wife was so devastated that she just gave up and died two years later, almost to the day.


What Happened to OTTO's Medals?

 

OTTO KRETSCHMER was decorated with so many medals that it is difficult to remember them all.  The most prominent of them all included;
     The Knights Cross;
     The Oak Leaf to the Knights Cross;
     The U-Boat Combat Badge in Gold with Diamonds;
     The Crossed Swords to the Knights Cross.

In this photo left, OTTO is wearing his Knights Cross with Oak Leaf and Crossed Swords.  What make this so interesting is the fact that he was already in British Prisoner of War Camp when this award was made.  The medal came through the International Red Cross to the PoW camp and the Commandant bestowed it on OTTO.  Chivalry was still alive in WW II at that time.

     
 
Knights Cross   Knights Cross with Oak Leaf
     
 
Knights Cross with Oak Leaf and Crossed Swords   U-Bootskriegsabzeichen mit Brillianten
    There would be nine diamonds forming the Swastika

As a Normal Man.....

 
OTTO explaining tactics to COOPER   Making a joke - OTTO had a great sense of humor
     
 
Going over charts of sea battles   Mrs. Kretschmer is shooting the photos
     
 

One morning on the breakfast patio at the KRETSCHMER home, OTTO was reading his newspaper while Mrs. Kretschmer and COOPER talked over breakfast tea.  She had been married before, to a doctor who was killed in action with the Afrika Korps.  She told COOPER that he was such a fine man that she knew there would never be another like him.  Her eyes misted up and a smile came to her lips, and then she said;

   
"And then I met 'Silent Otto'............."

They were deeply in love.

     
 

A canal ran along behind the Kretschmer house and here we see Mrs. Kretschmer feeding the ducks with their little Schnauzer Juli.  Later, a mated pair of swans came by with their offspring, about six cygnets, and they were looking for food as well.  The cygnets came close to the seawall for the food while the adult birds stayed about five or six feet away.  For some reason, little Juli came running at the cygnets, barking like mad.  In a rush of roiling water that must have looked like a surfacing submarine, Papa Swan came roaring out of the water heading right at Juli - who decided that it was time to leave but with about six feet of wingspan flailing about and huge clawed feet ripping chunks of OTTO's grass up, Papa Swan was hot after Juli all the while making a tremendous hissing sound.

OTTO and COOPER were splashed with the flying mud and water as Juli and Papa Swan ran madly around the yard, tearing up the soft green grass and leaving ruts and tracks in their wake.

   


All the time this was going on, as the pair ran high speed circles around the yard, OTTO was hurling breakfast rolls at Juli and yelling at him in German.  COOPER couldn't translate the words, but he said that he was sure it was not 'Good doggie!'

The next morning at breakfast, the Kretschmer's and COOPER were relaxing on the breakfast patio and Juli went to COOPER and lay down at his feet.  OTTO peered over the top of his newspaper and said;
    
"Juli is happy.  My family is complete."
COOPER said that this was one of the warmest compliments he had ever received.  OTTO KRETSCHMER indeed, was a fine man!

Our DVD-56 features OTTO KRETSCHMER and you may get a glimpse of that DVD - click here:  SCENE 1   SCENE 2   SCENE 3

OTTO KRETSCHMER was with us for several of our "Patrols" in Germany and also in the USA.  He had a great sense of humor - during one 'Patrol' in Germany, our bus stopped at our little gasthaus and COOPER went inside to check on the rooms.  OTTO and his wife were already in the dining room.  COOPER returned to the bus, instructed everyone to check into their room then come right down to the dining room for the evening meal.  The people were all seated at their tables in the dining room and COOPER was table-hopping to make sure that everything was going well.  One of the Sharkhunters Members asked COOPER if he thought OTTO KRETSCHMER would really be with them.  COOPER grinned and said;
"Let's ask this gentleman here.  Sir, do you think that OTTO KRETSCHMER will be with us on this trip?"

........to which OTTO smiled and replied;
"I think he is already here."      at which point the Member nearly fell out of his chair.  Yes, OTTO was a great guy.  He served ten years on our Sharkhunters Advisory Board and you can see the Board Members by clicking here    TO THE ADVISORS PAGE 

OTTO KRETSCHMER was a strong, supportive Member of Sharkhunters and a good friend.  He hand signed some of our very rare fine art prints.  Click on the prints to see their descriptions.
      
    
"Knights Cross                             "ALMOST HOME"                                "CONVOY IN SIGHT"
    with Oak Leaf
 and Crossed Swords"



       "U-99 vs. HMS LAURENTIC
       
and HMS PATROCLEUS"

OTTO KRETSCHMER served ten years on our Sharkhunters Advisory Boats.
Click here to view the entire Board.    
BACK TO ADVISORS PAGE 

Enjoy your morning coffee with OTTO KRETSCHMER.  Click on the
image of the Sharkhunters Historic Coffee Mug here for more information.

 

CLICK HERE to see OTTO KRETSCHMER aboard an American submarine.

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