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SHARKHUNTERS Salutes Veterans

ERICH TOPP (118-1985)

Kriegsmarine, U-Bootwaffe, 3rd Most Successful Submarine Skipper

Topp1aERICH TOPP was born 2 July 1914 in Hannover and was in the Naval Academy Class 1934.

He was posted on board a cruiser prior to the war and when they were having joint exercises with the U-Bootwaffe, he had to surrender his cabin to (then) Kapitän zur See Karl Dönitz.  They had many conversations during these war games and Dönitz went into great detail about the U-Boats and the way they operated.  TOPP loved what he was hearing so when Dönitz asked him if he would like to transfer over to the U-Bootwaffe, TOPP jumped at the chance.

He and Sharkhunters Founder and President HARRY COOPER (1-LIFE-1983) became good friends and COOPER visited many times in the TOPP home, and ERICH came to the USA for a visit a few times.  During one visit to the TOPP house in 1994, COOPER brought a film crew and conducted an extensive interview with him.  This is our DVD-50 and you may click here to see just a small part of what is on this DVD.     SCENE 1     SCENE 2    SCENE 3

topp2aTOPP began his career in the U-Bootwaffe with the Type II-C coastal boat U-57 where he had an outstanding run off the British coast.  Even though his ‘dugout canoe’ was vigorously attacked by Royal Navy escorts and literally shoved into the mud on the bottom, they escaped and returned safely from this patrol.

The safe return and the glory of the Feindfahrt (war patrol) was badly dimmed…..they were at the entrance to the Kiel Kanal at Brunsbüttel, waiting their turn in the lock gate, when the Norwegian tramp steamer RONA came out and slammed into the tiny 291 ton boat, sending  it to the bottom with six of her crew.  TOPP said that it was the only time in the war that ‘his eyes became wet‘.

Topp7bERICH TOPP then took over U-552 which became known as ‘der Roteteufelboot‘ or the Red Devil boat.  His turmabzeichen (tower emblem) was that of two dancing red devils.
U-552EmblemA  U-552k
The U-Boat Skippers were lionized to the level of a rock star in wartime Germany, and this photo of TOPP was seen all over Germany.  He received many letters from Germans, including one from a beautiful young woman who included her photo, and a note saying that she wanted to be his periscope. ERICH always loved telling that story.TOPP told us that these two devils represented what they had to do – sink ships; and what they wanted to do – to return safely.


20 June 1941 ERICH TOPP was decorated with the Knights Cross11 April 1942 TOPP was decorated with the Oak Leaf.
Only 28 Skippers were so decorated in the war.
TOPP was decorated with the U-Bootskriegabzeichen (Submarine Combat Badge) with diamonds in the Swastika.  Only 28 Skippers were so decorated in the war.17 August 1942 ERICH TOPP was decorated with the Crossed Swords to his Knights Cross.
Only 5 Skippers received this very high award.


At the 1998 Celebrate History in San Francisco.In his home, signing fine art prints.  He hand-signed many
prints for us to help Sharkhunters keep this history alive.CLICK HERE to see these prints.

ERICH TOPP suffered tragedy late in his life – he and a lady friend were driving from his winter home in Spain when they were slammed by another car, killing his girlfriend and shattering his femur.  The accident occurred one year exactly from the date on which his wife had died.

para20006At our Sharkhunters “Patrol in Paradise 2000” we see ERICH TOPP (right) with COOPER (left) and our P-3 Orion pilot.  When COOPER was making the arrangements, TOPP told him that he had a nurse who traveled with him, so we said we would give him two connecting rooms. “NO!; he emphatically said; she must be in the same room. Okay, so we got him the penthouse suite.  When COOPER picked them up at the airport, the situation was a little more clear – TOPP, age 86 at the time, walked off the plane with his nurse – a beautiful 26-year-old young woman.  Those sailors really know how to live!

TOPP and Flotillenadmiral ROLF THOMSEN (6327-2001) were going to hand sign our print “Yesterday’s Enemies; Today’s Friends”  COOPER picked up THOMSEN; they waited at TOPP‘s house…and they waited and they waited until finally his big white BMW came flying up the street and slid to a stop in front of the house.  ERICH jumped out and fairly ran into the house.

CLICK HERE to see this print

ROLF and COOPER looked at each other in bewilderment as ERICH yelled for them to hurry into the house.  His ‘nurse’ was due at the airport shortly and they had to hurry.  It was a scene from an Abbot and Costello comedy film!  With the Skippers seated across from each other at the signing table, COOPER would put the prints in front of THOMSEN who signed each print; COOPER would move it to TOPP who would then put his signature on the print, and COOPER would put the print on the stack…ONE THOUSAND PRINTS!  COOPER was like a one-armed paper hanger in a windstorm!  It was a warm day and within about five minutes, COOPER was soaked in sweat, THOMSEN convulsed in laughter and all the while, ERICH yelling for them to work faster, faster, faster.  When they were finished, all departed the house – TOPP sped away in his white BMW for the airport with THOMSEN yelling at him to drive carefully. These were great men!

Another victim of the Red Devil Boatthe Red Devil Boat heading out to sea
Heading out to see on patrolThe boat didn’t always look the same on her return.
HMCS SACKVILLE hit U-552 very hard
Maybe a little bent up and damaged,but the pride always showed.


Keeping a sharp lookoutTOPP confers with his L.I on the bridge

ERICH TOPP 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.
prints2  PrintAI   PrintAJ
“Knights Cross with Oak              “ALMOST HOME”                                                             “CONVOY IN SIGHT”
Leaf and Crossed Swords”

 “Yesterday’s Enemies are Today’s Friends”

kbsb15At the Sharkhunters 2000 “Patrol in Paradise” we see ERICH TOPP second from the right.