Otto Kretschmer was the most successful U-boat captain of World War Two. Kretschmer is famous as the captain of U-99 and in total he sank 47 Allied ships before being captured. Kretschmer was nicknamed ‘Silent Otto’ by his contemporaries but was captured in 1941. Kretschmer was one of the more famous POW’s sent to Camp 165 in Caithness after the war.
Otto Kretschmer was born on May 1st 1912. After a short spell living in England, he learned to speak English fluently. Kretschmer joined the Reichsmarine in April 1930 shortly before his eighteenth birthday. He served on surface ships such as the ‘Köln’ and ‘Emden’ but in 1936 Kretschmer transferred to the submarine service.
When World War Two broke out in September 1939, Kretschmer, commanding U-23, patrolled the North Sea and the British coastline. He had his first success in January 1940 when U-23 sank a tanker near the Moray Firth – though the Admiralty initially attributed this loss to a mine. One month later U-23 sank ‘HMS Daring’, a British destroyer. U-boat captains had been warned about attacking fast moving naval ships like destroyers. The success of this skilful attack was to be matched when Kretschmer moved from U-23 (a Type IIB submarine) to U-99 (a new Type VIIB submarine).
U-99 first went into action in June 1940. Kretschmer attacked convoys at night and while U-99 was on the surface. Kretschmer attacked a ship with one torpedo supplemented by fire from U-99’s gun.
Kretschmer’s most successful patrol was between November and December 1940 when U-99 sank 46,000 tons of shipping.
His nickname ‘Silent Otto’ was a reference to the fact that he maintained radio silence as much as was possible during a patrol. Kretschmer also gained a reputation for treating the crews of destroyed ships with compassion and dignity. On one occasion U-99 came across the lone survivor of a destroyed merchant ship. He was taken on board U-99 and later transferred to a lifeboat. It was not unknown for those in lifeboats to be given the bearing towards the nearest land.
Kretschmer’s last patrol was in March 1941. On March 17th, ‘HMS Walker’ and ‘HMS Vanoc’ attacked U-99. Both were defending Convoy HX-112. A combined depth-charge attack forced U-99 to the surface. Kretschmer scuttled U-99 and lost three of his men. The rest, including Kretschmer became POW’s.
During his time as a U-boat captain Kretschmer sank 47 ships totalling nearly 275,000 tons. He received a variety of awards – the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves, the Iron Cross 1st Class, the Iron Cross 2nd Class.
Kretschmer was a POW for seven years. After World War Two had finished in Europe, Kretschmer was transferred to Camp 165. Compound O of Camp 165 was for men considered to be hard line Nazis and Kretschmer was there to be de-Nazified. Kretschmer was allowed to return to Germany in 1947.
He joined the newly formed Bundesmarine in 1955. In 1962 Kretschmer transferred to NATO where he was appointed a staff officer. He became Chief of Staff of NATO Command in the Baltic Approaches in May 1965. He retired in September 1970 as a Flotilla Admiral.
Otto Kretschmer died in 1998 aged 86.
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