Fregattenkapitan Otto Kretschmer Otto Kretschmer was probably the greatest of the World War II U-boat aces. He was born in Heidau, Silesia, on 1 May 1912. As a young man, before commencing his maritime career, he spent some time in Great Britain where he developed a fluent command of the English language. Entering the Navy in 1930, he underwent the usual officer training of his day, which included service 'before the mast' in a sail training ship, a luxury unavailable to many who joined the navy during wartime, and a world cruise on the training ship Emden, a light cruiser. After gaining his commission in October 1934, Kretschmer spent two years on the light cruiser Koln, before volunteering to transfer to the fledgling U-boat service. Kretschmer's first command was U-35, and although this was only for a short period, it did allow him some operational experience on non-intervention patrols during the Spanish Civil War, before taking command of U-23. This was a tiny Type II coastal boat, given the derogatory nickname of 'Canoes' by the sailors due to their diminutive size. Between the outbreak of war and 1 April 1940, Kretschmer completed eight cruises in U-23, accounting for over 100 days at sea. His first operational sorties were minelaying operations off the British coast, and it was not until 12 January 1940 that he attacked his first enemy ship, sinking the 10,000-ton tanker Danmark. In February of 1940, Kretschmer attacked and sunk the British destroyer HMS Daring. In April of the same year, Kretschmer took command of a fresh new submarine, the Type VII vessel U-99, and began a two-month period of intensive training before taking her out on her first war cruise in June 1940. During this he was attacked by one of the Arado floatplanes from the battlecruiser Scharnhorst, which mistook him for an enemy submarine. U-99 suffered serious damage to her periscope, but survived the attack. Kretschmer quickly began to make a name for himself as a skilled and daring commander. He was a pioneer of the principle that for a night attack it was safer and more effective to take the U-boat on the surface right into the midst of the convoy: the tiny silhouette of the U-boat sat low in the water, and in the darkness was very difficult for observers high up on the enemy ships to spot. Kretschmer was also a skilled marksman, whose motto was 'one torpedo, one ship'. Naturally, being right in amongst the enemy ships and firing at what amounted to point-blank range was bound to bring more success. It did, however, require ice-cool nerves and considerable skill. Kretschmer as he would typically appear during an operational cruise on U-99. Unlike many U-boat captains who would forego shaving during a war cruise, and by the end of the mission look more like a bearded pirate of old, Kretschmer insisted on always looking as smart as circumstances would allow. Here he wears captured British battledress of lightweight denim, far more suitable for wear inside a submarine than the normal blue naval officer's uniform jacket. On one occasion, Kretschmer came under attack from enemy escort vessels and endured a 14-hour sustained attack in which over 120 depth charges were dropped. Otto Kretschmer earned himself the nickname schweigsame Otto, or 'Silent Otto', for his quiet demeanour. Kretschmer also insisted that he, his officers and his men made every effort to keep their appearance as smart as possible. Indeed he pioneered the use of smart U-boat overalls, by simply commandeering captured supplies of lightweight denim British battledress that had fallen into German hands after the battle for France. (The Germans later made their own almost exact copies of this British uniform.) Incidentally, the typical image seen in wartime photos of U-boat commanders and their crews as scruffy, unshaven, almost piratical looking men wearing a mixture of military and civilian clothing, is actually fairly accurate. Water was too precious a commodity on a long war cruise to be wasted on shaving, and most U-boat commanders were more interested in their men operating at peak efficiency than they were in them looking smart and well dressed. The environment in an operational U-boat on a war cruise did not encourage sailors to wear regulation 'blues'. However they may have looked, U-boat men were extremely well disciplined, each knowing that his own and his crewmates' lives depended on him obeying the captain's orders instantly and without hesitation. On 4 August 1940 Kretschmer was decorated with the Knight's Cross for having sunk over 120,000 tons of enemy shipping: in one single patrol in November 1940, he destroyed two British armed auxiliary cruisers, HMS Patroclus and HMS Laurentic, these alone totalling over 30,000 tons. On 4 November 1940, Kretschmer was awarded the Oak-Leaves for his Knight's Cross for his outstanding successes. Before long, he was the unquestioned king' of enemy tonnage sunk, and in fact his tally was never surpassed. (Only a tiny number of the great submarine aces of the Kaiser's Navy in World War I exceeded Kretschmer's score - and they were operating against virtually no effective anti-submarine measures.) Kretschmer was promoted to Korvettenkapitan effective 1 March 1941. On 17 March 1941 during his tenth war patrol, Kretschmer was forced to surface after his boat was badly damaged by depth charges dropped by HMS Walker. Immediate arrangements were put into effect to ensure the boat sank immediately after the crew abandoned ship, to prevent its capture by the enemy. Fortunately in the circumstances, only three of the 43-man crew were lost. Kretschmer and the remainder were picked up and taken into captivity. At the time of his capture Kretschmer had sunk 39 enemy ships (and damaged several others) representing a total of around 266,000 tons. He ultimately found his way to a POW camp in Canada, where he became the senior German officer. Swords were added to his Oak-Leaves on 26 December 1941 whilst he was in captivity, news of the award being passed on to Kretschmer by the Canadian camp commandant. The C-in-C U-boats. Admiral Karl Donitz, was keen to see Kretschmer at liberty once more and devised a plan to have a U-boat collect him and other escaped prisoners if they could break out of the camp itself. Canadian money forged documents, maps, train schedules, and charts of Canada's east coast were smuggled in to the camp. The prisoners dug a complex system of tunnels under the camp using shovels made from tin cans, and storing soil in the cuffs of their trouser turn-ups, to be raked back into the ground outside. Soil was also stored in the ceilings of the accommodation huts. Unfortunately for Kretschmer, one of his fellow prisoners, a keen gardener, was working in the camp's flowerbeds when his shovel broke through the soil, and he fell through into the tunnel. Kretschmer at the time was sitting in the tunnel waiting for the right moment to make his break. The U-boat ace spent the next 28 days in solitary confinement and the remaining years of the war in the same camp. On 1 September 1944, he was promoted to the rank of Fregattenkapitan: he remained in captivity until after the war. In December 1947 Kretschmer was released and returned to Germany. In 1955 he joined the post-war West German Bundesmarine and in 1957 became commander of the 1st Escort Squadron. In November 1958 he became commander of all Amphibian Forces. From 1962 he served in a number of staff positions before becoming Chief of Staff of the NATO Command in May 1965, a post he held until 1969. When he finally retired in 1970 he had attained the rank of Flotillenadmiral and was one of Germany's most respected sailors. In the summer of 1998 during a vacation in Bavaria, Otto Kretschmer died in hospital after being involved in an accident.