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German U–Boat Commanding Officers Who Died by ‘Other Means’
by Commander Fraser M. McKee 2013
Of the 1418 U–Boat Commanding Officers (C.O.s) in the wartime Kriegsmarine and apart from the 538 officers that were lost in action with various attackers, there were others who also did not survive for various other reasons. This is a list of those other C.O.s
a. Those Who Did Not Go On To Command 1,418 U–boat officers passed their C.O.s’ course. Busch & Röll say 1,411 commanded boats. So 7 who passed did not go on to command.
b. C.O. Appointments Only 1,386 commanded U–boats says one source. B. & R. say 1,411, so some of these must have been just appointments, not for operations (i.e. their boats never finished training, experimental boats, etc.)
c. C.O.s Who Died in Sunk Vessels 538 C.O.s died in U–boats that were sunk. (Mulligan says 530). At least one was badly wounded in a rocket attack that pierced the control room and died the next day. May be in the first of these counts.
d. C.O.s Captured/ POWs 104 were captured, made POWs.
e. Large Number of C.O.s 1 U–boat, U–8, had 19 different C.O.s
f. Solitary C.O.s 728 boats had only 1 C.O. (with a few others with records missing)
The following are the stories that form the purpose of this listing ...
g. 9 C.O.s or ex–C.O.s lost their lives in accidents ashore or in their boats:
i. OL Georg von Bitter on 13 January 1945 in fire aboard accommodation ship Daressalam. Although passed the C.O.s’ course, he was Flag Lt. to BdU at the time.
ii. KL Hans Bungards in an accident aboard U–3012 on 28 April 1945 at Stettin. A 20mm machine gun mis–fired, Bungards was badly wounded and died the next day in hospital.
iii. KK Wilhelm Franken, on 13 January 1945 in fire aboard Daressalam, while on BdU Staff.
iv. OL Hans Hellmann, U–733. Accidental death at Wesermünde, no explanation, on 3 March 1945.
v. KK Siegfried Lüdden, on 13 January 1945 in fire aboard Daressalam, while on BdU Staff.
vi. KL Rolf Mützelburg, U–203. In Atlantic, SE of Azores, had stopped to allow swimming from the boat. He dove from conning tower as the boat rolled and hit saddle tanks, breaking his neck and died the next day on board. Had made 8 war patrols, sinking 21 ships.
vii. OL Hans–Jürgen Radke, U–148 (to 14 Sep 1941) and was appointed to U–657 and was on trials, but died due to poisonous fumes aboard the accommodation ship Black Prince on 14 December 1941.
viii. KL Helmut Rosenbaum. Killed in an air crash at Constanza, Roumania, when on BdU Staff for Black Sea Operations, on 10 May 1944; had commanded U–boats until September 1942.
ix. KK Hans–Gerrit von Stockhausen. Killed in a road accident in Berlin on 15 January 1943, when a flotilla C.O.
h. 6 C.O.s died from war-related causes:
i. In air raids:
A. OL Erich Jewinski, U–2539, on 21 April 1945 at Kiel in the U–boat basin.
B. KL Gert Mannesmann, U–2502, on 8 April 1945 at Hamburg, by hit on Howaldt U–boat bunker.
C. OL Jürgen Vockel, U–2336, on 30 March 1945 in Hamburg
ii. Killed by a land mine OL Leopold Koch, when on Staff on 20 April 1945
iii. Killed by U–boat training errors
A. KL Freidrich Huisgen, U–235, in the Kattegat off Denmark, depth charged in error by German torpedo boat T-17 on 14 April 1945, with no survivors.
B. OL Franz Saar, U–957, in the Baltic on training exercises, rammed by tender Wilhelm Bauer, crushing conning tower and killing OL Saar on 20 March 1943. The boat was repaired and survived the war until decommissioned in October 1944
iv. 6 C.O.s died of natural causes
i. OL Wolf–Dietrich Damerau, ex–U–106 to August 1943, but died in hospital of illness 21 May, 1944.
ii. OL Martin Grasse (28 January1945) in U–3511 when under training.
iii. KL Hans-Heinz Linder (10 October 1944) as an instructor/leader in 25th training flotilla.
iv. KL Hans–Bernard Michaelowski (20 May 1941). Had been in U–62 when she was a school boat at Pillau until December 1940 when temporarily relieved.
v. FK Heinrich Schäfer, in Singapore commanding UIT–23, seized from the Italians in the Far East by the Japanese and given to the Germans. Died 8 January 1944 just before he was due to sail for Germany with essential supplies.
vi. OL Heinz-Günther Scholz (15 August 1943) in U–283 while under training.
j. In addition two other ex–C.O.s of U–boats died when on other duties ashore not connected with BdU; one, KK Rudolf von Singule, after release from the Navy at age 60 was murdered by Communists at Brünn on 2 May, 1945.
k. 4 C.O.s chose suicide during the War or at the War's end:
i. KL Peter Zschech, U–505. The boat had suffered some sabotage damage before his 3rd patrol, for which several French dockyard workers were subsequently shot. He had returned early from his 4th, 5th and 6th due to ’strange noises’ caused by the sabotage, and from his 7th due to a burned out main ballast pump. Zschech took U–505 out on 9 October, 1943 on his 7th patrol On 23 October U–505 was located by surface forces and depth charged. During the attack Zschech shot himself in the head with his revolver. The 1st W.O., OL Paul Meyer brought the boat in, after burying KL Zschech at sea. Hadley suggests Zschech was despondent because ‘he could no longer find any Allied ships to attack.’ (See Mulligan Neither Sharks Nor Wolves)
ii. KL Freidrich Steinhoff, ex–U–873 until the capitulation, when the boat surrendered at Portsmouth, NH on 17 May, 1945. Steinhoff had participated at Peenemünde in June 1942 in under-water rocket launching trials. He was evidently questioned very harshly about this in the Charles Street Prison in Boston. The C.O. and crew of U–546 had been beaten by their interrogators attempting to find out details of U–boat–launched rockets as well shortly before Steinhoff’s interrogation. Steinhoff then slashed his wrists while in the Boston jail on 20 May, 1945 and died thereof.
iii. KK Hugo Förster, ex–U–501, was captured on 10 September 1941 by HMCS Chambly and Moose Jaw during his first war patrol in this boat, his only command, when he jumped aboard Moose Jaw’s foc’sle - as he said, to ensure the ships fired no longer as they had surrendered. He was taken to England, where reportedly he was to be tried by a secret ex–U–boat ‘court’ in the camp for deserting his sinking U–501. He was moved to Canada for his protection, repatriated in January 1945 in an exchange of prisoners, and committed suicide on 27 February 1945, mostly due to the criticism by his contemporaries.
iv. KL Karl–Heinrich Harlfinger, ex–U–269. He had been hospitalized in April, 1943, and made one war patrol into the Atlantic in November, 1943, his boat taken twice to the Arctic in the summer and fall by an Acting C.O. with no successes. He gave up command in December, and committed suicide on 21 March, 1944.
v. In addition an ex–U–boat man, Rear Admiral Hans Georg von Friedenburg, who had commanded U–27 before the war and was briefly Commander–in–Chief of the Kriegsmarine in May, 1945, committed suicide on 23 May 1945 when notified he was to be tried for war crimes.
l. 2 C.O.s were court martialled by German courts and shot:
i. KL Oskar–Heinz Kusch, U–154: for ‘subversion of the military.’ He was removed from command on 21 January 1944, denounced by his 1st W.O. OL Dr.(Law) Ulrich Abel, an ardent National Socialist, to the Flotilla commander for defeatist talk in the wardroom and even to one of his crewmen on his 2nd war patrol. Admiral Dönitz had recently particularly been insistent on allegiance to German Party standards, concerned at the dropping of morale due to set-backs, and not wanting a repetition of the 1918 naval mutinies. Kusch’s remarks about ‘the Madman’ and hopes ‘for the collapse of Hitler and the Party’ had come at a most inopportune moment. Although he had sunk one ship and damaged two he was court martialled for making derogatory remarks about Hitler and the Nazi Party on 26 January, 1944 in Kiel. He was condemned to death and was shot at a rifle range outside Kiel on 12 May, 1944. Ironically Kusch was executed at almost the exact same time as the U–boat he had been commanding was sunk by RAF aircraft. (See Wiggins U–Boat Adventures)
ii. KL Heinz Hirsacker, U–572 was executed ‘for cowardice in the face of the enemy; prejudice to good order and discipline; disobedience, and making a false report.’ Hirsacker had made six war patrols in U–572, all in the Atlantic. On his 3rd patrol he had tried but failed to enter the Mediterranean. In all he sank three ships. After his 6th patrol, he was denounced by his boat’s officers for "failing to make a resolute attempt to comply with orders to transit the Strait of Gibraltar." He was court martialled, found guilty and executed on 24 April, 1943.
m. 2 C.O.s were Dismissed From the Service:
i. OL August–Wilhelm Hewicker, U–671 during building period only. ‘Released from Officer Corps’ for un–noted reasons on 4 May, 1943. 5 others were co-accused. From this it is surmised the reason was sexual misconduct.
ii. KL Günther Zedelius, U–637 which he commanded for almost a year and a half, although this was just in training and transfer to Norway and back to Kiel on 20 July, 1944, where he was released the next day; ‘Released from service’ at age 29 on 21 July. No reasons noted.
n. 1 C.O. was shot by a German sentry in error:
K.z.See Wolfgang Lüth, ex–U–9, U–138, U–43, U–181. 44 ships sunk, 222,000 grt. Was awarded all levels of the Knight’s Cross, up to ‘with diamonds’ (9 Aug 1943). Came ashore in October 1943 to later command the Naval Academy, Flensburg–Murwick. Shot by a German sentry in error on 14 May 1945. One theory is that he deliberately allowed himself to be shot by not halting when ordered to do so. The British had allowed the camp to be patrolled by armed German sentries due to the chaotic situation at the time in the area.
o. 1 C.O. was shot while a P.O.W.:
KL Werner Henke, U–515, Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves. This U–boat was attacked and sunk on 9 April, 1944 by aircraft and USN destroyers escorting the carrier USS Guadalcanal southeast of the Azores. Forced to surface by repeated depth charging, she was fired on by destroyers and aircraft. 16 men were killed, and 44, including Henke were rescued. Sent to a POW interrogation camp at Fort Hunt, Virginia, Henke was shot while attempting to escape on 15 June 1944, aged 35. He evidently heard that he was to be transferred to Canada and then on to Britain to face accusations in connection with the sinking of the troop ship Ceramic, and he presumed he would be found guilty and executed anyway.
p. 1 C.O. was executed after a British court martial:
KL Heinz–Wilhelm Eck, U–852. On his 1st patrol as a C.O. and in this boat, Eck sank the Greek freighter Peleus south of Liberia off the African coast. Survivors in the water and on rafts were machine gunned and had hand grenades thrown. In Hamburg after the war, on 17 October 1945, Eck and four of his crew were tried for a war crime in killing these seamen, trying to destroy evidence of the sinking over five hours rather than steaming away. Three men survived, picked up by a Portuguese steamer and reported Eck’s actions. U–852 was thus identified after the war, and those responsible charged. Eck pleaded operational necessity in destroying the evidence due to intense air patrolling in the area. He and four others were found guilty as charged. Eck was shot on Lüneburg Heath on 30 November, 1945, as were his 2 W.O. and Medical Officer. Two others received prison sentences.
q. 1 C.O. was lost in an Italian submarine:
(possibly this refers to Schäfer in UIT-23a, above)
r. 2 C.O.s died in action, but not from enemy fire and their boats survived:
i. OL Wolfgang Leu of U–921. Attacked by an RCAF Sunderland of 422 Sqn. while trying to help U–476 on 24 May, 1944, his AA guns became unserviceable and Leu, although wounded, ordered his boat to dive. His sea–boot became caught in the conning tower ladder, and when the lower hatch was shut to save the boat. Leu was washed upward, and he closed the upper hatch from the outside and was drowned in the heavy sea running at the time. The 1 W.O. surfaced the boat sometime later but could not find Leu, and returned the boat to port.
ii. KL Hans Benker of U–625. During an attack by 2 Liberators of RAF’s 224 Sqn. on 2 January 1944 in the North Atlantic, Benker and another seaman were washed overboard in heavy seas and drowned. The 1 W.O. returned the boat to port.
s. 2 C.O.s were demoted to the ranks, as seamen:
i. KL Helmut Franzke, U–3. ‘Demoted to the ranks; for depravity (on four occasions)’. Franzke joined the Kriegsmarine in April 1927, commanded U–3 as a training U–boat with the 21 U–Flotilla at Pillau from July to November, 1940. He was court martialled, found guilty, expelled from the U–boat arm and demoted to Able Seaman and sent to prison for 14 months about 10 November 1940. He was later killed while serving aboard a VP patrol boat on 28 May 1944.
ii. OL Hartmuth Schimmelpfennig, U–1004, in which he made one unsuccessful patrol, and aborted his second war patrol with schnorkel failure. He returned to Bergen on 11 January, 1945, and was reduced to Ordinary Seaman shortly after, no reasons recorded. He was killed in land fighting on 27 April 1945.
t. Of those that passed the C.O.s' course, 2.5% died of other than operational sinkings or destruction of their boats.
u. The oldest Kriegsmarine officer to command an operational U–boat was Fregattenkapitän (Reserve) Wilhelm Kiesewetter, who commanded UC–1 from November 1940 to May 1941. This boat was the ex-Norwegian submarine B-5, captured in 1940 and commissioned into the Kriegsmarine on 20 November 1940. He was then 62. She made no operational patrols.
v. The youngest C.O. was OL Ludwig–Ferdinand von Friedeburg who took comnmand of U–155 on 15 August 1944 when he was 20 years, 3 months old. The U–boat was the last to escape Lorient as the Allies approached, and sailed north to Norway and then to Flensburg with Friedeburg in command.
w. Korvettenkapitän (Reserve) Georg Peters, joining the Kaiserlicht-marine in 1904, serving in submarines from 1915 on; commissioned in 1938, he commanded an operational U–boat throughout the entire 2nd War: U–8, U–11, U–6, U–A, U–38. In 1945 he was 57.
- - 1. Kurowski, Franz. (1995) Knight’s Cross Holders of the U–Boat Service, (Schiffer Melituria/Aviation History, Atglen, PA.);
- - 2. Wolf Jordan Vause. (1997) U–boat Commanders In World War II and U–Boat Ace; The Story of Wolfgang Lüth, (both NIP, Annapolis, MD);
- - 3. Mulligan, Timothy P. (1993 & 1990) Lone Wolf: The Life And Death of U–Boat Ace Werner Henke. (Praeger, London);
- - 4. Hadley, Michael L. (1995) Count Not The Dead (McGill-Queen’s Press, Montreal). And correspondence with Captain Hadley, & his references to U–boat Archives, Altenbach-Cuxhaven;
- - 5. Hirschmann, Werner (in Mulligan Neither Sharks Nor Wolves);
- - 6. Busch, Rainer & Hans-Joachim Röll (1999) German U–boat Commanders of World War II (Greenhill Books, London);
- - 7. Mallmann Showell, Jak P. (1998) U–Boat Commanders and Crews, The Crowood Press, Marlborough, Wilts. UK.
- - 8. (http://uboat.net/): Uboat.net site, Commanders (On this site you will find all the German U–boats of both World Wars, their commanding officers and operations including all Allied ships attacked, technological information and much more.)
To quote from this article please cite:
McKee, Fraser M. (2013) German U–Boat Commanding Officers Who Died by ‘Other Means’. Nauticapedia.ca 2013. http://nauticapedia.ca/Articles/U-Boat.php
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