U-Boat Commanders


In the search for Luftwaffe Knight’s Cross holders to sign, one of my helpers managed to get in touch with two U-boat captains and as they had kindly agreed to sign, rather than waste the opportunity I sent 150 photographs along with a donation for signing. Having offered the photographs to our collectors, they proved very popular so a ‘Kriegsmarine’ series (German Navy) came into existence - although it was intended to be not just U-Boat commanders, the series soon became known as our U-Boat Commander series.  

Some 50+ years after the end of World War II U-boat commanders are fairly few and far between, not least it being a very hazardous occupation in more ways than one. The aim was to attempt to find ten for this mini-series, and some five years after starting the series, I am quite delighted to have found 16 still alive and in persuading 11 to take part in the series and also in finding a U-boat crewman who had been awarded the Knight's Cross.

The photographs are from the 1939-1945 period and are all hand-signed by the U-boat captains themselves. As is our custom each photograph will be accompanied by a brief career history. We do not envisage adding any more to those listed below.

SP(UB)01 - Erich Topp Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
Topp began his naval career in April 1934. He served 6 months on the light cruiser Karlsruhe before joining the U-boat force in October 1937. A year later he became watch officer on U-46. After 4 patrols with U-46, he took over command of U-57, with which he sank 6 ships for a total of 36,862 tons. U-57 sank on 3 September 1940 after an accident with the Norwegian ship Rona. Topp was then commanded U-552, the famous ‘Red Devil Boat’ and went on to score most of his successes in the North Atlantic against convoys and off the North American coast. On his very successful eighth patrol in March/April 1942, he sank 8 ships for a total of 45,731 tons. In September 1942 he became commander of the 27th U-boat Flotilla. He wrote the Battle Instructions for the new XXI Elektro Boat submarine in 1944, and when the war ended he was commanding one of them, U-2513, which he surrendered at Horten, Norway in May 1945.

SP(UB)02 - Seigfried Koitschka Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross
Koitschka began his naval career in April 1937. After serving on the cruiser Admiral Hipper he transferred to the U-boat force in June 1940. Six months later he became second watch officer on U-552, the famous ‘Red Devil Boat’ commanded by Erich Topp. He left U-552 after 6 patrols in December 1941 and he became commander of the school boat U-7. In December 1942 he took command of U-616 and after one patrol in the North Atlantic he managed to break through the Straits of Gibraltar in May 1943. After 6 patrols in the Mediterranean he had sunk a US destroyer and damaged 2 ships for a total of more than 17,000 tons. After torpedoing 2 ships, U-616 was located by US destroyers on 14 May 1944 and for the next 3 days was attacked by the destroyers and also British Wellington aircraft before being forced to surface.

SP(UB)03 - Helmut Witte Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross
Witte began his naval career in April 1934. Later he served on the light cruiser Köln, on the destroyer Z-22, and on several torpedo boats. In July 1940 Witte transferred to the U-boat force. After the usual training he became IWO on the newly commissioned U-107 under Kptlt. Hessler. Before he left the boat in July 1941, he had taken part in the most successful patrol of the war. He commissioned U-159 in October 1941 and operated in the waters of Panama on his second patrol. On his third patrol U-159 was a part of the wolfpack Eisbär, which operated in the waters off Capetown in September 1942. He left the boat in June 1943 and served from then until the end of the war in several staff positions.

SP(UB)04 - Gunther Heinrich Iron Cross
Heinrich was the U-boat commander of U-960, from the day it was commissioned to when it was sunk. Although not awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, Heinrich has the honour of taking the last U-boat safely passed the straights of Gibralter. After completing 2 successful patrols in the North Sea, on returning home from a third patrol covering the West of Ireland and North Atlantic, U-960 was spotted and attacked by two Mosquito aircraft of 618 Squadron on 27 March 1944, which led to 14 men aboard boat being wounded, but managed to entered port later the same day. On 17 May 1944 while operating in the Western Mediterranean during a fifth patrol, U-960 attacked the US destroyer USS Ellyson off Oran, which unbeknown to them was carrying survivors of Koitschka's U-616 which had been sunk 5 hours earlier east of Cartagene, Spain. The attack failed, but immediately the Allies launched a Swamp operation using 4 US destroyers and 2 RAF squadrons - 42 hours and 18 minutes later U-960 was sunk by 2 of the American destroyers and depth charge attacks from RAF aircraft.

SP(UB)05 - Dr Hans Georg Hess Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross
Hess joined the Kriegsmarine at the age of 16 in April 1940 as a volunteer. He spent 2 years on various minesweepers before transferring to the U-boat force in April 1942. He made 5 patrols on U-466, mostly in the North Atlantic. During her fifth patrol the boat managed to break through into the Mediterranean. In September 1944 Hess took over U-995 and made 5 patrols in the Arctic Sea. The boat surrendered on 8 May 1945 in Trondheim. Hess then spent a year in Norwegian captivity. U-995 was stricken at Trondheim, Norway on 8 May 1945. Surrendered to Britain and then transferred to Norway in October 1948, it became the Norwegian submarine Kaura on 6 December 1952. In 1965 retired from service returned to Germany where she became a museum ship in October 1971.

SP(UB)06 - Rolf Thomsen Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
Thomsen began his naval career in April 1936. After 6 months on a minesweeper he transferred to the Luftwaffe in October 1938 and received training as a naval aviator. For more than 3 years he served in several air squadrons, including Kampfgeschwader 26, the only air group in the Luftwaffe which was equipped with air torpedoes. In April 1943 Thomsen left the Luftwaffe and undertook the usual training to become a U-boat commander. On 27 January 1944 Thomsen commissioned U-1202 and made 2 patrols in the North Atlantic. Thomsen attacked many ships on these patrols, but most of his reported hits and sinkings could not be confirmed after the war, and he is only credited with one ship sunk.

SP(UB)07 - Georg Lassen Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
Lassen was 1st Watch Officer on the very successful U-29 under Kptlt Otto Schuhart. They sank 12 ships for a total of 80,688 tons as well as the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Courageous. From January to September 1941, Georg Lassen was the commander of U-29, which at this time was a training boat in the 24th U-boat flotilla. On 16 October 1941 he commissioned the Type IXC U-boat U-160, and on his first patrol as commander in March/April 1942 he sank or damaged six ships for a total of 43,560 tons. During his last patrol in South African waters, he sank or damaged six ships in less than 5 hours for a total of 41,076 tons on the 3/4 March 1943. Three days later he received the Oak Leaves cluster to the Knights Cross. He then became a tactics instructor and the chief of the "Offiziers-kompanie" in the 1st ULD (U-Boot-Lehrdivision).

SP(UB)08 - Klaus Andersen Iron Cross
Andersen served aboard the destroyer Z 2 Georg Thiele from December 1939. In April 1940 comp cdr Naval Regiment, Berger until July 1940, then joined the Naval Planning Staff for Operation 'Sealion'. In November 1940 he became the Flag Lt, Staff 2/Adm of the Fleet, then in May 1941 Flag Lt, Staff of Fleet Command. In January 1941 he undertook training for the U-boat force, and having qualified became the 1st Watch Officer onboard U-81 July 1942 until April 1943. He then completed his U-boat commanders training course and torpedo course before taking command of U-708 in June 1943. He took over command of U-481 on 1 March 1944 until the end of the war. He was freed November 1947.

SP(UB)09 - Claus-Peter Carlsen Iron Cross
Carlsen’s navy career started as a Watch Officer aboard fleet escort vessel F7 in December 1939 and in April 1940 he became First Watch Officer with the 13th Minesweeping Flotilla. He joined the U-boat force in February 1941 and after six months training he joined U-251 as First Watch Officer, under the command of Kptlt Heinrich Timm. After six months training and sea trials, U-251 went on patrol and sank SS Jutland and also attacked Convoy PQ-17. In July 1942 he left U-251 to take the U-Boat Commander’s course and on 24 October 1942 was given command of U-732. After six months as a training boat, U-732 embarked on its first patrol on 8 April 1943. On the 16 April the aircraft was attacked by RAF aircraft twice causing slight damage, it was attacked by the RAF again on the 19th and then the FAA on the 23rd but escaped unscathed, however on the 2 May 1943 a USAAF aircraft caused significant damage, causing U-732 to return to Brest for repairs. U-732 was sunk during her third patrol on 31 October 1943 in the mid-Atlantic near Tangier, by depth charges from the British anti-submarine trawler HMS Imperialist and the destroyer HMS Douglas. Carlsen was one of the 18 survivors from the crew of 49 and taken POW.

SP(UB)10 - Hans Hornkokl Iron Cross
Hornhokl was seconded to the Luftwaffe in September 1939, joining the long-range naval reconnaissance unit. He commenced his U-boat training in August 1941. In January 1942 he joined U-732 with 3 Flotilla for his U-boat commander sea training and then the Torpedo Course in December 1942. On 25 January 1943 he took command of U-566 and while on patrol U-566 was attacked by Ventura aircraft on the 7 August, both aircraft were shot down. On 24 October 1943 a RAF Wellington of No 179 Squadron dropped six depth charges which badly damaged the U-boat. The crew were forced to abandon and scuttle U-566. In January 1944 he took command of U-1007 for six months and then commanded U-3509 which was hit during an air raid on Kiel and later hit by mines, so the crew transferred to U-3512, which was sunk by Allied bombs while berthed at Kiel in April 1945. He took command of U-2502 for three days, before commanding U-3041 at the end of April, surrendering on the 8 May 1945 to the Norwegians.

SP(UB)11 - Alfred Eick Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Eick began his naval career in April 1937. He served for more than a year on the destroyer Hermann Beitzen, and he undertook 16 patrols in the first year of the war. In November 1940 he transferred to the U-boat force, where he accompanied U-176 on her first two patrols. In May 1943 he became commander of U-510. After a successful patrol in Brazilian waters, U-510 left Lorient on her second patrol assigned as one of the Monsun boats. He operated for a few months in the Indian Ocean before heading back in January 1945 with a load of important goods, such as tin and quinine on board. After being supplied with oil southeast of Madagascar by U-861, U-510 ran out of fuel in the North Atlantic, but managed to reach the U-boat base at St Nazaire in France at the end of April 1945. He was held in French captivity from May 1945 to July 1947.

Supplementary Series - U-Boat Crew
SP(UB)S1 - Gerhard Bielig Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Bielig started his naval career in April 1934. From October 1937 he joined the U-boat force, and as to stay with it until the end of the war. He served on three U-boats for more than 650 days at sea on combat patrols. He served aboard U-20, U-103 and U-177. During the war he saved the U-boat he was serving aboard three times after heavy depth charge-attacks and for this action received the Knight’s Cross in February 1943. After leaving U-177 he served as instructor in the 2nd ULD and from December 1944 in the Agru-Front (technical training group for front U-boats).