Otto Kretschmer was very attentive towards people whose boats he sank. Supposedly he gave them blankets and drinks as well as a course to the nearest land.
On this day the most famous German U-boat ace of World War II – Otto Kretschmer – was born. He sank more ships than any other submarine commander in the war, and did this in a very short period of only a year-and-a-half. Specifically, Kretschmer sank as many as 47 merchant ships of 272.043 tons in total, which is over 46.839 tons more than the next best ace – Wolfgang Luth.
Kretschmer was born in a town called Heidau, which was once in Germany, but is now located in southern Poland and bears the name Hajduki Nyskie. Young Kretschmer joined the German Navy (Reichsmarine) already at 17. In 1936 he was placed in the U-Boat force as an officer. The first submarine that he commanded was U-35, but already before the start of the World War II, he transferred to U-23. When World War II began, Kretschmer, commanding the U-23 submarine, sank his first ship – Danish tanker Danmark (10.517 tons) – near the coast of Scotland.
Kretschmer began a string of victories when he got a new submarine U-99, produced in the “Friedrich Krupp Germaniawerft” shipyard in Kiel. With it, he sunk hundreds of thousands of tons of opposing vessels. It is interesting that Kretschmer was very attentive towards people whose boats he sank. Supposedly he gave them blankets and drinks in their lifeboats as well as a course to the nearest land. On one occasion he even took a survivor from a raft in the Atlantic Ocean aboard his submarine.
In 1941, Kretschmer already held the rank of lieutenant commander (Korvettenkapitän) and the high decoration Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). However, in March 1941, the British managed to capture him, damaging his submarine with depth charges. The captured Kretschmer was held in a camp in Canada by the British, and was released back to Germany only in 1947.
After the war, Kretschmer returned to the German Navy (now called Bundesmarine). Indeed, in the end he achieved the rank of Admiral of the flotilla (Flottillenadmiral), and for a time was the NATO chief of staff of the Allied Naval Forces Baltic Approaches. He died in Bavaria at the high age of 87.