I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.
Kretschmer a record-breaking World War II U-boat captain
By MARK LARDAS
June 5, 2018
“Otto Kretschmer: The Life of the Third Reich’s Highest Scoring U-Boat Commander,” by Lawrence Patterson, Naval Institute Press, 2018, 288 pages, $39.95
Every wartime activity has its ace-of-aces. In submarine warfare it is Otto Kretschmer, the U-boat commander who sank more tonnage than any other submarine commander in any Navy, during World War II.
“Otto Kretschmer: The Life of the Third Reich’s Highest Scoring U-Boat Commander,” by Lawrence Patterson, is a biography of Kretschmer.
During his career, Kretschmer sank 47 merchant ships totaling 272,043 tons. He accomplished this over a remarkable 20 months, between the start of the war in September 1939 and his capture in May 1941.
Kretschmer also became Great Britain’s “favorite German.” As Patterson shows, he was an honorable foe, assisting the crews of the ships he sank when possible. A firm German patriot, he was apolitical, serving his country rather than a party. He was also a daring and worthwhile enemy, something the British rarely resist. After the war he became good friends with Capt. Donald Macintyre, the Royal Navy captain who sank Kretschmer’s U-99.
“Otto Kretschmer” is the first major biography of Kretschmer written since Terrance Robinson’s “The Golden Horseshoe,” in 1955. Patterson’s biography is a more comprehensive and accurate account than was possible when Robinson wrote his in 1955. Patterson had access to files that were still secret in 1955. All the major participants have died, allowing greater frankness.
Greater honesty does not reflect badly on Kretschmer. Rather it allows him to be seen in greater clarity. Regardless of his cause, he is shown as a remarkable war leader. His men called him “Silent Otto” because of his reserve, but greatly respected him.
Patterson was able to accurately re-create Kretschmer’s career, including his early years in the pre-war Kriegsmarine and his wartime service. Patterson reconstructs each of Kretschmer’s war patrols in U-23 and U-99. He also follows Kretschmer’s years as a prisoner of war in Scotland and Canada. (Kretschmer very much believed resistance within the limitation of the laws of war was an officer’s duty as a POW.)
“Otto Kretschmer” is a revealing look at the career of a consummately professional naval officer. For those interested in the Battle of the Atlantic it should not be missed.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.