Otto Kretschmer, born on May 1, 1912, in Heidau near Neisse, was a German naval officer and submariner whose name would become synonymous with daring feats and strategic brilliance during World War II. Over the course of his military career, Kretschmer’s accomplishments as a U-boat commander earned him accolades, including the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. His legacy is marked by his prowess in naval warfare and his role as one of the most skilled and respected U-boat commanders in history.
Early Life and Education
Kretschmer’s upbringing was marked by his father’s profession as a teacher at a local primary school. He attended the Volkschule and later moved on to a Realgymnasium, where his academic abilities and exceptional courage were recognized. In 1929, he completed his Abitur (school-leaving certificate) at the young age of 17, with a notable comment highlighting his desire to become a naval officer.
While Kretschmer was eager to enlist in the Navy, he was too young at 17. Consequently, his father sent him to England to expand his horizons. During his time in England, he enrolled at Exeter University, where he studied under Professor Jacob Wilhelm Schopp. This period not only improved his English but also deepened his respect for British education and culture.
Kretschmer’s journey was disrupted when his mother tragically passed away due to medical malpractice. Following this loss, he embarked on travels through France, Switzerland, and Italy but did not return to England.
Joining the Reichsmarine
Kretschmer officially entered the Reichsmarine (Weimar Navy) on April 1, 1930, as a naval officer cadet. He was part of “Crew 30,” a group of 78 officer candidates. His early training took place on the Baltic Sea in Stralsund, where he underwent basic military training. Subsequently, he spent time on the training ship Niobe and later onboard the cruiser Emden, which took him on a voyage to the Far East and various other destinations.
After his experiences on the Emden, Kretschmer attended a naval infantry course for cadets in Stralsund. He then joined the main cadet course at the Naval Academy Mürwik, which included his first U-boat training. Kretschmer’s career continued with various assignments on different naval vessels, including the pocket battleship Deutschland and the light cruiser Köln.
Transition to the Kriegsmarine
The year 1935 marked a significant shift as Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power. The Reichsmarine was renamed the Kriegsmarine, signifying a new era in Germany’s armed forces. Kretschmer, a patriot loyal to the government, joined the Kriegsmarine’s U-boat service in January 1936. His training culminated in his promotion to Oberleutnant zur See (senior-sub lieutenant/Lieutenant Junior Grade) on June 1, 1936.
What was Otto Kretschmer’s Cause of Death?
During a summer vacation in Bavaria in 1998, Kretschmer tragically met his end in a boating mishap on the Danube River, intended to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary. He was 86 years old at the time. While on a holiday cruise from Regensburg to Budapest, he attempted to ascend nearly vertical steps, resulting in a fall that proved fatal.
Legacy and Honors
During World War II, Kretschmer’s leadership and strategic brilliance earned him numerous successes, including the sinking of 44 ships, totaling 274,333 tons, during his patrols from September 1939 to March 1941.
His accomplishments earned him prestigious awards, including the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. His nickname, “Silent Otto,” was a testament to his effective use of silent running techniques and his reluctance to transmit radio messages during patrols.