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Otto Kretschmer, also known as the "Tonnage King" and "Silent Otto," was the top U-boat ace of the German Navy during World War II. Kretschmer and his crew, using a dangerous technique called the "One torpedo, one hit," sank a total of 47 ships. This amassed to over 274,333 tons of scuttled metal. The tonnage peaking to over 300,000 if damaged ships are included.

Kretschmer was born on May 1, 1912 in Liegnitz, Germany. At the age of 17, Otto spent eight months in Exeter, England with the intentions of learning the English language. After the brief stint in England, Otto entered the German Navy's officer training school in April of 1930.

While in the officer training school, each officer cadet is put into a group of other officer cadets known as a "Crew." Each Crew would be sent off, usually on a large battleship, on a voyage which usually lasted a little over a year. They would often make stops in many countries that were near their patrol route. Otto was placed in Crew 30 where he spent 3 months on the training ship Niobe, and more than a year on the light cruiser Emden.

After becoming an officer in 1934, he was immediately stationed to the light cruiser Koln, which he was appointed the Second Torpedo Officer. Around this time, the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, which allowed Germany to build many more Naval vessels (especially submarines), went into effect. Since there was a large increase in vessels, there was also a sudden need for personnel to man them. Otto was given the opportunity to serve on a submarine, but only after a year of training with the U-Boat force.

Upon completion of his training in 1937, Otto took command of U-35. He was put in charge of patrolling Spanish waters during the Spanish Civil War. Later that year, in September, Otto left U-35 and took over U-23. It was when World War II started that Otto would start to receive his first kills. One of the more notable successes of Otto was the sinking of the Danmark, which was a 10,517 ton Danish tanker, and the HMS Darying, which was a 1,375 ton British destroyer.

In April of 1940, Otto left U-23 and was appointed to U-99. The commission with the U-99 is what made Otto famous. It was at this time that Otto adopted the "One torpedo, one ship" rule. In short, Otto didn't like the technique of firing from a relatively safe position. He felt that most "shots" were highly inaccurate, and a waste of time and effort. This moved him to take a more courageous approach, which consisted of only taking shots at night time, while surfaced. This was a very dangerous, but effective approach. The accuracy gained with this surfacing technique allowed Otto to sink many ships and earn him the nickname "Tonnage King."

Though, things weren't about to be all fruits and berries for the Tonnage King. In March of 1941, the U-99 was hit by a depth charge which was dropped from the HMS Walker, a British ship. Otto was able to surface the U-boat, saving 40 of his men; though, he was captured in the process. Otto would spend a little over six years in British captivity. Four of those years were spent in a place called Camp 30. Remember that he was trained earlier in a group called Crew 30. Weird, huh?

After his release in December of 1947, Otto joined up with the German post-war Navy (Bundesmarine). He served a very successful career, and eventually became NATO Chief of Staff in the Baltic Sea. Otto held the position for four years, until retiring in 1970 at the rank of Admiral. He carried on to live a normal retired life, and was actually called upon for consultation in the development of a game called Command: Aces of the Deep. Otto died of a car accident in 1998, while vacationing in Bavaria.

Otto's Wartime Rank Progression:

Oct 9, 1930 Seekadett (Sea Cadet)
Jan 1, 1932 Fahnrich zur See (Midshipman)
Apr 1, 1934 Oberfahnrich zur See (Sub-Lieutenant)
Oct 1, 1934 Leutnant zur See (Lieutenant-Junior)
Jun 1, 1936 Oberleutnant zur See (Lieutenant-Senior)
Jun 1, 1939 Kapitanleutnant (Lieutenant-Commander)
Mar 1, 1941 Korvettenkapitan (Commander)
Sep 1, 1944 Fregattenkapitan (Junior-Captain)

Decorations:

Oct 17, 1939 Iron Cross 2nd Class
Nov 9, 1939 U-boat War Badge
Dec 17, 1939 Iron Cross 1st Class
Aug 4, 1940 Knights Cross
Nov 4, 1940 Knights Cross with Oak Leaves
Dec 26, 1941 Knights Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (bling bling)

Sources:
http://www.uboat.net/men/kretschmer.htm - Wealth of information, including stats.
http://www.uboat.net/men/interviews/kretschmer.html - Audio interviews. Some good information concerning his youth. He has a very thick German accent (duh), so it may be difficult to understand.