The Top Ten German U-Boat Aces of World War 2

Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds

Over WW2, Germany produced a number of outstanding U-Boat commanders, from amongst this elite list, I have used the tonnage of enemy shipping sunk, as my yardstick to select the top ten U-Boat Aces from this conflict. (See "Top Ten US Navy Submarine Captains in WW2")

I will list them in rank order according to their success in sinking Allied ships, and paint a brief pen picture of each of them. A photograph of each of these German U-Boat Captains will round out each entry.

It was also axiomatic that if you sank enough enemy tonnage you could expect to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross of Germany.

This award had four distinct levels, in ascending order of importance:

  • Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.
  • Additional award of Oak Leaves.
  • Additional award of Swords.
  • And the higest award for bravery: Additional award of Diamonds.

Some U-Boat statistics.

1. U-Boat Captains, and U-Boat numbers.
Over the decade covered by the years 1935/1945, some 1,418 U-Boat officers trained and qualified as Captains.

Of the 1,156 boats that entered service, some 538 of their Captains died at sea, with a further 11 more dying from accidents. During the war, 5 died from natural causes, 2 were shot after being court martialled, and 2 were dismissed from this service.

It appears that 4 were all shot in differing circumstances, and finally 4 committed suicide post war.

2. Award of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its three superior awards.
125 members of the U-Boat arm received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, 29 had the award with Oak Leaves added, 5 had the awards of both with Oak Leaves and with Swords, and with Diamonds.

3. Ships sunk and tonnages.
2779 ships were sent to the bottom by U-Boats, to toal the staggering figure of 14,119,413 tons.

4. Killed in Action.
30,003 officers and sailors from the U-Boat service paid the supreme penalty, and were killed during WW2.

5. U-Boats lost.
630 were lost at sea, 603 of these to enemy action, 20 sank from unknown causes, and another 7 were lost from accidents, mines claimed a further 81 boats.

6. At war's end.
When the war at last ended 215 U-Boats were scuttled or blown up by their crews in port, 153 were sailed to Britian or Allied ports under Operation Deadlight. ( and that is another story in its own right. )

The top 10 U-Boat Aces.

1. Otto Kretschmer.
Final rank: Fregattenkapitan.

He had been born in Heldau, Liegnitz on the 1st. of May in 1912, and held command of U-boats U-23 and U-99. In all, he sank 56 ships to become the tonnage king of the German U-Boat service, with a total tonnage of 313,611 tons.

This was a remarkable achievement considering that Otto only spent 18 months at sea in WW2, when on the 17th. of March 1941, his boat U-99 was attacked and damaged by two British destroyers, HMS Vanoc and HMS Walker. He was unable to submerge, the U-Boat was scuttled, and along with all his crew he was taken prisoner.

Many other U-Boat Captains had a longer time fighting the enemy, but none surpassed his record tonnage sunk.

The Knight's Cross on the 4th. of August 1940, Oak Leaves added on the 4th. of November 1940, and Swords added on the 26th. of December 1941.



Otto Kreschmer. Captain of U-23 and U-99

Otto Kreschmer. Captain of U-23 and U-99

2. Wolfgang Luth
Final rank: Kapitan zur See.

Born in Riga on the 15th. of October 1913. Captained four U-Boats, U-9, U-138, U-43 and U-181. Over his time at sea, he sank 221,981 tons of shipping made up from the 47 ships he sent to the bottom. Admiral Donitz sent him off to the Naval Academy in Flensburg-Murwik to take over command there, he unfortunately was mistakenly shot by a sentry there, to die on the 14th. of May in 1945.

Wolfgang Luth was given a State funeral two days later, the only U-Boat Captain to be honoured that way.

The Knight's Cross on the 24th. of October 1940, Oak Leaves added on the 13th. of November 1942, Swords added on the 15th. of April 1943, and the final accolade, Diamonds added on the 9th. of August 1943. Wolfgang was one of two U-Boat commanders to gain the Diamonds award to his Knight's Cross.



Wolfgang Luth

Wolfgang Luth, commanded 4 U-Boats

3. Eric Topp
Final rank: Fregattenkapitan.

Hannover was his birth place on the 2nd. of July 1914. Held command of U-57, U-552, and U-2513. Responsible for despatching 35 ships, to reach a total of 192,611 tons.

After his last patrol in U-552, Topp was in charge of the Tactical U-Boat Flotilla in Gotenhafen.

Just before the ware came to an end he commissioned U-2513, only to scuttle her off Horten on the 8th. of May 1945.

The Knight's Cross on the 20th. of June 1941, Oak Leaves added on the 11th. of April 1942 and finally, Swords added on the 17th of August 1942.




Eric Topp. Scuttled his last command in May 1945

Eric Topp. Scuttled his last command in May 1945

4. Gunter Prien
Final rank: Korvettenkapitan.

Born in Osterfeld, Thuringia on the 16th of January 1908. His only U-Boat command was the famous U-47, Prien was selected by Admiral Donitz to attempt the hazardous penetration of the believedly safe British Home Fleet Base at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. He succeeded on this mission, sinking the 31,000 ton Battleship HMS Royal Oak to escape and return in triumph to Germany, and be getted by Hitler in Berlin.

Guner Prien sank 31 ships to add up to 194,103 tons, and he enjoyed a relatively short career at sea of but 18 months. U-47 was reported missing on the 8th. of March 1941 and her entire crew los. For a number of years HMS Wolverine was given credit for her demise, but later intelligence suggests tha the Corvettes, HMS Camellia and HMS Arbutus might have sunk Prien, or even that a mine claimed his boat and crew.

The Knight's Cross on the 18th. October 1939, Oak Leaves added, 20th. October 1940.



Gunter Prien

Gunter Prien who sank HMS Royal Oak
inside the British Home Fleet Base of Scapa Flow.

5. Herbert Schultze.
Final rank: KorvettenKapitan.

Born in Kiel on the 24th. July 1909. His one command U-48, he saw action early in WW2, after sinking 16 ships over his first four patrols, Schultze became seriously ill, being forced temporarily to give up his command. He then went back to sea taking over U-48 once more, in all he sank 28 ships, their tonnage being 183,432 tons, he left his boat to become Commander of the 3rd. U-Boat Flotilla. Then, in June of 1942, he was assigned to Schleswig Naval Academy, as an instructor, to pass on his skills and knowledge to young officers in training for the U-Boat  

He died in London on the 3rd. of June 1987.

The Knight's Cross on the 1st. of March 1940, with Oak Leaves added on the 12th. of June 1941.




Herbert Schultze

Herbert Schultze, Captain of U-48

U-48, the most successful German boat in WW2. The tonnage sunk is reproduced on her conning tower

U-48, the most successful German boat in WW2. The tonnage sunk is reproduced on her conning tower

6. Heinrich Lehmann - Willenbrock.
Final rank: Fregattenkapitan.

His birthday, the 11th. of December 1911. Captained U-96 over eight atrols, commissioning her on the 14th. of September 1940. Sailing out of Kiel for his first patrol on the 5th. of December that year, Heinrich sank five ships, and put a torpedo into the British 10,746 ton ship Pendrecht. On the following patrol, over two days, the 16th. and 17th. of January in 1941, U-96 sank two British ships, Oropesa and Almeda Star, both of whom were 14,000 ton vessels.

All up, this Captain, and his command, sank 25 ships with a total tonnage of 183,253 tons.

The Knight's Cross on the 26th. of February, Oak Leaves added on the 31st. of December 1941.




Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock

Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock
Captain of U-96


7. Karl - Friedrich Merten.
Final rank: Kapitan zur See.

Born in Posen on the 15th. of August 1908. Served in the cruiser Konigsberg, as a Leutenant zur See, he was her Gunnery Offic, time was served in T157, then he commanded the escort vessel F7, and was Cadet Training Officer in the training cruiser Schleswig - Holstein.

Joined the U-Boat service as a volunteer in early 1940, and sailed in U-38, as a trainee Captain with the experienced Liebe. On the 11th. of February 1941, Merten commissioned U-68, and made five successful patrols. He was part of the rescue team to collect survivors from Python and the Armed Merchant Raider Atlantis.

Mertens sank 29 ships in all,  to run up a total of 180,869 tons.

When returning to his homeland, Merten's commanded the 26th. U-Boat Flotilla at Pillau, and then later he took command of the 24th. U-Boat Flotilla at Memel.

From there, Mertens was involved in evacuating an incredible number of Memel residents, 6,000 Hitler Youth, and 50,000 locals.

October 1948 found him arrested to come before the Frimaire Trial in France, but the case could not be sustained, and he was released in March of 1949.

The Knight's Cross on the 13th. of June 1942, and Oak Leaves added on the 16th. of November 1942.





Wartime picture of Karl-Friedrich Merten.

Wartime picture of Karl-Friedrich Merten. Captain U-68.

Karl - Friedrich Merten

Karl at the funeral of Gross Admiral Donitz in 1981 , walking behind him, Otto Westphalen from U-968.

8. Victor Schutze.
Final rank: Kapitan zur See.

Born in Kiel, on the 16th. of February 1906, making him the oldest of the top 10 Aces. Commanded two U-Boats, U-25 and U-103.

Victor was at sea early in the Battle of the Atlantic, taking U-25 on his first patrol in October 1939, and achieving success on the last day of that month when he sank the French 5,874 ton ship Baoule.

Over the period of the 12th. of January to the 13th. of February 1940 he sanksix ships to add to 27,000 tons.

In October of that year he took the new boat, U-103 to sea, and on the 9th, fired off four torpedoes to sink three ships and damage a fourth.

On a patrol over April/May 1942, Otto had great success, he returned home with 13 pennants fluttering from his periscope mast  to record the 13 ships  he had sunk, they made a record of 65,172 tons sunk.

He died on the 23rd. of September 1950, at the relatively young age of 44.

The Knight's Cross on the 13th. of June 1942, with Oak Leaves added on the 16th. of November 1942.



Victor Schutze

Victor Schutze. Captained U-25 and U-103. On one patrol in April/May 1942 sank 13 ships.

9. Heinrich Liebe.
Final rank: Korvettenkapitan.

His birth place Gotha, born on the 19th. of January 1908. Commanded U-38. Prior to WW2, Liebe was Captain of U-2, and was an instructor for students at the first U- Boat school in Kiel. It was here they learned the art of becoming a submarine Captain. In 1938, on the 24th. of October, Liebe commissioned U-38 at Kiel, and he was actually at sea on the 3rd. of September when war was declared.

His best effort was over May/June in 1941, after replenishing at sea, Liebe sank eight ships to total 47,279 tons. He was off the port of Freetown, situated on the west coast of Africa. It was here, that ships joined a convoy for the run home to England, or chanced it alone.

In all, Heinrich sank 32 ships to total 168,506 tons.

When he was awarded his Knight's Cross, his boss, Admiral Donitz led the "The Three Cheers."

The Knight's Cross on the 14th. of August 1940, Oak Leaves added on the 10th. of June in 1941.



Heinrich Liebe

Heinrich Liebe
Commanded U-38

10. Heinrich Bleichrodt.
Final rank: Korvettenkapitan.

Born on the 21st. of October 1909 in Berga, Kyffhausser. Was Captain of two U-Boats, U-48 and U-109. He became the third to captain the most successful of all WW2 German submarines, U-48. On his first venture at sea, Heinrich sank eight ships which included the 11,081 ton City of Benares. He followed this up with another successful patrol, accounting for a further seven ships, this time the largest, the 10,000 ton Port Gisborn.

He now moved his command to U-109, but had an uneventful first time out with her. His second patrol with this boat was better, he came into port flying five pennants for his five victims. Continued success followed off the east coast of the United States, and on his fifth patrol in U-109, he accounted for the Blue Star ship Tuscan Star, which was the ship I returned in sailing from Liverpool via the Panama Canal to Melbourne, Australia.

There is an account of this sinking of Tuscan Star on AHOY, at this time she was full of 11,000 tons of frozen meat.

Altogether, Heinrich Bleichrodt sank 28 ships to total 162,171 tons of Allied shipping.

He died on the 9th. of January in 1977.

Knight's Cross on the 24th. of Octber 1940, Oak Leaves added on the 23rd. of September 1942.

Total tonnage, and total number of ships sunk by this top ten of U-Boat Aces in WW2. Total Tonnage Sunk: 1,980,589 Total number of ships sunk: 348.


Heinrich Bleichrodt

Heinrich Bleichrodt
Captain of U-48 and U-109



Table 1: Age of the top 10 U-Boat Aces when WW2 commenced on the 3rd. September 1939. Commencing with the youngest age.

Name Birthdate Age on
3 September 1939
Erich Topp  21 July 1914 25
Wolfgang Luth  15 October 1913 26
Otto Kretschmer  1 May 1912 27
Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock  11 December 1911 27
Heinrich Bleichrodt  21October 1909 28
Herbert Schultze 24 July 1909 29
Karl-Freidrich Merten 15 August 1908 31
Heinrich Liebe  9 January 1908 31
Gunter Prien  16 January 1908 31
Victor Schutze  16 February 1906 33
Average age of all 10 Aces: 28.8 years.

Table 2: Number of Knight's Cross, Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds awards made to the top 10 U-Boat aces.

Knight's Cross Award: 10.

Oak Leaves Award:  9.

Swords Award:  3.

Diamonds Award. 1.


Table 3: Tonnage sunk, and number of ships sunk by individual Captains in top 10 list of U-Boat aces. In descending order.

Name Tonnage Ships Sunk
Otto Kretschmer  313,611 56
Wolfgang Luth  221,981 47
Gunter Prien 194,103 31
Erich Topp  192,611 35
Herbert Schultze 183,432 28
Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock 183,253 25
Karl-Freidrich Merten  180,869 29
Victor Schutze  180,053 35
Heinrich Liebe 168,506 32
Heinrich Bleichrodt  162,171 28
Totals.  1,980,589 346



U-Boat comes home after a successful patrol.

U-Boat comes home after a successful patrol. Flying pennants from periscope mast to indicate ships sunk.


This site was created as a resource for educational use and the promotion of historical awareness. All rights of publicity of the individuals named herein are expressly reserved, and, should be respected consistent with the reverence in which this memorial site was established.

Copyright© 1984/2014 Mackenzie J. Gregory All rights reserved