Editor's Note: We regret to report
the recent passing of Admiral Horst von Schroeter. He was a gentleman
and true friend to us at Winidore Press.
This article is reproduced from
pages 424 to 431 of The Iron Time.
Horst von Schroeter first showed us his decorations, something did not
seem quite right about his Knight’s Cross. On closer inspection it was
revealed that he had actually received a modified Iron Cross Second
Class. Some refer to this type award as the Second Class “Übergröße,”
or oversized example. Interestingly, Horst von Schroeter’s Knight’s
Cross was simply a standard size Second Class that had been modified
(see page 306-307). He was asked if he was absolutely sure this is the
award he received at the presentation ceremony.
“We were on our way to prisoner-of-war camp in the French zone, near
Kreuznach. We were going through the area in a train, very slowly, and
had been warned by the population that the French would take from us
anything they wanted. And that became true because on the first day we
had to get out all of our things, place them out, and take three steps
back. The French went along and picked up what they wanted. But because
we were warned I handed my baggage to a German civilian. This was in
the late afternoon, and it was getting dark. He took it and he brought
it to a friend of mine living in his village. And when I came back from
the French two years later, I got my baggage back from my friend.
“In this baggage for instance, had been all my medals. My original
medals. And so I am convinced I got this Knight’s Cross from Admiral
von Friedeburg in June ‘44, because I have all the other old medals
with the swastika. Yes, I am absolutely convinced.”
That point settled, the conversation moved on to Schroeter’s
experiences during the war.
“The first patrol started on the 13th of January, ‘42. This was the
first day we were allowed to torpedo ships. We went out on the 23rd of
December, ‘41, from Lorient and the passage took about three weeks in
order to spare fuel.
“I was the watch officer on a boat (U-123) of the first group of
submarines fighting along the east coast of the U.S. We started right
in the neighborhood of New York and went down to Cape Hatteras. There
were no defenses or attacks against our U-boats. We had only one bomb
thrown by a small civilian boat. And when we where on the way back (to
Germany) after firing our torpedoes, we were pursued by a Norwegian
steamer. He had seen us on the surface and tried to ram us. It took all
our power to get free, and he transmitted continuously, ‘I am pursuing
a submarine.’ It took about a half-hour until we saw an airplane. Then
we dived and all went fine. This is significant in relationship to our
early operations along the East Coast. We could go along, being aware
that the enemy was not prepared for our offensive. The commander of the
boat, Captain Hardegan, decided that we would, in daytime, spend some
time out on the deck with the entire crew sleeping, minus the poor men
on watch, of course. Then at dusk, we hurried toward the coast to pick
up targets. We would come in so close to the shore that we could see
cars driving along the coastal roads at night, their headlights
burning. We smelled the forests of the coast, some two, three miles
away. The water we were in was only ten to 15 meters deep. We would not
have been able to dive, of course.”
It was a fascinating point Horst von Schroeter had made regarding being
able to smell the trees. The question was posed if he felt that one’s
senses, like smell, might become sharper when at sea for so long.
Schroeter laughed for a moment.
“It might be. Maybe you can imagine what it smells like on a submarine
with the diesel in it. It smells quite different than trees! We knew we
smelled the forest because it is quite different from anything on the
boat or in the sea.”