Interviews >
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.

“There was traffic (shipping) running from Cape Hatteras north to New York, and as you know, it runs in an easterly direction. At Cape Hatteras was where our targets assembled. In the night at Cape Hatteras, in this first attack, we had 15 to 20 ships in sight at the same moment with their positioning lamps burning. It was absolutely peaceful. We could choose which target we would like to sink. This was the first trip over there.

“The second patrol started on the second of March and was back in Lorient on the second of May, two months. Our Boat for both trips was U-123. I was Second Officer of the Watch on the first patrol and First Officer of the Watch on the second patrol. On the second trip they had established a defense against submarines. For instance, there was one very dangerous moment for us when we were picked up by an American destroyer. The destroyer was so close to us that we couldn’t do anything but dive. Because of the shallow water, we could only dive to 22 meters (72.6 feet), traveling, more or less, along the bottom. We got a series of depth charges right on the boat. This shocked the boat and we settled on the bottom. The lights went out, water was coming in, and the compressed air was escaping. This was a very bad moment for our boat. We couldn’t do anything but wait for what was next. We put our life jackets on and waited. The destroyer made another run over us but did not throw any depth charges. I don’t remember how long it took, but then it disappeared. We slowly came up a bit and went out into deeper water and had a chance to repair all the damage.”

Horst von Schroeter went on to mention more current events concerning the history of submarine warfare.

“In the later days and patrols of the war, we spent 39 percent of our time above water and the rest below water because of enemy aircraft. This is just part of the information I compiled for a recent report. I have also studied our number of days at sea, the tonnage we sank, the amount of petrol we used. You see, we made a report to the authorities at Lorient, in France recently. The bunkers (submarine pens) that are there cannot be destroyed. The French Navy is no longer using the facility so it was decided to turn the bunkers into an international museum on submarines. I put together a report on the special relation of our boat (U-123) to the bunker. Our boat made the first trial to get up inside the bunker in 1941. As we were told, the idea for these type of bunkers came from Hitler himself. I put the U-123 out of commission in 1944, in the bunker of Lorient, so after the war it came into French hands. The French recommissioned the boat and used it from 1947 to 1959.”

Schroeter was asked if he had ever received the large formal document for his Knight’s Cross. He had received the preliminary, or Vorläufiges Besitzzeugnis, signed by Admiral Karl Dönitz.

“This first certificate has me with the rank of Leutnant zur See (Ensign). This was incorrect. My rank at the time was actually Oberleutnant zur See (Lieutenant J.G.). When I received my Knight’s Cross, the invasion (Normandy) had already started, and I suppose since I belonged to the Flotilla at Lorient, the formal document was probably sent there and lost along the way. I only received the first one (meaning preliminary document).”

An attempt was made not to overlook any detail when submitting a question to Horst von Schroeter. As the interview went on he took from his pocket a pack of cigarettes and offered them all around. Were the men on the U-boat allowed to smoke?

“On the U-boat you could only smoke on deck in the fresh air. You couldn’t smoke if the boat was under the surface, therefore we had to go these periods without a cigarette. I personally have smoked about 20 cigarettes a day for my whole life, but on board the U-boat, because we were always around petrol, I smoked an average of four a day.”

The tone of the conversation turned to more serious matters. Erich Topp, the famous U-boat commander’s name, came up. It seemed the Topp had been deeply affected over the years concerning the losses he had inflicted. Schroeter continued.

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