Reinhard Hardegen
German World War II U-boat commander
Reinhard Hardegen
Lieutenant Commander Reinhard Hardegen is a German U-boat Commander who sank 22 ships, amounting to 115,656 gross register tons (GRT) sunk, ranking him as the 24th most successful Commander in World War II. After the war, he spent a year in British captivity before running a successful oil company and serving in Bremen's Parliament for over 32 years. An efficient and effective combat Commander, he was never known for being a virulent Nazi supporter.
Biography
Reinhard Hardegen's personal information overview.
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    LATE_ADULTHOOD
  • 2013
    Age 99
    He turned 100 in March 2013 in very good health, winning golf trophies and still driving a car.
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  • THIRTIES
  • 1952
    Age 38
    In 1952, he started an oil trading company, which he built up into a great success.
    More Details Hide Details Hardegen also served as a member of Parliament (Bürgerschaft of Bremen) for the Christian Democrats in his hometown of Bremen for 32 years.
  • 1946
    Age 32
    He returned home in November 1946, where he started as a businessman, first on a bike and then in a car.
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  • 1945
    Age 31
    In his last posting, he served as battalion commander in Marine Infanterie Regiment 6 from February 1945 until the end of the war.
    More Details Hide Details The unit took part in fierce fighting against the British in the area around Bremen, and most of the officers were killed. Hardegen stated that his survival was due to his being hospitalized with a severe case of diphtheria. For the last few days of the war, Hardegen served on Dönitz's staff in Flensburg, where he was arrested by British troops. After the war, Hardegen was mistaken for a SS officer with the same last name, and it took him a year and a half to assemble the evidence to convince the Allied interrogators of his real identity.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1943
    Age 29
    In March 1943, Kapitänleutnant Hardegen became chief of U-boat training of the torpedo school at Marineschule Mürwik, before taking up a position in the Torpedowaffenamt (torpedo weapon department), where he oversaw testing and development of new acoustic and wired torpedoes.
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  • 1942
    Age 28
    On 31 July 1942, Hardegen relinquished command of U-123 and took up duties as an instructor in the 27th U-boat Training Flotilla in Gotenhafen.
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    On 2 May, U-123 docked at Lorient, ending Hardegen's career as an active U-boat commander, although he commanded the boat for a final journey, bringing her back to Kiel for some necessary repairs in May 1942.
    More Details Hide Details Before this, however, he and fellow Oak Leaves winner Erich Topp were invited to a dinner with Adolf Hitler. During the dinner, Hardegen caused great embarrassment by sharply criticizing the lack of priorities given to the U-boat war by Der Führer, causing Hitler to go red with anger and Hardegen to receive a reprimand from Chief of Staff Alfred Jodl, to which Hardegen replied, "The Führer has a right to hear the truth, and I have a duty to speak it."
    On 2 March 1942, Hardegen left for his final patrol, his second to American waters.
    More Details Hide Details The first successes were achieved when Hardegen sank the American tanker Muskogee on 22 March and the British tanker Empire Steel on 24 March. The latter attack expended four torpedoes, however, as one malfunctioned and one was fired without having been aimed. The tanker, carrying gasoline, burned fiercely for five hours before sinking and no survivors could be spotted. The somber crew of U-123 nicknamed the night the "Tanker Torch night". On 26 March, Hardegen attacked the American Q-ship, mistaking it for a merchant freighter. After torpedoing the ship, Hardegen surfaced to sink her with the deck guns, only to find the Atik trying to ram him and opening fire on him with guns that had been concealed behind false bulwarks. Making a getaway on the surface, U-123 received eight hits and one of the crew members was fatally wounded. Approaching the Atik submerged, Hardegen sank her with another torpedo.
    On 12 January 1942, Hardegen drew first blood, sinking the British freighter Cyclops.
    More Details Hide Details On 14 January, he reached the approaches to New York harbour. Hardegen decided to proceed into the harbour on the surface. The still brightly burning shore lights helped immensely with the navigation through the unknown waters. During the morning hours, U-123 sighted the Norwegian tanker Norness off the coast of Long Island and sank her, although it took five torpedoes due to malfunctions. Following this, Hardegen decided to bottom (place the boat on the ocean bottom) the boat and wait for nightfall before proceeding into the harbour itself. During the night of 15 January, Hardegen entered the harbour, nearly beaching the boat when he mistook shorelight for a light ship. The crew of U-123 were elated when they came within the sight of the city itself, all lights burning brightly, but Hardegen did not linger long, due to the lack of merchant traffic. He did sink the British tanker Coimbra on his way out.
  • 1941
    Age 27
    His next patrol, in October 1941, took him to the North Atlantic.
    More Details Hide Details On 20 October he intercepted a convoy and attacked the British auxiliary cruiser (13,984 tons). Although badly damaged, the cruiser was towed to harbour for repairs. Some of the crew abandoned the cruiser, however, and Hardegen picked up a survivor who was brought back to France as a prisoner of war. This led Hardegen to claim the sinking. A day later, Hardegen shadowed another convoy until aircraft forced him to submerge and he lost contact. After weeks of patrolling the area south of Greenland, U-123 returned to Lorient. Hardegen's aircrash in 1936 had left him with internal injuries, a bleeding stomach and a shortened leg. He had been classified as unfit for U-boat duty, but the paperwork had not caught up with him until now. Dönitz learned of this, but needed experienced commanders for Operation Drumbeat, the offensive into American waters, and so Hardegen was allowed to go on two more patrols.
    After completing the patrol, Hardegen was given command of, a Type IXB U-boat operating out of Lorient. Hardegen's first patrol with U-123 started on 16 June 1941, with a course for West African waters to attack British shipping around Freetown.
    More Details Hide Details On 20 June, Hardegen sank the neutral Portuguese vessel Ganda, mistaking her for a British freighter. Dönitz later ordered all references to this sinking deleted from the journals of U-123 and the matter received little attention. This was the only of two known alterations of the Kriegstagebuch ordered by Dönitz, the other being in regard to the sinking of the liner. After receiving depth charge damage, U-123 returned to Lorient, docking on 23 August, with a total score of five ships for.
  • 1940
    Age 26
    Hardegen served as 1.WO (First Watch Officer) under Kapitänleutnant Georg-Wilhelm Schulz aboard and, after two war patrols, was given his own command, the Type IID U-boat, operating out of Kiel, on 11 December 1940.
    More Details Hide Details The boat was ready for its first patrol shortly before the new year and, after visiting the U-boat base in Bergen, U-147 was ordered to patrol the convoy routes north of the Hebrides. On the second day of the patrol, Hardegen fired a torpedo which failed to detonate against a large merchant ship, before being forced to submerge after mistaking a destroyer for a merchant ship. During the dive, the tower hatch was damaged, forcing U-147 to resurface after a short while to make feverish repairs only a few hundred meters from the destroyer. The gathering darkness, however, saved the boat from being detected. The water leaks had damaged the diesel engines aboard the boat, forcing Hardegen to use his electric motors when, later in the night, he saw another merchant passing by. Although slowed, the U-boat had enough speed to close the distance and launch a torpedo which sank the freighter. After interrogating the crew, Hardegen learned it was the Norwegian steamer Augvald. A few days later, Hardegen again attacked two freighters, only to find his torpedoes missing or failing to detonate. Shortly thereafter, he was ordered back to Kiel.
  • 1939
    Age 25
    In early 1939, he crashed his aircraft and was hospitalized for six months.
    More Details Hide Details Later that year, Hermann Göring declared all aircraft in German service as belonging to the Luftwaffe, effectively canceling the Navy Air Arm. Hardegen was then transferred to the Ubootwaffe and began training as a U-boat commander.
  • 1936
    Age 22
    He trained as a naval aircraft observer and, after, as a pilot, and was promoted to leutnant on 1 October 1936.
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  • 1935
    Age 21
    In 1935, Hardegen was transferred as a Marineflieger in the Kriegsmarines air arm.
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  • TEENAGE
  • 1933
    Age 19
    Born in Bremen, Germany, Hardegen dreamed of a career in the German navy from an early age. Following his graduation from high school he enrolled in the Reichsmarine as a Seekadett, sailing around the world in the light cruiser in 1933.
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  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1913
    Born
    Born on March 18, 1913.
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