U-Boat Aces: Joachim Schepke

See the parts on Otto Kretschmer or Günther Prien.

Kapitänleutnant Joachim Schepke (Crew 30) was the most arrogant of the top aces. The man who would become the leading ace and survive the war, “silent Otto Kretschmer,” was one of Schepke’s crewkamaraden.

A handsome man, he thought himself God’s gift to women. During his service, he sank 37 ships, damaged four, and was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves.

The hierarchy of the Iron Cross is as follows:

  • Iron Cross Second Class
  • Iron Cross First Class

When awarded the Iron Cross Second Class (EK II), one was given an Iron Cross but that was normally only worn on the day the award was given. After that day, one typically wore a ribbon in the second button hole from the top of one’s tunic.

One had to have to been awarded the Iron Cross Second Class before one could be awarded the Iron Cross First Class. In unusual circumstances of great bravery under fire, if the intended recipient of the Iron Cross First Class had not been decorated with the Iron Cross Second Class, then a simultaneous award would be made. One wore the Iron Cross First Class (abbreviated EK I) pinned to the middle of the left tunic pocket on one’s uniform.

The order of award of the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross:

  • Knights Cross of the Iron Cross
  • Knights Cross with Oak Leaves
  • Knights Cross with Oak Leaves and Crossed Swords
  • Knights Cross with Oak Leaves, Crossed Swords and Diamonds
  • Knights Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Crossed Swords, and Diamonds (Only one man, Oberst Hans-Ulrich Rudel of the Luftwaffe, ever won this medal which was created especially for him on Hitler’s order.)

One wore the Knights Cross around one’s neck. To ensure it didn’t fall off, most of those awarded the Knights Cross, used a leather shoelace to hang the medal around the neck. The shoelace was covered by the collar of their shirt.

Schepke was a brave man and a true combat leader. He was also a convinced Nazi. Schepke was touted by the German propaganda ministry as a worthy example for German schoolchildren. He maintained a friendly rivalry with both Kretschmer and Prien and was referred to as Ihrer Majestät bestaussehender Offizier (Her Majesty’s best-looking officer).

He spoke in the Berlin Sportpalast in February 1941 to thousands of young Germans about the U-boat war. Fortunately, he was killed in action six weeks later.

Schepke’s last command, U-100, was damaged by depth charges from HMS Walker and HMS Vanoc while attacking a convoy in the North Atlantic. Forced to surface, Schepke died a gruesome death at the hands of the HMS Vanoc which rammed his U-Boat, cut off both his legs, and pinned him to his bridge. He was last seen frantically waving his arms as his boat went down. Thirty-seven fellow crewmen met their fate while only six crew members were rescued.

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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