“We couldn’t have been sunk by a nicer man”

Ellerman Line steamer SS City of Cairo

After sinking the British merchant ship SS City of Cairo on 6 November 1942, U-68 surfaced, came close abeam one of the lifeboats, and Korvettenkapitän Karl Merten made inquiry about what ship he had sunk. After being told, he gave them the best course to steer for land then said:

“Goodnight. Sorry for sinking you”

Karl-Friedrich Merten (15 August 1905 – 2 May 1993)

Kapitan zur See, German Kriegsmarine

He held the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, (the second of four grades of the Knights Cross) and was the 7th highest-scoring German U-Boat ace of World War Two. He died at age eighty-seven in 2003.

Lest we forget: six of the 311 souls on board died in the attack while another 104 died at sea in the lifeboats before being rescued.

Survivors of the sinking of the SS City of Cairo decided to have a reunion in 1984 and seventeen attended. Reunion planners did some detective work and discovered Merten had commanded the U-Boat which had sunk their ship.

He had survived the war and, ironically, become a shipbuilder. Still alive and healthy in 1984, the survivors invited him to the reunion which he attended. The reunion was held aboard the World War Two museum ship, HMS Belfast, anchored in the Thames.

Merton (center) with survivors on the foredeck

(photo courtesy of Sarah Quantrill)

Two survivors have their photo taken with Karl-Friedrich Merten 

(photo courtesy of David Simms)


Life Line: the Merchant Navy at War 1939-1945 by Peter Elphick



*The exact number of souls on board the ship, and the exact number of survivors are slightly different in the various accounts of the incident.

This post is copyright (c) 2022 by Charles McCain

Posted by Charles McCain, author of the World War Two naval epic, An Honorable German, featuring a heroic yet anti-Nazi German naval officer.