Schepke & U-100
This section is split into three pages :
Kapitänleutnant Joachim Schepke - Career and Personality.
Born the son of a naval officer on March 8th, 1912, Gustav Wilhelm Joachim Schepke joined the German Navy as a Seekadett on April 1st, 1930. As a cadet/midshipman he went on a training cruise around the world on the cruiser Emden. Promoted to Leutnant zur See in June 1934, he was the following year transferred to the U-boat training school in his town of birth, Flensburg on the North Sea coast. In June 1936 he was promoted to Oberleutnant zur See and in January 1938 was appointed commander of U-3. In June 1939, just prior to the commencement of the Second World War Schepke was promoted to Kapitänleutnant. With U-3 he sank two ships (2,348 tons) before, in January 1940, being given command of U-19, which he claimed nine sinkings for 15,715 tons.1
In early January 1940, whilst with U-19, Schepke narrowly avoided death when his boat was depth-charged off the Humber estuary. U-19 was damaged and hit the bottom, and only responded to attempts to return her to the surface after patient and skilful work by the crew.2
After a brief period on the staff of the U-Flotilla Schepke was appointed commander of U-100, and in August 1940 Schepke first sailed to the Atlantic with his new boat. In all he took U-100 out on six patrols, the second of which included the attack on Convoy HX72. The attached U-100 page details the patrol record of U-100, and shows a photograph of the boat.
Descriptions of Schepke tend to emphasise two characteristics of his personality. On the one hand he is frequently stated to have been "full of confidence and aggression"3, "confident, daring to the point of casual recklessness in his command"4, and "not a natural worrier about future problems."5 On the other hand his charm and physical attractiveness is stressed. He is described as a "matinee idol"6 and as "tall and cheerful..the fortunate possessor of great charm and fair good looks that attracted the admiration in which he revelled."7 He was nicknamed 'His Majesty's best-looking officer' and enjoyed his fame as one of the three most celebrated aces, along with Günther Prien and Otto Kretschmer, wearing his cap at a rakish tilt and adopting a breezy manner to superiors and sailors alike. This casual, dashing, debonair attitude was encouraged by Dönitz, who recognised that morale might soar if this fashion became the distinctive stamp of a U-boat officer.8
Schepke is credited with having developed a more relaxed approach to the previously rigid divisions in the U-boat arm between officers, petty officers and seamen. He introduced the 'work squad' to the U-boat base at Lorient, whereby on returning to base from patrol his crew were immediately rewarded with shore leave whilst the cleaning and repairing of the boat would be carried out by a special work squad. Such leave was often spent at new rest centres in nearby Quiberon, La Baule or Carnac. Before leaving port again he would :
"hold a party on board, at which officers and men would get gloriously drunk and fall on each others' necks, and reach a degree of camaraderie that would have made Dönitz shudder had he seen it. But Schepke knew his crew. He provided them with English jazz records, which were just then the rage in Berlin, and all the schnapps they could drink on those special party nights."9
Schepke's slightly carefree attitude and popularity with his crew is perhaps best summed up by an incident from just before the war. On patrol in 1938 in the southern North Sea he :
"delighted his crew with caustic comments as he carried out dummy attacks on passenger liners and large freighters ploughing to and from the channel."10
As their fame grew, so did a friendly rivalry between Schepke, Prien and Kretschmer. On September 1st, 1940, just before they left on the patrol which would include their assault on convoy HX72, Schepke returned to harbour and the three commanders "drove to a tiny village near Lorient and drank wine until the early hours of the next day."11 Later in November 1940 to celebrate Kretschmer receiving the award of Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross the three again went to a restaurant in a village near Lorient. Based on Kretschmer's recollections Robertson has described that :
"Schepke was still boisterous, but there was a nervous note in the gaiety. His laughter came too loud and too often, and although his success ranked with Kretschmer's and Prien's, he was given to reporting actions in which every ship sunk was more than 10,000 tons. He was curiously unable to identify his claims by name. The Headquarters staff were saying that in his efforts to keep up with his fellow 'aces' he was 'cooking the books a bit', which, in turn, bolstered his own pride. Each of the three had reached the 200,000 tons region of sinkings. Over coffee and brandy, Schepke put on a show of bravado.
The bet was settled in January 1941, with Kretschmer, who ended the war with the most tonnage sunk of all U-boat commanders, the winner.
Schepke received the Knight's Cross on September 24th,1940, three days after the attack on Convoy HX72. He was awarded the Oak Leaves to go with the Cross on 1st December, following the sinking of 7 ships during an attack on another convoy the previous month. The award of the latter had been delayed, possibly because of Schepke's notoriety for exaggerating his claims of tonnage sunk. Regardless of this by the end of 1940 he ranked first in terms of the number of ships sunk, including an impressive 23 ships in 90 days with U-100.13
Shortly after his successes in the Autumn of 1940 Schepke had a book about his exploits published. Titled U-Bootfahrer von heute : Erzählt und gezeichnet von einem U-Boot-Kommandanten (U-boat men of today: Narrated by a U-boat Commander), it was illustrated with his own paintings and took its German readers on a tour of U-100. Schepke appealed for personal sacrifice and for more recruits, noting that :
"Germany needs many submariners. The more U-boats there are to sail against England, and the more German men who resolve to face their vilest enemy on the high seas, then all the worse it is for him. And all the better for Germany!"
Introducing his readers to 'Moses', the traditional name in the German Navy for the youngest crew member, Schepke reassured them that :
"Now, quite contrary to what you, a conscientious Aryan, might think, [the term] Moses doesn't mean that we have a Jew on board. No, my dear friend. In the first place you don't find any Jews at sea at all; and secondly, the seamen would hardly share their space with such an aberration of nature."14
It is difficult to know how much of this "blatant piece of recruiting pamphleteering ......noteworthy for its exploitative style and for the often mindless commitment to political ideology"15 reflected Schepke's own views. Vause counsels caution in condemning Schepke for the contents of his book noting that :
"no U-Bootwaffe officer, not even Schepke, could release a book in Germany without the 'assistance' of ghostwriters and editors from the Ministry of Propaganda, and to condemn a man for having done so would be premature. There are better examples than Schepke of officers whose public utterances, edited or not, have betrayed them."16
Unlike Prien and Kretschmer, however, Schepke was a Nazi Party supporter. Given this fact, his revelling in the glory and acclaim bestowed on him, and his appearance as a speaker at official rallies (including a schoolchildren's rally in a packed Berlin Sports Hall, the Sportpalast, in early February 1941), it seems likely that he was not just a committed and skilful U-boat commander but also a keen supporter of the Hitler regime.
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