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Monday, 2 March 2015

Heinrich Bleichrodt


Career:

Branch: Kriegsmarine
Born: 21 October 1909 in Berga, Kyffhäuser.
Died: 9 January 1977 in München, Germany.

Ranks:
Korvettenkapitän 1 November 1943
Kapitänleutnant 1 October 1939
Oberleutnant zur See 1 January 1937
Leutnant zur See 1 April 1935
Oberfähnrich zur See
Fähnrich zur See 1 April 1933

Decorations:
Iron Cross 2nd Class 25 July 1940
U-boat War Badge 24 September 1940
Iron Cross 1st Class 25 September 1940
Knights Cross 24 October 1940
Italieniches Kriegskreuz mit Schwertern Croce di Guerra Italiana al Valore Militare 1 November 1941
Knights Cross with Oak Leaves 23 September 1942
U-boat War Badge with Diamonds October 1942
War Merit Cross 2nd Class with Swords 1 January 1945

Commands:
U-48
Takes command on 4 September 1940
Ends command on 16 December 1940

U-67
Takes command on 22 January 1941
Ends command on 4 June 1941

U-109
Takes command on 5 June 1941
Ends command on 31 January 1943

Personal Information:

Heinrich Bleichrodt was one of the most successful German U-boat commander of the Second World War. From October 1939 until retiring from front line service in December 1943, he sank 25 ships for a total of 152,320 gross register tons (GRT). For this he received the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, among other commendations. He earned the nickname Ajax during his time with the U-boats.

Bleichrodt was born in Berga, Kyffhäuser on 21 October 1909. He joined the navy in 1933 and spent his initial training on the cadet ship Gorch Fock, followed by a period on the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper. He was commissioned an ensign on 1 April 1935, promoted to sub-lieutenant on 1 January 1937 and to Lieutenant on 1 October 1939.

After training, Bleichrodt spent a period aboard the small training boat U-8 followed by a single patrol with later Knight's Cross winner Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm Rollmann aboard U-34 during June and July 1940. This was a highly successful cruise, sinking eight ships for a total of 22,434 GRT, with Bleichrodt receiving the Iron Cross 2nd Class on 25 July. He was then given command of his own U-boat, U-48 on 4 September 1940. He began his first war patrol aboard her on 8 September, going on to sink eight ships for a total of 36,189 tons.

On 15 September he sank HMS Dundee. He went on to torpedo and sink the SS City of Benares on 18 September before returning to port on 25 September. Unknown to Bleichrodt, there were 90 children on board the liner being evacuated to Canada under the Children's Overseas Reception Board's initiative in order to escape the effects of the Blitz. 258 people, including 77 of the evacuees, died in the disaster. The sinking was controversial, but the ship was not marked as being an evacuation transport, and it is unlikely that Bleichrodt would have been aware that children were amongst the passengers. He was also limited in what aid he could have provided even if he had been aware. He had been awarded the U-boat War Badge 1939 on 24 September, and on his arrival in port on 25 September he received the Iron Cross 1st Class.

He put to sea again on 5 October and undertook another highly successful patrol, sinking eight ships, including three merchantmen from the ill-fated convoys SC-7 and HX-79. He returned to Kiel on 27 October having sunk 43,106 tons of shipping. Three days before returning, U-48 was radioed and Bleichrodt was informed that he was to be awarded the Knight's Cross. Bleichrodt refused to wear it until his IWO Oberleutnant zur See Reinhard Suhren was also awarded one. Bleichrodt pointed out that Suhren had overseen all surface shooting on previous missions and was also entitled. Suhren duly received the Knight's Cross in November that year.

Bleichrodt left U-48 on 16 December 1940 and briefly took command of U-67 on 22 January 1941 until 4 June 1941. He did not carry out any war cruises before being moved to take command of U-109 on 5 June 1941. He carried out six patrols with her, not achieving the same degree of success he had had with U-48, but still sinking 13 ships for a total of some 80,000 tons. He received the Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross on 23 September 1942, followed by the U-boat War Badge with Diamonds in October. He was promoted to Korvettenkapitän on 1 November 1943.

Bleichrodt appears to have suffered a breakdown whilst at sea on 26 December 1942. He radioed U-boat headquarters to request an immediate return to port, but this was initially denied. On 31 December Bleichrodt insisted that he return, and handed command to his 1WO, who brought U-109 back to Saint Nazaire. He was transferred to a training job with the 27th U-boat Flotilla, spending five months there followed by a year in the 2nd ULD (U-boat training division) as tactical instructor for the officers. He received a final promotion to Lieutenant Commander on 1 November 1943, and in July 1944 he was appointed as Chief of the 22nd U-boat Flotilla, a post he held until the end of the war.

After the war, Bleichrodt was held by the Allies on war crimes charges pertaining to the sinking of the City of Benares, when he was accused of sinking the steamer with the full knowledge that it had been transporting evacuees. Bleichrodt denied this and refused to apologise to the survivors.

He later moved to Munich, eventually becoming the manager in a factory.

Bleichrodt died in Munich on 9 January 1977 at the age of 67.

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Sources:
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