2 July 1914|
26 December 2005
Nazi Germany (to 1945)
|Years of service||
1st U-boat Flotilla
7th U-boat Flotilla
4th U-boat Flotilla
11th U-boat Flotilla
5 May 1940 - 15 September 1940
4 December 1940 - 8 September 1942
Flottillenchef 27th U-boat Flotilla
September 1942 - March 1945
23 March 1945 - 26 April 1945
27 April 1945 - 8 May 1945
U-boat War Badge with Diamonds
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
Great Cross of Merit
|Other work||Architect, Joined the Bundesmarine in 1958|
Erich Topp (2 July 1914 – 26 December 2005) was the third most successful of German U-Boot Experten commanders of World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern). The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. He sank 35 ships for a total of 197,460 gross register tons (GRT). After the war he served with the Bundesmarine, reaching the rank of Konteradmiral (rear admiral).
- Early life and career 1
- World War II 2
- Later life and Bundesmarine 3
- Promotions 4
Summary of career 5
- Ships attacked 5.1
- Awards 5.2
- Wehrmachtbericht references 5.3
- Notes 6
- Citations 7.1
- Bibliography 7.2
- External links 8
Early life and career
Incorporates information from the corresponding article in the German WorldHeritage
Topp was born in Hannover, the son of engineer John Topp, and joined the Reichsmarine in 1934, serving his first stint after being commissioned as Leutnant zur See (Ensign) on the light cruiser Karlsruhe in 1937, before transferring to the U-Bootwaffe (submarine fleet) in October 1937.
World War II
He served as Watch Officer on U-46 under the command of Herbert Sohler and took part in four combat patrols before he was given his first command on U-57 on 5 June 1940. He led U-57 on two missions during which the boat managed to sink six ships. She was sunk after a collision with a Norwegian vessel on 3 September 1940.
Topp survived to take command of U-552, a Type VIIC boat — on 4 December 1940. With U-552, Der Rote Teufel, he operated mainly against convoys in the North Atlantic, sinking 30 ships and crippling several others on ten patrols. One of his victims during this period was the destroyer USS Reuben James, the first US warship to be sunk in World War II on 31 October 1941. While leading to diplomatic consequences with the United States, it was his sinking of the SS David H. Atwater the following year that some writers have elevated into a controversy. When Topp spotted the coastal steamer David H. Atwater off Chincoteague, Virginia on 3 April 1942 (often mistakenly dated April 2, 1942), he surfaced U-552, overtook it from astern, and attacked with his deck gun, which was common practice. Topp fired 93 rounds and set the ship on fire. From his KTB: "93 shots 8.8 cm, ran off at high speed." Steamer sinks. Most of the crew jumped overboard and drowned. At least one writer claims Topp’s gunners turned machine guns on the crowded small craft, but this unverified claim falls apart upon close examination. First, the flames and gun damage made it impossible to use the damaged and destroyed lifeboats. Second, it was dark and other than the outline of the ship, there was little to be seen because U-552 was between 600 and 800 yards distant. Third, using a machine gun against a ship made no sense whatsoever, especially when ammunition was limited and it might be needed to fight off aircraft. Fourth, Topp's KTB is absolutely silent on the matter. Last, Topp would never been allowed into the diplomatic corps after the war and stationed in Washington, DC, had he intentionally machine-gunned American merchant sailors. Twenty-four of the 27 sailors aboard were killed. Almost certainly many men were killed or wounded by the gunfire, but there is absolutely no evidence that this was intentional, or that machines guns were used, although it has been reported that way in a few books.
In October 1942, he was given command of the 27th U-boat Flotilla, based in Gotenhafen (now Gdynia, Poland), which put him in charge of introducing the new Type XXI Elektro Boot boats to active service. He wrote the battle manual for the Type XXI, and shortly before the end of the war, he took command of U-2513, on which he surrendered on 8 May 1945, in Horten, Norway. From 20 May to 17 August 1945, Topp was a prisoner of war in Kragerog (Norway).
Later life and Bundesmarine
On 4 June 1946, he started at the Technical University of Hanover, studying architecture, and graduated in 1950 with a degree in engineering. He also served as technical advisor for the 1957 film Sharks and Minnows.
After his re-entry into the Bundesmarine on 3 March 1958 and a briefing at the Naval Staff, he served from 16 August 1958 as Chief of Staff at NATO's Military Committee in Washington DC. Subsequently he was on 1 October 1963 appointed Chief of Staff in command of the fleet, and served from 1 July 1965 as Deputy Director in the Naval Staff, employed in the Ministry of Defence. Promoted to flotilla admiral on 15 November 1965, he was simultaneously appointed chief of the operations staff of the Navy and Deputy Chief of the Navy. Promoted to Rear Admiral on 21 December 1966, as a tribute to his efforts in rebuilding the navy and the establishment of the transatlantic alliance, on 19 September 1969 he was awarded the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He retired on 31 December 1969.
After retiring from the Bundesmarine, for a few years Topp was a technical advisor to the German shipyard HDW AG. His service as a NATO advisor was loosely portrayed (as "Commodore Wolfgang Schrepke") in the 1965 movie The Bedford Incident. His memoirs "The Odyssey of a U-Boat Commander: The Recollections of Erich Topp" was published in 1992. When Topp was asked in 1996 by publisher/historian Theodore P. Savas to contribute a Foreword for a collection of essays on German U-boat commanders, he instead submitted a deeply moving contribution about his close friend and fellow ace Engelbert Endrass, who was lost with his crew and boat U-567 off Gibraltar in late December 1941. Topp had privately penned the piece about their legendary friendship on his next patrol to the east coast of America, but had never submitted it for publication. The essay was translated from the original German and footnoted by Dr. Eric Rust, and appeared as the opening chapter in "Silent Hunters: German U-boat Commanders of World War II" (1997, 2003, 2005). Savas also recruited Topp to serve as the technical adviser for the 2001 submarine simulation computer game Silent Hunter II, and a series of interviews with him appears with the game. He was interviewed on World War II submarine operations for the Nova (TV series) special Hitler's Lost Sub, which detailed the efforts of a team of divers, led by John Chatterton and Richie Kohler to identify an unknown German U-Boat wreck 65 miles off the coast of New Jersey; the wreck was identified as U-869.
Topp died on 26 December 2005, in Süßen at the age of 91; he was survived by two sons, Peter Kay (b. 1945) and Michael (b. 1950), and five grandchildren.
- Offiziersanwärter (officer cadet) – 8 April 1934
- Seekadett (naval cadet) – 1934
- Fähnrich zur See (midshipman) – 1 July 1935
- Oberfähnrich zur see (senior midshipman) – 1 January 1937
- Leutnant zur See (acting sub-lieutenant) – 1 April 1937
- Oberleutnant zur See (sub-lieutenant) – 1 April 1939
- Kapitänleutnant (captain lieutenant/lieutenant) – 1 September 1941
- Korvettenkapitän (corvette captain/lieutenant commander) – 17 August 1942
- Fregattenkapitän (frigate captain/commander) – 1 December 1944
- Fregattenkapitän (frigate captain/commander) - 3 March 1958
- Kapitän zur See (captain at sea/captain) - 1 November 1959
- Flottillenadmiral (flotilla admiral/commodore) - 15 November 1965
- Konteradmiral (rear admiral) - 21 December 1966
Summary of career
As a U-boat commander of U-57 and U-552, Topp is credited with the sinking of 35 ships for a total of 197,460 gross register tons (GRT), further damaging four ships of 32,317 GRT and sinking one warship, USS Reuben James, of 1,190 metric tons (1,170 long tons; 1,310 short tons).
|17 July 1940||U-57||O.A. Brodin||Sweden||1,960||Sunk|
|3 August 1940||U-57||Atos||Sweden||2,161||Sunk|
|24 August 1940||U-57||Cumberland||United Kingdom||10,939||Sunk|
|24 August 1940||U-57||Havildar||United Kingdom||5,407||Damaged|
|24 August 1940||U-57||Saint Dunstan||United Kingdom||5,681||Sunk|
|25 August 1940||U-57||Pecten||United Kingdom||7,468||Sunk|
|1 March 1941||U-552||Cadillac||United Kingdom||12,062||Sunk|
|10 March 1941||U-552||Reykjaborg||Iceland||687||Sunk|
|27 April 1941||U-552||Commander Horton||United Kingdom||227||Sunk|
|27 April 1941||U-552||Beacon Grange||United Kingdom||10,160||Sunk|
|28 April 1941||U-552||Capulet||United Kingdom||8,190||Damaged|
|1 May 1941||U-552||Nerissa||United Kingdom||5,583||Sunk|
|10 June 1941||U-552||Ainderby||United Kingdom||4,860||Sunk|
|12 June 1941||U-552||Chinese Prince||United Kingdom||8,593||Sunk|
|18 June 1941||U-552||Norfolk||United Kingdom||10,948||Sunk|
|23 August 1941||U-552||Spind||Norway||2,129||Sunk|
|20 September 1941||U-552||T.J. Williams||United Kingdom||8,212||Sunk|
|20 September 1941||U-552||Pink Star||Panama||4,150||Sunk|
|20 September 1941||U-552||Barbaro||Norway||6,325||Sunk|
|30 October 1941||U-552||USS Reuben James||United States Navy||1,190||Sunk|
|15 January 1942||U-552||Dayrose||United Kingdom||4,113||Sunk|
|18 January 1942||U-552||Frances Salman||United States||2,609||Sunk|
|20 January 1942||U-552||Maro||Greece||3,838||Sunk|
|25 March 1942||U-552||Ocana||Netherlands||6,256||Sunk|
|3 April 1942||U-552||David H. Atwater||United States Navy||2,438||Sunk|
|5 April 1942||U-552||Byron D. Benson||United Kingdom||7,953||Sunk|
|7 April 1942||U-552||British Splendour||United Kingdom||7,138||Sunk|
|7 April 1942||U-552||Lancing||Norway||7,866||Sunk|
|9 April 1942||U-552||Atlas||United States||7,137||Sunk|
|10 April 1942||U-552||Tarnaulipas||United States||6,943||Sunk|
|15 June 1942||U-552||City of Oxford||United Kingdom||2,759||Sunk|
|15 June 1942||U-552||Etrib||United Kingdom||1,943||Sunk|
|15 June 1942||U-552||Pelayo||United Kingdom||1,346||Sunk|
|15 June 1942||U-552||Slemdal||Norway||7,374||Sunk|
|15 June 1942||U-552||Thurso||United Kingdom||2,436||Sunk|
|25 July 1942||U-552||British Merit||United Kingdom||8,093||Damaged|
|25 July 1942||U-552||Broompark||United Kingdom||5,136||Sunk|
|3 August 1942||U-552||G.S. Walden||United Kingdom||10,627||Damaged|
|3 August 1942||U-552||Lochkatrine||United Kingdom||9,149||Sunk|
U-boat War Badge (7 November 1939)
- with Diamonds (11 April 1942)
- Honorary dagger of the Kriegsmarine with Diamonds (17 August 1942)
War Merit Cross
- 2nd Class with Swords (30 January 1944)
- 1st Class with Swords (1944)
Iron Cross (1939)
- 2nd Class (1 January 1940)[Note 1]
- 1st Class (1 September 1940)[Note 2]
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
- Mentioned three times in the Wehrmachtbericht (3 July 1941, 11 April 1942, 18 June 1942)
- Großes Verdienstkreuz des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (19 September 1969)
|Date||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording||Direct English translation|
|Thursday, 3 July 1941||Bei den Operationen im Atlantik war ein Unterseeboot unter Führung von Oberleutnant zur See Topp besonders erfolgreich.||A submarine under the command of First Lieutenant at Sea Topp was particularly successful in the operations in the Atlantic.|
|Saturday, 11 April 1942||Kapitänleutnant Topp, der sich bei den Operationen deutscher Unterseeboote vor der amerikanischen Küste wieder besonders ausgezeichnete, hat bisher 31 Schiffe mit 208 000 BRT, sowie einen Zerstörer und einen Bewacher versenkt.||Captain Lieutenant Topp, who has again particularly distinguished himself in the operations of German submarines off the American coast, has now sunk 31 vessels of 208,000 GRT, and a destroyer and a guard.|
|Thursday, 18 June 1942||Die Unterseeboote unter Führung der Kapitänleutnante Mohr, Topp, Witte und von Rosenstiel und des Oberleutnants zur See Ites haben sich bei der Bekämpfung der feindlichen Versorgungsschiffahrt besonders ausgezeichnet.||The submarines under the leadership of Captain Lieutenant Mohr, Topp, Witte and von Rosenstiel and Lieutenant at Sea Ites have in the fight against the enemy supply shipping particularly distinguished themselves.|
- According to Thomas in January 1940.
- According to Thomas in September 1940.
- Bridgland 2001, p. 216.
- "Technical Advisor". Silent Hunter II Official website. Retrieved 2007-10-26.
- Helgason, Guðmundur. "U-57"Ships hit by . German U-boats of WWII - uboat.net. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
- Helgason, Guðmundur. "U-552"Ships hit by . German U-boats of WWII - uboat.net. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
- Busch & Röll 2003, p. 142
- Thomas 1998, p. 388.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 748.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 424.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 59.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 40.
- Busch & Röll 2003, p. 143.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, p. 604.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 83.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 166.
- Berger, Florian (1999). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges [With Oak Leaves and Swords. The Highest Decorated Soldiers of the Second World War] (in German). Vienna, Austria: Selbstverlag Florian Berger.
- Bridgland, Tony (2001). Waves of Hate: Naval Atrocities of the Second World War. Pen and Sword.
- Busch, Rainer; Röll, Hans-Joachim (2003). Der U-Boot-Krieg 1939–1945 — Die Ritterkreuzträger der U-Boot-Waffe von September 1939 bis Mai 1945 [The U-Boat War 1939–1945 — The Knight's Cross Bearers of the U-Boat Force from September 1939 to May 1945] (in German). Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn Germany: Verlag E.S. Mittler & Sohn.
- Kurowski, Franz (1995). Knight's Cross Holders of the U-Boat Service. Atglen, PA:
- Range, Clemens (1974). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Kriegsmarine [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Navy]. Stuttgart, Germany: Motorbuch Verlag.
- Savas, Theodore P., Editor. (2004) Hunt and Kill: U-505 and the U-boat War in the Atlantic. Savas Beatie LLC, New York, NY. (Topp Foreword)
- Savas, Theodore P., editor. (1997, 2004). Silent Hunters: German U-boat Commanders of World War II. Savas Publishing Company. (Includes previously unpublished essay by Topp about his best friend and fellow U-boat commander Engelbert Endrass, written by Topp while at sea during his 15th war patrol.)
- Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag.
- Thomas, Franz (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag.
- Topp, Erich (1992). The Odyssey of a U-boat Commander (in English).
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, 1. September 1939 bis 31. Dezember 1941 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 1, 1 September 1939 to 31 December 1941] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, 1. Januar 1942 bis 31. Dezember 1943 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 2, 1 January 1942 to 31 December 1943] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985.
- Helden der Wehrmacht III - Unsterbliche deutsche Soldaten (in German). München, Germany: FZ-Verlag GmbH, 2007. ISBN 978-3-924309-82-4.
- Erich Topp in the German National Library catalogue
- Helgason, Guðmundur. "Erich Topp". German U-boats of WWII - uboat.net. Retrieved 8 February 2007.
- Bavarian Army Museum in Ingolstadt