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Heinrich Bleichrodt

Heinrich Bleichrodt

German World War II U-boat commander
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro German World War II U-boat commander
Countries Germany
Occupations Korvettenkapitän Submariner
Gender male
Birth 21 October 1909 (Berga)
Death 9 January 1977 (Munich)
Heinrich Bleichrodt
The details

Heinrich Bleichrodt (21 October 1909 – 9 January 1977) was one of the most successful German U-boat commanders of the Second World War. From October 1939 until retiring from front line service in December 1943, he was credited with sinking 25 ships for a total of 152,320 gross register tons (GRT). For this he received the Knight's Cross of the Iron 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 entered 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.

Submarine service

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 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 'Teddy' 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 Korvettenkapitän (corvette captain) 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.

Later life

After the war, Bleichrodt was held by the Allies on war crimes charges pertaining to the sinking of the City of Benares. Bleichrodt was accused of sinking the ship with the full knowledge that it had been transporting evacuees. He reaffirmed the German position that there was no way that he or the crew of the submarine could have known who was on board. It was upheld and he was acquitted. However, Bleichrodt refused to apologise to the survivors, despite several crew members of U-48, including the radio operator, expressing their shock and regret once the facts became known.

Bleichrodt died 1977.

Summary of career

Ships attacked

As commander of U-48 and U-109, Bleichrodt is credited with the sinking of 24 ships for a total of 151,260 gross register tons (GRT), further damaging two ships of 11,684 GRT and sinking one warship, HMS Dundee, of 1,060 long tons (1,080 tonnes).

Date U-boat Ship Nationality Tonnage
15 September 1940 U-48 Alexandros  Greece 4,343 Sunk at 56°30′N 16°30′W / 56.500°N 16.500°W / 56.500; -16.500
15 September 1940 U-48 HMS Dundee  Royal Navy 1,060 Sunk at 56°45′N 14°14′W / 56.750°N 14.233°W / 56.750; -14.233
15 September 1940 U-48 Empire Volunteer  United Kingdom 5,319 Sunk at 56°43′N 15°17′W / 56.717°N 15.283°W / 56.717; -15.283
18 September 1940 U-48 City of Benares  United Kingdom 11,081 Sunk at 56°43′N 21°15′W / 56.717°N 21.250°W / 56.717; -21.250
18 September 1940 U-48 Marina  United Kingdom 5,088 Sunk at 56°46′N 21°15′W / 56.767°N 21.250°W / 56.767; -21.250
18 September 1940 U-48 Magdalena  United Kingdom 3,118 Sunk at 57°20′N 20°16′W / 57.333°N 20.267°W / 57.333; -20.267
21 September 1940 U-48 Blairangus  United Kingdom 4,409 Sunk at 55°18′N 22°21′W / 55.300°N 22.350°W / 55.300; -22.350
21 September 1940 U-48 Broompark  United Kingdom 5,136 Damaged at 49°02′N 40°26′W / 49.033°N 40.433°W / 49.033; -40.433
11 October 1940 U-48 Brandanger  Norway 4,624 Sunk at 57°10′N 17°42′W / 57.167°N 17.700°W / 57.167; -17.700
11 October 1940 U-48 Port Gisborne  United Kingdom 8,390 Sunk at 56°38′N 16°40′W / 56.633°N 16.667°W / 56.633; -16.667
12 October 1940 U-48 Davanger  Norway 7,102 Sunk at 57°00′N 19°10′W / 57.000°N 19.167°W / 57.000; -19.167
17 October 1940 U-48 Languedoc  United Kingdom 9,512 Sunk at 59°14′N 17°51′W / 59.233°N 17.850°W / 59.233; -17.850
17 October 1940 U-48 Scoresby  United Kingdom 3,843 Sunk at 59°14′N 17°51′W / 59.233°N 17.850°W / 59.233; -17.850
18 October 1940 U-48 Sandend  United Kingdom 3,612 Sunk at 58°12′N 21°29′W / 58.200°N 21.483°W / 58.200; -21.483
20 October 1940 U-48 Shirak  United Kingdom 6,023 Damaged by U-47, sunk by U-48 at 57°00′N 16°53′W / 57.000°N 16.883°W / 57.000; -16.883
23 January 1941 U-109 Thirlby  United Kingdom 4,877 Sunk at 43°20′N 66°15′W / 43.333°N 66.250°W / 43.333; -66.250
1 February 1941 U-109 Tacoma Star  United Kingdom 7,924 Sunk at 38°46′N 64°17′W / 38.767°N 64.283°W / 38.767; -64.283
5 February 1941 U-109 Montrolite  Canada 11,309 Sunk at 35°14′N 60°05′W / 35.233°N 60.083°W / 35.233; -60.083
6 February 1941 U-109 Halcyon  Panama 3,531 Sunk at 34°20′N 59°16′W / 34.333°N 59.267°W / 34.333; -59.267
20 April 1941 U-109 La Paz  United Kingdom 6,548 Damaged at 28°15′N 80°20′W / 28.250°N 80.333°W / 28.250; -80.333
3 May 1941 U-109 Laertes  Netherlands 5,825 Sunk at 28°21′N 80°23′W / 28.350°N 80.383°W / 28.350; -80.383
7 August 1941 U-109 Arthur W. Sewall  Norway 6,030 Sunk at 8°28′N 34°21′W / 8.467°N 34.350°W / 8.467; -34.350
11 August 1941 U-109 Vimeira  United Kingdom 5,728 Sunk at 10°03′N 28°55′W / 10.050°N 28.917°W / 10.050; -28.917
3 September 1941 U-109 Ocean Might  United Kingdom 7,173 Sunk at 0°57′N 4°11′W / 0.950°N 4.183°W / 0.950; -4.183
6 September 1941 U-109 Tuscan Star  United Kingdom 11,449 Sunk at 1°34′N 11°39′W / 1.567°N 11.650°W / 1.567; -11.650
17 September 1941 U-109 Peterton  United Kingdom 5,221 Sunk at 18°45′N 29°15′W / 18.750°N 29.250°W / 18.750; -29.250


  • Iron Cross (1939)
    • 2nd Class (25 July 1940)
    • 1st Class (25 September 1940)
  • U-boat War Badge with Diamonds (1939)
    • U-boat War Badge (24 September 1940)
    • U-boat War Badge with Diamonds (September 1942)
  • Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
    • Knight's Cross on 24 October 1940 as Kapitänleutnant and commander of U-48
    • 125th Oak Leaves on 23 September 1942 as Kapitänleutnant and commander of U-109
  • Croce di Guerra Italiana al Valore Militare (1 November 1941)
  • War Merit Cross 2nd Class with Swords (1 January 1945)
  • Mentioned three times in the Wehrmachtbericht (21 September 1940, 18 October 1940 and 21 October 1940)


1 April 1933: Fähnrich zur See (Officer Cadet)
1 January 1935: Oberfähnrich zur See (Senior Ensign)
1 April 1935: Leutnant zur See (Second Lieutenant)
1 January 1937: Oberleutnant zur See (First Lieutenant)
29 September 1939: Kapitänleutnant (Captain Lieutenant), effective as 1 October 1939 with rank age dated 1 October 1939
14 October 1943: Korvettenkapitän (Corvette Captain), effective as 1 October 1943 with rank age dated 1 October 1943
2 October 1944: Korvettenkapitän, with new rank age dated as of 1 July 1943

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