The official Reinhard Hardegen, in charge of the German ship, died on June 9 in the city of Bremen
Reinhard Hardegen , the German commander who sunk with his U-123 submarine two cargo ships near New York during the Second World War , died at 105 on June 9 in the German city of Bremen, the same in which was born and in which he had a long political career after the war, according to The New York Times. “With the death of Reinhard Hardegen, this house loses an important part of our past,” said Christian Weber, president of the Bremen parliament. Weber further stated that the ex-soldier had always been “very open” about his actions in the United States during the war.
The commander achieved fame in January 1942 when he sank two freighters that were off the coast of Long Island, a few miles from New York City. His recognition was such that he came to be considered one of the best naval officers in the German army, as Gordon Williamson points out in his book “Kriegsmarine U-boats 1939-45.”
To fulfill his mission in the vicinity of New York, Hardegen used the lights coming from the metropolis, which left the nearby ships in sight. The first ship, the Norness, was shot down by U-123 at dawn on January 14. The next day the British freighter Combria suffered the same fate. This is how Hardegen managed to bring the war to the doors of the United States. His actions earned him the Knight’s Cross, with which he was recognized on January 23.
These attacks against civilian vessels were registered within Operation Drumbeat. Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and went to war with the United States, Admiral Karl Dönitz sent several submarines to North American waters to attack cargo ships that could supply the enemy. “It was very easy for me,” Hardegen explained in 1992, referring to his attack on the coast of New York in statements collected by The New York Times. The commander recognized that seeing the Atlantic Ocean illuminated by the lights of the metropolis excited him. “I can not describe the feeling with words, but it was incredibly beautiful and great,” he wrote in his diary published in Germany in 1943.
After finishing work on Long Island, U-123 took a south course. First, he went to Cape Hatteras (North Carolina), where he sank three ships before returning to his base located in the French town of Lorient. By then he had disabled nine ships. “Our operations have been really satisfactory,” Hardegen explained of this first phase of attacks in an office that was picked up by Nathan Miller in “War at Sea: A Naval History of World War II”
On his return to North America, he sent the American oil tanker Gulfamerica to the bottom of the sea near Jacksonville, in the state of Florida; the same one in which the German submarine was very close to sinking because of the depth charges thrown by an American destroyer that sighted it. According to Edwin P. Hoyt in “The U-Boat Wars,” the situation in which the freighters that passed through the east coast of the country were becoming desperate. The survivors of the attacks claimed that the U-123 took advantage of the lights of the cities to see the ships at night. The same happened on Long Island.
The tour came to an end in May 1942. By then the U-123 had disabled 19 merchant ships and was returning to Europe. During the following years, Hardegen was stumbling for different positions within the German army. When the Second World War came to an end in 1945, the commander spent several months under British arrest. He had been confused with a member of the SS ( Hitler’spraetorian guard who, in addition to entering combat during the war, was in charge of the extermination camps ).
The U-123 fell into Allied hands at its base in Lorient in June 1944. It became part of the French armed forces and renamed “Blaison.” Gordon explains in his work that in 1959 it was decided to put it out of service.
For the memory is the meeting of the commander of U-123 with Adolf Hitler in Germany after ending his participation in Operation Drumbeat. The Nazi leader congratulated him on his performance in the United States. Hardegen responded by recriminating the hierarch who had not developed naval aviation.
I was not a Nazi. I fulfilled my obligations to Alemani, not to Hitler, “the officer explained in an interview in 1999 that picked up by The New York Times. After the war ended, Hardegen tried his luck with an oil company; later he got into politics. He enjoyed a peaceful life in the city of Bremen with his wife and children.