Kapitänleutnant (Crew 34)
3 ships sunk, total tonnage 14,813 GRT
1 ship damaged, total tonnage 6,207 GRT
|Born||14 Aug 1914||Lübeck|
|Died||24 Apr 1943||(28)|
|U-572||29 May 1941||18 Dec 1942||6 patrols (267 days)|
A very controversial story, one that still divides the survivors to some extent inasmuch as they are familiar with the details, is the case of Heinz Hirsacker, who committed suicide shortly after a German court-martial found him guilty of cowardice and sentenced him to die by a firing squad.
Hirsacker’s background did not suggest this was in the cards as his officer training never ranked him lower than 15 out of almost 200 candidates of Crew 34 between 35-42. He impressed his superiors and was chosen in 1937 for U-boat training, being among the first to have that assignment. He was not liked by everyone but seemed very professional.
He was a watch officer (IIWO) on U-36 (Klaus Ewerth) during August to December 1937. Career details from Jan 1938 to Dec 1939 are not recorded. He was first watch officer (IWO) on U-64 (Kptlt. Georg-Wilhelm Schulz) from Dec 1939 until its loss in April 1940, then from June to August as IWO on the famous U-124, again under Schulz. Details missing until he takes command of his U-572 on 29. May, 1941.
Something seems to have happened to him before he was given his first command, for he seemed to suffer from nervous problems and this syndrome even caused him to suffer from a phobia of serving on U-boats. He apparently tried several times to get the Navy to re-assign him to other duties but this was not successful (trained U-boat commanders were not a dime-a-dozen).
Hirsacker could not admit his fears officially without destroying his career and thus he tried more discreet ways of getting out of U-boats. He also seems to have decided to keep himself and his boat out of harms way and his first 2 patrols were unsuccessful and full of strange incidents (always loosing contact with the enemy, engine trouble and returning to port ahead of schedule).
From the beginning U-boat headquarters suspected that Hirsacker’s interest to seek out and destroy the enemy was less-than-impressive. He was criticized by staffers for his 1st and 2nd patrols but the third patrol where he failed to enter the Mediterranean raised serious alarms at U-boat high command. Entering the med was risky but at that stage in the war not overly so and 2 other U-boats successfully finished the trip when Hirsacker aborted and asked for other orders.
Upon his return he was given a strong rebuke from his superiors (quotes like “lacks the necessary energy, resolve and absolute will to succeed”, “his attempt to break through the Straits of Gibraltar was pursued with little vigor and then given up for no discernible reason.”)
It was probably this sharp criticism and warnings from superiors that gave Hirsacker renewed activities for on the next patrol (his 4th) he sank 2 ships and damaged the third and several times discovered convoys although he often lost contact himself. This self-confidence was not to last long for on his 6th and last patrol in late 1942 he manipulated his war diary and spent much of the time submerged where his boat was all but useless to the war effort.
Upon return to La Pallice one of his officers spoke about his suspicions with U-boat command staffers and on 18 Dec, 1942 Hirsacker was relieved of his command of U-572. He was assigned to the destroyers Hans Lody (Z 10) and Z 33 plus an assignment from Jan-Apr 1943 for Commander-in-Chief Destroyers pending investigations into Paragraphs 84 and 85 of the Military Criminal Code-cowardice in the presence of the enemy.
Not much is known about his court-martial, held in Paris and he was found guilty as charged and sentenced to die by a firing-squad. Hirsacker hoped that the navy would give him a second chance to prove himself to the very end. However, when all his pleas for clemency had been rejected and his execution seemed imminent he asked a trusted fellow offer from Crew 34 for a pistol to take his own life, which he did on April 24, 1943.
His fellow officers were thoroughly split about his fate, some felt it was “just, but harsh” while others believed that there was no excuse and that he should have seen the consequences of his actions in time.
Patrol info for Heinz Hirsacker
|1.||U-572||2 Sep 1941||Trondheim||2 Oct 1941||Lorient||Patrol 1,||31 days|
|2.||U-572||30 Oct 1941||Lorient||29 Nov 1941||Brest||Patrol 2,||31 days|
|3.||U-572||7 Jan 1942||Brest||10 Feb 1942||Brest||Patrol 3,||35 days|
|4.||U-572||14 Mar 1942||Brest||14 May 1942||La Pallice||Patrol 4,||62 days|
|5.||U-572||30 Jun 1942||La Pallice||3 Sep 1942||La Pallice||Patrol 5,||66 days|
|6.||U-572||12 Oct 1942||La Pallice||22 Nov 1942||La Pallice||Patrol 6,||42 days|
|6 patrols, 267 days at sea|
Ships hit by Heinz Hirsacker
|Date||U-boat||Name of ship||Tons||Nat.||Convoy|
|4 Apr 1942||U-572||Ensis (d.)||6,207||br|
|16 Apr 1942||U-572||Desert Light||2,368||pa|
|20 Apr 1942||U-572||Empire Dryden||7,164||br|
|7 Aug 1942||U-572||Delfshaven||5,281||nl|
3 ships sunk (14,813 tons) and 1 ship damaged (6,207 tons).
About ranks and decorations
Ranks shown in italics are our database inserts based on the rank dates of his crew comrades. The officers of each crew would normally have progressed through the lower ranks at the same rate.