Heinz Hirsacker

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)

Oblt. Heinz Hirsacker during commissioning of U-572 at Hamburg.


8 Apr 1934 Offiziersanwärter
1 Jul 1935 Fähnrich zur See
1 Jan 1937 Oberfähnrich zur See
1 Apr 1937 Leutnant zur See
1 Apr 1939 Oberleutnant zur See
1 Sep 1941 Kapitänleutnant


  U-boat War Badge 1939

U-boat Commands

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 court martial found him guilty of cowardice and sentenced him to death by firing squad.

Hirsacker’s background did not suggest this as a likely fate, as his officer training never ranked him lower than 15 out of almost 200 candidates of Crew 34 between 1935-42. He impressed his superiors and was selected for U-boat training in 1937, among the first for that prestige assignment. He was not liked by everyone, but was judged very professional.

He was 2nd Watch Officer (II WO) on U-36 (Ewerth) August - December 1937. His postings from Jan 1938 to Dec 1939 are not recorded. He was 1st Watch Officer (I WO) on U-64 (Georg-Wilhelm Schulz) from Dec 1939 until its loss in April 1940, then from June to August he was I WO on the famous U-124, again under Schulz. Details are again missing until he took command of 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 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 was not successful (trained U-boat commanders were not a common commodity).

Hirsacker could not admit his fears officially without destroying his career, and thus he tried more discreet ways of transferring from U-boats. He also seems to have decided to keep himself and his boat out of harm's way, and his first two patrols were unsuccessful and full of strange incidents (always losing 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 criticised by staffers for his first and second patrols, but the third patrol, on which he failed to enter the Mediterranean, raised serious alarms at U-boat high command. Entering the Med was always risky, but not overly so at that stage of the war - two other U-boats had done so successfully when Hirsacker gave up and asked for other orders.

On his return he was given a strong rebuke from his superiors, with appraisals like “lacks the necessary energy, resolve and absolute will to succeed”, “his attempt to break through the Straits of Gibraltar was pursued with little vigour and then given up for no discernible reason.”

It was probably this sharp criticism and warnings from his superiors that gave Hirsacker renewed resolve on the next patrol (his 4th): he sank two ships and damaged a third, and several times discovered convoys (although he often then lost contact himself). This new self-confidence was not to last long, for on his sixth and last patrol in late 1942 he falsified his boat's KTB ('War Diary' or ship's log), and spent much of the time submerged where his boat was all but useless to the war effort.

On his return to La Pallice one of his officers spoke about his suspicions to U-boat command staff and on 18 Dec 1942 Hirsacker was relieved of his command. He was assigned to the destroyers Hans Lody (Z 10) and Z 33 and assigned from Jan-Apr 1943 to Commander-in-Chief Destroyers pending investigations into Paragraphs 84 and 85 of the Military Criminal Code: cowardice in the prescence of the enemy.

Little is known about his court-martial, which was held in Paris, but he was found guilty as charged and sentenced to die by 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 fellow offer from Crew 34 for a pistol to take his own life, which he did on April 24 1943.

His fellow officers were divided on 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

 U-boat Departure Arrival  
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 1942U-572 Ensis (d.)6,207br
16 Apr 1942U-572 Desert Light2,368pa
20 Apr 1942U-572 Empire Dryden7,164br
7 Aug 1942U-572 Delfshaven5,281nl

3 ships sunk (14,813 tons) and 1 ship damaged (6,207 tons).

We have a picture of this vessel.
(d.) means the ship was damaged.

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.

Media links

German U-boat Commanders of World War II

Busch, Rainer and Röll, Hans-Joachim

Naval Officers Under Hitler

Rust, Eric C.

Listing of all U-boat commanders

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