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Rathke was a tough Skipper, known as the "Czar" to some of his crew. He was thrilled to get orders taking him to the United States in early 1942, where he expected to quickly sink enough shipping in the "American Shooting Gallery" to be awarded his Knights Cross. It was reported that, on more than one occasion, while Rathke was in the conning tower looking through the periscope, voices could be heard from the Zentralle:
"Can you see your Knights Cross yet?"
but when he looked into the Zentralle, all were at their work stations. The situation aboard got worse and worse, coming to a head one day off the American coast. They spotted their first target! As they approached for the shot, Rathke ordered the bow flooded down to compensate for the expected weight shift when the torpedoes left their tubes. The young sailor mistakenly flooded down aft, and the boat sank out of control. The water was not deep, and in seconds U-352 came to rest in perhaps 200 feet. There was no damage to the boat, but the intended victim sailed away, never knowing how close they came to destruction.
It is reported that Rathke was so incensed at this lost opportunity that he confined the sailor to the e-machine room, the hottest and worst smelling part of the boat. He took his meals there, slept there on the deck plates - and no one was allowed to speak with him. On landing at their homeport at La Rochelle, Security took the young sailor away and he was never heard from again.
In the late 1980's, the crew of U-352 held a reunion in the USA not far from where U-352 was sunk, but they took great care to send a notice of the meeting to their former Skipper Rathke with a strong note that he was not invited - he was not welcome. They even went so far as to type up an "indictment" against Rathke for what they perceived as his "crimes".
He was always helpful to Sharkhunters and we wonder if this wartime situation had gotten blown out of proportion with some of the crew as the years went by. In his later years, Rathke wrote poems and songs, and he sent us a copy of a songbook he had written.
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