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H. J. von KNEBEL-DOBERITZ had been serving in a Staff position in Berlin when OTTO KRETSCHMER (122-+-1985) pushed for the promotion of his I.W.O. KLAUS BARGSTEN (328-+-1987) to be trained to take command of his own boat. His II. W. O. was also transferred off U-99, so KRETSCHMER needed two replacement officers with combat experience. BdU sent him only one officer, H. J. von KNEBEL-DOBERITZ as his I.W.O. who had no combat experience at all. He was, as OTTO put it, a "desk officer".
After a long running convoy battle in March of 1941 during which time KRETSCHMER had been awake nearly two days straight, they were out of torpedoes and withdrew from the battle area. von KNEBEL was put in charge of the boat as KRETSCHMER lay down to get some much needed sleep. This was to be his last Feindfahrt (war patrol) before taking a position in the Commander's School to train new Skippers. The standing order aboard U-99 was that the boat must not be dived for any reason. In any emergency, KRETSCHMER must be awakened to make the decisions.
KRETSCHMER was asleep when HMS VANOC and HMS WALKER began their attack on U-100 under Schepke very near to U-99. U-99 had not been seen but the noise of the depth charges so close at hand must have rattled von KNEBEL because he immediately ordered a crash dive against standing orders. By the time KRETSCHMER felt the change of attitude of the boat and awoke, it was too late. U-99 was diving and she came up on the sonar of HMS WALKER. This was the first time in history that a dived submarine was detected on sonar and led the attacker to her position without first being seen visually.
U-99 was sunk and all but three of her crew taken prisoner to sit out the war in England then in Canada. None held anything against von KNEBEL for his hasty decision. In fact, OTTO and Mrs. KRETSCHMER were close friends with von KNEBEL and his wife after the war.
H. J. von KNEBEL-DOBERITZ was a fine man and helped with our Sharkhunters "Patrols" in northern Germany until his passing in the early years of the 21st century.
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