Suhren’s memoirs, Teddy Suhren, Ace of Aces: Memoirs of a U-boat Rebel, stands as a very interesting, but all too short, German submariner’s reminiscences of the Second World War. Suhren’s real first name is Reinhard. His nickname Teddy comes from his days in basic training, when his comrades noticed that he marched like a teddy bear. And so, the name stuck. The officer in charge of his training remarked to Suhren later in the war that he succeeded in training many thousands of young men, but Suhren was the one recruit in whom he did not succeed! Despite his lack of polish, Suhren excelled in his U-boat training, became one of Admiral Karl Dönitz’s best U-boat captains, and was promoted out of the boats to be a section commander in Narvik, Norway during 1942.
Suhren’s promotion occurred just when the Battle of the Atlantic turned against the U-boats. For this reason, Peter Cremer’s U-boat Commander is a much more compelling memoir: in warfare which claimed the lives of 75% of German submariners, Cremer became one of only two captains made in 1942 to survive the war. Cremer’s memoirs also contain far more detail about the difficulties posed by Allied destroyers and anti-submarine planes and the progress in U-boat technology.
What makes Suhren’s memoirs worth reading despite the shortness of detail lies in the quality of his anecdotes. One understands how Suhren felt about the war and the political changes in Germany. Also, his apology for the German sailor at the end of the memoir provides good insights as to how Germans justified serving the Third Reich.
Teddy Suhren’s career began in 1936, which allowed him to be more thoroughly trained than crewmen formed after the war began. As the note about his training officer indicates, Suhren was never much for discipline and frequently raised the ire of Nazi authorities for things like hanging out with Jewish women, asking Polish musicians to play their country’s anthem, and once blurting out when he returned to port: “Are the Nazis still at the helm?” Even though he felt it his duty to serve in the German navy, he did not care for Nazi policies and remarked on how much seeing Hitler youth and Jews with yellow stars on their clothing bothered him.
Some of his anecdotes make for great reading. One example is when Brazilian mothers, “black mamas,” begged his captain not to sink their vessel. His first captain of the war, whom Suhren describes as too nice by far, let this ship go and directed them to help the survivors of a previous sinking. (You see, in 1939, the combatants were conducting “prize warfare,” whereby one could not sink an unprotected merchantman without warning. Circumstances soon conspired to end these rules of engagement.) Also, there is the story of Suhren’s “Super Shot,” during which event, he plotted a firing solution for a ship moving away from them at a distance of over five thousand meters. His successful firing solution makes for one of the longest torpedo shots in WWII.
As an aficionado of submarine memoirs, I must note that many superior submarine memoirs from World War II exist. I’d recommend the following before reading this: Clear the Bridge! by Richard O’Kane, Submarine! by Edward L. Beach, Peter Cremer’s U-boat Commander, James F. Calvert’s Silent Running, and Take Her Deep by I. J. Galantin.