Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: Captain Otto Hersing, Pour le Mérite, U-boat Commander


Capt. Hersing
Captain Otto Hersing (1885–1960) commanded one of the most successful submarines of the Great War. His boat, U-21, served in continuous action through the entire war, sinking 40  vessels, and earning him the Pour le Mérite.

Three notable events marked his fighting career with U-21.

  • U-21 sank the first ship of the war, the British Cruiser HMS Pathfinder, becoming history's first submarine to sink another ship and itself survive .

  • U-21 had a remarkable voyage to the Dardanelles area in 1915. Within three days, the German submarine, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Otto Hersing, sank two British battleships, HMS Triumph (25 May) and HMS Majestic (27 May). He earned the nickname in the U-boat service of  Zerstörer der Schlachtschiffe (Battleship Destroyer).

  • Ordered to turn his boat over to the Royal Navy at war's end, he chose instead to scuttle the boat while under British escort.

He and his crew survived, and Hersing remained in the navy after the war.  He became involved in an attempted putsch against the Weimar Republic and was eventually dismissed from the service in 1924.  He subsequently became a potato farmer and died in 1960.


  1. Any idea what he did in World War II?

  2. "served in continuous action through the entire war" - I wonder how many U-boats managed this.

  3. He was probably involved in the Kapp Putsch in March 1920 that involved other PLM winners. Mostly notably to Marines was Maj. Josef Bischoff, a PLM winner for defense of Belleau Wood. I am working on a biography.