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Karl-Friedrich Merten
File:Karl-Friedrich Merten.jpg
Karl-Friedrich Merten
Born (1905-08-15)August 15, 1905
Died May 2, 1993(1993-05-02) (aged 87)
Place of birth Posen
Place of death Waldshut
Allegiance Germany Weimar Republic (to 1933)
Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Service/branch  Reichsmarine
Years of service 1928 – 1945
Rank Kapitän zur See
Unit 2nd U-boat Flotilla
Commands held U-68, February 11, 1941 – January 21, 1943
Awards Iron Cross 1st Class
U-boat War Badge with Diamonds
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves

Captain Karl-Friedrich Merten (15 August 1905 – 2 May 1993) was a German U-boat commander during World War II. He is credited with the sinking of 27 ships for a total of 170,151 gross register tons (GRT) of allied shipping. For this achievement he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub). The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Military career

Born in Posen, he joined the Reichsmarine in 1926.[Note 1] After training he spent many years on surface ships. He joined the U-Boat service on May 1, 1940. From October 1940 until January 1941 he joined U-38 as a trainee Captain with the experienced Heinrich Liebe.

File:Merten, Lüth, Guggenberger & Töniges.JPG

Karl-Friedrich Merten, Wolfgang Lüth, Friedrich Guggenberger, Werner Töniges receiving the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross from Adolf Hitler, Karl-Jesco von Puttkamer and Karl Dönitz

On 11 February 1941, Merten commissioned U-68 and lead 5 successful patrols. He operated all over the world, patrolling in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Indian Ocean. U-68 was in the U-boat wolf pack Eisbär (Polar Bear Group), consisting of four submarines, U-68 (Merten), U-156 (Werner Hartenstein), U-172 (Carl Emmermann), U-504 (Hans-Georg Friedrich Poske) a fifth U-boat, U-159 (Helmut Witte) joined the group later, which in the course of a few weeks during September/October 1942, sank more than 100,000 GRT of shipping off South Africa.

On 22 September 1941 Merten torpedoed his first ship the 5,302 GRT British Steamer SS Silverbelle sailing in convoy SL-87 and on the 6 November 1942 he sunk his last ship the 8,034 GRT British Steamer SS City of Cairo. His total was 29 ships sunk at a tonnage of 170,151.

After this patrol Merten was appointed to the U-boat flotilla in Pillau, and this and other training appointments curtailed his operational career. Nevertheless, when the war ended he stood seventh in the table of U-Boat commanders in terms of tonnage sunk. After the war he made a new career (somewhat ironically) in shipbuilding, retiring in 1974.

Long after the sinking of the SS City of Cairo he was invited to a post-war reunion of survivors where one observed: "We couldn't have been sunk by a nicer man".

He died on 2 May 1993 in Waldshut.


Reference in the Wehrmachtbericht

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
Wednesday, 8 April 1942 Bei den Erfolgen deutscher Unterseeboote im Atlantik zeichnete sich das Boot des Korvettenkapitäns Merten besonders aus.[4] A boat under the leadership of Korvettenkapitän Merten distinguished itself in the success of the German submarines in the Atlantic ocean.

Rank Promotions


  1. The German Reichsmarine which was renamed the Kriegsmarine on 1 June 1935.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Busch and Röll 2003, p. 221.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Busch and Röll 2003, p. 222.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Scherzer 2007, p. 538.
  4. Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939-1945 Band 2, p. 80.
  • Busch, Hans-Joachim; Röll (2003) (in German). Der U-Boot-Krieg 1939–1945 — Die Ritterkreuzträger der U-Boot-Waffe von September 1939 bis Mai 1945 [The U-Boat War 1939–1945 — The Knight's Cross Bearers of the U-Boat Force from September 1939 to May 1945]. Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn Germany: Verlag E.S. Mittler & Sohn. ISBN 978-3-8132-0515-2. 
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) (in German). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtsteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches]. Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Kurowski, Franz (1995). Knight's Cross Holders of the U-Boat Service. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-88740-748-2. 
  • Range, Clemens (1974). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Kriegsmarine [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Navy]. Stuttgart, Germany: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 978-3-87943-355-1. 
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007) (in German). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives]. Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 
  • (in German) Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, 1. Januar 1942 bis 31. Dezember 1943 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 2, 1 January 1942 to 31 December 1943]. München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2. 

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