21 November 1907|
|Died||23 October 1965
|Allegiance|| Weimar Republic (to 1933)
|Years of service||1929–1945|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross|
Ernst Hechler (21 November 1907 – 23 October 1965) was a German bomber pilot and U-boat commander in World War II and recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes). The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Corvette captain (or lieutenant commander) Hechler is credited with the sinking of four ships for a total of 13,804 gross register tons (GRT), and with damaging one destroyer escort.
Born in Lauterbach, Hechler joined the Reichsmarine (navy of the Weimar Republic) in 1928. After a period of training on surface vessels he transferred to the Luftwaffe (air force) in 1935. During World War II he flew 65 combat missions as a bomber pilot, the majority of which were in mine-laying operations. Following his voluntary transfer back to the Kriegsmarine in 1943 he took command of German submarine U-870 in 1944 which he took on one war patrol. He claimed to have sunk five ships for a total of 15,069 GRT. These claims were acknowledged by the presentation of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.
Ernst Hechler was born on 21 November 1907 in Lauterbach in Hesse-Nassau, then a province of the Kingdom of Prussia. He joined the German Merchant Marine (Deutsche Handelsmarine) in 1926. He began his pilot training in 1928 at the German Air Transport School (Deutsche Verkehrsfliegerschule) at Schleißheim (28 May 1928 – 15 July 1928) and Warnemünde (16 July 1928 – 24 March 1929). Hechler joined the military service of the Weimar Republic in the Reichsmarine on 1 April 1929 and became a member of "Crew 1929" (the incoming class of 1929). After he underwent basic military training in the 4th company, 2nd department (4. Kompanie/II. Abteilung) of the standing ship division (Schiffsstammdivision) of the Baltic Sea in Stralsund (1 April 1929 – 30 June 1926), he was transferred to the training ship Niobe (1 July 1929 – 11 October 1929) attaining the rank of Seekadett (Naval Cadet) on 10 October 1929. Hechler was transferred on 12 October to the 3rd company (3. Kompanie) of the Naval Academy at Mürwik before going on a half year stay on board the light cruiser cruiser Emden (6 January 1930 – 21 May 1930), which was immediately followed by a seven months stay on to the light cruiser Karlsruhe (22 May 1930 – 19 December 1930).
Emden at the time was under the command of Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière, a U-boat commander during World War I. Hechler sailed on Emden's third training cruise, which started on 13 January 1930 and took him and her crew to Madeira, Saint Thomas, New Orleans, Kingston/Jamaica, San Juan/Puerto Rico, Charlestown and back to Germany via Las Palmas and Santa Cruz. They returned to Wilhelmshaven on 13 May 1930. Karlsruhe's first training cruise left Kiel 24 May 1930 and took its crew through the Suez Canal via the Mediterranean Sea. They then proceeded down Africa's east coast, around the Cape of Good Hope to the Angra Pequena and the Walvis Bay. The cruise continued to Lobito, Angola, where they stopped before heading to South America, from here they headed back to Germany via Vigo, Spain. They arrived back in Kiel on 12 December 1930. Following these assignments he advanced in rank to Fähnrich zur See (officer cadet) on 1 January 1931.
On 1 September 1934 Hechler was promoted to Oberleutnant zur See (First Lieutenant). He was released from the Kriegsmarine on 30 April 1935 and transferred to the Luftwaffe. Prior to this assignment on 30 January 1933, the Nazi Party, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, came to power in Germany, ushering in a period of rearmament. In 1935, the Reichsmarine was renamed the Kriegsmarine. On 1 May 1935 his naval rank was redesignated to Oberleutnant of the Luftwaffe. Hechler was appointed Ia (operations officer) in the headquarters unit (Stab) of the 9th Air Division (Sea) (9. Fliegerdivision (See)) on 28 August 1939 before taking command of the 2nd squadron of 126th bomber group (2./Kampfgruppe 126) on 7 September 1940. The unit was redesignated to 2./Kampfgeschwader 28 in December 1940.[Note 1] In the timeframe September 1940 to March 1941 Hechler flew a total of 62 combat missions on the Heinkel He 111 with this unit.[Note 2] The majority of these missions were mine-laying sorties over coastal waters.
On 1 July 1943 Hechler was transferred back to the Kriegsmarine at his own request attaining the rank of Korvettenkapitän on 3 July. Until January 1944 he underwent a number of training courses for submarine commanders at the 2nd submarine training division (2. U-Boot-Lehr-Division), torpedo school (Torpedoschule Flensburg-Mürwik), the Naval anti-aircraft warfare school II (Marine-Flakschule II) and the 24th U-boat Flotilla. Hechler was stationed in Bremen from 3 January to 2 February 1944 for construction training (Baubelehrung) of U-870, a Type IXC/40 submarine. He took command of the boat on 3 February which was subordinated to the 4th U-boat Flotilla until 30 September 1944 when it was transferred to the 33rd U-boat Flotilla on 1 October. Hechler's chief engineer on U-870 was Knight's Cross recipient Johann-Friedrich Wessels, who joined the crew on 14 August 1944. Wessels had served on U-47 under the command of Günther Prien and was involved in the sinking of the HMS Royal Oak, and on U-198 under the command of Werner Hartmann.
Hechler took U-870 on one war patrol. U-870 had left Kiel, Germany on 31 October 1944 before arriving in Horten, Norway on 3 November. U-870 left Horten again on 10 November returning to Kristiansand, Norway on 20 February 1945. Here the boat departed again on 25 February returning to Flensburg, Germany on 27 February. During this war patrol Hechler mission was to radio back weather reports from the Gibraltar-Azores area in preparation for the Battle of the Bulge which he failed to reach on time. He also claimed the destruction of five ships totaling 15,069 GRT and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 21 January 1945.[Note 3] U-870 was sunk in Bremen in an Allied air raid on 30 March 1945. In the final weeks of the war Hechler served as operations officer on the staff of the Befehlshaber der U-Boote (supreme commander of submarines). Ernst Hechler died on 23 October 1965 aged 57 in Alzey, Federal Republic of Germany.
Summary of career
|Date||Name of Ship||Nationality||Tonnage||Fate|
|20 December 1944||USS Fogg (DE-57)||United States||1,400||damaged at|
|20 December 1944||USS LST-359||United States||1,188||sunk at|
|3 January 1945||Henry Miller||United States||7,207||damaged (total loss) at|
|9 January 1945||FFL L´Enjoue (W 44)||France||335||sunk at|
|10 January 1945||Blackheath||United Kingdom||4,637||sunk at|
- Pilotenabzeichen (30 July 1935)
- Combined Pilots-Observation Badge (21 November 1935)
- Wehrmacht Long Service Award 4th Class (2 October 1936)
- Sudetenland Medal (20 August 1939)
- Iron Cross (1939)
- Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe for Combat Flyers
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 21 January 1945 as Korvettenkapitän and commander of U-870
- U-boat War Badge (1939) (27 February 1945)
- U-boat Front Clasp in Bronze (27 February 1945)
- For an explanation of Luftwaffe unit designations see Organisation of the Luftwaffe during World War II.
- In total Hechler flew 65 combat missions as a bomber pilot. The majority of these missions had a duration of more than four hours and were counted double.
- According to Kaiser, Hechler claimed to have sunk six ships for a total of 29,000 GRT and two corvettes.
- Busch and Röll 2003, p. 496.
- Kaiser 2010, p. 194.
- Hildebrand, Röhr, & Steinmetz 1993, v. 3., pp. 54–55.
- Hildebrand, Röhr, & Steinmetz 1993, v. 5., pp. 89.
- Busch and Röll 2003, p. 497.
- Busch and Röll 2003, p. 498.
- Busch and Röll 2003, p. 428.
- Blair 2012
- "Ernst Hechler". uboat.net. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 217.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 372.
- Blair, Clay (2012), Hitler's U-Boat War: The Hunted 1942–45. Volume 2. Hachette UK. ISBN 978-0-297-86622-0.
- Busch, Hans-Joachim; Röll (2003). 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] (in German). Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn Germany: Verlag E.S. Mittler & Sohn. ISBN 978-3-8132-0515-2.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). 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] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6.
- Hildebrand, Hans H.; Röhr, Albert; Steinmetz, Hans-Otto (1993). Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe. Biographien – ein Spiegel der Marinegeschichte von 1815 bis zur Gegenwart. (10 Bände) [The German Warships. Biographies - a Mirror of Naval History from 1815 to the Present. (10 Volumes)] (in German) 3, 5. Ratingen, DE: Mundus Verlag. ISBN 3-7822-0211-2.
- Kaiser, Jochen (2010). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Kampfflieger—Band 1 [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Bomber Fliers—Volume 1] (in German and English). Bad Zwischenahn, Germany: Luftfahrtverlag-Start. ISBN 978-3-941437-07-4.
- 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). 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] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- "Ernst Hechler". uboat.net. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
- "Ernst Hechler". Lexikon der Wehrmacht (in German). Retrieved 22 December 2012.