What is more remarkable about U-68’s short transits through the southeast corner of the greater Bahamas area is the boat’s commander; Karl-Friedrich Merten. The boat only sailed through on the 3rd and 4th of June inbound and 26th and 27th of June outbound utilizing the Anegada Passage: Merten sailed himself into the history books as the most decorated commander to serve in this region during the war. Though the patrol began in Lorient on the 14th of May 1942, the submarine put into El Ferrol Spain, where U-68 was given fuel from the German supply ship Max Albrecht and also undertook repairs (Wynn, Vol. 1, p.50). This would make this the first German submarine patrol to the region which ended in Spain.
To illustrate his success, on this patrol into the Caribbean alone Merten sank seven ships of 50,774 tons: the L. J. Drake, 6,693 tons and American flagged, on the 5th of June, the C. O. Stillman of Panama and an impressive 13,006 tons the following day, and on the 10th of June three ships. These were all British: Surreyof 8,581 tons, Ardenvohr of 5,025 tons and Port Montreal of 5,882 tons. Then on the 15th he sank the French Frimaire of 9,242 tons and the Arriagaof 2,345 tons. The boat sailed for the Second Flotilla of Lorient, from which it sailed and to which it returned from this patrol on the 10th of July, 1942,
Karl-Friedrich Merten was Korvettenkapitän at the time of this patrol and worked his way to Kapitän zur See a month before the end of the war. His total tally of 27 ships sunk is equal to that of Johan Mohr of U-124, however Merten’s total career tonnage of 170,151 tons exceeds Mohr’s total by 40,000 tons and that of the next Ace, Carl Emmermann of U-172 by nearly 20,000 tons.
Born on 15 August 1905, Merten was 26 years old at the time and would go on to survive the war – in fact he lived to age 87 in 1993 – long enough to serve as a pall bearer to Großadmiral Dönitz in 1981. Merten originally joined the Bundesmarine in 1930 and served a decade on warships including the Schleswig-Holstein. He joined the U-boat arm in May 1940 and ended up leading patrols beyond the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean, where he sank 100,000 tons in short order off South Africa.
In November 1942 Merten was awarded the highly prestigious Knights Cross with Oak Leaves. In January 1943 this was supplemented with the U-boat War Badge with Diamonds. That same month Merten moved ashore and took command of the 26th U-boat Flotilla in Pillau, in the Baltic. A few months later he transferred to Memel and the 24th Flotilla. His career following the war included building ships and salvaging wrecks from the Rhine River.
SOURCES: Gudmundur Helgason, Rainer Kolbicz, www.uboat.net, 2011, Kenneth Wynn, U-boat Operations of the Second World War, Volume 1 and Volume 2, 1997