On the 28th of April U-333 under Peter-Erich “Ali” Cremer, age 31, entered the region just south of Bermuda and heading west in a straight line for the coast of Florida north of Miami and south of Cape Canaveral – just west-northwest of West End Grand Bahama. Cremer’s patrol looks on paper like a pair of tweezers lying on its side – narrow, long and nearly symmetrical. The boat left La Pallice (near La Rochelle) in France on the 30th of March 1942 and was refueled by U-459, like U-98 before it, about 500 miles northeast of Bermuda, on the 22nd of April. Two days into the patrol the boat was caught on the surface by an Allied aircraft whose depth charges damaged the submarine.
A week after refueling U-333 sighted the tanker British Prestige, of 7,106 tons and pursued her into the evening of the 30th of April. Cremer fired a salvo of two torpedoes which missed. While the U-boat crew were preparing a second spread, the tanker turned hard upon her and ran over U-333, badly damaging the sub’s bridge casing, bow, and conning tower (Wynn, Vol. 1, p.222). On the 1st of May the crew undertook what damage repairs they could and continued the patrol heading southwards to Florida.
Cremer spent thirteen days in the region and exited several hundred miles west of Bermuda on the 10th of May, leaving in his wake the hulks of four victims: the Java Arrow, Amazone and Halsey (all sunk on the same day – the 6th of May off the coast of Florida) and the Clan Skene, sunk offshore on the 10th. Cremer’s total tonnage for this patrol was 21,923 of which the Java Arrow of 8,327 tons was only damaged. Of the four ships, half of them American, the Amazone being Dutch and the Clan Skene British. The patrol ended on the 26th of May in La Pallice.
Ali Cremer, a member of the class of 1932 was one of the more memorable of the U-boat skippers, in part because he penned a readable book about his career exploits entitled U-boat Commander, and he lived until the age of 81, dying in 1992 in Hamburg. Immediately following this patrol he was awarded the Knights Cross, going on to win the Wounded Badge in Silver and the U-boat front clasp. His total bag was six ships sunk for 26,873, one warship damaged for 925 tons and the Java Arrow damaged for 8,327 GRT off Florida.
At the time of his raid on the US he was a Kapitänleutnant, being promoted to Korvettenkapitän in July 1944. He served in command of U-333 for five patrols between 25 August 1941 and 19 July 1944. Cremer had studied law for roughly three years at the time he joined the Navy in 1932, and his admission was accelerated by the loss of the school training ship Niobethat year. He served aboard the cruiser Deutschlanduntil the rank of Leutnant and in 1940 transferred to U-boats. The boat’s symbol was three fishes (for the three threes in its number) and Cremer’s fist command was accomplished without prior combat experience.
Amongst notable incidents in Cremer’s career were the sinking of the German blockade runner Spreewald due to a miscommunications and an injury off West Africa which necessitated a replacement skipper for the boat and three months of hospitalization for Cremer. His crew considered him their “best life insurance”. After over a year on Dönitz’s staff, in late 1944 Cremer took command of U-2519, a Type-XXI electric U-boat, in an effort to regain supremacy in the face of decimation of the U-boats by Allies. A personal account of Cremer and the Florida man who helped rescue survivors of the Java Arrow of Jacksonville and the friendship between them that developed after war is recounted in the book Different Battlesby Rody Johnson.
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, Rody Johnson, Different Battles: The Search for a World War Two Hero, 1999