U-352 under Hellmut Rathke Bermuda patrol April 1942

U-352          Rathke         27-Apr-1942         4 days

Kapitänleutnant (later Korvettenkapitän) Hellmut Rathke motored on his final war patrol just north of Bermuda, from east to west, starting on the 27thof April, 1942. He sailed for the 3rd U-boat Flotilla in Saint Nazaire on the seventh of April. Later that month the boat was refueled by U-459 to the northeast of Bermuda. U-352 then motored for Hatteras, passing north of Bermuda on the 28th, 29th and 30th of April.

Many sources, including Wynn, Gentile and Hickham discredit U-352 and Rathke with the botched attack on the Swedish freighter Freden on the 5th of May 1942 off Hatteras. However closer examination of the KTB or war diary of the submarine U-202 under Adalbert Schnee confirms that from location and precise attack details, the attack could only have been by Schnee, who was convinced that the Freden was a decoy ship or Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC), such as the Germans deployed in great numbers (the British and Americans called them Q-Ships). Wynn writes that the attack was “an amazing story of ineptitude on both sides” since the Swedes repeatedly abandoned and reboarded their ship before it was even struck.

The KTB of U-352 did not survive, as the u-boat was detected and sunk by the US Coast Guard cutter Icarus on the seventh of May off Hatteras in shallow water. Sixteen of the Germans were killed in the attack, 33 were imprisoned in Charleston after a delay in pulling them from the water, and one of those subsequently died. Rathke was made a Prisoner of War until the 17th of May 1946. Perhaps surprisingly he was not successful in convincing the Allies that he had not indeed attacked the Freden, perhaps because he had tried to sink several ships – including the Icarus, without success on the same patrol.

Rathke was born in East Prussia in 1910 and was 32 at the time of this patrol. He served in the Crew of 1930 and became leader of the Torpedo School in Murwik, leading to a staff officer role. He began training for u-boats in April 1941 and commissioned U-352 in August 1941. Over two patrols he accrued 76 patrol days and did not sink any ships. His sole decoration was an Iron Cross 2nd Class. Hellmut Rathke died in October 2001 at the age of 70 in Flensburg.
SOURCES: Gudmundur Helgason, Rainer Kolbicz, www.uboat.net, 2013, Kenneth Wynn, U-boat Operations of the Second World War, Volume 1 and Volume 2, 1997, R. Busch, and H.-J. Röll, German U-boat Commanders of World War II, 1988, Franz Kurowski, Knights Cross Holders of the U-boat Service