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Hardegen, Reinhard U147 and U123

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Reinhard Hardegen began his naval career in April 1933. After two and a half years he transferred, like some other naval officers, to the Marineflieger (naval air force), a part of the Kriegsmarine. Here he received training as an aircraft observer and later as a pilot. After a crash and an ensuing six months in hospital, in November 1939 he transferred to the U-boat force.

He received his first experience on U-124 under Kptlt. Schulz. In December 1940 he became commander of U-147. On his first patrol as commander in March 1941 he sank the Norwegian steamer Augvald (4,811 tons).

On 16 May, 1941 he took over U-123, a very successful boat, from Kptlt. Karl-Heinz Moehle. On his first patrol with this boat in summer 1941 in West African waters, Hardegen sank five ships for a total of 21,507 tons. In October 1941 he torpedoed the British auxiliary cruiser HMS Aurania (13,984 tons), but the badly damaged ship was towed to harbor by two destroyers.

At this time, Hardegen's medical history finally caught up with him. Due to injuries received in the 1936 plane crash, Hardegen had actually been classed unfit for U-boat service. However, his papers had repeatedly arrived at each training location after he had already departed for the next. Now Dönitz had learned of Hardegen's lingering injuries (including a shortened leg and chronic bleeding of the stomach which required a special diet of easily-digested foods), but rewarded Hardegen's dedication by permitting him to carry out two further patrols.

On 23 December, 1941 U-123 left Lorient on a special mission. She was one of five U-boats ordered to launch an attack against the eastern coast of the United States. The operation was called Paukenschlag (Drumbeat).

On 12 January, 1942, before reaching the operational area, Hardegen sank the British freighter Cyclops in Canadian waters. This was two days before Operation Paukenschlag officially was to start in US waters. But the commanders had permission to sink ships on the crossing to the US coast if they were larger than 10,000 tons. The next two weeks were very successful for U-123, which sank nine ships for a total of 53,173 tons. On 20 January Dönitz sent the following radiogram:

An den Paukenschläger Hardegen. Bravo! Gut gepaukt. Dönitz.
(For the drum-beater Hardegen. Well done! Good beating. Dönitz. )
Three days later Hardegen received by radio the announcement.
On the 18th of March 2015 he becomes 102 years old. Gut Gepaukt Herr Hardegen!