Wilhelm von Trotha

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Wilhelm von Trotha
Wilhelm von Trotha (1938) I.jpg
Wilhelm von Trotha (1938) II.jpg
Birth name Wilhelm Lebrecht Adolf von Trotha
Birth date 7 August 1916(1916-08-07)
Place of birth Kiel, Province of Schleswig-Holstein, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Death date 1945
Place of death Baltic Sea (59° 30' North 23° 00' East)
Resting place Föglö cemetery (Åland)
Allegiance  National Socialist Germany
Service/branch  Kriegsmarine
Years of service 1936–1945
Rank Lieutenant Captain
Commands held U 733
U 745 (+ VIIC)
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Iron Cross

Wilhelm Lebrecht Adolf von Trotha (7 August 1916 – January/February 1945) was a German naval officer of the Kriegsmarine and U-Boot-Kommandant in WWII. During four enemy patrols (Feindfahrten) and 114 days at sea with U 745, he sank 2 Soviet ships (740 tons), a fleet minesweeper (59° 45' N 24° 47' E) and a M/S trawler (auxiliary minesweeper).[1] In late 2012, the Finnish diving team "Badewanne" (German for bathtub), after 10 years of searching, reported they had found both U 676 and U 745 in the Gulf of Finland south of Hanko.


German submarine U 745

After school education and Abitur, Wilhelm von Trotha, son of a famous admiral[2] and distant nephew of Vice Admiral Karl Wolf Gebhard Bernhard von Trotha as well as a talented sailor in his youth (with the Marine-Hitlerjugend), joined the Kriegsmarine with the 1936 Crew – the famous "Olympia Crew" with his cousin Claus von Trotha, but also Georg von Rabenau among others. The Crew of 1936 chose the Olympic rings as their symbol (the 1936 Olympic games were held in Berlin). It was the largest Crew, and produced more U-Boot commandants than any other – of the 164 who graduated, 140 took command of a submarine during the war. He received the typical training for a naval officer candidate on land and at sea on bord different ships.[3]


At the beginning of WWII, von Trotha was serving as a Watch Officer on the German cruiser Königsberg. The ship took part in the Operation Weserübung. On the evening of 9 April 1940, she was attacked by British bombers, but to no effect. The Königsberg moored at Skoltegrundkai. Around 100 of the up to 800-man crew (normally 514 men, for operations up to 850 men) were assigned as guards for the surrounding batteries and the train station. The following morning, the British launched another air raid on the ship. The 16 Blackburn Skua dive bombers of the British Fleet Air Arm attacked in three groups. Königsberg was hit by at least five 500-pound (230 kg) bombs, which caused serious damage to the ship. It took slightly less than three hours from the start of the attack for the ship to completely capsize at 10:51 a.m. and sink, which gave the crew enough time to evacuate many of the dead and wounded. They also had time to remove a significant amount of ammunition and equipment from the stricken cruiser. Only 18 men were killed in the attack, 23 were wounded, 12 severe.[4] Wilhelm von Trotha survived and was unhurt. He was commanded to the Admiral Norwegian West Coast and served until January 1941.

He then served two months as a training officer on the training ship Schleswig-Holstein and served as a teacher at the torpedo school in Flensburg-Mürwik from April to June 1941. In July 1941, he was transferred to the U-Boot weapon, was trained extensively and was appointed Watch Officer on U 582 in March 1942 under Werner Schulte, appointed 1st Watch Officer (IWO/I. WO) on 27 May 1942. In September 1942, he was commanded to the Kommandanten-Lehrgang (course for U-Boot commandants) with the 24. U-Flottille in Memel and was appointed commandant of U 733 on 14 November 1942. In November 1943, he was commanded to the 8. U-Flottille in Danzig and was appointed commandant of the new U 745 on 19 June 1943. In May 1944, the boat was moved from Kiel to Larvik. The boat operated in the North Sea, later in the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland.


The boat U-745, which had left Libau, in Kurland, on 24 December 1944, was last seen on 30 January 1945 in Narva Bay by the German U-Boat U-475. On 7 February 1945, U-745 was also officially listed missing. It was only after the war that it became known that U-745 had sailed into a Finnish mine barrier, Vantaa 3, laid on 12 January 1945,[5] in front of the entrance to the Gulf of Finland, and sank after coming into contact with sea mines. The exact date is unknown. Sources state either January 30 or 31st. The official German record, as listed on the Möltenort U-Boat Memorial, states 4 February 1945. All 48 crew died.

Lieutenant Captain Wilhelm von Trotha's frozen body was found by fishermen in a life-jacket floating in the sea in the Finnish Åland archipelago off the island of Föglö. It was not washed ashore, as is sometimes assumed. There was blood in the mouth and throat, but was otherwise unmarked. It is possible that he died while ascending to the surface after his boat sank. His fate was revealed to the relatives only more than 50 years after his disappearance.

Markus Ahonen (research, 2019)

The mystery of the missing captain – the unclear fate of Wilhelm von Trotha haunted the decades. A German submarine was destroyed by a sea mine in 1945 in Finnish waters. Captain Wilhelm von Trotha disappeared with the ship, whose fate was not revealed to the family until more than 50 years later. On the last day of January 1945, the commandant of the German submarine U 745, Lieutenant Captain Wilhelm von Trotha, got up on the bridge to look at the approaching Finnish coast. Von Trotha could breathe a sigh of relief, because the known minefields of the Baltic Sea had already been passed.
The 28-year-old von Trotha was already an experienced sailor. He had joined the German navy in 1936, served on a ship named Königsberg and a training ship in Schleswig-Holstein before being transferred to the submarine force in 1941. von Trotha took command of U 745 in 1943. At first the boat patrolled Norwegian territorial waters, but later its operational area was changed to the Baltic Sea. The patrol trip that ended up on the coast of Finland had started from Liepāja in the present-day Latvian region already on Christmas Eve 1944. The trip had gone well, like most of the other trips, where enemy ships were also sunk. A couple of weeks earlier, the Finnish minesweeper Louhi had been sunk by the torpedo of another German submarine. Eleven crew members drowned with the ship. [...] In Finland, there were only battles in the north, where Lapland's war against the Germans had progressed to the arm's length war phase.
Water splashed in the eyes of the surfaced submarine captain and the winter sea breeze became cold. The end of the war would be only a few months away, but von Trotha didn't know that, and he didn't get to experience that. Returning to Germany to the family remained a dream, because Finland had mined a new sea line in mid-January. One can only imagine the last moments. Did someone have time to react and shout a warning about the approaching sea mine that was floating towards the ship's bow south of Hanko? We'll never know that. An explosion was heard from the bow of the submarine U 745 and the water rushed in with great force. The crew had no chance. The U 745 quickly sank to the bottom of the sea. The place of disappearance was not noted in the files of the German Navy, as no factual information was obtained about the final fate of the submarine. There was only a message connection that was lost and never came back.
In the Åland archipelago more than 100 kilometers away, 1945 was a freezing February, as always. Fishermen fished whether it was war or peace. On Saturday the 10th, the fishing trip ended differently than usual. Fishermen found a body in a life jacket floating in the sea. The body was frozen. A wallet was found in the pocket of the deceased, who was dressed in a German uniform, which revealed his identity. The deceased was Lieutenant Captain Wilhelm von Trotha. There was no other information about the killing than that it had taken place in a brutal way, as there was blood in the mouth and throat of the deceased. Born in Kiel in 1916, von Trotha was buried in a mass grave at Föglö cemetery three days after being found. There were employees of the parish and the cemetery. The items in the pockets of von Trotha's uniform were handed over to the Supervisory Commission and other appropriate authorities in accordance with wartime protocol at the time. Or almost all of them. The special pen that von Trotha had was left in the possession of a person from Föglö who was present at the funeral. Information was slow, if there was any at all, during the war and in the decades after it. The information about the submarine captain's body being found and buried in Åland never reached Germany to the von Trotha family. Instead, wartime false reports gave reason to suspect that the submarine had hit the Germans' own minefield, and the crew had washed up on the Estonian coast. The family was haunted by the unclear fate of a relative for decades.
It wasn't until the late 1990s that chance came into play. One day, submarine enthusiast Stefan Abrahamsson sat at the same table with Gunnar Lindberg at the Uusikaupunki shipyard. Abrahamsson worked as a captain-lieutenant in the Finnish Defense Forces and Lindberg had also done military service in the navy, so there was enough to talk about. Lindberg told me at the time that there is a mass grave of unknown soldiers in Föglö in Åland, where a German officer named Wilhelm von Trotha is also buried. Abrahamsson, who is currently the CEO of the Suomen Purjelaivasäätiö, says that it was hard for him to believe what he was told because the websites dealing with the issue claimed otherwise. I went to uboat.net, where it was reported that the crew of the vessel U745 had washed up on the coast of Estonia. Abrahamsson also showed this to Lindberg. Gunnar said "wait a little". Soon he had a phone in his hand and a weird look on his face. At the end of the line was the cleaner of the Föglö parish, who said that his mother had been present at von Trotha's funeral. There was wrong information on the Internet, which took about a year to change with the help of new evidence.
Abrahamsson also started looking for people named Trotha in Germany using Internet e-mail searches. Indeed, he found some people with the von Trotha surname in Germany, and eventually also the descendants of Wilhelm von Trotha. The email sent from Finland about the fate of the late von Trotha was huge news for the family. The mystery that had plagued him for decades was finally solved. However, the information did not reach Karl von Trotha, the brother of the missing captain. He died two years before the mystery was solved. Karl von Trotha also worked at sea, in youth work related to sailing. He also often visited the waters of Åland. Who can know if something had drawn the man to that area. At least Karl von Trotha is known to have even visited the Föglö cemetery and researched the names of the tombstones. He also visited the mass grave of the unknown soldier in Föglö. It was in this grave that Wilhelm von Trotha was buried with the deceased number 8 on 13 February 1945.
Karl Fritz von Trotha's children were able to finish what their father left unfinished. In the summer of 1999, a memorial service was organized for Wilhelm von Trotha at the Föglö cemetery. It was attended by Karl von Trotha's son Lebrecht and daughter Elisabeth. On the same occasion, Wilhelm von Trotha's pen was handed over to Lebrecht von Trotha, which had not been handed over according to protocol to the supervisory authorities of the time. The family made a request for the extradition of the rest of von Trotha's remains to the Russian authorities through the consulate. There was never any response from Russia. The story of Wilhelm Von Trotha was continued in the same year that the commemoration was held. The submarine U 745 commanded by him was found south of Hanko at a depth of 60 meters. The position of the wreckage indicates that von Trotha and his crew's journey ended quickly and without hope of rescue. The submarine was at an angle of 45 degrees, deep in the bottom clay with the tower upright, Abrahamsson says.[6]


Wilhelm was the son and youngest child of Admiral Adolf Lebrecht von Trotha (1868–1940), Knight of the Order "Pour le Mérite" in World War I, and his wife Anna Ilse Natalie, née von Veltheim (1877–1964). He had four siblings:[7]

  • Else Johanna (1903–1944); ∞ Destedt 1933 Dr. iur. Hans Ulrich Gustav Erich Heinrich von Borcke (1902–1944; also Borcke-Stargordt), administrative lawyer and officer, finally Panzer captain at the Eastern Front; five children
  • Wally Charlotte (1904–1986); ∞ Heinrich Menzel (1903–1945)
  • Karl Fritz (1906–1991), naval officer (Crew of 1925), promoted to Korvettenkapitän (Corvette Captain – Lieutenant Commander) on 1 Febuary 1942, navigation officer on the German cruiser Emden from April 1943 to January 1945; ∞ Gertraud Böhm (1917–2010)
  • Ehrengard Luise (1909–1978); ∞ Eutin 1936 Erhard Walter Erdmann (1903–1941), painter[8]


  • 3.4.1936 Seeoffiziersanwärter (Sea Officer Candidate)
  • 10.9.1936 Seekadett (Sea Cadet)
  • 1.5.1937 Fähnrich zur See (Officer Cadet)
  • 1.7.1938 Oberfähnrich zur See (Senior Officer Cadet)
  • 1.10.1938 Leutnant zur See (2nd Lieutenant at Sea)
  • 1.10.1940 Oberleutnant zur See (1st Lieutenant at Sea)
  • 1.9.1943 Kapitänleutnant (Lieutenant Captain)

Awards and decorations

External links



  1. Wilhelm von Trotha, uboat.net
  2. Trotha, Adolf Lebrecht von, deutsche-biographie.de
  3. Wilhelm von Trotha, uboot-archiv.de (Archive)
  4. Leichter Kreuzer »Königsberg«
  5. Though the Finns and the Germans had been fighting together against the Soviet Union since 1941 during the Continuation War (1941–1944), peace negotiations between the Finnish government and the World War II Allies had been conducted intermittently during 1943–1944, but no agreement had been reached. The Moscow Armistice, signed on 19 September 1944, demanded that Finland break diplomatic ties with National Socialist Germany and expel or disarm any German soldiers remaining in Finland. The Finns escalated the situation into warfare on 28 September after Soviet pressure to adhere to the terms of the armistice. The Finnish Navy minelayer Louhi was sunk on 12 January 1945 after a mine laying operation during the Lapland War, in an area south of Hanko. The Louhi had been laying mines together with Ruotsinsalmi in order to prevent German Navy operations in the area. The Finnish vessels were escorted by a pair of Soviet MO-boats when a large explosion wrecked the stern of Louhi. The vessel sank in two minutes, taking 10 men to a depth of 40 meters. The sinking took place 7.5 nautical miles to the south-east of the Russarö lighthouse; it was thought to have been caused by a mine but it was later revealed that the German submarine U-370 had launched two acoustic homing G7es torpedoes at passing enemy ships – one of these homed onto the Finnish minelayer, hitting and sinking her. In 2015, it was revealed that the Commanders of U-370 and Louhi had been good friends. Louhi was commanded by Lieutenant Captain Olavi Syrjänen, and U-370 by Oberleutnant zur See Karl Nielsen. Syrjänen had known many languages, and he had therefore been appointed as a liaison officer between the Finns and the Germans. Nielsen had often visited the Syrjänen family in Helsinki. When Louhi was sunk, Syrjänen was the last man rescued from the sea.
  6. Kadonneen kapteenin mysteeri – Wilhelm von Trothan epäselvä kohtalo vaivasi vuosikymmenet, 2019 (updated 2021)
  7. Gothaisches Genealogisches Taschenbuch der Adeligen Häuser, Teil A, 1941, p. 559
  8. Erdmann (b. 10 June 1903 in Santoppen, Rößel district, East Prussia) was a painter, draftsman, graphic artist. In 1918, only 15, he volunteered for military service and then served in the Baltic States in the Baltic Landwehr until 1920; 1920-23 studied at the Königsberg Art Academy, which he financed as a dock worker; later based and working in Berlin; deployed as a war painter in Poland and France during the Second World War; killed in action in April 1941 in southern France.