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KPTLT. REINHARD HARDEGEN
Commander Reinhard Hardegen of U-123 sank more ships during Operation Drumbeat than any of the others, and upon his return to the East Coast in February, continued waging a serious threat to American trade. Born March 18, 1913 in Bremen, Commander Hardegen had the sea in his veins and possessed an aggressive spirit at a young age. His father taught history, geography and French at a local Gymnasium (high school) and wrote a number of books, including biographies of important Naval commanders. The smell of the ocean and the sight of vessels docked at moorings influenced Hardegen's decision to pursue a career at sea.
As he planned for his career, he took the tests for the German naval forces, passing every one of them. He started his education at the Flensburg-Murwik Naval Academy, and then went to torpedo school and a 14-day program at the U-boat defense school at Kiel. In April 1936 he was promoted from midshipman to ensign, and in October to lieutenant junior grade. From 1938 to 1944 he received three more promotions, finally earning the position of commander in March 1944.
His lesson in defeat came as a passenger in a Junkers W-34 aircraft that crashed on takeoff and broke apart. The accident left him with a broken leg and internal injuries that took 6 months to heal. More permanent was his shortened right leg and bleeding stomach, injuries that nearly ended his active military career.
However, in 1935 the Kriegsmarine selected him to be in a group of naval airmen to man 300 aircraft in 25 squadrons. His air career came to an abrupt halt in 1939, when he was assigned to the Ubootwaffee and had to attend U-boat school at Flensburg. That change, however, marked a turning point in his life. He spent 3 months in Torpedo Trials Command at Kiel and Eckernförde and continued on to U-boat Commanders School. That school introduced him to U-124, on which he would serve as watch officer, and U-123, which he would command.
Hardegen later became one of Germany's finest U-boat captains, earning the prestigious Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, with Oak Leaves after his successes during Operation Drumbeat
Source: Gannon, Michael. Operation Drumbeat: The Dramatic True Story of Germany's First U-Boat Attacks Along the American Coast in World War II. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.