Sunday, February 1, 2015

Friedrich Wilhelm Kötter

I first heard of Friedrich Wilhelm Kötter in 1970.

I had the opportunity to spend a semester attending Christian Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany.  Before I left, my grandmother asked me to search for Professor Hans Sprenger who had written a book about the origins of the people of Haustenbeck, Germany, where my great-grandfather, Hermann Heinrich Ludvig Kötter was born.  Prof. Sprenger was kind enough to help our family trace our genealogy in the Haustenbeck area.  At the end of World War II, the Kotter family of America sent care packages to help the Sprenger family survive until supplies became more available in Germany.

As soon as I reached Germany, I sent a letter to the Sprengers to let them know I was in Germany.  A few weeks later a girl from the dorm where I lived called me to the telephone at the end of the hall.  I couldn't imagine who would be calling as I really knew no one in Germany.  It was Prof. Sprenger, telling me that he would be traveling from his home in Oldenburg to meet me.  We had a delightful meeting at a small restaurant on the other side of the fjord from Kiel.  In the distance we could see the memorial for lost sailors at Laboe.  In front of the memorial there is a submarine....a U-Boot, as Kiel was the home of a large submarine base during World War II.  At the time I didn't see the significance of that.

After we chatted for a while, he pulled an envelope from his pocket to show me.  He explained that he had received this letter just a few days before mine from a lady named Heidi Remde.  She had written because her son had recently been assigned to spend a couple of years working in Vancouver, Washington.  Because her family history mentioned that her great-grandfather's brother had left Germany and emigrated to the United States, she was curious if her son might be able to connect with the American part of the family.  It turns out that her great-grandfather, Friedrich Wilhelm Conrad Kötter was the brother of my great-grandfather, Hermann Heinrich Ludvig Kötter (called Henry Herman Ludvig Kotter in the US)! Prof. Sprenger asked if I would be willing to meet the German Kötter family.  I never did meet Heidi on that trip, but her sister Herta Kötter Hennig lived fairly close to Kiel in the town of Tönning.  They arranged for me to travel for a weekend to visit the Hennig family.

While in Tönning, Herta showed me a copy of her family tree.  At the time I really didn't know what I was looking at, but now I believe it was the sort of pedigree drawn up during the war to prove ancestry.  It turns out that Heidi (her official name was Adelheid because 'Heidi' was not allowed by the government) and Herta had a younger brother, Friedrich Wilhelm Kötter, born in 1919.  Next to his name was a notation that gave his death date as 1942...lost in the North Sea.  He was 23 years old at the time of his death.  Herta told me he had been serving on a German U-Boot when he died.

                                       Herta and Heidi with Herta's sons Helmut and Holger

                        Headstone showing Friedrich Wilhelm Kötter on the bottom of the stone.

All these years that is all we have known about his death.  Recently, someone on facebook asked if there were records of people who served on U-Boots.  I was surprised when several links were provided, so gave my limited information about Friedrich Wilhelm Kötter and was pleased when several responses came back with information about him.

He served on U 88 under Kapitänleutnant Heino Bohmann.  His rank was given as Oberleutnant Ing, so he was the equivalent of a 1st lieutenant, perhaps working with the engine. There was a crew of 46 or 47 aboard, none of who survived.  U 88 was sunk in the North Sea near Bear Island by the British destroyer HMS Faulknor on 14 September 1942.  There were 86 U-Boots sunk during 1942, mostly during the last part of the year.  U 88 was the same model of U Boot that was featured in the movie Das Boot.

Do you wonder what it might be like to live in a submarine for 12 weeks at a time?  Space was at a premium, so food was stored in a variety of places on board.  Some think that the U-Boot crews were the best fed of all the German military forces.

U 88 was built in 1941 so it didn't last very long.  It was part of 3 lengthy missions, the last one being to attack a convoy known as PQ-18. We don't know how many of those missions Friedrich Wilhelm might have been on, but he certainly was on the last one.

His name is listed, along with many others, at the U-Boot-Ehrenmal Möltenort near Kiel, Germany.  It is said that of about 40,000 U-Boot crew members, 75% died in the war.

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