Erich Topp and Crew of U-552
January 27, 2006
History has lost another key figure from World War Two. Admiral Erich Topp passed away in Suessen, Germany on December 26, 2005. It’s hard for us as relatives of casualties on the NERISSA to think of Erich Topp as anything other than a murderer but war is war. The chances of him surviving in a U-boat were very slim but he survived and was Germany’s third highest ranking U-boat commander. We must respect and honour him for the part he played in history and his important contributions to society following the war. He was a great man. Because he played a purely military role during the war, the British released him almost immediately after his capture. Later in his career as an officer in the West German Navy, he spent a significant time in the U.S. Pentagon. He is survived by his two sons, Dr. Kay Peter Topp born in 1945 and Michael Topp born in 1950.
Erich Topp and Crew of U-552
Postwar examination of Kreigsmarine documents and logs conclusively attributes the sinking of Nerissa to U-552 under the command of Erich Topp. Topp and U-552 claimed notoriety by torpedoing and sinking the American destroyer Reuben James on October 31, 1941, over a month before the United States’ entry into the war. Erich Topp survived the war and is acknowledged as the third top scoring U-boat commander having sunk 34 Allied merchant ships with a gross displacement of 193,684 tons. Erich Topp was recalled from active service in 1943 to serve as an instructor and subsequently was given command of U-2513 in 1945. He surrendered his boat to the British at the conclusion of hostilities. His original command U-552 was reassigned to another commander and she continued her remarkable career which spanned 4 years and 5 months of active service. U-552 was scuttled by her crew on May 2, 1945 at Wilhelmshaven to avoid capture.
Erich Topp joined the German Navy in 1934 and won distinction as a U-boat commander in WW2. On 17 war patrols he and his men sank 34 enemy vessels and were highly decorated for their accomplishments. Following a brief stint as an ordinary seaman after the war, Topp studied architecture, graduating in 1949 as a certified engineer. For two years he worked as a scientific assistant at the Technical University in Hanover and subsequently embarked on a career as a freelance architect. In 1958, he rejoined the West German Navy, serving three years as the German naval representative to NATO’s Military Committee in Washington, D.C. After additional staff commands and promotions, he ended his active service in 1969 as Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the West German Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral. From 1970 to 1984 he worked as an industrial consultant.
Messages Intercepted from U-552
Ref. National Archives HW-18-300
Letters Received from Erich Topp
Letters to Brian Lindner, 2002. Ref. National Life Insurance Company
Letter to Ann Hentschel, 2003