I have been doing a web site on my grandfather, who was a naval artist during WWII. He wrote a book about the North Atlantic Patrol. He watched the Reuben James go down and wrote, and sketched, what is probably the best eyewitness description of the loss of the first US naval vessel during WWII and the rescue of its men.
It has resulted in some interesting contacts. I received an email from the niece of a survivor of the Reuben James — a survivor that was mentioned in my grandfather's book. I commented about this last June.
Yesterday I read this entry in the site guest book from Volker Erich Kummrow in the Netherlands:
Dear Sir, I'm the godson of Kapitänleutnant Erich Topp, who sank the above mentioned ship as skipper of U-552. He is still among us and doing aceptional well for his age and I talked to him as recent as two days ago. In 1990 he wrote his biography "Fackeln über dem Atlantik", Ullstein 24613; Berlin 1999 (pocket book edition). The book starts with the events which led to sinking of the REUBEN JAMES from his point of view as a U- Boat-Commander and is very moving. The book describes GURTHIE's [sic] song about the good people lost of the Reuben James.
Volker left a phone number and I called him this morning. Erich Tropp is still alive. Volker is going to visit him in a couple of weeks and wanted to know if I had any questions. What a trip! I asked Volker if there was an english translation of Erich's book. I want Erich's description of his experience from under the water to put in my grandfather's web site.
There is an english translation (The Odyssey of a U-Boat Commander:Recollections of Erich Topp) but it is $62.95, which is more money than I can afford. If anyone wants to buy it for me they are welcome to. (The book link goes to Amazon.). I will let you know where to send it. In the meantime, I will call Volker back and see if he has access to a translation of Erich's description of the sinking of the Reuben James.
By the way, U-552 was the same type of U-boat as used in the movie Das Boot.