You've got to be pretty hardcore to serve on a World War One submarine. Diving down beneath the waves, running silent and/or deep, and torpedoing the holy living crap out of unsuspecting warships sounds like a totally exciting time in theory, but in the end you're basically like one step away from being buried alive in a motorized, weaponized steel coffin. One false move and you're getting teabagged from above by depth charges, and it's not exactly like you can depend on jumping overboard and clinging to a life raft or some shit – if your submarine hull is compromised, you've got a better chance of survival by loading yourself into a torpedo tube and launching yourself head-first into a deep-sea minefield. So to go out there in one of these clanking, ultra-dangerous deathtraps and not only make the entire ocean your bitch, but survive the war and sink more tonnage than any other sub commander in history makes you a seriously nails badass. Having a sweet name like Lothar doesn't hurt, either.
Kapitanleutnant Lothar von Arnauld was born in 1886 in the Prussian town of Posen (present-day Poznan, Poland) to a military family that had served in the asskicking rmies of Frederick the Great. Inspired by the life-long tradition of kidney-stomping badassitude, Lothar enlisted in the Imperial German Navy in 1903. He served as a torpedo officer on the soon-to-be-famous cruiser Emden for a while, and was eventually so chill that he was selected to serve on the staff of a prominent Prussian Admiral.
Being an adjutant or whatever was cool I guess, but once the Great War went down, Lothar had an itching to get out onto the battlefield and make a name for himself as someone who punched through battleship hulls with his fists and could smoke entire fleets by carrying a deck gun around like Arnold using the mini-gun in Terminator 2. Arnauld first applied to serve as commander in the German Zeppelin corps, but was denied on the grounds that zeppelin duty was "too pussy" for someone of his brass-balled stature. Instead, he was trained as a U-boat commander, and in January 1916 he took command of the deadly warship U-35:
Er... it might not look like much here, but trust me, it's sweet.
When Lothar got out of sub officer's school World War I had already been going on for about a year and a half, and by this point U-35 was already being operated by a well-trained and highly-badass crew of able seamen. Arnauld led these daring men out into the Mediterranean in search of British and French warships and merchant vessels, intent on turning the entire sea into one giant endless field of listing hulks, burning flotsam, and charred fools. Despite taking the bridge nearly two years after the start of the conflict, it took Lothar von Arnauld just ten months to become the most murderously-successful submarine commander in the war. On one of his first war patrols this guy smashed 23 ships apart in the span of four weeks, then came back, refitted, and in the period of July-August 1916 he crushinated a brain-implodingly impossible 54 ships and sent 91,000 tons of supplies plummeting to the bottom of the sea. To put 91,000 tons into perspective, this number represented two-thirds of the total tonnage sunk worldwide during this period of the war. It's also the displacement weight of most modern-day nuclear-powered aircraft carriers loaded down with men, supplies and aircraft, and roughly the equivalent of 724 million Quarter Pounders with Cheese.
Perhaps the most balls-out thing about this impossible shit though is that this psychotic ship-killing maniac didn't even go about his naval destruction rampages the old-fashioned way by simply torpedoing the balls off of enemy hulls and then slinking off into the darkness. Fuck that – this guy wanted some face-to-face action, preferring instead to surface his sub (thereby removing the one major advantage a submarine has over a surface vessel) and pummeling the enemy ships retarded with his 88mm deck gun. You read that correctly – Lothar von Arnauld smoked ships by blasting them at point-blank range with a fucking cannon. Part of this is because the U-35 only carried six torpedoes at a time, and resupply points were few and far between, but most of it is just because he was totally awesome and understood the value of going the extra mile when annihilating your enemies.
After asshumping shipping lanes without mercy, Lothar von Arnauld received the Pour le Merite – Germany's highest award for military bravery – after just ten months in command. He also received the Iron Cross first and second class, and about a million other awards during his long and extended career of making Allied merchant vessels cry out for their mamas. Towards the end of the Great War, the German government was running out of badass shit and honors to bestow on their most decorated naval commander, so they eventually just came out and were like, "Uh, dude, we're out of medals… so, like, is there anything you really want?" Lothar said he thought it would be pretty sweet to get an autographed picture of the Kaiser, so they mailed him one. Awesome. I picture this being like some Polaroid of the mustached old Emperor in one of those pointy helmets giving a wink and a thumbs-up with a cool inscription like, "KEEP ON R0X0RING XOXO -KAISER", though sadly I have a feeling this wasn't the case.
In twenty-eight months of command on U-35, Lothar went on ten war patrols, destroying 188 ships in the process, or roughly a number of vessels equal to the size of some countries' entire Navies. To this day U-35 remains the deadliest U-boat ever built. After sweeping through the Mediterranean and blowing away anything larger than a Union Jack-patterned inner tube, von Arnauld was transferred to command of a new and improved 400-foot sub designated U-139 and took his show out to the Atlantic to hunt for merchant ships bringing supplies from America to England. In his most famous battle, Lothar von Arnauld single-handedly attacked a convoy of twelve British ships with nothing but his iron nutsack and his unflinching hatred for any ship that doesn't come factory-equipped with a periscope. Lothar plowed ahead and torpedoed the first ship, but then in a freak turn of events the sinking vessel crashed down on top of the submerged U-139, crushing the top part of the ship and destroying the conning tower. Being dragged to the bottom of the ocean by the weight of a sinking chunk of metal that used to be an enemy ship, von Arnauld blew out the ballast tanks, freed the U-boat from its underwater submission hold, and brought his half-blind, barely-seaworthy ship to the surface, where he turned his deck guns on the remaining ships.
Another cool thing about Lothar is that he was a totally noble and honorable commander, always making a point of conforming to the international rules of submarine warfare that were in place during the time of the Great War. Despite the fact that his enemies were sending out warships disguised as merchant vessels and constantly trying to lure him into bullshit traps, Lothar always made the attempt to induce the surrender of merchant ships before simply firing on them. He preferred instead to board them, put the civilian crew on lifeboats with a map to the closest island, take the ship registry, and then nuke the site from orbit once everyone was safely beyond the minimum safe distance. Warships, of course, were shit-out-of-luck.
Lothar von Arnauld was finally forced to come back to port after the Armistice was signed, but as a side-note of badassitude this guy loved subs so much that he actually pulled a lot of the furniture from the interior of U-139 and used it to decorate his home. He retired from the German Navy in 1931 and spent about a decade working as an instructor at the Turkish Naval Academy. Arnauld was recalled to his homeland at the onset of World War II, where he was to serve as the Vice Admiral of the Baltic Fleet, but he was killed in a plane crash in 1941 before getting to do anything very cool.
The most successful submarine commander in history based on total tonnage sunk, during his incredible career Lothar von Arnauld sunk 194 ships and destroyed 454,000 tons of equipment and supplies. To this day, this number is roughly double of the second guy on the list, and that dude was sailing around in World War II with better equipment and without having to conform to any kinds of rules of limited engagement. Not too shabby.
Ace of U-Boats
U-Boat Ace of Aces
Gunton, Michael. Submarines at War. Carroll & Graf, 2005.
Thomas, Lowell. Raiders of the Deep. Naval Institute Press, 2004.
Tucker, Spencer. Encyclopedia of World War I. ABC-CLIO, 2005.