Erich Topp (left) and Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock after a war patrol
11 December 1911|
|Died||18 April 1986
|Allegiance|| Weimar Republic (to 1933)
|Years of service||1931–1945|
|Unit||SSS Horst Wessel
7th U-boat Flotilla
9th U-boat Flotilla
11th U-boat Flotilla
(14 October 1939–30 November 1939)
(5 December 1939–11 August 1940)
(14 September 1940–1 April 1942)
9th U-boat Flotilla
(1 April 1942–2 September 1944)
(2 September 1944–18 October 1944)
11th U-boat Flotilla
(December 1944–May 1945)
|Awards||Iron Cross 1st Class
U-boat War Badge
Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves
|Other work||Captain in the merchant fleet|
Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock (11 December 1911 – 18 April 1986) was a German naval officer and submarine commander during World War II. He was sixth among the top ten Aces of the Deep during the Second Battle of the Atlantic against the Allies, in terms of tonnage of merchant ships sunk. He commanded four U-boats, and his most notable and successful tour was commanding the U-96 a Type VIIC U-boat, which gained widespread recognition when one of its patrols was documented and publicized by an accompanying war correspondent Lothar-Günther Buchheim. The story of the U-96 was eventually made into a mini-series and film called Das Boot, in which he was portrayed by Jürgen Prochnow.
Born in Bremen, Lehmann-Willenbrock joined the Reichsmarine in April 1931, with the rank of Seekadett, serving on a light cruiser and a sailing school ship before he transferred to the U-Boatwaffe in April 1939, five months before World War II began. Upon serving as an executive officer on U-8, he was promoted to Kapitänleutnant and took command of U-5 in December 1939. Both U-8 and U-5 were of the Type II class. His first patrol, which lasted fifteen days, was along the coast of Norway during Operation Hartmut, the U-boat operation in support of the invasion of Norway. No ships were sunk.
Upon the return of U-5, Lehmann-Willenbrock was transferred to the newly commissioned U-96, a Type VIIC U-boat whose crew underwent a three-month training period before being put onto active duty. During three patrols under Willenbrock's command, U-96 sank 125,580 tons of enemy shipping. The third patrol alone resulted in seven ships sunk, for 49,490 tons. The seventh patrol was the approximate time that Lothar-Günther Buchheim boarded U-96 and documented the boat's successes in his book Das Boot. Willenbrock earned all of his medals during his patrols with U-96.
Lehmann-Willenbrock left U-96 in March 1942 to be promoted to Korvettenkapitän and appointed Flottillenchef of the 9th U-boat Flotilla, stationed in Brest. On September 2, 1944 he assumed command of U-256 and escaped the besieged Brest just a few days before the town's surrender. He reached Bergen, Norway on October 23. In Bergen he was appointed Flottillenchef of the 11th U-boat Flotilla in December, and held the position until the German surrender in Norway on 9 May 1945.
After a year in captivity, Lehmann-Willenbrock returned to Germany in May 1946, salvaging ships in the River Rhine. In 1948, he left Germany aboard his ship, Magellan, with three of his friends to Buenos Aires. After returning to Germany, he served as captain on several merchantmen, and was appointed captain of the German freighter Otto Hahn, the first of only four merchant cargo nuclear ships. Buchheim's book "Der Abschied" ("The Goodbye") describes one of its voyages, which Buchheim joined as a passenger.
He was decorated in 1974 with the Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande (Federal Merit Cross on Ribbon). In 1982, Lehmann-Willenbrock accompanied Wolfgang Petersen and the Das Boot cast and crew as an advisor to the film. Afterwards, he returned to his home at Bremen, where he remained until his death.
During his patrols with U-96, Lehmann-Willenbrock was awarded with the Iron Cross 2nd Class, the Iron Cross 1st Class, the U-Boat War Badge, the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, and the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves for his achievements. He sank 24 ships for 170,237 gross register tons (GRT), damaged two ships for 15,864 GRT and damaged one ship as a total loss for 8,888 GRT.
- Wehrmacht Long Service Award 4th Class (2 October 1936)
- Iron Cross (1939)
- U-boat War Badge (1939) (2 January 1941)
- Italian Croce di Guerra with Swords (1 November 1941)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Wound Badge (1939) in Black (8 May 1942)
- War Merit Cross 2nd Class with Swords (30 January 1944)
- U-boat Front Clasp in Bronze (19 October 1944)
- Mentioned three times in the Wehrmachtbericht (14 December 1940, 25 February 1941 and 20 May 1941)
- Busch and Röll 2003, p. 110.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 287.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 56.
- Busch and Röll 2003, p. 111.
- Busch, Rainer & Röll, Hans-Joachim (2003). Der U-Boot-Krieg 1939-1945 - Die Ritterkreuzträger der U-Boot-Waffe von September 1939 bis Mai 1945 (in German). Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn Germany: Verlag E.S. Mittler & Sohn. ISBN 3-8132-0515-0.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945 (in German). Friedburg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
- Kurowski, Franz (1995). Knight's Cross Holders of the U-Boat Service. Schiffer Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-88740-748-X.
- Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- Media related to Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock at Wikimedia Commons
- "Uboat.net". The Men – Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock. Retrieved 17 February 2007.
- "Lexikon der Wehrmacht". Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
Kapitänleutnant Jürgen Oesten
|Commander of the 9th U-boat Flotilla
May 1942 – September 1944
Fregattenkapitän Hans Cohausz
|Commander of the 11th U-boat Flotilla
December 1944 – May 1945