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||1931–45|
|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 of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
|Other work||Captain in the merchant fleet|
Fregattenkapitän 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 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. He was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) for his achievements as a U-boat commander. 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.
Lehmann-Willenbrock was born on 11 December 1911 in Bremen, German Empire. He joined the Reichsmarine of the Weimar Republic in April 1931 as a member "Crew 1931" (the incoming class of 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 Type II submarines. His first patrol, which lasted 15 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 three months of training 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. In 1941 Willenbrock's sinkings with U-96 included three British troop ships: Oropesa (16 January), Almeda Star (17 January) and Anselm (15 July); each with considerable loss of life. 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. Here he was skipper on several trade ships. In March 1959 he showed great courage as skipper of the freighter Inga Bastian when he and his crew saved 57 survivors from the burning Brazilian ship Commandante Lyra. 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.
Summary of career
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 of the Iron 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.
|11 December 1940||Rotorua||United Kingdom||10,890||HX-92||Sunk||
|11 December 1940||Towa||Netherlands||5,419||HX-92||Sunk||
|12 December 1940||Macedonier||Belgium||5,227||HX-92||Sunk||
|12 December 1940||Stureholm||Sweden||4,575||HX-92||Sunk||
|14 December 1940||Empire Razorbill||United Kingdom||5,118||OB-257||Damaged||
|14 December 1940||Western Prince||United Kingdom||10,926||Sunk||
|18 December 1940||Pendrecht||Netherlands||10,746||OB-259||Damaged||
|16 January 1941||Oropesa||United Kingdom||14,118||Sunk||
|17 January 1941||Almeda Star||United Kingdom||14,936||Sunk||
|13 February 1941||Arthur F. Corwin||United Kingdom||10,516||HX-106||Sunk||
|13 February 1941||Clea||United Kingdom||7,987||HX-106||Sunk||
|18 February 1941||Black Osprey||United Kingdom||5,589||HX-107||Sunk||
|22 February 1941||Scottish Standard||United Kingdom||6,999||OB-287||Sunk||
|23 February 1941||Anglo-Peruvian||United Kingdom||5,457||OB-288||Sunk||
|24 February 1941||Linaria||United Kingdom||3,385||OB-288||Sunk||
|24 February 1941||Sirikishna||United Kingdom||5,458||OB-288||Sunk||
|28 April 1941||Caledonia||Norway||9,892||HX-121||Sunk||
|28 April 1941||Oilfield||United Kingdom||8,516||HX-121||Sunk||
|28 April 1941||Port Hardy||United Kingdom||8,897||HX-121||Sunk||
|19 May 1941||Empire Ridge||United Kingdom||2,922||HG-61||Sunk||
|5 July 1941||Anselm||United Kingdom||5,954||Sunk||
|31 October 1941||Bennekom||Netherlands||5,998||OS-10||Sunk||
|19 February 1942||Empire Seal||United Kingdom||7,965||Sunk||
|20 February 1942||Lake Osweya||United States||2,398||Scuttled||
|22 February 1942||Kars||United Kingdom||8,888||HX-175||Total Loss||
|22 February 1942||Torungen||Norway||1,948||Sunk||
|9 March 1942||Tyr||Norway||4,265||Sunk||
- 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)
|Date||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording||Direct English translation|
|Saturday, 14 December 1940||Ein Unterseeboot unter Führung von Kapitänleutnant Lehmann-Willenbrock hat auf seiner Fahrt gegen den Feind insgesamt 40 900 BRT versenkt. Ein Teilergebnis seiner Unternehmung war schon vorher bekanntgegeben.||A submarine under the leadership of Captain Lieutenant Lehmann-Willenbrock sunk on its patrol against the enemy a total of 40,900 GRT. A partial result of its undertaking was announced earlier.|
|Tuesday, 25 February 1941||An dem großen Erfolg der Unterseebootswaffe ist das Boot des Kapitänleutnants Lehmann-Willenbrock mit 55 600 BRT hervorragend beteiligt. Kapitänleutnants Lehmann-Willenbrock hat damit in kurzer Zeit 125 580 BRT feindlichen Handelsschiffsraums vernichtet.||The boat Captain Lieutenant Lehmann-Willenbrock has prominently contributed 55,600 GRT to the success of the submarine arm. Captain Lieutenant Lehmann-Willenbrock thus has destroyed 125,580 GRT of enemy merchant ship in the shortest period of time.|
|Monday, 20 May 1941||Ein Unterseeboot unter Führung von Kapitänleutnant Lehmann-Willenbrock versenkte aus Geleitzügen britische Tankschiffe mit insgesamt 33 000 BRT.||A submarine under the leadership of Captain Lieutenant Lehmann-Willenbrock sunk from convoys British tankers totalling 33,000 GRT.|
- Helgason, Guðmundur (1995–2013). "Ships hit by U-96". uboat.net. Guðmundur Helgason.
- Busch & Röll 2003, p. 110.
- Thomas 1998, p. 18.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 499.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 287.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 56.
- Busch & Röll 2003, p. 111.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, p. 381.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, p. 431.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, p. 534.
- Busch, Rainer; Röll, Hans-Joachim (2003). Der U-Boot-Krieg 1939–1945 — Die Ritterkreuzträger der U-Boot-Waffe von September 1939 bis Mai 1945 [The U-Boat War 1939–1945 — The Knight's Cross Bearers of the U-Boat Force from September 1939 to May 1945] (in German). Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn Germany: Verlag E.S. Mittler & Sohn. ISBN 978-3-8132-0515-2.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) . Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6.
- Kurowski, Franz (1995). Knight's Cross Holders of the U-Boat Service. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-88740-748-2.
- Range, Clemens (1974). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Kriegsmarine [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Navy]. Stuttgart, Germany: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 978-3-87943-355-1.
- 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 [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- Thomas, Franz (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2300-9.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, 1. September 1939 bis 31. Dezember 1941 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 1, 1 September 1939 to 31 December 1941] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2.
- Helgason, Guðmundur. "Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock". German U-boats of WWII - uboat.net. 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