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Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock

German World War II U-boat captain
The basics
About
Occupation Soldier Korvettenkapitän Submariner
Country Germany
Date of birth Bremen, Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, Germany
Date of death Apr 18, 1986 Bremen, Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, Germany
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, U-boat Front Clasp
Authority VIAF id
The details
Biography

Fregattenkapitän Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock (11 December 1911 – 18 April 1986) was a submarine commander in the Kriegsmarine of Nazi Germany during World War II. He was sixth among the top ten successful U-boat commanders 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 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 member of a propaganda company Lothar-Günther Buchheim. He was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. 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.

Early life and career

Lehmann-Willenbrock was born on 11 December 1911 in Bremen, in what was then the German Empire. He joined the Reichsmarine of the Weimar Republic in April 1931, as an Officer Candidate, and received his basic training with the Naval Infantry. He was promoted to Sea Cadet in October 1931 and attended Navy Officer Training from March 1932 to January 1933. He was then advanced to the rank of Midshipman and spent the next two years performing at-sea training. In August 1933, he was also appointed as navigation officer of the naval tender "Weser". He was advanced to Senior Midshipman in January 1935.

In April 1935, Lehmann-Willenbrock was commissioned as a Leutnant zur See (Lieutenant) and assigned as signals officer onboard the cruiser Karlsruhe. The following year, in September 1936, he was assigned for five months to the Naval Barracks at Glücksburg before receiving orders to report as Watch officer onboard the sailing vessel Horst Wessel. Lehmann-Willenbrock reported to the ship in February 1937, having received a promotion to Senior Lieutenant one month earlier. He served on the ship for twenty six months before applying to join the German Navy's submarine branch

U-boat service

Lehmann-Willenbrock transferred to the U-boat arm of the German Navy in April 1939. Upon serving as an executive officer on U-8, he was promoted to captain and took command of U-5 in December 1939. 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.

Upon the return of U-5, Lehmann-Willenbrock was transferred to the newly commissioned U-96, a Type VIIC U-boat. During three patrols under Willenbrock's command, U-96 sank 125,580 tons of Allied shipping. In 1941, U-96 sunk 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 operations in his book Das Boot.

Lehmann-Willenbrock left U-96 in March 1942 to be promoted to Korvettenkapitän and appointed commander of the 9th U-boat Flotilla, stationed in Brest. On 2 September 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 23 October. In Bergen he was appointed commandeer of the 11th U-boat Flotilla in December, and held the position until the German surrender in Norway on 9 May 1945.

U-boat combat summary

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.

Date Ship Nationality Tonnage
(GRT)
Convoy Fate Location Deaths
11 December 1940 Rotorua United Kingdom 10,890 HX-92 Sunk 58°56′N 11°20′W / 58.933°N 11.333°W / 58.933; -11.333
22
11 December 1940 Towa Netherlands 5,419 HX-92 Sunk 58°50′N 10°10′W / 58.833°N 10.167°W / 58.833; -10.167
18
12 December 1940 Macedonier Belgium 5,227 HX-92 Sunk 57°52′N 08°42′W / 57.867°N 8.700°W / 57.867; -8.700
4
12 December 1940 Stureholm Sweden 4,575 HX-92 Sunk 57°50′N 08°40′W / 57.833°N 8.667°W / 57.833; -8.667
32
14 December 1940 Empire Razorbill United Kingdom 5,118 OB-257 Damaged 59°31′N 13°15′W / 59.517°N 13.250°W / 59.517; -13.250
0
14 December 1940 Western Prince United Kingdom 10,926 Sunk 59°32′N 17°47′W / 59.533°N 17.783°W / 59.533; -17.783
14
18 December 1940 Pendrecht Netherlands 10,746 OB-259 Damaged 45°18′N 36°40′W / 45.300°N 36.667°W / 45.300; -36.667
0
16 January 1941 Oropesa United Kingdom 14,118 Sunk 56°28′N 12°00′W / 56.467°N 12.000°W / 56.467; -12.000
106
17 January 1941 Almeda Star United Kingdom 14,936 Sunk 58°16′N 13°40′W / 58.267°N 13.667°W / 58.267; -13.667
360
13 February 1941 Arthur F. Corwin United Kingdom 10,516 HX-106 Sunk 60°25′N 17°11′W / 60.417°N 17.183°W / 60.417; -17.183
46
13 February 1941 Clea United Kingdom 7,987 HX-106 Sunk 60°25′N 17°10′W / 60.417°N 17.167°W / 60.417; -17.167
59
18 February 1941 Black Osprey United Kingdom 5,589 HX-107 Sunk 61°30′N 18°10′W / 61.500°N 18.167°W / 61.500; -18.167
25
22 February 1941 Scottish Standard United Kingdom 6,999 OB-287 Sunk 59°20′N 16°12′W / 59.333°N 16.200°W / 59.333; -16.200
5
23 February 1941 Anglo-Peruvian United Kingdom 5,457 OB-288 Sunk 59°30′N 21°00′W / 59.500°N 21.000°W / 59.500; -21.000
29
24 February 1941 Linaria United Kingdom 3,385 OB-288 Sunk 61°00′N 25°00′W / 61.000°N 25.000°W / 61.000; -25.000
34
24 February 1941 Sirikishna United Kingdom 5,458 OB-288 Sunk 58°00′N 21°00′W / 58.000°N 21.000°W / 58.000; -21.000
43
28 April 1941 Caledonia Norway 9,892 HX-121 Sunk 60°03′N 16°10′W / 60.050°N 16.167°W / 60.050; -16.167
12
28 April 1941 Oilfield United Kingdom 8,516 HX-121 Sunk 60°05′N 17°00′W / 60.083°N 17.000°W / 60.083; -17.000
47
28 April 1941 Port Hardy United Kingdom 8,897 HX-121 Sunk 60°14′N 15°20′W / 60.233°N 15.333°W / 60.233; -15.333
1
19 May 1941 Empire Ridge United Kingdom 2,922 HG-61 Sunk 54°47′N 11°10′W / 54.783°N 11.167°W / 54.783; -11.167
31
5 July 1941 Anselm United Kingdom 5,954 Sunk 44°25′N 28°35′W / 44.417°N 28.583°W / 44.417; -28.583
254
31 October 1941 Bennekom Netherlands 5,998 OS-10 Sunk 51°20′N 23°40′W / 51.333°N 23.667°W / 51.333; -23.667
8
19 February 1942 Empire Seal United Kingdom 7,965 Sunk 43°14′N 64°45′W / 43.233°N 64.750°W / 43.233; -64.750
1
20 February 1942 Lake Osweya United States 2,398 Scuttled 43°14′N 64°45′W / 43.233°N 64.750°W / 43.233; -64.750
39
22 February 1942 Kars United Kingdom 8,888 HX-175 Total Loss 44°15′N 63°25′W / 44.250°N 63.417°W / 44.250; -63.417
50
22 February 1942 Torungen Norway 1,948 Sunk 44°00′N 63°30′W / 44.000°N 63.500°W / 44.000; -63.500
19
9 March 1942 Tyr Norway 4,265 Sunk 43°40′N 61°10′W / 43.667°N 61.167°W / 43.667; -61.167
13

Later life

After a year in captivity, Lehmann-Willenbrock returned to West Germany in May 1946 and worked on salvaging ships in the River Rhine. In 1948, he moved to Buenos Aires where he was worked as a skipper on several trade ships. 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 Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. 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 Service

Dates of rank

  • Offizieranwärter (Officer Candidate): April 1931
  • Seekadett (Sea Cadet): October 1931
  • Fähnrich zur See (Midshipman): January 1933
  • Oberfähnrich zur See (Senior Midshipman): January 1935
  • Leutnant zur See (Lieutenant): April 1935
  • Oberleutnant zur See (Senior Lieutenant): January 1937
  • Kapitänleutnant (Captain Lieutenant): October 1939
  • Korvettenkapitän (Lieutenant Commander): March 1943
  • Fregattenkapitän (Commander): December 1944

Awards and decorations

  • Wehrmacht Long Service Award 4th Class (2 October 1936)
  • Iron Cross (1939) 2nd Class (20 April 1940) & 1st Class (31 December 1940)
  • 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
    • Knight's Cross on 26 February 1941 as Kapitänleutnant and commander of U-96
    • 51st Oak Leaves on 31 December 1941 as Kapitänleutnant and commander of U-96
  • 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)
  • Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
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