Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock

Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock

Erich Topp (left) and Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock after a war patrol
Nickname(s) Recke
Born (1911-12-11)11 December 1911
Died 18 April 1986(1986-04-18) (aged 74)
Allegiance  Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Service/branch  Reichsmarine
Years of service 1931–45
Rank Fregattenkapitän
Unit SSS Horst Wessel
cruiser Karlsruhe
7th U-boat Flotilla
9th U-boat Flotilla
11th U-boat Flotilla
Commands held U-8
9th U-boat Flotilla
11th U-boat Flotilla

World War II

Awards 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 31" (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-Bootwaffe 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.

Bernhard Rogge, Lehmann-Willenbrock and Reinhard Suhren receive the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross from Adolf Hitler on 10 January 1942. Karl-Jesko von Puttkamer, Hitler's naval adjutant is standing to left.

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 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 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. 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 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.

Date Ship Nationality Tonnage
Convoy Fate[1] Location Deaths
11 December 1940Rotorua United Kingdom10,890HX-92Sunk58°56′N 11°20′W / 58.933°N 11.333°W / 58.933; -11.333
11 December 1940Towa Netherlands5,419HX-92Sunk58°50′N 10°10′W / 58.833°N 10.167°W / 58.833; -10.167
12 December 1940Macedonier Belgium5,227HX-92Sunk57°52′N 08°42′W / 57.867°N 8.700°W / 57.867; -8.700
12 December 1940Stureholm Sweden4,575HX-92Sunk57°50′N 08°40′W / 57.833°N 8.667°W / 57.833; -8.667
14 December 1940Empire Razorbill United Kingdom5,118OB-257Damaged59°31′N 13°15′W / 59.517°N 13.250°W / 59.517; -13.250
14 December 1940Western Prince United Kingdom10,926Sunk59°32′N 17°47′W / 59.533°N 17.783°W / 59.533; -17.783
18 December 1940Pendrecht Netherlands10,746OB-259Damaged45°18′N 36°40′W / 45.300°N 36.667°W / 45.300; -36.667
16 January 1941Oropesa United Kingdom14,118Sunk56°28′N 12°00′W / 56.467°N 12.000°W / 56.467; -12.000
17 January 1941Almeda Star United Kingdom14,936Sunk58°16′N 13°40′W / 58.267°N 13.667°W / 58.267; -13.667
13 February 1941Arthur F. Corwin United Kingdom10,516HX-106Sunk60°25′N 17°11′W / 60.417°N 17.183°W / 60.417; -17.183
13 February 1941Clea United Kingdom7,987HX-106Sunk60°25′N 17°10′W / 60.417°N 17.167°W / 60.417; -17.167
18 February 1941Black Osprey United Kingdom5,589HX-107Sunk61°30′N 18°10′W / 61.500°N 18.167°W / 61.500; -18.167
22 February 1941Scottish Standard United Kingdom6,999OB-287Sunk59°20′N 16°12′W / 59.333°N 16.200°W / 59.333; -16.200
23 February 1941Anglo-Peruvian United Kingdom5,457OB-288Sunk59°30′N 21°00′W / 59.500°N 21.000°W / 59.500; -21.000
24 February 1941Linaria United Kingdom3,385OB-288Sunk61°00′N 25°00′W / 61.000°N 25.000°W / 61.000; -25.000
24 February 1941Sirikishna United Kingdom5,458OB-288Sunk58°00′N 21°00′W / 58.000°N 21.000°W / 58.000; -21.000
28 April 1941Caledonia Norway9,892HX-121Sunk60°03′N 16°10′W / 60.050°N 16.167°W / 60.050; -16.167
28 April 1941Oilfield United Kingdom8,516HX-121Sunk60°05′N 17°00′W / 60.083°N 17.000°W / 60.083; -17.000
28 April 1941Port Hardy United Kingdom8,897HX-121Sunk60°14′N 15°20′W / 60.233°N 15.333°W / 60.233; -15.333
19 May 1941Empire Ridge United Kingdom2,922HG-61Sunk54°47′N 11°10′W / 54.783°N 11.167°W / 54.783; -11.167
5 July 1941Anselm United Kingdom5,954Sunk44°25′N 28°35′W / 44.417°N 28.583°W / 44.417; -28.583
31 October 1941Bennekom Netherlands5,998OS-10Sunk51°20′N 23°40′W / 51.333°N 23.667°W / 51.333; -23.667
19 February 1942Empire Seal United Kingdom7,965Sunk43°14′N 64°45′W / 43.233°N 64.750°W / 43.233; -64.750
20 February 1942Lake Osweya United States2,398Scuttled43°14′N 64°45′W / 43.233°N 64.750°W / 43.233; -64.750
22 February 1942Kars United Kingdom8,888HX-175Total Loss44°15′N 63°25′W / 44.250°N 63.417°W / 44.250; -63.417
22 February 1942Torungen Norway1,948Sunk44°00′N 63°30′W / 44.000°N 63.500°W / 44.000; -63.500
9 March 1942Tyr Norway4,265Sunk43°40′N 61°10′W / 43.667°N 61.167°W / 43.667; -61.167




  1. Helgason, Guðmundur (1995–2013). "Ships hit by U-96". uboat.net. Guðmundur Helgason.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Busch & Röll 2003, p. 110.
  3. 1 2 Thomas 1998, p. 18.
  4. 1 2 Scherzer 2007, p. 499.
  5. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 287.
  6. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 56.
  7. 1 2 Busch & 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 [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) [1986]. 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. 
  • 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 Militaer-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. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Kapitänleutnant Wolf-Harro Stiebler
Commanding officer, U-8
14 October 1939 – 30 November 1939
Succeeded by
Kapitänleutnant Georg-Heinz Michel
Preceded by
Kapitänleutnant Günter Kutschmann
Commanding officer, U-5
5 December 1939 – 11 August 1940
Succeeded by
Kapitänleutnant Herbert Opitz
First Commanding officer, U-96
14 September 1940 – 28 March 1942
Succeeded by
Kapitänleutnant Hans-Jürgen Hellriegel
Preceded by
Kapitänleutnant Ernst-Günther Brischke
Commanding officer, U-256
2 September 1944 – 18 October 1944
Ship struck
Preceded by
Kapitänleutnant Jürgen Oesten
Commander of the 9th U-boat Flotilla
May 1942 – September 1944
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Fregattenkapitän Hans Cohausz
Commander of the 11th U-boat Flotilla
December 1944 – May 1945
Succeeded by
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