Military Wiki
Günther Lütjens
as Kapitän zur See
Nickname Pee Ontgens
Born (1889-05-25)25 May 1889
Died 27 May 1941(1941-05-27) (aged 52)
Place of birth Wiesbaden, Hesse-Nassau
Place of death Atlantic Ocean
Buried at (48°10′N 16°12′W / 48.167°N 16.2°W / 48.167; -16.2)
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Service/branch  Kaiserliche Marine
Years of service 1907–1941
Rank Admiral
Unit SMS Freya
SMS Württemberg
SMS König Wilhelm
SMS Hansa
Torpedo boats G-169 and G-172
Commands held Torpedo boats T-68, T-21, A-5, A-20 and A-40
Karlsruhe (1934–1935)
Admiral Hipper (1940)
Gneisenau (flagship) and Scharnhorst (1940–1941)
Bismarck (flagship) and Prinz Eugen (1941)





Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Johann Günther Lütjens (25 May 1889 – 27 May 1941) was a German Admiral whose military service spanned more than 30 years. He received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) during World War II, awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership, for his leadership during Operation Weserübung, the German invasion of Denmark and Norway.

Lütjens joined the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) in 1907, and after his basic military training, served on a number of torpedo boats during World War I initially as a watch officer and later as a commander of a torpedo boat and chief a demi flotilla fighting the French and British Royal Navy along the Flemish coast.

In May 1941, Lütjens on board of battleship Bismarck commanded the German task force Bismarck and her consort, Prinz Eugen, during the Operation Rheinübung. Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were to break out of their base in German occupied Poland and attack British merchant shipping lanes in the Atlantic Ocean. The task force's first major engagement was the Battle of the Denmark Strait which resulted in the sinking of HMS Hood and the separation of the task force. Less than a week later, on 27 May, Lütjens and most of Bismarck's crew lost their lives during Bismarck's last battle. The Bundeswehr of the Federal Republic of Germany honoured him by naming a destroyer after him.

Childhood, education and early career

Johann Günther Lütjens was born in Wiesbaden in Hesse-Nassau, a province of the Kingdom of Prussia, on 25 May 1889. He was the son of merchant Johannes Lütjens and his wife Luise, née Volz.[1] Growing up in Freiburg im Breisgau, he graduated from the Berthold-Gymnsasium with his diploma (Abitur) aged seventeen.[2][3] He entered the Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) as a Seekadett (midshipman) on 3 April 1907 at the German Imperial Naval Academy in Kiel, where he received his initial infantry training.[4] He spent his initial year on Freya (9 May 1907 – 1 April 1908) for his practical training on board and his first world cruise, before attending an officers course at the Naval Academy at Mürwik. His comrades nicknamed him "Pee Ontgens" after a character from the book Das Meer [The Sea] by Bernhard Kellermann, which was one of his favorite books.[2] Lütjens graduated as the 20th of 160 cadets from his "Crew 1907" (the incoming class of 1907), and was thereafter promoted to Fähnrich zur See (ensign) on 21 April 1908.[5] Starting on 1 April 1909, he underwent naval artillery training at the Naval Artillery School[Tr 1] in Kiel-Wik and then participated in a torpedo course on board Württemberg on 1 July 1909.[6]

Lütjens spent two years on SMS Hansa.

Lütjens then attended another infantry course with the 2nd Sea-Battalion before boarding Elsass on 1 October 1909.[Tr 2] After receiving his commission as Leutnant zur See (Second Lieutenant) on 28 September 1910, he served on board König Wilhelm (26 September 1910 – 1 April 1911), a harbor ship, and then Hansa (1 April 1911 – 1 April 1913). He then returned to the König Wilhelm (1 April 1913 – 1 October 1913),[6] where he served as an instructor of cabin boys and later as an instructor of cadets. König Wilhelm at the time was a barracks ship based in Kiel and used as training vessel for naval cadets. He then completed two further world cruises on Hansa.[2] Following these assignments he was promoted to Oberleutnant zur See (Sub-Lieutenant) on 27 September 1913.[7]

Lütjens' next assignment was with 4th Torpedo-Boat-Flotilla, where he served as a watch officer.[Tr 3][2] On 1 October 1913 he was appointed company officer with the I. Torpedodivision, and served as a watch officer on torpedo boat G-169 of the 2nd Torpedo-Boat-Demi-Flotilla as from 1 November.[Tr 4] On 24 December 1913 he returned to his position as company officer with the I. Torpedodivision, before becoming a watch officer on G-172 of the 2nd Torpedo-Boat-Demi-Flotilla on 15 March 1914.[6]

World War I

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Lütjens was transferred to the Harbor Flotilla of the Jade Bight[Tr 5] on 1 August 1914 followed shortly by his first command of torpedo boat T-68 of the 6th Torpedo-Boat-Demi-Flotilla on 4 September 1914. On 7 December 1914 he went back to the I. Torpdedivsion before attending a minesweeping course on 2 January 1915. After completion of this course he was sent back again to the I. Torpdedivsion where he took command of the training torpedo boat T-21 on 16 January. He served in this position until 14 March 1915 when he was posted back to the I. Torpedodivsion. On 5 May 1915 he was transferred to the Torpedo-Boat-Flotilla "Flandern" serving as commander of torpedo boats A-5 and A-20.[Tr 6] He was appointed chief of the A-Demi-Flotilla in the II. Torpedo-Boat-Flotilla "Flandern" in February 1916 and at the same time commanded torpedo boat A-40.[Tr 7] He held this position until the end of World War I on 11 November 1918 when he returned to Antwerpen and Kiel.[6]

Lütjens had been promoted to Kapitänleutnant (captain lieutenant) on 24 May 1917 during this assignment.[7] As commander of torpedo boats along the Flemish coast, he led raids against Dunkirk on 23 March 1917. He was in combat with four British torpedo boats on 2 May 1917 and led five of his boats in actions against four French destroyers on 19 May 1917.[8] For his service in World War I among other decorations and awards he received the Knight's Cross of the House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords and the Iron Cross (1914) 2nd and 1st Class.[9]

Inter-war period

After the war, he worked as head of the Warnemünde (1 December 1918 – 24 January 1919 and 8 February 1919 – 10 March 1919) and Lübeck (24 January 1919 – 8 February 1919 and 8 July 1919 – 15 September 1919) Sea Transportation Agency.[6][Tr 8] As a result of the Treaty of Versailles which was signed on 28 June 1919, the German Navy was downsized to 15,000 men, including 1,500 officers, while the German Imperial Navy was renamed the Reichsmarine in the era of the Weimar Republic. He then returned to the newly reorganized German Navy, by that time with the rank of Commander. Lütjens served until 1925 in the 3rd Torpedo Boat Flotilla and eventually became its commanding officer.

German cruiser Karlsruhe off San Diego, California in 1934

In 1933, he received command of Karlsruhe. Burkard Freiherr von Müllenheim-Rechberg, the most senior officer to survive Bismarck's last battle, was an officer cadet on Karlsruhe at the time of Lütjens' command. Lütjens first met Karl Dönitz, future Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine in Vigo, Spain in June 1935. At that point, Dönitz had been entrusted with the rebuilding of the U-Boat arm but had spent the summer at sea commanding Emden. After arriving at port, he met with Admiral Erich Raeder. Raeder informed Dönitz that:

Lütjens is to become chief of the Officer Personnel Branch at Naval Headquarters with the task of forming an officer Corps for the new Navy we are about to build.

Dönitz was given command of the U-Boat arm at the same time.[10]

In 1936, Lütjens was appointed Chief of Personnel of the Kriegsmarine. In 1937, he became Führer der Torpedoboote (Chief of Torpedo Boats), with Z1 Leberecht Maass as his flag ship,[11] and was promoted to Rear Admiral.[12]

In November 1938, Lütjens was one of only three flag officers who protested, in writing, against the anti-Jewish "Kristallnacht" pogroms.[12][13]

World War II

Operation Weserübung

At the outbreak of World War II, Lütjens was Commander of Scouting Forces.[Tr 9] In April 1940, during the invasion of Denmark and Norway (Operation Weserübung), he served as Vice Admiral, commanding the distant cover forces in the North Sea — which consisted of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau — and fighting an inconclusive battle with the battlecruiser HMS Renown. In June 1940, he became Commander of Battleships and the third Flottenchef (Fleet Commander) of the Kriegsmarine in World War II, a position comparable to the British Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet.

His predecessor — Vizeadmiral Wilhelm Marschall — had repeated differences with the German High Command over the extent the Flottenchef should be bound to orders while operating at sea. Operating from Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, Marschall had realized the Allies were retreating from Norway and ignored his original orders by attacking the retreating British forces, sinking Glorious and her escorting destroyers Acasta and Ardent, but also receiving a torpedo hit on Scharnhorst. This failure to follow orders resulted in Marschall being replaced by Lütjens. Since the first Flottenchef had been removed for similar reasons, Lütjens was determined to follow his orders to the letter to avoid suffering the same fate.

Operation Berlin

On 28 December 1940, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, on which Admiral Lütjens had raised his flag, left Germany for an Atlantic raid. However, due to weather the German force had to return to port: Gneisenau to Kiel and Scharnhorst to Gdynia.

On 22 January 1941, the mission was renewed. Still with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, Admiral Lütjens choose to pass between Iceland and Faroe Islands. As the cruiser Naiad briefly sighted the German battlecruisers group, on 28 January, he decided to retire northbound, until beyond 70 °N. After rendezvous on 30 January with tanker Adria, the German group refuelled, which due to bad weather wasn't completed until 2 February. Then Admiral Lütjens headed for the Denmark Strait, and on 4 February, ran into the Atlantic. On 8 February, the German warships were in sight of the convoy HX-106, some 41 ships, eastbound from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Liverpool, England, escorted by Ramillies, armed with eight excellent 15-inch guns. The captain of the Scharnhorst offered to draw off the British battleship, so that the Gneisenau could sink the merchant ships. Lütjens strictly followed Seekriegsleitung's directive not to engage enemy capital ships. The presence of HMS Ramillies was sufficient to deter the attack.

After rendezvous between Iceland and Canada, with tankers Esso Hamburg and Schlettstadt, on 15 February, the German group, on 22 February, 500 nautical miles east of Newfoundland, sank five ships (about 25,700 tons) from a westbound convoy, which were sailing escortless towards American harbours.

Admiral Lütjens's group then steered to the coasts of West Africa, and sighted, off Freetown, on 7 March, the convoy SL-67, escorted by HMS Malaya. Once again, Admiral Lütjens decided not to attack the convoy due to the presence of the British battleship.

With the supply ships Uckermark and Ermland (previously named Altmark), Gneisenau and Scharnhorst steered westbound to North Atlantic. On 15 March, several tankers were sighted steaming without escort. Three tankers were captured, and six sunk, and ten ships more were sunk on 16 March. Sighted by HMS Rodney escorting the convoy HX-114, Admiral Lütjens's group was chased by the Home Fleet on the way to return to Germany by the Denmark Strait, as he steered to Brest. Sighted by an aircraft from HMS Ark Royal on 20 March, Admiral Lütjens managed to evade British warships, and reached Brest on 22 March. The Operation had lasted exactly two months, and the journey of 17,800 nmi (20,500 mi; 33,000 km) in 59 days was a record for German capital ships.[14] Although 22 ships had been sunk by the battlecruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, Admiral Lütjens was fully aware that the attack of the eastbound convoys, carrying troops, and heavy armament, and escorted by old slow battleships, had to be conducted by more powerful battleships as Bismarck or Tirpitz and even both, accompanying Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. But on 6 April, Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell succeeded in torpedoing Gneisenau, and putting her out of action for several months, as Tirpitz was not yet completed.

Operation Rheinübung

Bismarck's aft upper deck, behind turret "Cesar". This is where the living and working quarters of the admiral's staff were located.[15]

The plan

Plans were then made for Lütjens to command Operation Rheinübung, taking all four modern German battleships and battlecruisers—Bismarck, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Tirpitz—on a raid into the Atlantic. For various reasons, Tirpitz and the two battlecruisers could not be made ready for the operation, so it proceeded with only Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. The preparation and operational directives had been prepared by Marinegruppenkommando West, under the command of Generaladmiral Alfred Saalwächter and Marinegruppenkommando Ost, under the command of Generaladmiral Rolf Carls.

On 8 April 1941, Lütjens met with Admiral Dönitz in Paris. Dönitz made the following assessment of the plan:

I met Admiral Lütjens, the Admiral commanding the fleet, in Paris. I knew Lütjens well and held him in high esteem. During the same years we had been in command of the cruisers Karlsruhe and Emden respectively. At the end of our overseas tours of duty we had returned to Germany in company. In the years immediately before the war, while I was senior Officer, submarines, Lütjens had been officer commanding Torpedo Boats. We were often together, both socially and on duty, we held the same views on naval matters and saw eye to eye in most things. At our conference in Paris we defined the support to be given to the Bismarck by U-Boats in the following terms:

1. The U-Boats would carry on as usual in their normal positions
2. If while the surface ships were at sea any opportunity arose for joint action with U-Boats, every effort should be made to exploit it to the full. For this purpose an experienced U-Boat Officer would be appointed for duty to the Bismarck.

3. On the radio frequency used by the U-Boats, the Admiral commanding the fleet would be kept constantly informed of the dispositions of the boats and the intentions of the U-Boat Command.[16]

Lütjens travelled to Berlin on 26 April 1941 to meet with the Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine Erich Raeder and to sign off for Operation Rheinübung. For the last time did Lütjens try to change Raeder's mind, without success. Raeder advised him to act thoughtfully and carefully without taking too high a risk. Immediately following the meeting he said goodbye to a friend from the high command indicating that he would not return from this mission, given the superiority of the British forces.[17]

Lütjens staff for Operation Rheinübung was made up of the following officers:[18]

Name Rank Role
Harald Netzband Kapitän zur See Chief of Staff
Emil Melms Kapitän zur See 2nd Admiral Staff Officer, Artillery Officer of the Fleet, Personnel Officer
Dr. Hans-Releff Riege Flottenarzt (posthumously Admiralarzt) Doctor with the Fleet Commando
Helmut Marschall Hauptregierungsrat of the Reserves Meteorologist
Paul Ascher Fregattenkapitän 1st Admiral Staff Officer
Karl Thannemann Fregattenkapitän (Ing.) (posthumously Kapitän (Ing.)) Fleet Engineer
Dr. Eduard Langer Marineoberkriegsgerichtsrat Fleet Judge
Hans Nitzschke Korvettenkapitän 4th Admiral Staff Officer
Dr. Heinz Externbrink Hilfsregierungsrat Meteorologist
Heinrich Schlüter Marinebaurat

Rheinübung initiated

In the early hours of 19 May 1941, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen left Gotenhafen and proceeded through the Baltic Sea and out towards the Atlantic. Unbeknownst to Lütjens, the British had intercepted enough intelligence to suggest that a German naval operation might occur in the area, and had already sent the heavy cruisers HMS Norfolk and Suffolk, both ships that were equipped with radar to monitor the Denmark strait. When the Swedish cruiser Gotland spotted the two German ships on 20 May, a message was sent to Allied forces that eventually made its way to the British Admiralty.

On 21 May, Lütjens ordered a fuel stop in a fjord near Bergen. While Prinz Eugen was refueled, Lütjens for some reason declined to refuel the Bismarck. This was in spite of the fact that Bismarck had not left port with full fuel tanks and had spent 19 of her remaining fuel to get to Bergen. Lütjens also knew that a German tanker—the Weissenberg—was waiting for him in the Arctic, only an additional day's sailing away, but farther from prying Allied eyes. By this time, the British Admiralty, concerned by the Swedish report of two large German warships on the move, had dispatched reconnaissance planes to scan the area. When one of these planes spotted the two German ships refueling near Bergen, the British immediately dispatched a task force consisting of the battlecruiser HMS Hood and battleship HMS Prince of Wales to the Denmark straight in the likelihood of interception if this were the intended route. When further air reconnaissance revealed that Bismarck had left Bergen on 22 May, the British launched the Home Fleet Battle Fleet, led by battleship HMS King George V. Lütjens however, remained unaware that the British were tracking him until 23 May, when his ships encountered Norfolk and Suffolk in the Greenland ice pack. Though shots were fired, no serious damage resulted to either side, and the outgunned British cruisers quickly withdrew, though they remained within radar range and continued to shadow the German ships. The shock from the firing of Bismarck's heavy guns had however disabled her search radar, and so Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to take the lead.

Lütjens did not have long to determine how to shake his British pursuers before, in the early hours of 24 May 1941, Prinz Eugen's hydrophones detected two large ships approaching. Hood and Prince of Wales had intercepted him.

Battle of the Denmark Strait

Vice Admiral Lütjens in April, 1940

Lütjens' first instinct was to attempt to outrun the British ships, scrupulously obeying his orders to "avoid engagements with equal or superior forces unless forced to by the enemy". This was reinforced when the lead British ship was quickly identified as Hood, pride of the British Navy and arguably the most feared capital ship in the world at the time. Even after Hood began to fire on the two ships and it became obvious that an engagement was inevitable, Lütjens at first refused to allow his ships to return fire, much to the agitation of Captain Ernst Lindemann, who is said to have argued with Lütjens over how to proceed, and after multiple inquiries by first gunnery officer Adalbert Schneider, "Permission to open fire?", finally snapping, "I will not allow my ship to be shot out from under my ass. Open fire!".[19] Finally, the order to return fire was given, though whether the order was given by Lütjens, or an impatient Lindemann, cannot be confirmed.

During the brief "Battle of the Denmark Strait" that followed, Hood quickly exploded and sank, killing all but three of her crew, after a shell from Bismarck penetrated her rear powder magazine. Bismarck took a hit to the bow which passed through the waterline and caused a leak in the forward fuel tank. Prince of Wales subsequently sustained seven hits from the German ships, and, with significant damage to the bridge and most of her guns malfunctioning, was forced to withdraw. With the battle over, Lütjens once again stuck to his orders—ignoring Lindemann's desire to follow Prince of Wales and "finish her off"—and allowed the damaged British ship to escape.

Pursuit by the British

After assessing the amount of Bismarck's fuel remaining and estimating its range and operational capacity (the ship had not completed its refuelling in Norway) Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to initiate commerce raiding on her own,[20] while Bismarck headed for St. Nazaire. To keep the British from detecting Prinz Eugen's departure, Lütjens ordered Bismarck to steam directly towards Norfolk and Suffolk, forcing them to withdraw once more, while Prinz Eugen used the distraction to escape out of range of British radar.

In light of these developments, Lütjens addressed the crew as follows:

Seamen of the battleship Bismarck! You have covered yourself with glory! The sinking of the battle cruiser Hood has not only military, but psychological value, for she was the pride of Great Britain. Henceforth the enemy will try to concentrate his forces and bring them into action against us. I therefore released Prinz Eugen at noon yesterday so that she could conduct commerce warfare on her own. She has managed to evade the enemy. We, on the other hand, because of the hits we have received, have been ordered to proceed to a French port. On our way there the enemy will gather and give us battle. The German people are with you, and we will fight until our gun barrels glow red-hot and the last shell has left the barrels. For us, seamen, the question is victory or death.[21]

Bismarck's ¾ clockwise turn

In subsequent maneuvering on 25 May, Bismarck was able to elude the British for nearly four hours after Lütjens, taking advantage of his pursuers' zig-zag pattern of movement, performed a ¾ clockwise turn behind them. Bismarck's crew was unaware that the maneuver was successful, however, because they could only detect British radar, not gauge the strength of the signals, which only the British knew had become too weak to monitor. Unaware that his British pursuers—by now joined by the Home Fleet—had "lost" him, and in spite of Captain Lindemann's by-now-usual objections, Lütjens—still attempting to follow his orders to the letter—transmitted a 30-minute radio message to his superiors. This was intercepted by the British, who were able to plot Lütjens's approximate course. However, a plotting error caused the pursuing ships to veer too far to the north, allowing Bismarck to once again evade them through the night.

A British reconnaissance aircraft sighted Bismarck in the early morning hours of 26 May by following its oil slick. At this point, the Home Fleet and Norfolk following from the north were joined by HMS Rodney, while Force H and light cruiser HMS Dorsetshire approached from the south, and light cruiser HMS Edinburgh from the west. Bismarck's low speed and southeasterly heading away from its known pursuers made it very easy for the new attackers to the south to catch up.

At dusk on 26 May, Swordfish torpedo aircraft from HMS Ark Royal attacked. Though much of the damage was superficial, one torpedo jammed Bismarck's rudders and steering gear, rendering it largely unmaneuverable. Divers were put over the side but reported they could not clear the damage as the sea was then too rough. The crew was still able to steer Bismarck somewhat by adjusting the revolution speed of her propellers, but it reduced the ship's top speed to 7 kn (13 km/h; 8.1 mph) and effectively left it circling in the water. Throughout the night she was the target of incessant torpedo attacks by HMS Cossack, Sikh, Maori, Zulu, and ORP Piorun.

Lütjens recognised the gravity of the situation. At 23:58 on 26 May, Lütjens transmitted to Group West, the Naval HQ:

To the Führer of the German Reich, Adolf Hitler. We will fight to the last in our trust in you, my Führer, and our firm confidence in Germany's victory.[22]

Hitler replied at 01:53 on 27 May:

I thank you in the name of the whole German nation - Adolf Hitler. To the crew of the battleship Bismarck: all Germany is with you. What can be done will be done. Your devotion to your duty will strengthen our people in the struggle for their existence - Adolf Hitler[23]


On the morning of 27 May 1941, during which Bismarck's final battle took place, Lütjens sent a request for a U-Boat to pick up Bismarck's war diary. In this last transmission, Lütjens included: "Ship no longer manoeuvrable. We fight to the last shell. Long live the Führer".[24]

Bismarck's alarm sounded for the last time at 08:00 on the morning of 27 May 1941. Norfolk sighted the Bismarck at 08:15, and the battleship HMS Rodney opened fire on Bismarck at 08:48. Bismarck returned fire at 08:49. Further involved in the final battle were the battleship HMS King George V and the cruisers Norfolk and HMS Dorsetshire. Bismarck's forward command position was hit at 08:53, and both forward gun turrets were put out of action at 09:02, killing Adalbert Schneider in the main gun director. The after command position was destroyed at 09:18 and turret Dora was disabled at 09:24. Bismarck received further heavy hits at 09:40, resulting in a fire amidships, and turret Caesar went out of action after a hit at 09:50. All weapons fell silent at 10:00. Short of fuel, Rodney and King George V had to disengage prior to Bismarck's sinking. The Germans were preparing to scuttle Bismarck when three torpedoes fired by Dorsetshire hit the ship's side armour. Bismarck sank at 10:36 at position 48°10′N 16°12′W / 48.167°N 16.2°W / 48.167; -16.2, roughly 300 nmi (560 km; 350 mi) west of Ouessant (Ushant). The cruiser Dorsetshire saved 85 men, and the British destroyer Maori saved 25. A further five sailors were saved by German submarine U-74 under the command of Captain Lieutenant Eitel-Friedrich Kentrat and the weather observation ship Sachsenwald. The Befehlshaber der U-Boote (U-boats Commander-in-Chief) Karl Dönitz had ordered U-556 under the command of Captain Lieutenant Herbert Wohlfarth to pick up Bismarck's war diary. Out of torpedoes and low on fuel, Wohlfarth requested that the order be transferred to U-74. U-74 failed to reach Bismarck on time and the war diary was never retrieved.[25][Note 1] Lütjens was among those who lost their lives — probably killed when a 14 in (360 mm) salvo fired by King George V destroyed the bridge, killing many senior officers.

Personal life

Lütjens married Margarete Backenköhler, daughter of the Geheimen Sanitätsrat ("Privy Counselor on Hygiene", honorary title given to a distinguished doctor) Dr. Gerhard Backenköhler, in the summer of 1929.[9] She was twenty-seven years old at the time of the wedding and the sister of Otto Backenköhler. Admiral Otto Backenköhler was Lütjens chief of staff at the Fleet-Command (24 October 1939 – 31 July 1940). A year later their first son Gerhard was born on 31 August 1930 in Swinemünde. The marriage produced a second son, Günther, named after his father on 28 August 1932 in Berlin. Their daughter Annemarie was born on 27 August 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Less than a month after Lütjens death his wife Margarete gave birth to their fourth child, Peter.[26] Margarete had been considered "non-Aryan" according to the Nuremberg Laws.[18]


In the 1960 film, Sink the Bismarck!, Lütjens is portrayed by Karel Štěpánek as egotistical, overconfident and a Nazi enthusiast angered over Germany's humiliation and his own lack of recognition at the end of World War I. In reality, Lütjens was pessimistic of the chances of success in Bismarck's mission. He did not agree with Nazi policies; he was one of the few officers who refused to give the Nazi salute when Hitler visited Bismarck before its first and final mission, deliberately using instead the traditional naval salute.[27] Lütjens also wore by choice the dirk of the Kaiserliche Marine, rather than the more modern Kriegsmarine dirk which bore a swastika.

The film also made a mistake in the sequence of events aboard Bismarck, showing Lütjens ordering Captain Ernst Lindemann to open fire on Hood and Prince of Wales. In the event, Lütjens actually ordered Lindemann to avoid engaging Hood, but Lindemann disobeyed and ordered the ship's gun crews to open fire on Hood and Prince of Wales.

Lütjens (D185).

The Deutsche Marine (German Navy of the Federal Republic of Germany) named the guided missile destroyer Lütjens after Günther Lütjens.[12] The ship was christened by Gerda Lütjens, wife of Lütjens oldest son Gerhard, in Bath, Maine on 11 August 1967, and was decommissioned in 2003.[12] In his christening speech the then secretary of state at the Ministry of Defence, Karl Carstens, stated that Lütjens had set an example of "unwavering sense of responsibility and devout faithfulness to duty".[28]

Choosing the name "Lütjens" for the newly commissioned destroyer was not without controversy, but the Minister of Defence Gerhard Schröder wanted to break the taboo surrounding the heroes of World War II who were not Nazis but who were not associated with the 20 July plot, the failed assassination of Adolf Hitler. The former Inspector of the Navy Friedrich Ruge had feared that Lütjens was not known well enough and had suggested the names Adenauer, Berlin and Rommel instead. Schröder however wanted to bridge the gap to former traditions and wanted to name the destroyers after former heroes of the three branches of the Wehrmacht (Heer, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe).[28] Lütjens' name had previously been cleared by the German Armed Forces Military History Research Office (Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt or MGFA), formerly in Freiburg im Breisgau. Schröder concluded with the words "We must have the courage like any other people, to honour men who have served their country bravely and faithfully."[28]

Following the christening an American worker at the Bath Iron Works approached and asked the attending German journalists "do you only have Nazi heroes back home in Germany?" US newspapers had introduced the namesake as a former Nazi sea hero. Present at the christening was a Bundeswehr helicopter which had been used to shuttle the official German government visitors around, and it bore the insignia of the Bundeswehr, a variant of the Iron Cross. When US radio reporters caught sight of the helicopter they mistakenly referred to the Iron Cross insignia as a swastika in their reports, thus further adding to the controversy.[28]

Lütjens was the first of three Lütjens-class destroyers. The other two were Mölders, named after the Luftwaffe World War II fighter pilot Werner Mölders, and Rommel, named after the Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.[28]

Relevant commands

  • 16 September 1934 – 23 September 1935: Commander of the light cruiser Karlsruhe.
  • 24 September 1935 – 15 March 1936: Chief of Staff Naval Group North in Wilhelmshaven.
  • 16 March 1936 – 7 October 1937: Chief of the officer Personnel Branch at Naval Headquarters (Marinepersonalamt. MPA) in Berlin.
  • 8 October 1937 – 20 October 1939: Commander of Torpedo Boats (Führer der Torpedoboote. F.d.T.).
  • 21 October 1939 – ?? April 1940: Commander of Reconnaissance forces (Befehlshaber der Aufklärungsstreitkräfte. B.d.A.).
  • 11 March 1940 – 23 April 1940: Deputy Chief of Fleet (Flottenchef i.V.).
  • 18 June 1940 – 7 July 1940: Deputy Chief of Fleet (Flottenchef i.V.).
  • 8 July 1940 – 27 May 1941: Chief of Fleet (Flottenchef).

Summary of career



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3 April 1907: Seekadett (Midshipman)
21 April 1908: Fähnrich zur See (Officer Cadet)
28 September 1910: Leutnant zur See (Second Lieutenant)
27 September 1913: Oberleutnant zur See (First Lieutenant)
24 May 1917: Kapitänleutnant (Captain Lieutenant)
1 April 1926: Korvettenkapitän (Corvette Captain)
1 October 1931: Fregattenkapitän (Frigate Captain)
1 July 1933: Kapitän zur See (Captain at Sea)
1 October 1937: Konteradmiral (Counter Admiral)
1 January 1940: Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral)
1 September 1940: Admiral (Admiral)

Wehrmachtbericht references

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
Saturday, 22 March 1941 Der Flottenchef Admiral Lütjens als Führer eines Schlachtschiffverbandes meldet als bisherigen Erfolg einer längeren Unternehmung schwerer Seestreitkräfte im Nordatlantik die Versenkung von insgesamt 22 bewaffneten feindlichen Handelsschiffen mit zusammen 116 000 BRT. Achthundert Überlebende wurden dabei von deutschen Schlachtschiffen gerettet.[33] The fleet commander Admiral Lutjens as leader of a battleship task force reports as success so far on an extended undertaking of a heavy naval forces in the North Atlantic, the sinking of a total of 22 armed enemy merchant vessels of a total of 116 000 GRT. Eight hundred survivors were rescued here by German battleships.
Sunday, 25 May 1941 Wie ebenfalls durch Sondermeldung bekanntgegeben wurde, stieß ein deutscher Flottenverband unter Führung des Flottenchefs Lütjens im Seegebiet um Island auf schwere britische Seestreitkräfte. Nach einem kurzen schweren Gefecht versenkte das Schlachtschiff "Bismarck" den britischen Schlachtkreuzer "Hood," das größte Schlachtschiff der britischen Flotte. Ein weiteres Schlachtschiff der neuesten englischen "King George"-Klasse wurde beschädigt und zum Abdrehen gezwungen. Die deutschen Seestreitkräfte setzten ohne Verluste ihre Operation fort.[34] As also mentioned in a special report, a German task force under the leadership of chief of fleet Lütjens encountered, in the sea area of Iceland, heavy British sea forces. The battleship "Bismarck" sank the British battlecruiser "Hood," the largest battleship of the British fleet, after a short and heavy battle. A further battleship of the newest English "King George" class was damaged and forced to retreat. The German sea forces continued their operation without loss.
Wednesday, 28 May 1941 Wie schon gestern bekanntgegeben, wurde das Schlachtschiff "Bismarck" nach seinem siegreichen Gefecht bei Island am 26. Mai abends durch den Torpedotreffer eines feindlichen Flugzeuges manövrierunfähig. Getreu dem letzten Funkspruch des Flottenchefs Admiral Lütjens ist das Schlachtschiff mit seinem Kommandanten Kapitän zur See Lindemann und seiner tapferen Besatzung am 27. Mai vormittags der vielfachen feindlichen Übermacht erlegen und mit wehender Flagge gesunken.[35] As reported yesterday, the battleship "Bismarck," after its victorious battle near Iceland, was on 26 May hit by a torpedo from an enemy aircraft and left unmanoeuvrable. True to the last radio message from chief of fleet Admiral Lütjens, the battleship was defeated by overwhelming enemy forces and sank with flag flying together with its commander Kapitän zur See Lindemann and its brave crew, on 27 May before noon.

Translation notes

  1. Naval Artillery School—Schiffsartillerieschule
  2. 2nd Sea-Battalion — II. See-Bataillon
  3. 4th Torpedo-Boat-Flotilla—4. Torpedobootflottille
  4. 2nd Torpedo-Boat-Demi-Flotilla—II. Torpedoboot-Halbflottille
  5. Harbor Flotilla of the Jade Bight—Hafenflottille der Jade
  6. Torpedo-Boat-Flotilla "Flandern"—Torpedobootsflottille "Flander"
  7. A-Demi-Flotilla—A-Halbflottille
  8. Sea Transportation Agency—Seetransportstelle
  9. Commander of the Scouting Force—Befehlshaber der Aufklärungsstreitkräfte (B.d.A.)


  1. [See: Bekker, Cajus, Hitler's Naval War, Zebra Books, New York NY, 1977, and Mullenheim-Rechberg, Baron Burkard von, Battleship Bismarck, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD, 1980 [3rd Printing, with corrections, 1985]; Mullenheim-Rechberg was the highest ranking officer to be rescued by the English and therefore survive the sinking)


  1. Stumpf 1982, p. 270.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Gaack and Carr 2011, p. 380.
  3. Ueberschär 2011, p. 407.
  4. Dörr 1996, pp. 19–20.
  5. Dörr 1996, pp. 20, 22.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Dörr 1996, p. 20.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Dörr 1996, p. 22.
  8. Dörr 1996, p. 19.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Ueberschär 2011, p. 408.
  10. Donitz 1958 (1997 reprint), pp. 6-7.
  11. Die deutschen Kriegsschiffe (German), author: Heinz Ciupa, publisher: Erich Pabel Verlag, published: 1979, page: 46
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Bismarck: A portrait of the Men Involved
  13. The Battle of Hood and Bismarck
  14. Operation Berlin
  15. Gaack and Carr 2011, p. 378.
  16. Dönitz 1958 (1997), pp. 167–168.
  17. Gaack and Carr 2011, pp. 385–386.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Gaack and Carr 2011, p. 392.
  19. Ballard 1990, p. 78.
  20. Jackson 2002, p. 90.
  21. Ballard 1990, p.104.
  22. Jackson 2002, p. 91.
  23. Jackson 2002, p.91.
  24. Jackson 2002, p. 49.
  25. Hildebrand, Röhr and Steinmetz 1990, volume 2 p. 81.
  26. Gaack and Carr 2011, pp. 380–392.
  27. Ballard 1990, p. 32
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 28.4 "Mumm haben". Der Spiegel 35/1967. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 29.4 29.5 29.6 29.7 29.8 Dörr 1996, p. 21.
  30. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 298.
  31. Scherzer 2007, p. 519.
  32. Von Seemen 1976, p. 229.
  33. Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, pp. 450–451.
  34. Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, pp. 538, 540.
  35. Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, p. 542.
  • Ballard, Robert (1990). The discovery of the Bismarck: Germany's greatest battleship surrenders her secrets. Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. ISBN 0-340-52976-8.
  • Dönitz, Karl (1997). Ten Years and Twenty Days. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80764-0. 
  • Dörr, Manfred (1996) (in German). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Überwasserstreitkräfte der Kriegsmarine—Band 2: L–Z [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Surface Forces of the Navy—Volume 2: L–Z]. Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2497-6. 
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) (in German). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtsteile [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]. Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Gaack, Malte & Carr, Ward (2011). Schlachtschiff Bismarck—Das wahre Gesicht eines Schiffes—Teil 3 (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: BoD – Books on Demand GmbH. ISBN 978-3-8448-0179-8.
  • Hildebrand, Hans H.; Röhr, Albert; Steinmetz, Hans-Otto (1990) (in German). Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe. Biographien – ein Spiegel der Marinegeschichte von 1815 bis zur Gegenwart. (10 Bände). Mundus Verlag. 
  • Jackson, Robert (2002). The Bismarck. Weapons of War: London. ISBN 1-86227-173-9.
  • Müllenheim-Rechberg Freiherr von, Burkard (1980). Schlachtschiff Bismarck 1940/41—Der Bericht eines Überlebenden (in German). Berlin, Frankfurt/M, Wien: Ullstein. ISBN 3-550-07925-7.
  • 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) (in German). 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]. Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 
  • Stumpf, Reinhard (1982). Die Wehrmacht-Elite – Rang- und Herkunftsstruktur der deutschen Generale und Admirale 1933–1945 (in German). Harald Boldt Verlag. ISBN 978-3764618155.
  • Ueberschär, Gerd R. (2011). "Admiral Günther Lütjens". In Gerhard, Hümmelchen (in German). Hitlers militärische Elite. Primus Verlag. pp. 407–413. ISBN 978-3-89678-727-9. 
  • Von Seemen, Gerhard (1976) (in German). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 : die Ritterkreuzträger sämtlicher Wehrmachtteile, Brillanten-, Schwerter- und Eichenlaubträger in der Reihenfolge der Verleihung : Anhang mit Verleihungsbestimmungen und weiteren Angaben [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 : The Knight's Cross Bearers of All the Armed Services, Diamonds, Swords and Oak Leaves Bearers in the Order of Presentation: Appendix with Further Information and Presentation Requirements]. Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7909-0051-4. 
  • (in German) 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]. München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2. 

External links