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Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock
Erich Topp (left) and Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock after a war patrol
Nickname Recke
Born (1911-12-11)11 December 1911
Died 18 April 1986(1986-04-18) (aged 74)
Place of birth Bremen
Place of death Bremen
Allegiance  Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Service/branch  Reichsmarine
Years of service 1931–1945
Rank Fregattenkapitän
Unit SSS Horst Wessel
cruiser Karlsruhe
7th U-boat Flotilla
9th U-boat Flotilla
11th U-boat Flotilla
Commands held U-8
(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)

World War II

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.


Wehrmachtbericht references

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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] A submarine under the leadership of Captain Lieutenant Lehmann-Willenbrock sunk from convoys British tankers totalling 33 000 GRT.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Busch and Röll 2003, p. 110.
  2. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 287.
  3. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 56.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Busch and Röll 2003, p. 111.
  5. Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, p. 381.
  6. Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, p. 431.
  7. Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, p. 534.
  • Busch, Hans-Joachim; Röll (2003) (in German). 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]. Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn Germany: Verlag E.S. Mittler & Sohn. ISBN 978-3-8132-0515-2. 
  • 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. 
  • 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) (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. 
  • (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. 

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