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Herbert Wohlfarth
Born (1915-06-05)5 June 1915
Died 13 August 1982(1982-08-13) (aged 67)
Place of birth Kanazawa, Japan
Place of death Villingen, Germany
Allegiance Nazi Germany Nazi Germany
Service/branch  Kriegsmarine
Years of service 1933 - 1945
Rank Kapitänleutnant
Commands held U-14, U-137, U-556
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class
U-boat War Badge
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Heinrich Wilhelm Herbert Wohlfarth[1] (5 June 1915–13 August 1982) was a successful World War II U-boat commander. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German language: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes). The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership.

Naval career

Herbert Wohlfarth began his naval career in April 1933. After the usual training he spent more than a year on the cruiser Admiral Graf Spee. In May 1937 he joined the U-boat force, and like many of the later successful commanders received a solid pre-war training under Karl Dönitz. After some months as aide-de-camp in the 3rd U-boat Flotilla, in September 1938 he became watch officer on U-16.

On 19 October 1939 Oberleutnant zur See Wohlfarth took command of U-14. On his first three patrols he sank nine mostly smaller ships in Scottish and Norwegian waters. The fourth patrol with U-14 was for him, as for most other commanders during Operation Hartmut, supporting the invasion of Norway, without success.[2]

On 15 June 1940 Wohlfarth commissioned U-137, also a Type IIB boat, referred to as Einbaum (dugout canoe). But these small boats were also very successful and other well-known commanders including Hardegen, Kretschmer and Lüth won their first successes in them.

Wohlfarth led U-137 on three patrols during the autumn of 1940. He sank six ships for a total of 19,557 gross register tons (GRT), mostly in the area south of the Hebrides. Especially notable was his torpedo hit on the 10,552-ton armed merchant cruiser HMS Cheshire, damaging the ship so badly that she had to spend six months in the shipyard for repairs.[2]

On 15 December 1940 Kapitänleutnant Wohlfarth left U-137 and two months later commissioned the Type VIIC boat U-556. On his first patrol in the Atlantic with this new boat he sank six ships for a total of 29,552 GRT and damaged another of 4,986 GRT.[3]

On 15 May 1941 he received the Knight's Cross while still on patrol. On 26 May, during the return voyage, and ten days before his 26th birthday, Wohlfahrt responded to a call for all U-boats in the Bay of Biscay to support the German battleship Bismarck's increasingly deteriorating position. The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, battlecruiser Renown and battleship King George V had a lucky escape during the night, unaware they had come within firing range of Wohlfarth's U-556, which had already fired off all its torpedoes. This was particularly galling for Wohlfahrt, as U-556 and Bismarck had exercised together in the Baltic. U-556 continued to shadow the British forces, reporting their position and guiding other U-boats to the area.[4] Wohlfarth witnessed the night battles between Bismarck and British destroyers.

Prisoner of war

On 19 June 1941 Wohlfarth started his second patrol on U-556, but just eight days later his boat was sunk in the North Atlantic southwest of Iceland by the British corvettes HMS Nasturtium, Celandine and Gladiolus. He and most of his crew were captured; one officer and four men were killed.[5]

Wohlfarth then spent more than six years in English and Canadian prisoner of war camps. His war record stood at 21 ships sunk, totalling 66,032 GRT, and three more damaged, totalling 20,455 GRT. He returned to Germany on 14 July 1947.

Wohlfarth died on 13 August 1982 in Villingen, Germany, at the age of 67 years old. On 8 June 1989, three days after what would have been his 74th birthday, the wreck of Bismarck was located.



Wehrmachtbericht references

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
Thursday, 26 September 1940 Ein kleines Unterseeboot unter Führung von Oberleutnant zur See Wohlfarth hat aus einem Geleitzug vier Dampfer mit 25 000 BRT, darunter einen Tanker, versenkt.[9] A small submarine under the command of First Lieutenant at Sea Wohlfarth has sunk out of a convoy four steamers of 25 000 GRT, including a tanker.
Wednesday, 20 November 1940 Ein kleines Unterseeboot unter Führung von Kapitänleutnant Wohlfarth, das bei seiner letzten Unternehmung vier feindliche Handelsschiffe mit 23 880 BRT versenkte, hat bisher insgesamt 61 500 BRT feindlichen Handelsschiffraumes vernichtet.[10] A small submarine under the command of Captain Lieutenant Wohlfarth, which on its last undertaking had sunk four enemy merchant ships of 23 880 GRT, so far destroyed a total of 61 500 GRT enemy merchant shipping.
Friday, 23 May 1941 Bei Angriffen gegen den erwähnten feindlichen Geleitzug zeichneten sich die von Kapitänleutnant Wohlfahrt und Kapitänleutnant Gysae geführten Unterseeboote besonders aus.[11] In attacks against the already mentioned enemy convoy distinguished themselves from the rest the submarines under the leadership of Captain Lieutenant Wohlfahrt (sic) and Captain Lieutenant Gysae.

U-boat Commands

  • Four patrols in U-14 from 19 October 1939 to 1 June 1940.
  • Three patrols in U-137 from 15 June 1940 to 14 December 1940.
  • Two patrols in U-556 from 6 February 1941 to 27 June 1941.


  1. "U-Boat Operations". Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bismarck Portrait of the Men Involved
  3. "Ships hit by U-556 - U-boat Successes - German U-boats -". Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  4. Jackson 2002, p. 49.
  5. "The Type VIIC boat U-556 - German U-boats of WWII -". Retrieved 16 February 2010. 
  6. Busch and Röll 2003, p. 128.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Busch and Röll 2003, p. 129.
  8. Scherzer 2007, p. 794.
  9. Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, p. 312.
  10. Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, p. 364.
  11. Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 1, p. 537.
  • 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]. Friedburg, 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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