Lehmann-Willenbrock (December 11, 1911 – April 18, 1986)
was a German naval
officer, and a submarine commander during
World War II.
He was among the
top ten Aces of the
during the Second Battle of the
against the Allies
, in terms of
tonnage of merchant ships sunk. He commanded four subs, most
notable and successful of which was his tour commanding the
Type VII U-boat
, which gained large
recognition when one of its patrols was documented and publicized
by an accompanying war correspondent
. It eventually would be made into a mini-series and
film called Das Boot
, where he was
portrayed by Jürgen
Bremen, 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-Boat Flotilla in April 1939, five months
before World War II began.
serving as an executive officer on
U-8, he was promoted to Kapitänleutnant and took command of
U-5 in December 1939.
were of the Type II
. 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
, 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.
After three patrols under Willenbrock's command, U-96
sunk 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
and documented the boat's successes in his book
. Willenbrock earned all of his
during his patrols with
Willenbrock left U-96
in March 1942 to be promoted to
of the 9. Unterseebootsflottille, stationed
September 2, 1944 he assumed command of U-256
and escaped the
just a few days
before the towns surrender. He reached Bergen, Norway on October
In Bergen he was appointed Flottillenchef
the 11. Unterseebootsflottille
December, and held the position until the German surrender in
Norway on 9 May 1945.
year in captivity, Willenbrock returned to Germany in May 1946,
salvaging ships in the Rhine river. 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
, the first of only four merchant cargo nuclear
. Buchheim's book "Der Abschied" (~"The Goodbye")
describes one of its voyages, which Buchheim joined as a
He was decorated in 1974 with the Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande
Merit Cross on Ribbon) . In 1982, 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
, 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
, and the Knight's Cross with Oak
for his achievements.He sank 24 ships for , damaged two
ships for and damaged one ship as a total loss for .
- Busch, Rainer & Röll, Hans-Joachim (2003). Der
U-Boot-Krieg 1939-1945 - Die Ritterkreuzträger der U-Boot-Waffe von
September 1939 bis Mai 1945 (in German). Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn
Germany: Verlag E.S. Mittler & Sohn. ISBN 3-8132-0515-0.
- 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 (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers
Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.