Kapitän zur See (Crew 33)
46 ships sunk, total tonnage 225,204 GRT
1 warship sunk, total tonnage 552 tons
2 ships damaged, total tonnage 17,343 GRT
|Born||15 Oct 1913||Riga, Latvia|
|Died||13 May 1945||(31)||Flensburg-Mürwik, Germany|
|U-13||16 Dec 1939||28 Dec 1939||No war patrols|
|U-9||30 Dec 1939||10 Jun 1940||6 patrols (72 days)|
|U-138||27 Jun 1940||20 Oct 1940||2 patrols (29 days)|
|U-43||21 Oct 1940||11 Apr 1942||5 patrols (204 days)|
|U-181||9 May 1942||31 Oct 1943||2 patrols (335 days)|
Wolfgang Lüth began his naval career in April 1933 after studying law for three semesters. In the summer of 1933 he spent the traditional three months on the sailing school ship Gorch Fock and then went on a 9-month training tour around the world (India, Indonesia, Australia, North and South America) on the light cruiser Karlsruhe. After a year on the light cruiser Königsberg he transferred to the U-boat force in February 1937.
In July 1937 he became II WO on U-27 and made one patrol in Spanish waters during the Spanish Civil War. In October 1937 he became I WO on U-38 under Kptlt. Heinrich Liebe and was on patrol in September 1939 when the war began.
After a short time on a school boat he took over the Type IIB U-boat U-9. During six patrols with this boat he achieved his first successes, most notably the sinking of the French submarine Doris in May 1940.
Kapitänleutnant Wolfgang Lüth during patrol
A month later Oberleutnant Wolfgang Lüth commissioned the IID U-boat U-138. During the night of 20/21 September, 1940, on his first patrol with the new boat, he sank four ships with a total of 34,633 tons - a great coup for such a small boat.
In October 1940, after returning from his second patrol, where he sank one more ship and damaged another, he received the Knights Cross, being the only commander of a small U-boat to win that decoration.
He left U-138 that month and took over the larger U-43. He made five patrols with this boat and sank 12 ships with a total of 68,077 tons. In April 1942 he left U-43 and in May 1942 commissioned the IXD 2 U-boat U-181.
In September 1942 Kptlt. Lüth left Kiel for his first patrol with this boat. The operational area included the Indian Ocean as well as South African waters. He reached Capetown, South Africa at the end of October , and during the next two weeks sank four ships with a total of 21,987 tons. On 16 November he received a radio message announcing he had received Oak Leaves to the Knights Cross. Before he headed back, in the following two weeks he sank eight further ships with a total of 36,394 tons. He reached Bordeaux, France in January 1943.
In March 1943 Kptlt. Lüth left Bordeaux for a further patrol in African waters and the Indian Ocean. This patrol, under difficult conditions, was also very successful with ten ships sunk with a total of 45,331 tons. During this patrol Lüth became the first U-boat officer to receive the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds.
This patrol was also outstanding because it was the second longest patrol in the war (and likely in the entire history of the submersibles), lasting 205 days, second only to Kentrat's incredible 225 days on U-196.
During this patrol, to maintain morale, Lüth pioneered various ideas such as publishing his own boat's newsletter, holding contests of various types, and many other activities designed to keep the crew mentally and physically alert.
He spoke about this topic during a conference of Navy staff officers in Weimar on 17 December, 1943, providing a fascinating description of the psychological problems which could arise due to the extreme length of such a patrol. (The entire text appears in Tarrant's The U-Boat Offensive 1939 - 1945.)
|Kpt. zur See Wolfgang Lüth in January 1945|
In January 1944, after more than 5 years of uninterrupted duty on U-boats, the highly decorated Korvettenkapitän Wolfgang Lüth became the commander of the 22nd flotilla, where future U-boat commanders were trained.
In July 1944 he became commander of the I. Abteilung (1st Department) of the Marineschule in Flensburg-Mürwik, where future German Kriegsmarine officers were taught. In September 1944 Lüth became the youngest commander of the German Marineschule in history.
But only a few days after the war ended, he died in an unfortunate accident. Kapitän zur See Wolfgang Lüth was shot on 13 May, 1945, by a German sentry when he failed to identify himself or give the password. The lucky shot, fired by the sentry at a target he could not even see in the darkness, struck Lüth in the head, killing him instantly.
There has been much speculation as to why he did not respond to the sentry's challenge. Some have suggested it was deliberate suicide, others that Lüth responded but the sentry failed to hear him. The most likely explanation is that he was drunk, exhausted, or otherwise distracted as he made his way across the grounds of the Marineschule shortly after midnight on the fourth day after Germany's surrender.
Lüth was one of the most controversial of all the U-boat commanders, first and foremost because he publicly advertised his firm belief in the tenets of Nazism. But other aspects of his personality and even his successes have found their detractors. Although he sank a vast amount of tonnage, his successes occurred mostly in African waters and in the Indian Ocean, areas which offered relatively easy pickings and few enemy defenses as compared with the situation in the North Atlantic. Some of his contemporaries found his ideas on crew management naïve and even laughable; commanders who endured frequent, hair-raising attacks from the aircraft and escort vessels that dogged them in northern waters could not relate to the problem of needing to keep crews amused during monotonous patrols. Buchheim's Das Boot ridicules Lüth's famous lecture on "Problems of Leadership in a Submarine" (although the lecture actually occurred two years after the events in the book were supposed to have taken place, it is clear what Buchheim means when he pokes fun at a long text from "a speech by Lieutenant-Commander L.").
Lüth's paternalistic attitude toward his crewmen was also well known; not only did he believe it his duty as a leader to be interested in the well-being of his men even after they had left his boat, he also controlled their personal habits as much as possible. All reading materials brought on board had to gain Lüth's personal approval, and pinup posters were forbidden, part of a campaign to stamp out "sexual problems on board". He actively promoted his theories about the proper way to maintain physical health on patrol, going so far as to require certain items of clothing to be worn, and forbidding or closely regulating the consumption of certain foods, drinks, and cigarettes. However, Lüth's fatherly style seems to have evoked lifelong loyalty among the majority of his crewmen, who revere him to this day. He also continued to aid his men in their personal affairs and careers after he left U-181, taking time from his busy administrative schedule to respond to their requests for help.
Clearly he was a true leader of men, similar in this respect to Großadmiral Dönitz, who stated after the war that Lüth had been designated for the position of BdU. However, due to his political leanings, had Lüth survived he would undoubtedly have served a long term in Allied captivity and might even have been barred from serving in a leadership position after his release.
Two days after his death, Lüth received the last state funeral of the Third Reich. Six U-boat officers decorated with the Knights Cross formed the honor guard, and Dönitz spoke the last words. To this day, a memorial stone serves to preserve the memory of this outstanding U-boat officer.
Patrol info for Wolfgang Lüth
|1.||U-9||16 Jan 1940||Kiel||22 Jan 1940||Wilhelmshaven||Patrol 1,||7 days|
|2.||U-9||5 Feb 1940||Wilhelmshaven||14 Feb 1940||Helgoland||Patrol 2,||10 days|
|3.||U-9||17 Feb 1940||Helgoland||17 Feb 1940||Wilhelmshaven||Patrol 2,||1 days|
|4.||U-9||14 Mar 1940||Wilhelmshaven||20 Mar 1940||Wilhelmshaven||Patrol 3,||7 days|
|5.||U-9||4 Apr 1940||Wilhelmshaven||24 Apr 1940||Kiel||Patrol 4,||21 days|
|6.||U-9||5 May 1940||Kiel||15 May 1940||Wilhelmshaven||Patrol 5,||11 days|
|7.||U-9||16 May 1940||Wilhelmshaven||30 May 1940||Kiel||Patrol 6,||15 days|
|8.||U-138||10 Sep 1940||Kiel||26 Sep 1940||Lorient||Patrol 7,||17 days|
|9.||U-138||8 Oct 1940||Lorient||19 Oct 1940||Lorient||Patrol 8,||12 days|
|10.||U-43||10 Nov 1940||Lorient||17 Dec 1940||Lorient||Patrol 9,||38 days|
|11.||U-43||11 May 1941||Lorient||1 Jul 1941||Lorient||Patrol 10,||52 days|
|12.||U-43||2 Aug 1941||Lorient||23 Sep 1941||Lorient||Patrol 11,||53 days|
|13.||U-43||10 Nov 1941||Lorient||16 Dec 1941||Lorient||Patrol 12,||37 days|
|14.||U-43||30 Dec 1941||Lorient||22 Jan 1942||Kiel||Patrol 13,||24 days|
|15.||U-181||12 Sep 1942||Kiel||18 Jan 1943||Bordeaux||Patrol 14,||129 days|
|16.||U-181||23 Mar 1943||Bordeaux||14 Oct 1943||Bordeaux||Patrol 15,||206 days|
|15 patrols, 640 days at sea|
Ships hit by Wolfgang Lüth
About ranks and decorations
Special thanks to Fernando Almeida for data on ranks and decorations.