Günther Prien

Korvettenkapitän (Crew 31)

30 ships sunk, total tonnage 162,769 GRT
1 warship sunk, total tonnage 29,150 tons
8 ships damaged, total tonnage 62,751 GRT

Born  16 Jan 1908 Osterfeld, Thüringen
Died  7 Mar 1941(33)North Atlantic

Kapitänleutnant Günther Prien


16 Jan 1933 Offiziersanwärter
1 Mar 1933 Fähnrich zur See
1 Jan 1935 Oberfähnrich zur See
1 Apr 1935 Leutnant zur See
1 Jan 1937 Oberleutnant zur See
1 Feb 1939 Kapitänleutnant
1 Mar 1941 Korvettenkapitän


25 Sep 1939 Iron Cross 2nd Class
17 Oct 1939 Iron Cross 1st Class
18 Oct 1939 Knights Cross
20 Oct 1940 Knights Cross with Oak Leaves

U-boat Commands

U-47 17 Dec 1938 7 Mar 1941  (+)  10 patrols (238 days) 

Günther Prien joined the Reichsmarine in January 1933 after several years in the Merchant Navy, at first as a seaman on full-rigger sailing ships. After a year on the light cruiser Königsberg, he transferred to the U-boat force in October 1935. In 1938 he served on U-26 under Kptlt. Hartmann patrolling in Spanish waters during the Civil War.

He took command of his own boat in 1937, and in 1939 he and U-47 became famous for his audacious sinking of the British battleship HMS Royal Oak in the heavily defended British Home Fleet main harbour at Scapa Flow on 14 October. Even Winston Churchill described it as "a remarkable feat of professional skill and daring". Prien was the first U-boat commander to win the Knights Cross.

Günther Prien was described after Scapa Flow by a US journalist:

Berlin, October 18

The place where the German U-boat sank the British battleship Royal Oak was none other than the middle of Scapa Flow, Britain's greatest naval base! It sounds incredible. A World War submarine commander told me tonight that the Germans tried twice to get a U-boat into Scapa Flow during the last war, but both attempts failed and the submarines were lost.

Günther Prien during the press conference on 18 October.

Captain Prien, commander of the submarine, came tripping into our afternoon press conference at the Propaganda Ministry this afternoon, followed by his crew - boys of eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Prien is thirty, clean-cut, cocky, a fanatical Nazi, and obviously capable. Introduced by Hitler's press chief, Dr. Dietrich, who kept cursing the English and calling Churchill a liar, Prien told us little of how he did it. He said he had no trouble getting past the boom protecting the bay. I got the impression, though he said nothing to justify it, that he must have followed a British craft, perhaps a minesweeper, into the base. British negligence must have been something terrific. *

Prien welcomes another U-boat to base. Behind him is Otto Kretschmer.

During the next 18 months Prien proved himself one of Germany's top U-boat commanders. On his sixth patrol in June 1940 he sank eight ships with a total of 51,483 tons. In convoy battles Prien was often the first to find the convoys, and then vectored in other boats.

For instance, in the action against HX 79, it was Prien who discovered and shadowed the convoy and then brought in the other boats before then sinking four ships himself.

Admiral Dönitz suggested to Prien at that time that Prien should transfer to a training unit, but Prien decided to remain with his boat.

The death of Günther Prien

U-47 left Lorient (France) for her tenth patrol on 20 February 1941. Only four days later they attacked convoy OB 290 and sank four ships totalling 16,310 tons. The last radio message from U-47 was received on the morning of 7 March, giving a position south of Iceland in the North Atlantic.

It had been long supposed that U-47 was sunk with all hands (45) on 8 March 1941.

Günther Prien boarded U-47 for the last patrol on 20 February 1941.

This is now being questioned, as the traditional credit for U-47's sinking has always gone to the British destroyer HMS Wolverine, but new data suggests that this destroyer actually attacked Eckermann's UA, which was forced to withdraw with heavy damage.

It is now suspected that U-47 may have been hit by one of her own circling torpedoes. (Two US submarines in the Pacific are also believed to have been lost to the same sort of equipment failure.)

* Shirer, William L. : Berlin Diary 1934 - 1941.


Busch, R. and Röll, H-J. (1999). German U-boat commanders of World War II.
Busch, R. and Röll, H-J. (1997). Der U-Bootkrieg 1939-1945 (Band 2).
Niestlé, A. (1998). German U-boat losses during World War II.
Rohwer, J. (1998). Axis Submarine Successes of World War Two.

Patrol info for Günther Prien

 U-boat Departure Arrival  
1. U-47 19 Aug 1939  Kiel  15 Sep 1939  Kiel  Patrol 1,28 days
2. U-47 8 Oct 1939  Kiel  17 Oct 1939  Wilhelmshaven  Patrol 2,10 days
3. U-47 20 Oct 1939  Wilhelmshaven  21 Oct 1939  Kiel   2 days
4. U-47 16 Nov 1939  Kiel  18 Dec 1939  Kiel  Patrol 3,33 days
5. U-47 29 Feb 1940  Kiel  5 Mar 1940  Wilhelmshaven   6 days
6. U-47 11 Mar 1940  Wilhelmshaven  29 Mar 1940  Wilhelmshaven  Patrol 4,19 days
7. U-47 3 Apr 1940  Wilhelmshaven  26 Apr 1940  Kiel  Patrol 5,24 days
8. U-47 3 Jun 1940  Kiel  6 Jul 1940  Kiel  Patrol 6,34 days
9. U-47 27 Aug 1940  Kiel  25 Sep 1940  Lorient  Patrol 7,30 days
10. U-47 14 Oct 1940  Lorient  23 Oct 1940  Lorient  Patrol 8,10 days
11. U-47 3 Nov 1940  Lorient  6 Dec 1940  Lorient  Patrol 9,34 days
12. U-47 20 Feb 1941  Lorient  7 Mar 1941  Sunk  Patrol 10,16 days
10 patrols, 238 days at sea

Ships hit by Günther Prien

Date U-boat Name of ship Tons Nat. Convoy
5 Sep 1939U-47 Bosnia2,407br
6 Sep 1939U-47 Rio Claro4,086br
7 Sep 1939U-47 Gartavon1,777br
14 Oct 1939U-47 HMS Royal Oak (08)29,150br
5 Dec 1939U-47 Navasota8,795brOB-46
6 Dec 1939U-47 Britta6,214nw
7 Dec 1939U-47 Tajandoen8,159nl
25 Mar 1940U-47 Britta1,146da
14 Jun 1940U-47 Balmoralwood5,834brHX-47
21 Jun 1940U-47 San Fernando13,056brHX-49
24 Jun 1940U-47 Cathrine1,885pa
27 Jun 1940U-47 Lenda4,005nw
27 Jun 1940U-47 Leticia2,580nl
29 Jun 1940U-47 Empire Toucan4,127br
30 Jun 1940U-47 Georgios Kyriakides4,201gr
2 Jul 1940U-47 Arandora Star15,501br
2 Sep 1940U-47 Ville de Mons7,463be
4 Sep 1940U-47 Titan9,035brOA-207
7 Sep 1940U-47 Neptunian5,155brSC-2
7 Sep 1940U-47 José de Larrinaga5,303brSC-2
7 Sep 1940U-47 Gro4,211nwSC-2
9 Sep 1940U-47 Possidon3,840grSC-2
21 Sep 1940U-47 Elmbank (d.)5,156brHX-72
19 Oct 1940U-47 Uganda4,966brHX-79
19 Oct 1940U-47 Shirak (d.)6,023brHX-79
19 Oct 1940U-47 Wandby4,947brHX-79
20 Oct 1940U-47 La Estancia5,185brHX-79
20 Oct 1940U-47 Whitford Point5,026brHX-79
20 Oct 1940U-47 Athelmonarch (d.)8,995brHX-79
8 Nov 1940U-47 Gonçalo Velho (d.)1,595pt
2 Dec 1940U-47 Ville d’Arlon7,555beHX-90
2 Dec 1940U-47 Conch (d.)8,376brHX-90
2 Dec 1940U-47 Dunsley (d.)3,862brHX-90
26 Feb 1941U-47 Kasongo5,254beOB-290
26 Feb 1941U-47 Diala (d.)8,106brOB-290
26 Feb 1941U-47 Borgland3,636nwOB-290
26 Feb 1941U-47 Rydboholm3,197swOB-290
28 Feb 1941U-47 Holmelea4,223brHX-109
7 Mar 1941U-47 Terje Viken (d.)20,638brOB-293

31 ships sunk (191,919 tons) and 8 ships damaged (62,751 tons).

We have a picture of this vessel.
(d.) means the ship was damaged.

About ranks and decorations
Ranks shown in italics are our database inserts based on the rank dates of his crew comrades. The officers of each crew would normally have progressed through the lower ranks at the same rate.

Media links

U-Boat Attack Logs

Daniel Morgan and Bruce Taylor

(£ 38.25)

U-Boat Commander

Prien, Günther

German U-boat Commanders of World War II

Busch, Rainer and Röll, Hans-Joachim


Vause, Jordan

Listing of all U-boat commanders

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