U-Boat Aces: Wolfgang Lüth

Ardent Nazi and Anti-Semite: U-Boat Kommandant Wolfgang Lüth

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Lüth – the Nazi fanatic. He was known for his constant interference in the lives of his men and authored a tract on how to command the crew of a U-Boat according to the principles of National Socialism titled, “Problems of Leadership.” In what would be laughable if it weren’t so serious, Lüth cautioned readers of his book against listening to jazz, a form of music condemned by the Nazis as “degenerate Negro Jungle Music.” Wrote Lüth, “a German must not like jazz. It has nothing to do with whether or not he really likes it. He simply must not like it, just as a German man must not like a Jewess.”

Grand Admiral Dönitz ordered a copy be given to every U-Boat Kommandant. Lüth felt all men should be married and constantly encouraged his crewmen to get married and lectured them against patronizing brothels and getting drunk while on leave. They ignored these lectures. He was something of a prude and would not allow any “naughty” photographs of beautiful girls in the crew quarters.

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He served on two U-Boats (U-27 and U-38) before being promoted to command his own U-Boat. Over the course of the war, he commanded five separate U-Boats (U-9, U-13, U-43, U-138, and U-181) the last of which, on U-181, was the second longest war patrol of any U-Boat in World War Two. In September of 1944, at age thirty, he was promoted to the rank Kapitan zur See, becoming the youngest man in the Kriegsmarine to hold that rank which is equivalent to full Captain or “four stripper” in the Royal Navy or US Navy.

Curiously, he almost ruined his career before his greatest achievements came to him. In October of 1940, Lüth was appointed Kommandant of U-43, a large type IXA boat. After one war patrol, he returned to Lorient and the boat underwent required maintenance. On 21 February 1941, a few hours before the boat was to leave on its second war patrol, U-43 sank at its moorings due to a series of small mishaps which went unnoticed by the six man harbor watch. Lüth was not aboard at the time but a captain is responsible for his ship and he was lucky Dönitz did not relieve him of command especially because Dönitz happened to be on an inspection tour of Lorient at the time.

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Eventually, Lüth sank forty-six merchant ships making him the second most successful U-Boat Kommandant after Kretschmer. In recognition of the Allied ships he was sinking, Lüth was successively decorated with the various levels of the Knight’s Cross, ultimately receiving the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. He was the first of only two U-Boat Kommandants to receive this honor and one of only twenty-seven men to receive the award during the entire war. That he received this distinction while Kretschmer did not is odd. Perhaps it was Lüth’s constant promotion of National Socialism which was being rewarded as well. Kretschmer followed the old German Navy tradition of staying out of politics and never discussed National Socialism or any other political doctrine with his crew. In fact, Kretschmer rarely spoke at all about anything. “Silent Otto” was his nickname.

Lüth came ashore in January of 1944 after fifteen war patrols, an astonishing number not only to make but to survive, and commanded the 22nd U-Boat Training Flotilla in Gdynia (Gotenhafen to the Germans). He ended the war as Kommandant of the Marineschule Mürwik – the German Naval Academy in Flensburg/Murwik. This was the last official seat of the government of the Third Reich. In his political testament, dictated before he committed suicide on 30 April 1945, Hitler appointed Dönitz as Reichspräsident and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The Naval Academy was the logical place to house the government since that’s where Dönitz had fled, it hadn’t been blown to bits, and there was room in the gymnasium for the government to set up operations.

On 8 May 1945, the German High Command signed an instrument of unconditional surrender. That document stated:

“The German High Command will at once issue orders to all German military, naval, and air authorities and to all forces under German control to cease active operations at 2301 hours Central European time on 8 May and to remain in the positions occupied at that time. No ship, vessel, or aircraft is to be scuttled, or any damage done to their hull, machinery, or equipment.”
(Central European Time is Greenwich Mean Time plus one hour). Dönitz issued such orders in radio broadcasts and other media to all German military units. Although Germany had surrendered, the Dönitz government continued on at the Marineschule for another twelve days.

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Lüth was charged with securing the grounds of the Marineschule because of the unsettled conditions – to put it mildly – in the vicinity with released POWs, slave workers, refugees from the Soviets, and desperate humanity of all kinds milling about. With the permission of the British Army, which had just moved into the area on Eisenhower’s orders to keep it out of the hands of the Soviets, the German sentries were armed. Everyone was tense, everything was uncertain, no one had slept more than a few hours a day for weeks. Lüth and the officers responsible to him in the guard unit took their duties very seriously.

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While inspecting the sentries on the night of 13/14 May 1945, Lüth was challenged by a sentry. No response. The sentry, who was only supposed to challenge once then shoot according to Lüth’s written orders, nonetheless challenged twice more. Receiving no response either the second or the third time, the sentry fired into the darkness and killed Lüth with a shot to the head.

A Board of Inquiry met almost immediately and quickly determined it was an accident. The idea, postulated by some, that Lüth committed suicide by allowing the sentry to shoot him is dismissed by his biographer, Jordan Vause, in his outstanding work: U-Boat Ace: The Story of Wolfgang Lüth. I give this biography five stars and recommend it without reservation.

In what I personally find sickening and inexplicable, Kapitan zur See Wolfgang Lüth was then given a full state funeral, conducted by Dönitz in his uniform of Grand Admiral, with an honor guard of six U-Boat commanders – five days after the Germans surrendered to the Allies. This last state funeral of the Third Reich was carried out with the permission of the local British commander. With swastikas abounding, the last tawdry spectacle of this criminal régime was conducted. On 23 May 1945, Dönitz and all members of his government, including the reptilian Albert Speer, were arrested by the British and the Dönitz government dissolved.

To look at the photographs of Lüth’s funeral is to wonder if the local British commander knew about the death camps and the other heinous crimes committed by the Nazis. By that point in time, the Holocaust had been front page news for days. Why did the British give their permission? Why? I find the entire charade despicable.

Lüth was the most vocally pro-Nazi of any of the famous U-Boat aces. This put him at odds with the custom of the officer corps of the German Navy. Officers had traditionally stayed out of politics and were not allowed to vote or belong to any political party including the Nazi Party. And while many sympathized with Hitler’s aims, many did not.

There is justice in the accidental death of Wolfgang Lüth. As the scripture reminds us, “for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

In July 1945, the German state was dissolved by an inter-Allied declaration. It would not be until 15 March 1991 that the four victorious Allied powers: Russia, France, Great Britain, and the United States would renounce all rights they had in Germany by virtue of the original armistice and of edicts issued by the Allied Control Commission after victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two. Only then, was the German state finally able to be fully sovereign on their own territory.

Luth funeral

 Lüth’s funeral.

Published by

Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

11 thoughts on “U-Boat Aces: Wolfgang Lüth”

  1. “The USS Reuben James had no business being where it was at the time, except for the fact, that the US tried everything it could to be drawn into this conflict.”—Hans+Franz

    Actually, the Reuben James had every right to be where she was. She actually had the right to be anywhere on the Seven Seas so long as she was not violating another nation’s maritime boundaries. So long as it is not navigating within those boundaries, the Reuben James was not violating any maritime law.

    That said: was the United States and FDR doing everything they could to provoke Germany’s anger? Of course they were. No one who reads history can deny that.

    One other point: There was no reason for America to be forming and protecting her own convoys at this point in time. The US was not at war and so forming convoys is a moot point.

  2. @ Zsolt of Banbury U.K.

    Charles is currently working on his second novel. You can find his other published articles in the ‘Written Work’ section of the website. Stay tuned to the blog for more details in the coming months regarding his progress and future works.

  3. thanx for the”An honorable german”best book for years.I would be very happy to read more books from you.I hope you are kind enought to give me the title of some other writtings of yours.Yours truly Zsolt of Banbury U.k.

  4. You are absolutely correct. U-43 under the command of Wolfgang Lüth sank the American oil tanker SS Astral on 2 December 1941, nine days before Germany declared war on the United States, which occurred on 11 December 1941. The tanker was clearly marked as a neutral ship with large American flags painted on each side of the hull. The day before, U-575 tracked the SS Astral until the Kommandant of U-575 noticed the American flag painted on the ship and broke-off contact. Neither Lüth nor his lookouts could have failed to see the neutral markings on the ship which they followed for an entire night. Not only was there a full moon but like all neutral ships Astral was burning her running lights.Lüth attached the ship 09:24, that’s 9.24 a.m. in the morning–broad daylight. So he well knew he was sinking an American ship. After being hit with two torpedoes the Astral exploded. All officers and crew perished in the attack.

    Your grandfather was the 3rd Mate aboard the SS Astral. I plan to do a longer post on this incident. Would you contact me at charles@charlesmccain.com with any more information or family stories or photographs you may have? thank you.

  5. Wolfgang Luth killed my grandfather (Phlip Lon Fritz) who was aboard the SS Astral, a merchant vessel from America, and before America had entered the war. My grandmother was pregnant with my father when her husband was killed. He was simply doing his job to raise money for his new family on the way. The man, Luth, was ruthless and a law breaker. Thank you for writing this story.

  6. David:

    thank you very much. I’m pleased you liked the post and hope you like the others in the archive. Thank you for taking time to write.

    Charles

  7. Thanks, for very interesting article, i think many people read it just dont have enough politness to say thank you,i am here the first time and although english isnt my native language i will go trough your immpresive archive very hapilly :)

  8. Thank you, Brendan. I never talked to Jordan Vause. I sort of got the impression he had passed away. His name never comes up on Kriegsmarine forums and he never wrote another book. Usually someone who is crazy enough to write one book is crazy enough to write more books.

    Thanks for reading my blog. I put a lot of time and energy and money into it but don’t know if anyone is really reading it.

  9. Very well written Blog entry, Charles. Have you ever talked to Jordan Vause. I tried to find him for a while. Couldn’t. Thanked him in the acknowledgements at the end of my book. Learning the truth about him made him an infinitely more interesting character.

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