Wolfgang Lüth

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

Kapitän z. See Wolfgang Lüth


1 Apr 1933 Offiziersanwärter
23 Sep 1933 Seekadett
1 Jul 1934 Fähnrich zur See
1 Apr 1936 Oberfähnrich zur See
1 Oct 1936 Leutnant zur See
1 Jun 1938 Oberleutnant zur See
1 Jan 1941 Kapitänleutnant
1 Apr 1943 Korvettenkapitän
1 Aug 1944 Fregattenkapitän
1 Sep 1944 Kapitän zur See


6 Jun 1939 Spanish Cross in Bronze without Swords
25 Jan 1940 Iron Cross 2nd Class
18 Feb 1940 U-boat War Badge 1939
15 May 1940 Iron Cross 1st Class
24 Oct 1940 Knights Cross
1 Nov 1941 Italienisches Kriegskreuz mit Schwertern "Croce di Guerra Italiana al valor militar"
13 Nov 1942 Knights Cross with Oak Leaves
26 Jan 1943 U-boat War Badge with Diamonds
15 Apr 1943 Knights Cross with Oak Leaves and Crossed Swords
9 Aug 1943 Knights Cross with Oak Leaves, Crossed Swords and Diamonds
24 Oct 1943 Ehrenzeichen für Verdienste im Volkstumskampf
12 Oct 1944 U-boat Front Clasp

U-boat Commands

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 nine month training voyage 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 (2nd Watch Officer) 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 small type IIB U-boat U-9. During six patrols on this boat he achieved his first successes, most notably the sinking of the French submarine Doris in May 1940.

Kapitänleutnant Wolfgang Lüth on patrol

A month later Oberleutnant Lüth commissioned the type IID U-boat U-138. During the night of 20/21 September 1940, on his first patrol in the new boat, he sank four ships with a total of 34,633 tons - a great coup for a small coastal type U-boat.

In October 1940, after returning from his second patrol, on which he sank one ship and damaged another, he received the Knights Cross, the only commander of a coastal type U-boat to win that decoration.

He left U-138 that month to take over the large type IX U-boat U-43. During five patrols on this boat he sank 12 ships with a total of 68,077 tons. He left U-43 in April 1942 and in May 1942 commissioned the type IXD2 U-181.

In September 1942 Kptlt. Lüth left Kiel for his first patrol in 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 the Oak Leaves to his Knights Cross. Before returning to base he sank eight more ships in the following two weeks, totalling 36,394 tons, arriving at Bordeaux in January 1943.

In March 1943 Kptlt. Lüth left Bordeaux for another patrol in African waters and the Indian Ocean. This patrol, under difficult conditions, was also very successful, with ten ships sunk totalling 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 of the war, lasting 205 days, second only to Kentrat's incredible 225 days on U-196.

To maintain morale during this patrol Lüth pioneered various ideas, such as publishing a ship's newspaper, holding contests of various types, and other activities designed to keep the crew mentally and physically fit.

He spoke on 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.)

Korvkpt. Lüth after his 205 day patrol with the FdU West Kapitän z. S. Rösing (left)
and the commander of the 12th Flotilla Fregkpt. Klaus Scholtz (right).

Kpt. zur See Lüth in January 1945

In January 1944, after more than five years of uninterrupted duty on U-boats, the highly-decorated Korvettenkapitän Lüth took command of the 22nd (Training) Flotilla which trained future U-boat captains.

In July 1944 he took command of I. Abteilung (1st section) at the Marineschule Flensburg-Mürwik (Naval academy), where future Kriegsmarine officers were instructed, and in September 1944 became the youngest ever commander of the Marineschule.

Only a few days after the war ended, he died in a tragic accident. On 13 May 1945 Kapitän zur See Wolfgang Lüth was shot by a sentry at the Marineschule when he failed to identify himself or give the password. The unlucky 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 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 also found their detractors. Although he sank a huge tonnage of vessels, his successes occurred mostly in African waters and in the Indian Ocean, areas which offered relatively easy pickings with light defences compared to the the North Atlantic. Some of his contemporaries found his ideas on crew management naïve and even laughable; commanders who endured frequent and deadly attacks from the aircraft and escort vessels that dogged them in northern waters found little to relate to in 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 who Buchheim means when he pokes fun at a long text from "a speech by Lieutenant-Commander L.").

Lüth's paternalistic attitude toward his crew was also well-known; not only did he believe it was his duty as a leader to be concerned with 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 cigarettes and certain foods and drinks. However, Lüth's style of leadership seems to have evoked lifelong loyalty among the majority of his crewmen, who revere him to this day. He also continued to assist 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.

He was clearly a charismatic leader of men, similar in this respect to Großadmiral Dönitz, who stated after the war that Lüth had been earmarked for the position of BdU. However, because of his political leanings, had Lüth survived he would have undoubtedly served a long term in Allied captivity and may even have been barred from serving in any position of authority 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 honour guard, and Dönitz spoke the last words. A memorial stone at Marineschule Mürwik still honours the memory of this outstanding U-boat officer today.


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).

Patrol info for Wolfgang Lüth

 U-boat Departure Arrival  
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

Date U-boat Commander Name of ship Tons Nat. Convoy
18 Jan 1940U-9Wolfgang Lüth Flandria1,179sw
19 Jan 1940U-9Wolfgang Lüth Patria1,188sw
11 Feb 1940U-9Wolfgang Lüth Linda1,213es
4 May 1940U-9Wolfgang Lüth San Tiburcio [Mine]5,995br
9 May 1940U-9Wolfgang Lüth Doris (Q 135)552fr
11 May 1940U-9Wolfgang Lüth Viiu1,908es
11 May 1940U-9Wolfgang Lüth Tringa1,930br
23 May 1940U-9Wolfgang Lüth Sigurd Faulbaum3,256be
20 Sep 1940U-138Wolfgang Lüth New Sevilla13,801brOB-216
20 Sep 1940U-138Wolfgang Lüth Boka5,560paOB-216
20 Sep 1940U-138Wolfgang Lüth City of Simla10,138brOB-216
21 Sep 1940U-138Wolfgang Lüth Empire Adventure5,145brOB-216
15 Oct 1940U-138Wolfgang Lüth Bonheur5,327brOB-228
15 Oct 1940U-138Wolfgang Lüth British Glory (d.)6,993brOB-228
2 Dec 1940U-43Wolfgang Lüth Pacific President7,113brOB-251
2 Dec 1940U-43Wolfgang Lüth Victor Ross12,247brOB-251
6 Dec 1940U-43Wolfgang Lüth Skrim1,902nwOB-252
13 Dec 1940U-43Wolfgang Lüth Orari (d.)10,350br
15 May 1941U-43Wolfgang Lüth Notre Dame du Châtelet488fr
6 Jun 1941U-43Wolfgang Lüth Yselhaven4,802nlOB-328
17 Jun 1941U-43Wolfgang Lüth Cathrine2,727brSL-76
29 Nov 1941U-43Wolfgang Lüth Thornliebank5,569brOS-12
30 Nov 1941U-43Wolfgang Lüth Ashby4,868brOS-12
2 Dec 1941U-43Wolfgang Lüth Astral7,542am
12 Jan 1942U-43Wolfgang Lüth Yngaren5,246swHX-168
14 Jan 1942U-43Wolfgang Lüth Empire Surf6,641brON-55
14 Jan 1942U-43Wolfgang Lüth Chepo5,707paON-55
3 Nov 1942U-181Wolfgang Lüth East Indian8,159am
8 Nov 1942U-181Wolfgang Lüth Plaudit5,060pa
10 Nov 1942U-181Wolfgang Lüth K.G. Meldahl3,799nw
13 Nov 1942U-181Wolfgang Lüth Excello4,969am
19 Nov 1942U-181Wolfgang Lüth Gunda2,241nw
20 Nov 1942U-181Wolfgang Lüth Corinthiakos3,562gr
22 Nov 1942U-181Wolfgang Lüth Alcoa Pathfinder6,797am
24 Nov 1942U-181Wolfgang Lüth Mount Helmos6,481gr
24 Nov 1942U-181Wolfgang Lüth Dorington Court5,281br
28 Nov 1942U-181Wolfgang Lüth Evanthia3,551gr
30 Nov 1942U-181Wolfgang Lüth Cleanthis4,153gr
2 Dec 1942U-181Wolfgang Lüth Amarylis4,328pa
11 Apr 1943U-181Wolfgang Lüth Empire Whimbrel5,983br
11 May 1943U-181Wolfgang Lüth Tinhow5,232brDN-37
27 May 1943U-181Wolfgang Lüth Sicilia1,633sw
7 Jun 1943U-181Wolfgang Lüth Harrier193sa
2 Jul 1943U-181Wolfgang Lüth Hoihow2,798br
15 Jul 1943U-181Wolfgang Lüth Empire Lake2,852br
16 Jul 1943U-181Wolfgang Lüth Fort Franklin7,135br
4 Aug 1943U-181Wolfgang Lüth Dalfram4,558br
7 Aug 1943U-181Wolfgang Lüth Umvuma4,419brDN-54
12 Aug 1943U-181Wolfgang Lüth Clan Macarthur10,528brDN-55

47 ships sunk (225,756 tons) and 2 ships damaged (17,343 tons).

We have a picture of this vessel.
(d.) means the ship was damaged.
[Mine] indicates the vessel was hit by a mine laid by said U-boat.

About ranks and decorations
Special thanks to Fernando Almeida for data on ranks and decorations.

Media links

U-Boat Attack Logs

Daniel Morgan and Bruce Taylor

(£ 38.25)

U-Boat Ace: The Story of Wolfgang Lüth

Vause, Jordan

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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