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