Günther Prien

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Günther Prien on board a warship, 1940

Günther Prien (* 16th January 1908 in Osterfeld , † earliest on 7. March 1941 in the North Atlantic , south of Iceland ) was a German naval officer and submarine - Commander . Due to his military successes, he was considered a typical war hero for National Socialist propaganda . He gained his fame mainly because of the successful attack on October 14, 1939 on Scapa Flow , the home port of the Home Fleet and a British naval port that has been important in the history of the German Navy since 1919.


Parental home, school education

Günther Prien was born on January 16, 1908 in Osterfeld in the province of Saxony as the son of the district court counselor Gustav Prien and Margarete Bohstedts. Later, the father's place of residence was Goslar and, from 1930, Hanover . Since he was five, Prien had lived with relatives, the notary Carl Hahn and his wife, in Lübeck . He attended the Katharineum there and later the Queen Carola High School in Leipzig . At the age of 16, Prien dropped out of this high school, which was later named after him when he became a well-known submarine commander, and went to the merchant navy . In 1927 Prien was registered in Leipzig. In 1931 he passed the captaincy examination , but was then unemployed. According to his later autobiography, he blamed the Weimar Republic for his unemployment and lack of prospects and, out of bitterness, joined the NSDAP in 1931 .

Military background

Günther Prien joined the Reichsmarine on January 16, 1933 . He was incorporated into Crew 31 and on March 1 appointed Ensign at Sea . Following the obligatory infantry training at the ship's trunk division of the Baltic Sea on Dänholm near Stralsund , Prien completed ensign courses at the Mürwik naval school and the deck officers' school in Kiel from April 1933 to September 1934 . On April 1, 1935, Prien, who was sailing on the light cruiser Königsberg at that time , was appointed lieutenant at sea . In the same year Prien reported to the submarine weapon. There he completed a submarine training by the end of April 1936, attended the submarine school in Kiel and rode the school boat U 3 . From May 11, 1936, Prien served as First Watch Officer (I WO) on U 26 under Lieutenant Werner Hartmann . During his time on board there were several missions in the Spanish Civil War . From October to December 1938 Prien received the building instruction for his future boat U 47 at the Germania shipyard in Kiel. On December 17, 1938, he was given command of U 47 , which belonged to the Wegener flotilla .

On February 1, 1939, Prien was promoted to lieutenant captain. At the beginning of the war, Prien patrolled the U 47 west of Bordeaux after the boat had already left Kiel on August 19, 1939 . The German submarine commanders who were at sea when the war broke out reacted differently to the changed circumstances. Fritz-Julius Lemp , a crewmate from Prien, sank the British passenger ship Athenia with U 30 without stopping the vehicle or clearly identifying it. However, Prien adhered to the procedure according to the submarine protocol, which was also ordered by Dönitz via radio immediately after the Athenia incident . Accordingly, Prien initially had three ships from neutral nations pulled. The next morning he attacked the British freighter Bosnia (2,407 GRT) initially with artillery fire. After the crew disembarked and were brought to safety by a stopped Norwegian ship, he sank the ship with a torpedo . In the same way he sank the Rio Claro (4,086 GRT) the following day and also tried the Gartavon (1,777 GRT), which he finally sank with artillery fire, as the torpedo fired had failed. U 47 returned to Kiel on September 15 .

Scapa Flow

The attack

Penetration of U 47 into Scapa Flow

On October 1, 1939, Prien received the order from the Commander of the U-Boats (BdU) Karl Dönitz to penetrate the British naval port of Scapa Flow . Dönitz gave Prien at least 24 hours to think about the voluntary mission, but Prien agreed the next day. This order resembled a “ suicide squad ”, as the port was heavily secured, two German submarines ( SM U 18 and SM UB 116 ) had been sunk during similar missions during the First World War and the attack was only possible on surface due to the strong current was.

The night of October 13th to 14th was chosen as the attack date to take advantage of the deep darkness of a new moon night . On October 8, U 47 cast off from Kiel and started the approximately 1100 km long journey. Despite all the adversities in the form of sunken block ships, network locks, patrol boats and an unexpectedly bright night due to the aurora borealis , Prien managed to penetrate Scapa Flow around midnight. At about 1 a.m. he shot three torpedoes at a sighted capital ship , but only one torpedo exploded on the bow or the anchor chain of the battleship HMS Royal Oak . Since the British commanders did not attribute the explosion to an attack, it remained calm in the port. Prien took advantage of this, had the torpedo tubes reloaded and, a quarter of an hour after the first attack, shot another three-fan, all of which hit the Royal Oak . The ship sank thirteen minutes after the hits. 833 sailors died.

Propagandist meaning

HMS Royal Oak , 1937

When they returned to Wilhelmshaven on October 17 , the crew of Dönitz and Grand Admiral Erich Raeder were greeted at the quay. One day later, Adolf Hitler received the U 47 team after having them taken to Berlin in his private plane. Prien was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross , while the men of his crew were awarded the Iron Cross Second Class. The reception of Priens and his crew was the first in a series of receptions. Prien thus became the first German soldier whom Nazi propaganda stylized into a war hero known throughout the Reich.

Prien's deed, from which Nazi propaganda hoped to have a high symbolic effect, was intended to compensate for the mystified self- sinking of the Imperial High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow in 1919 and to transform it into an ideal image for the submarine war.

In Scapa Flow, in the eyes of the National Socialist daily press, Prien had not only made a “military achievement that was considered impossible”, but also canceled the handover of the “undefeated German deep-sea fleet”, which was experienced as a personal and national loss of honor. Adolf Hitler emphasized this aspect at the reception of Priens and the award of the Knight's Cross. Prien had done in a place where “a German admiral saved and saved this fleet from the ultimate disgrace ... the proudest act that a German submarine could ever undertake and accomplish”. According to the historian Rene Schilling, Prien turned the symbolic success of 1919 into an actual victory and also fought the revolution that began with the uprising of the sailors in 1918. Prien's Nazi biographer Frank put it: Prien had " avenged the shame of 1918 in that place with unheard of boldness."

After the knight's cross, there were a number of receptions for Prien and his team. An appearance on the radio program Wunschkonzert for the Wehrmacht failed due to scheduling problems. The request concert, which had already spread success reports when the U 47s were still on their way back from Scapa Flow, brought a lengthy contribution on the day of the Knight's Cross. It was announced that monetary and material donations of more than 50,000 RM had been collected for Prien and his team. For Prien and his team, who visited the Berlin Varieté Wintergarten that evening , the broadcast of the desired concert was switched to the theater's loudspeaker system and the program was interrupted.

Cities and municipalities honored Prien. The city of Hanover , Prien's father moved here in 1930, made him a Hanoverian without further ado. Through his father, Prien let the mayor of Hanover know that he did not wish to be shot as a "kitsch figure by the reporters' sensational wolf" . The Leipzig Königin-Carola-Gymnasium , which Prien had attended, was renamed Günther-Prien-Schule, Staatliche Oberschule for boys , in his presence . Lübeck, where Prien had lived for a long time, organized a reception in the town hall with thousands of cheering people.

The historians Waldemar R. Röhrbein and Klaus Mlynek judged that Prien was properly marketed.

The autobiography "My Way to Scapa Flow"

Prien published a biography entitled Mein Weg nach Scapa Flow in 1940, which reached a circulation of 890,000 copies. This was number 8 on the bestseller list during the Nazi era . Translations appeared in a number of the states occupied by Germany, but also in French-speaking Spain . In 1941 this book was awarded the Hans Schemm Prize as a book for young people by the Reich Office Management of the National Socialist Teachers' Association (NSLB) . In 1969 an English translation was published by Allan Wingate-Baker (London & New York) under the title U-Boat Commander .

Hajo Neumann describes Mein Weg nach Scapa Flow as the best-known submarine book of the Second World War. The narrative structure is almost prototypical for the submarine memoir, which can also be found in post-war publications by Wilhelm Schulz , Erich Topp or Reinhard Suhren . The submarine war makes up just a third of the book. Prien describes his career in the merchant marine, where, according to him, arrogant superiors and forces of nature dominated. He describes the social rise from poor circumstances through early entry into the NSDAP, the Reich Labor Service to the Knight's Cross, which was part of the ideal of Nazi propaganda.

Propaganda and everyday culture

Prien was used for a variety of propaganda purposes and, according to the German Historical Museum, was part of everyday culture:

  • Wolfgang Frank published the book Prien attacks in 1941 according to his own notes while working as a war correspondent on board and according to the available war diaries .

Further military missions

Weser exercise company

During the invasion of Norway and Denmark ( Operation Weser Exercise ) from April 9, 1940, defective torpedoes led to a torpedo crisis . When Prien attacked a British transport unit with eight torpedoes and the projectiles failed, he complained in a report to the BdU that “he should not be expected to fight with a wooden rifle again” .

Sinking the Arandora Star

The Arandora Star
before sailing to Canada

In July 1940 the U 47 commanded by Prien sank the British passenger liner Arandora Star . Among the more than 800 dead was a large number of German who had fled to the British exile, including the KPD - Reichstag deputy Karl Olbrysch . The sinking led to a change in British refugee policy.

Loss of U 47 and probable death of Priens


On May 24, 1941, the Wehrmacht High Command announced that U 47 had not returned from a mission and that Prien's death was to be expected. This message influenced the mood in the German people, as reports from the SD show, which speak of general mourning. The Propaganda Ministry reacted in the run-up to the announcement by embedding the death report in success reports. Rumors persisted until 1945 that Prien had survived and was imprisoned for refusing to obey . In 1946 the official British version ( The Battle of Atlantic , London 1946) appeared with the announcement of the sinking of the U 47 by Wolverine depth charges . When asked by the British authorities, Prien's relatives received the same information. But actually had HMS Wolverine , the submarine UA attacked, so the actual loss caused as the fall timing of U 47 remain speculative. The malfunction of one's own torpedo is assumed.

Until then, Prien had been on a mission for a total of 238 days in his career as submarine commander and sank 32 ships with 211,393  GRT .

Reception after 1945


Numerous notebooks about Günther Prien have been published in the Federal Republic of Germany (e.g. in Men, Deeds, Adventures , Soldier Stories from Around the World , SOS - Fate of German Ships and Der Landser ) and books whose authors and narratives go back to the time of National Socialism. Wolfgang Frank's book Prien attacks ants was, for example, published by Gerhard Stalling in 1958 under the title The Bull by Scapa Flow. Life and deeds of the submarine commander Günther Prien. reprinted with a foreword by Karl Dönitz. In addition, Wolfgang Frank published in collaboration with Hans Meckel in 1950 What was really with Prien? Documents, eyewitness reports and official records compiled from German and British sources. In 1953 the former war correspondent Otto Mielke became U 47 - Günther Prien. The bull from Scapa Flow in the series: SOS - Fates of German Ships published by Moewig .


In 1958 the film U 47 - Kapitänleutnant Prien was released in the Federal Republic of Germany, which [offers] a "tailored biography [...], uncritical heroes and mendacious anti-war morality in a technically poor sea war spectacle." The film evoked negative reactions from U-boat- Veterans who saw the person Prien misrepresented.

Awards and honors


  • My way to Scapa Flow , Deutscher Verlag, Berlin 1940. also: Buenos Aires, Libreria Goethe, 1941. also: Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna, Volk u. Reich Verlag 1944


  • Rainer Busch, Hans-Joachim Röll: The submarine war. Volume 5, Mittler, Hamburg / Berlin / Bonn, ISBN 3-8132-0515-0 .
  • Gerald S. Snyder: Hussar Piece in Scapa Flow. The sinking of the Royal Oak by Günther Prien. Heyne, Munich 1981, ISBN 3-453-01397-2 .
  • Thomas Riederer: War hero - cinema hero. Günther Prien as an example of heroic masculinity in the Nazi state and earlier Federal Republic. Studies on Contemporary History, Volume 103. Verlag Dr. Kovač Hamburg 2017. ISBN 978-3-8300-9413-5 .
  • Thomas Riederer: Günther Prien: War and post-war hero . In: Jens Westemeier (Hrsg.): "So was the German soldier ..." the popular picture of the Wehrmacht , Paderborn: Schöningh 2019 (War in History; 101), ISBN 978-3-506-78770-5 , p 209-226.
  • René Schilling: The "Heroes of the Wehrmacht" - construction and reception. In: Rolf-Dieter Müller , Hans-Erich Volkmann (Hrsg.): The Wehrmacht. Myth and Reality. Published on behalf of the Military History Research Office , Oldenbourg , Munich 1999, ISBN 3-486-56383-1 , pp. 550-572. ( limited preview in Google Book search, here p. 36)

Web links

Commons : Günther Prien  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h i j k l René Schilling: The heroes of the Wehrmacht. Construction and reception. In: Military History Research Office: The Wehrmacht. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1999, pp. 552-554, p. 563 and p. 574
  2. Names of the parents: Johann Hauptmann: Alphabetical directory of former Carolaner. In: Twenty-five anniversary of the Queen Carola High School in Leipzig 1927 , Leipzig 1927, p. 31.
  3. a b c Klaus Mlynek, Waldemar R. Röhrbein (Ed.) (1994): History of the City of Hanover. From the beginning of the 19th century to the present. Vol. 2 online p. 551.
  4. a b Bernd Hartwig (2002): Things were different then: A report on the Hitler era from 1933–1945. Karin Fischer Publishing House. online p. 68
  5. a b c d Günther Prien in the Munzinger archive , accessed on May 1, 2012 ( beginning of article freely accessible)
  6. ^ According to Johann Hauptmann: Alphabetical Directory of Former Carolaner, in: Twenty-five anniversary of the Queen Carola High School in Leipzig 1927, Leipzig 1927, p. 31, he lived at Wettiner Straße 21.
  7. R. Busch, HJ Röll The U-Boat War 1939–1945 Vol. 5, Mittler & Sohn, Hamburg (2003)
  8. a b R. Busch u. H.-J. Röll: The submarine war, the submarine construction on German shipyards Mittler & Sohn, Hamburg (1997), pp. 435-436
  9. ^ Clay Blair : Der U-Boot-Krieg, Die Jäger 1939–1942 , Heyne (1996), p. 114
  10. ^ Janusz Piekałkiewicz : The Second World War. Page 159, ISBN 3-89350-544-X
  11. Percy E. Schramm (Ed.): War diary of the High Command of the Wehrmacht. Vol. 1. Introduction. P. 218 E.
  12. Rene Schilling: The U-Boot Heroes in Germany from 1914 to the Present (PDF file; 714 kB) p. 201
  13. ^ Janusz Piekałkiewicz : The Second World War. Page 160, ISBN 3-89350-544-X
  14. ^ A b Description of a propaganda postcard by the German Historical Museum. www.dhm.de accessed on May 1, 2012
  15. Lieutenant Schulz on March 1, 1940 followed, General Dietl on July 20, 1940, Major Mölders on September 22, 1940, Major Galland on September 24, 1940, Major Wick on October 12, 1940, and Prien again on October 31, 1940. on November 13, 1940 Lieutenant Kretschmer. Percy E. Schramm (ed.): War diary of the high command of the Wehrmacht. Vol. 1. Introduction. P. 218 E.
  16. ^ Rene Schilling (2010): Reichswehr, Wehrmacht and national rights hostile to the republic. The lot of defeat and the search for heroes: Weddigen - Richthofen - Körner. Pp. 27-38. In: Michael Epkenhans ( MGFA ): The search for orientation in German armed forces 1871 to 1990. 2010, p. 36 [1] Here p. 36f.
  17. Hans-Jörg Koch (2003): The request concert on Nazi radio. Böhlau Verlag Cologne Weimar p. 227f.
  18. Jürgen Bleis: Mein Soldbuch 1942–1946 , Books on Demand, Norderstedt 2012, p. 14f, ISBN 978-3-8448-5363-6 ( partly online )
  19. Harro Zimmermann: Study on the Third Reich. What the Germans read under steel storms. In: Die Welt from November 12, 2010. The article's statements are based on: Christian Adam: Reading under Hitler. Authors, bestsellers, readers in the Third Reich. Galiani, Berlin. 2010.
  20. ^ Translations before 1945: El camino de Scapa Flow . Translated by Fernando P. de Cambra . Barcelona , Editora Nacional 1941; Min väg till Scapa Flow . Translated by Sten Söderberg . Helsingfors, Söderström 1941; A caminho de Scapa Flow . Translated by Maria Henriques Osswald . Lisbon , Livraria clássica 1941; Mans celš uz Scapa Flow . Translated by Knuts Lesinš . Rīgā , Gulbis, 1942; M ° oj put do Scapa Flowa . Zagreb , Velzek, 1942; Fino a Scapa Flow . Firenze , Sansoni, 1943; Mijn weg naar Scapa Flow . Translated by G. van Eijsden . Amsterdam, Roskam, 1941; Tieni Scapa-Lahteen . Translated by Kai Kaila . Helsingissä, Otava, 1941; Min vej til Scapa Flow . Translated by OE Andersen . Bovrup, DNSAP's Forl., 1942.
  21. a b Helga Strallhofer-Mitterbauer: Nazi literature prices of Austrian authors. A documentation (= literature in history, history in literature, vol. 27.) Böhlau, Vienna / Cologne / Weimar 1994, ISBN 3-205-98204-5 , p. 80. ( limited preview in Google book search)
  22. ^ A b c Hajo Neumann: The reception of the submarine war in German and Anglo-Saxon literature. In: Stephan Huck (Ed.): Hundred years of submarines in German navies. Events - Technology - Mentalities - Reception (= Small series of publications on military and naval history, Volume 18.) Winkler, Bochum 2011, ISBN 978-3-89911-115-6 , pp. 155–166, here p. 155. Reading sample online ( PDF file; 714 kB)
  23. Photo booklet Heroes of the Wehrmacht , Issue 17. Illustration at the German Historical Museum (DHM), accessed on October 9, 2015.
  24. Collective postcard at the DHM, accessed on October 9, 2015.
  25. Figure and description: Website on German propaganda games , website with manufacturer information, accessed on May 10, 2012
  26. Photo of the instructions, accessed on November 6, 2012
  27. My experiences in a KLV camp in Slovakia in 1944 ( Memento from March 12, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  28. Lahnstein street names and their namesake  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 77 kB) at www.lahnstein.de@1@ 2Template: Toter Link / www.lahnstein.de  
  29. Günther-Prien-Straße at strassen-in-deutschland.de, accessed on August 4, 2016.
  30. Michael Thomae: The submarine weapon in the "Operation Weser Exercise" 1940. In: Military History Research Office (ed.): Military history. Historical Education Journal. Issue 1/2009, page 14. ( Online version (PDF, 3.79 MB))
  31. Percy E. Schramm (Ed.): War diary of the High Command of the Wehrmacht. Vol. 2. p. 1170
  32. ^ Lars-Broder Keil: Germans against Germans . In: Die Welt from August 2, 2010; Fled from Hitler In: The Time of October 10, 1980
  33. Götz Aly, Michael Sontheimer: Fromms p. 121
  34. Percy E. Schramm (Ed.): War diary of the High Command of the Wehrmacht. Vol. 2, p. 1196 names March 8, 1941 as the day of the sinking by the Wolverine.
  35. ^ Clay Blair: Der U-Boot-Krieg, Die Gesjagt 1943-1945 , Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-453-16059-2 , p. 935
  36. ^ Adolf Heinzlmeier and Berndt Schulz in Lexicon "Films on TV" (extended new edition). Rasch and Röhring, Hamburg 1990, ISBN 3-89136-392-3 , p. 844
  37. ^ Prien-Film, In der kleine Hafenbar on spiegel.de
  38. Busch, Rainer; Röll, Hans-Joachim (2003). The submarine war 1939–1945 - The knight's cross bearers of the submarine weapon from September 1939 to May 1945, Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn Verlag ES Mittler & Sohn. ISBN 978-3-8132-0515-2 , p. 15
  39. Williamson, Gordon; Bujeiro, Ramiro. Knight's Cross and Oak Leaves Recipients 1939-40. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-641-6 (English)
  40. Veit Scherzer : Knight's Cross bearers 1939-1945. The holders of the Iron Cross of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and armed forces allied with Germany according to the documents of the Federal Archives. 2nd Edition. Scherzers Militaer-Verlag, Ranis / Jena 2007, ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2 , p. 604.