An Allied convoy catches the North Atlantic sun. Greenhill Books / U.S. Naval Institute / mediadrumworld.com

By Ben Wheeler

FASCINATING black and white images from a new book have helped lift the lid on the story of the German naval commander who is credited with sinking an astonishing forty-seven Allied ships and a submarine during the Second World War, Wolfgang Lüth.

Photos from ‘U-Boat Ace: The Story of Wolfgang Lüth’ show the commander brazenly puffing on a cigarette on the bridge of his U-43 boat.

Additional snaps capture Lüth’s sinking of Swedish freighter, Sicilia, whilst another shows his funeral procession, just two days after his death.

Wolfgang Lüth on the bridge of U-43. He looks cold because he is cold. During his last patrol as captain of U-43 in January 1942, his crew had to knock the ice off her rigging and superstructure with hammers. Jordan Vause / Greenhill Books / Horst Bredow / mediadrumworld.com

 

Author, Jordan Vause, discussed what it was that drew him to Luth’s story has given readers a small insight into the stories told in the book.

“Believe it or not, it was a photograph of Lüth I saw in a hallway at the German Naval Academy in 1977, five years before I started writing” he said.

“Our guide explained Lüth’s story to us, I was a midshipman in the Navy at the time, so I found the story behind the picture fascinating and it stuck with me.

A rather scruffy Lüth in 1940, standing under U-9’s port running light. The elements have stripped the paint from Weddigen’s cross, but the metal lining is still there. (The running lights were never used; in this case they were a holdover from peacetime). Jordan Vause / Greenhill Books / Horst Bredow / mediadrumworld.com

 

“There are three main reasons why I find his story so interesting; firstly, he was simultaneously wildly successful and completely unknown.

“Second, the circumstances surrounding his death were intriguing and way out of line with the rest of his, or any U-boat commander’s, career and finally no one had written about him before.”

Vause, who interviewed some of Lüth’s crewmen as part of the project, also detailed what he learned about World War Two during his research and what he hopes people will take from the book.

“The interviews crewmen were all little stories in their own right,” he recalls.

Another shot of U-181’s bridge taken from the main deck. The crew has broken ranks early, but it was an excusable breach of decorum under the circumstances. Jordan Vause / Greenhill Books / mediadrumworld.com

 

“Some comical, some poignant and some sad. One of which is alluded to in the book’s introduction.

“During the course of writing the book I learned so much about the extent of U-boat operations in WWII, which stretched all the way to the Pacific.

“I also found out about all kinds of hidden conflicts inside the communities themselves, which most people haven’t heard about.

“I hope the book gives people a better understanding of the German men that served in the war, they all served an evil regime but were not all bad men.

The commissioning ceremony of U-181, May 1942. Lüth is on the left, his crew (officers in front) opposite him. By most accounts it was an enjoyable occasion; in fact, Lüth went so far as to take the wives of his new crewmen on a tour of the boat, which was a major breach of naval tradition. Jordan Vause / Greenhill Books / mediadrumworld.com

 

“That may sound contradictory, but it is true. Even Lüth, a true believer, had good and bad points.

“We can’t just reduce it to U-boat equals Nazi as some have done.”

Wolfgang Lüth was one of only seven men to win Germany’s highest combat decoration. He operated in almost every theatre of the undersea war from Norway to the Indian Ocean and he was the second most successful German U-boat ace in World War II.

Lüth is credited with sinking 47 Allied ships and a submarine – a record topped only by Otto Kretschmer. In 1944, after 16 war patrols, including one that lasted a record 203-days at sea, he was named commandant of the German naval academy and, aged 30, became the youngest commandant of the German Naval Academy.

Published by Greenhill Books, ‘U-Boat Ace: The Story of Wolfgang Lüth’ is available now for £16.99 from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/U-Boat-Ace-Story-Wolfgang-Th/dp/1784382744

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