Johann Günther Lütjens (25 May 1889 – 27 May 1941) was a German Admiral whose military service spanned more than thirty years and two world wars. Lütjens is best known for his actions during World War II and his command of the battleship Bismarck during its foray into the Atlantic Ocean in 1941. In its aftermath, the episode entered into naval legend.
Lütjens born on 25 May 1889, entered into the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) in 1907. A diligent and intelligent cadet he progressed to officer rank before the outbreak of war, when he was assigned to a Torpedo boat Squadron. During World War I Lütjens operated in the North Sea and English Channel and fought several actions with the British Royal Navy. He ended the conflict as a Kapitänleutnant with the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd class (1914) to his credit. After the war he remained in the service of the navy, now renamed the Reichsmarine. He continued to serve in torpedo boat squadrons eventually becoming a Commanding Officer in 1925. In the Weimar Republic era, Lütjens built a reputation as an excellent staff officer.
In 1935, after the Nazi Party came to power under Adolf Hitler in 1933, the navy was remodeled again and renamed the Kriegsmarine . Lütjens soon became acquainted with Erich Raeder and Karl Dönitz; the two Commanders-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine in World War II. His capability and friendship led to his promotion to Kapitän zur See and a sea command at the helm of the cruiser Karlsruhe. In the six years of peace he had risen to the rank of Konteradmiral, a promotion conferred upon him October 1937.
In September 1939, World War II began with the German invasion of Poland. Lütjens received the a prompt award of the Clasp to the Iron Cross 2nd Class (1939) three days later. His command of destroyer operations in the North Sea over the winter, 1939–40, earned him the Clasp to the Iron Cross 1st Class. On 1 January 1940, he was promoted to Vice Admiral. In April 1940 he was given temporary command of the entire German surface fleet during the initial landing phase of Operation Weserübung, the invasions of Denmark and Norway. His actions earned him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.
In the aftermath of the campaign he was appointed the fleet commander of the German Navy and promoted to Admiral on 1 September 1940. He was involved in the tentative planning for Operation Sea Lion.the planned invasion of the United Kingdom, but the plans were shelved after the Battle of Britain. German intentions turned to blockade and Lütjens made the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau the centerpiece of his battle fleet; using the latter vessel as his flagship. In January 1941 he planned and executed Operation Berlin, an Atlantic raid to support U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic by attacking British merchant shipping lanes. The operation was a tactical and propaganda victory. It came to a close in March 1941 when the ships docked in German-occupied France after sailing some 18,000 miles; a record for a German battle group at the time. His success led him to being chosen for further operations.
In May 1941, Lütjens commanded a German task force, consisting of the battleship Bismarck, under command of Kapitän zur See Otto Ernst Lindemann and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, during Operation Rheinübung. In a repetition of Berlin, Lütjens was required to break out of their naval base in occupied Poland, sail via occupied Norway, and attack merchant shipping. The operation went awry and the task force was soon spotted and engaged near Iceland. In the ensuing Battle of the Denmark Strait, HMS Hood was sunk and three other British warships were forced to retreat. The two German ships then separated. Three days later, on 27 May, Günther Lütjens on board of the Bismarck and Otto Ernst Lindemann and most of the ship’s crew lost their lives when Bismarck was caught and sunk.