Lütjens, Johan Gunther, born 25-05-1889, in Wiesbaden, Hesse-Nassau , the son of merchant Johannes Lütjens and his wife Luise, born Volz. Growing up in Freiburg im Breisgau, he graduated from the Berthold-Gymnasium with his diploma (Abitur) aged seventeen
Johan 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 against the British Royal Navy. He ended the conflict as a Kapitänleutnant (captain lieutenant) 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 remodelled again and renamed the Kriegsmarine. Lütjens soon became acquainted with Grossadmiral Erich Raeder and Grossadmiral 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 (captain at sea) 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 (rear admiral), a promotion conferred upon him October 1937.
In September 1939, World War II began with the German invasion of Poland. Lütjens received the Clasp to the Iron Cross 2nd Class (1939) three days later. His command of destroyer operations in the North Sea over the winter, 1939–1940, earned him the Clasp to the Iron Cross 1st Class. On 01-01-1940, he was promoted to Vizeadmiral (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 01-09-1940. 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 battlecruisers/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 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.
Death and burial ground of Lütjens, Johan Gunther.
In May 1941, Lütjens commanded a German task force, consisting of the battleship Bismarck 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, was sunk and three other British warships were forced to retreat. The two German ships then separated. Three days later, on 27 May, Lütjens and most of the ship’s crew lost their lives when Bismarck was caught and sunk.
The Germans were preparing to scuttle Bismarck when three torpedoes fired by the HMS Dorsetshire, under command of Captain Benjamin Charles Stanley Martin , hit the ship’s side armour. Bismarck sank at 10:36 at position 48°10′N 16°12′W, roughly 300 nmi (560 km; 350 mi) west of Ouessant (Ushant). The cruiser Dorsetshire saved 86 men (Though 1 died the following day), and the British destroyer Maori saved another 25. Five sailors were saved by German submarine U-74, under the command of Captain Lieutenant Eitel-Friedrich Kentrat, and the weather observation ship Sachsenwald. The Befehlshaber der U-Boote (U-boat Commander-in-Chief) Dönitz had ordered U-556, under the command of Captain Lieutenant Herbert Wohlfarth, to pick up Bismarck’s war diary. Wohlfarth survived the war and died 13-08-1982 (aged 67), in Villingen, Germany. Out of torpedoes and low on fuel, Wohlfarth requested that the mission be transferred to U-74. U-74 failed to reach Bismarck in time, and the war diary was never retrieved. Lütjens was among those who lost their lives – probably killed when a 16 in (410 mm) salvo fired by Rodney destroyed the bridge, killing many senior officers. Captain Benjamin Charles Stanley Martin survived the war and died 03-06-1957 (aged 65) in Natal, South Africa.
Lütjens married Margarete Backenköhler, daughter of the Geheimen Sanitätsrat (“Privy Counselor on Hygiene”, honorary title given to a distinguished doctor) Dr. Gerhard Backenköhler, in the summer of 1929. She was 27 at the time of the wedding and the sister of Otto Backenköhler. Admiral Otto Backenköhler was Lütjens’ chief of staff at the Fleet-Command (24 October 1939 – 31 July 1940). A year later, their first son, Gerhard, was born on 31-08-1930 in Swinemünde. The marriage produced a second son, named Günther after his father, on 28-08-1932 in Berlin. Their daughter Annemarie was born on 27-08-1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Less than a month after Lütjens’ death, his wife gave birth to their fourth child, Peter. Admiral Backenköhler was taken prisoner of war by the British, from which he was released on 10-12-1946. He died age 75, on 05-02-1967, in Kiel.