Prien, Günther Heinrich, “The Bull of Scapa Flow“.

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Prien, Günther.
germanyKriegsmarineU boat commander

Prien, Günther Heinrich, born 16-01-1908 in Osterfeld was the eldest of three children of the judge and district court counselor Gustav Prien and his wife, the painter Margarethe, born Schalck, Günther had two siblings. Günther Prien lived with his parents in Hanover and Lübeck (there with relatives, the notary Carl Hahn and his wife; here he visited the Katharineum), but then the couple separated. Now the mother, who remarried, was now called Bohstedt and had daughter Liselotte (with whom Günther had a very close, loving relationship) and son Hans-Joachim “Achim” (born 27-06-1920) the children to Leipzig. Here, however, the comfortable life was over, money was scarce in the Prien house, the mother sold lace from the Ore Mountains, Günther also had to contribute to the family’s livelihood by doing small jobs alongside school, mostly as a delivery boy.. Prien joined the Handelsflotte (German Merchant marine) in mid-1923  After several years of work and study as a seaman, Prien passed the required examinations and became the Fourth Officer on a passenger liner. Prien received his sea captain’s license in January 1932.

Unable to find work due to the severe contraction of the German shipping industry during the Great Depression, he was forced to turn to the Assistance Board for sustenance. Angry with what he considered to be an inept government, which seemed impotent in the face of the country’s economic disaster, Günther joined the Nazi Party in May 1932  In August 1932 Prien joined the voluntary labor corps of Vogtsberg at Olsnitz where he rose to the rank of deputy to the camp commander.

Prien applied to the Reichsmarine in 1933; he served on a light cruiser and then was posted to the U-Boat training school at Kiel.  Upon graduation, he was posted to U-26 at the Deutsche Schiff- und Maschinenbau AG (Deschimag) Yard in Bremen as First Watch Officer, serving under the command of Kapitänleutnant zur See, Werner Hartmann . U-26 went on two patrols in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War  . After the war Hartmann joined the Bundesmarine on 01-07-1956, commanding the 1. Schiffsstammregiment (1st Naval training regiment) in Glückstadt, retiring on 01-04-1962. He died on 26-04-1963 in Usseln/Waldeck of pulmonary embolism. He was buried in a family grave in Glückstadt.

Prien rose steadily in rank, from midshipman in 1933 to Oberleutnant zur See (Senior lieutenant at Sea) in 1937. He was appointed to the command of the new Type VIIB U-47  on her commissioning in December 1938 and promoted to Kapitänleutnant (Captain lieutenant) in February 1939. Prien married his wife Ingeborg “Inge” in 1939 and

  the couple had two children. Ingeborg was the daughter of the commander of the Cheb district military command, Oberst Ernst Messerschmidt. After her husband stayed at sea in 1941, she lived with her little daughters Birgit and Dagmar in Eger with their parents at Schanzstrasse 26. After the war, the widow married again and was now called Ingeborg “Inge” Sturm-Prien. Her husband, with whom she last lived in the Franconian town of Kulmbach, was a lieutenant colonel in the Bundeswehr.

World War II commenced during Prien’s first patrol in U-47.  He departed Kiel on 19-08-1939 for a patrol lasting 28 days. On 5 September, he sank the British SS Bosnia of 2,407 gross register tons (GRT), the second ship of the war to be sunk by a U-boat. His boat sank two British vessels, Rio Claro of 4,086 GRT on the 6th, and Gartavon of 1,777 GRT on the 7th. U-47 returned to Kiel on 15 September having sunk a total tonnage of 8,270 GRT.  Gross register tonnage.

On 14-10-1939, Prien’s boat penetrated the Royal Navy’s primary base, Scapa Flow and sank the battleship Royal Oak.  Of the Royal Oak’s complement of 1,234 men and boys, 833 were killed that night or died later of their wounds. Headstones for some of the crew of Royal Oak;  the majority remain on the sunken warship  The U-47 returned to Germany to instant fame. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, personally by Adolf Hitler, the first sailor of the U-boat service and the second member of the Kriegsmarine to receive this award. Prien received the nickname Der Stier von Scapa Flow (The Bull of Scapa Flow);  the emblem of a snorting bull was painted on the conning tower of U-47 and soon became the emblem of the entire 7th U-boat Flotilla. Two members of the Scapa Flow crew earned the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross during World War II: the chief engineer Johann-Friedrich Wessels  and 1st watch officer (I. Wachoffizier) Engelbert Endrass . Gunther Prien was decorated by Adolf Hitler on 01-01-1940. Wessels survived the war and died 09-02-1988 (aged 83) in Oldenburg. In September 1941 Engelbert Endrass left U-46, which would become a training vessel, and a month later took over U-567. On his second patrol, he was killed on 21-12-1941, age 30, while operating against Convoy HG 76, when U-567 was sunk with all hands by depth charges from the British sloop HMS Deptford and corvette HMS Samphire, northeast of the Azores.

   Günther Prien during the press conference on 18 October. with Otto Dietrich, Press Chief of the N.S.D.A.P und SS Obergruppenführer.

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 Karl Dönitz suggested to Prien at that time that Prien should transfer to a training unit, but Prien decided to remain with his boat.

Prien’s mother, who had lost both of her sons in the war (Günther’s half-brother Leutnant zur See Hans-Joachim “Achim” Bohstedt fell on 05-10-1943 as a submarine driver and officer on watch on U 389), received on 20-05-1941 in Leipzig received a letter of condolence from Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring,  which he had signed himself.

“… But since his name means so much horror for the enemy, now that he can no longer attack himself, his immortal name must work, and as long as this work is valid beyond death, we must be silent about the environment. … ”

After the war she had to go through difficult times. Little did she suspect that one day, through false reports in English about her son, she would be condemned to hope again. In 1950/51 she was able to flee / move to West Berlin (depending on the source) and lived there in an old people’s home. Margarethe Bohstedt, divorced Prien, born Schalck, died in Berlin in 1954.

The death of Günther Heinrich Prien, The Bull of Scapa Flow.


Prien, Günther, born 16-01-1908 in Osterfeld was one of three children of a judge. Prien joined the Handelsflotte (German Merchant marine) in mid-1923

Günther Prien boarded U-47 for the last patrol on 20-02-1941

. U-47 left Lorient (France) for her tenth patrol on 20-02-1941.  Only four days later they attacked convoy OB 290 and sank four ships totaling 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 crewmen) on 08-03-1941.

This is now being questioned, as the traditional credit for U-47’s sinking has always gone to the British destroyer HMS Wolverine,  under commander Robert Hoyle Craske, 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.)  Prien’s death, age 33, was kept secret until 23 May. Winston Churchill  had personally announced it to the House of Commons, and propaganda broadcasts to Germany had repeatedly taunted listeners with the question “Where is Prien?” until Germany was forced to acknowledge his loss. Hitler feared great unrest among the population, so it was decided to keep Prien’s death a secret. But the British dropped flyers by plane stating that Prien had been killed. Thus the German population found out.

Although Günther Prien was at sea for less than two years, his record stands high among the U-boat aces during World War II. He spent 238 days at sea and sank 30 enemy vessels for a total tonnage of 193,808 GRT.

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