Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Lütjens, Günther (1889–1941)

German navy admiral and commander of the ill-fated Bismarck. Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, on 25 May 1889, Günther Lütjens joined the navy in 1907 and served on torpedo boats during World War I. In 1937, he commanded the torpedo boat arm of the Kriegsmarine (German navy), and in October 1939, Lütjens was appointed commander of Scouting Forces. In June 1940, he was named fleet commander after Grand Admiral Erich Raeder had sacked the first two fleet commanders for not taking aggressive action. On 20 June, Raeder ordered Lütjens to take out the battleship Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper in a foray, but a British submarine torpedoed and badly damaged the Gneisenau, forcing a postponement in battleship operations. Raeder was determined to send the battleships into the North Atlantic in order to demonstrate their value before Germany had won the war, which led him to take the gamble of deploying the new battleship Bismarck in May 1941 when only the new heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen was available as a consort. Lütjens had command.

Lütjens objected to Raeder's "piecemeal approach" to battleship operations and urged postponing Operation rhine exercise until the other battleships were ready for action. He loyally supported Raeder's decision, however, and defended the mission when questioned by Adolf Hitler. Both Raeder and Lütjens were aware that the Bismarck departed Bergen on 22 May 1941 with weapons and equipment cannibalized from other ships and an incomplete antiaircraft-fire-control system.

Lütjens's halfhearted leadership and pessimism, along with his rigid adherence to his orders to avoid risks, hindered his ability to analyze objectively either his options or his opportunities. He declined to exploit his victory over the British battle cruiser Hood and finish off the battleship Prince of Wales. Influenced by his belief that the British were employing new radar, he gave his position away by radioing for instructions from Berlin and failed to recognize that he had actually eluded his pursuers. His decision to steam directly for Saint-Nazaire, instead of withdrawing to a more remote area or even returning to Norway, exposed the Bismarck to the British Force H from Gibraltar and the carrier Ark Royal. Following damage by a lucky torpedo that jammed the Bismarck's twin rudders, he resigned himself to carrying out Raeder's instructions to fight "to the last shell" and was lost when the Bismarck went down on 27 May 1941.

Keith W. Bird


Further Reading
Bercuson, David J., and Holger H. Herwig. The Destruction of the "Bismarck." Woodstock, NY, and New York: Overlook Press, 2001.; Burkard, Freiherr von Müllenheim-Rechberg. Battleship "Bismarck": A Survivor's Story. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1980.; Salewski, Michael. Die Deutsche Seekriegsleitung, 1935–1945. Vol. 1, 1935–1941. Frankfurt, Germany: Bernard and Graefe, 1970.
 

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