Werner Hartenstein
German World War II U-boat commander
Werner Hartenstein
Gustav Julius Werner Hartenstein commanded the U-boat U-156 in the German Navy of the Third Reich during World War II. He received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Corvette captain Hartenstein is credited with the sinking of 20 ships for a total of 97,504 gross register tons (GRT), and with damaging three ships and a destroyer.
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  • 1943
    Age 34
    Hartenstein and the entire crew of U-156 were killed in action by depth charges from a US PBY Catalina aircraft on 8 March 1943.
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    Korvettenkapitän Ernst Kals, chief of the 2nd U-boat Flotilla at Lorient, sent a letter to Hartenstein's parents on 23 April 1943 indicating that their son had been posted as missing in action as of 12 March 1943.
    More Details Hide Details US officials announced the destruction of the U-boat on 10 May 1943. Ten months after his death a service of remembrance was held in Plauen on 15 January 1944. The service was attended by his parents, his sisters and other members of the family, the mayor of Plauen, Eugen Wörner, senior officials and councillors. The local press reported that "His parents have accepted that their loving son will not return home but is resting in peace with his Lord." Werner Hartenstein was portrayed by German actor Ken Duken in the 2011 TV mini-series The Sinking of the Laconia. As commander of Werner Hartenstein is credited with the sinking of 20 ships (including the motor boat Letitia Porter on board Koenjit) for a total of, further damaging three ships of and damaging one warship,, of.
    During his fifth patrol (16 January 1943 – 8 March 1943), on 8 March 1943, Hartenstein and the entire crew of U-156 were killed in action by depth charges from a US PBY Catalina aircraft (VP-53/P-1; Lieutenant E. Dryden), east of Barbados.
    More Details Hide Details The Catalina dropped four Mark 44 Torpex water-bombs at 13:15 from an altitude of to which straddled U-156. Two bombs were observed to hit the water to starboard and just aft of U-156, lifting it and breaking it in two, followed by an explosion. At least eleven survivors were seen swimming in the water. The Americans dropped two rubber rafts and rations, and five men were seen to reach one of the rafts. The USS Barney was dispatched from Trinidad to rescue the survivors. The search was abandoned on 12 March 1943.
  • 1942
    Age 33
    For his service on torpedo boats, Hartenstein was awarded the German Cross in Gold on 2 February 1942.
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    U-156 received a radio message on 17 September 1942 indicating that Werner Hartenstein had become the 63rd member of the U-boat service and the 125th of the Kriegsmarine to be awarded Germany's highest military honour, the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.
    More Details Hide Details Hartenstein issued a bottle of beer to each member of the crew and held a speech honouring the achievements of everyone on board, and telling them that he would wear the decoration in their name. On 19 September 1942, U-156 was roughly south of Freetown and the crew was still repairing minor damage, when the lookout spotted a ship at 04:30. The target was the British ship Quebec City, en route from Cape Town to Freetown. Hartenstein attacked from a submerged position and hit Quebec City with one torpedo fired from tube VI. Hartenstein surfaced and approached the lifeboats and asked the survivors for the ship's name. Quebec City did not sink easily and U-156 fired 58 rounds from the 37 mm (1.46 in) flak gun and seven further shots from the 10.5 cm gun before Hartenstein ordered a cease fire. After a direct hit in the ship's stern ammunition magazine and an explosion, Quebec City slowly sank. According to William Clark, a member of Quebec Citys crew, Hartenstein made sure that the survivors had enough water and provisions and that Captain William Thomas had the exact coordinates. This account of that attack and the impression that the humanitarian actions of Hartenstein made is documented in the book by David Cledlyn Jones, The Enemy We Killed, My Friend. Jones himself disagrees, stating that Hartenstein was concerned about the survivors’ well-being but did not inquire about provisions, nor did he offer additional food or water.
    Heading to a rendezvous with Vichy French ships under Red Cross banners, the U-boats were attacked by a U.S. Army B-24 Liberator bomber (343d Bomb Squadron; Lieutenant James D. Harden) at 12:32 on 16 September 1942.
    More Details Hide Details The attack ordered by Captain Robert C. Richardson III, which killed a number of people in the lifeboats and damaged U-156, forced Hartenstein to abandon the rescue operations. A majority of survivors were later rescued by British merchant ships and two Vichy French warships, the cruiser Gloire and the sloop Annamite, out of Dakar, Africa. This event later became known as the "Laconia incident" and led BdU Admiral Karl Dönitz to issue the "Laconia order" to his U-boat commanders that stated in part "No attempt of any kind must be made at rescuing members of ships sunk " At the end of the war, the Laconia Order was unsuccessfully used against Admiral Dönitz in his war crime trial. The prosecution failed when Fleet Admiral Nimitz testified that in the war with Japan the United States Navy had followed the same general policy as was set forth in the German admiral's directive.
    At 01:25 on 13 September 1942 Hartenstein radioed the Befehlshaber der U-Boote (BdU—commander of U-boats) requesting guidance and confirmation on how to proceed.
    More Details Hide Details The BdU responded at 03:45 ordering Wolf pack Eisbär, consisting of under the command of Harro Schacht, under the command of Erich Würdemann and under the command of Georg von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf, to assist Hartenstein immediately. At 06:00 Hartenstein ordered that the following message be sent on the 25m wavelength: "If any ship will assist the ship-wrecked Laconia crew, I will not attack providing I am not being attacked by ship or air forces. I picked up 193 men. 4°53 South/11°26 West – German submarine" The message was repeated twice on the international 600m wavelength. The BdU later changed the order slightly and U-506, U-507 and the Italian submarine Capellini were dispatched. In parallel U-156 was assisting and supplying the survivors in the numerous lifeboats that kept arriving or were picked up. U-506 arrived at 11:32 on 14 September 1942, followed by U-507 in the afternoon of 15 September.
    Hartenstein and the entire crew of U-156 received a hero's welcome by the people of Plauen on 20 July 1942.
    More Details Hide Details The people lined the streets as the whole crew marched from the railway station to the City Hall for the official welcome reception. On U-156's fourth patrol (20 August 1942 – 16 November 1942), Hartenstein sank and then organised the rescue of the survivors of RMS Laconia, resulting in the "Laconia incident" and "Laconia order". U-156 together with under the command of Karl-Friedrich Merten departed from Lorient on 20 August 1942 heading for the Bay of Biscay. Hartenstein received the order to operate against Convoy SL-119 on 25 August. After a two-day pursuit, U-156 found a straggler, the SS Clan Macwhirter, west of Casablanca. Hartenstein attacked from a submerged position to avoid detection under the bright moonlight. Clan Macwhirter was hit by two torpedoes and sank, killing nine members of the crew and two gunners; 79 sailors survived the sinking. Two later sightings on 2 and 6 September did not lead to favourable attack positions.
    On 1 June 1942, Hartenstein was promoted to Korvettenkapitän (corvette captain).
    More Details Hide Details The first watch officer, Paul Just, left U-156 after returning from the third patrol. Just was replaced by Oberleutnant zur See Leopold Schumacher as new first watch officer. Just later became commander of, and.
    This achievement earned Hartenstein a reference on 6 June 1942 in the Wehrmachtbericht (armed forces report), an information bulletin issued by the headquarters of the Wehrmacht.
    More Details Hide Details To be singled out individually in this way was an honour (equivalent to "Mentioned in Despatches" in the United Kingdom military) and was entered in the Orders and Decorations' section of a soldier's Service Record Book. U-156 along with U-502 again departed from Lorient under the protection of a pathfinder on 22 April 1942 destined for the Caribbean Sea. Prior to the departure Dietrich von dem Borne, who had been severely wounded on the second patrol, was replaced by Oberleutnant zur See of the Reserve Gert Mannesmann. Chief engineer Wilhelm Polchau reported to Hartenstein on 6 May that the diesel compressor had malfunctioned. Hartenstein radioed under the command of Robert-Richard Zapp to assist. On 10 May U-156 and U-66 rendezvoused and exchanged of fuel oil for the necessary spare parts, and the fuel compressor was repaired. U-156 sighted the first steamer in the early afternoon on 12 May, the first of twelve ships—eleven merchantmen and one warship—attacked on this patrol, ten of which were sunk.
    On Hartenstein's third patrol (22 April 1942 – 7 July 1942), U-156 sank 12 ships and damaged a further two, including the on 25 May 1942.
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    On his second patrol (19 January 1942 – 17 March 1942) Hartenstein commanded a wolfpack of U-boats (Gruppe Neuland—Group New Land) during the Attack on Aruba in February 1942, attacking an oil refinery.
    More Details Hide Details U-156 along with under the command of Günther Müller-Stöckheim and under the command of Jürgen von Rosenstiel departed from Lorient under the protection of a pathfinder in the early morning of 19 January 1942. Hartenstein's orders were to conduct a simultaneous surprise attack of the Gruppe Neuland against the shipping traffic off Aruba and Curaçao. Besides U-156, U-67 and U-502, Gruppe Neuland also included the submarines under the command of Nicolai Clausen and under the command of Albrecht Achilles. On 16 February, after observing the area for a few days, U-156 came around to the refineries. There in front of her target were two Lago Company flat-bottom steamers, and, both British-owned oilers. At 01:31, U-156 surfaced in San Nicolaas Harbour some offshore and attacked the two British tankers at anchor. Hartenstein fired one torpedo from his bow tubes at Pedernales. The torpedo attack was successful and Pedernales was hit amidships. Loaded with crude oil, the steamer immediately burst into flames, killing eight of her 26 crewmen and wounding her captain Herbert McCall. Oranjestad then began to lift anchor and steam away but she was too late and was hit by a second torpedo fired from U-156. She too burst into flames and sunk an hour later in about of water. Fifteen of her 22 crewmen were killed.
    U-156 received a radio message on the evening of 8 January ordering Hartenstein to proceed at high speed to Lorient, where it arrived on 10 January 1942.
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  • 1941
    Age 32
    On 30 March 1941, command of Jaguar was given to Kapitänleutnant Friedrich-Karl Paul and Hartenstein transferred to the U-boat force, and on 4 September 1941 was given command of U-156, a Type IXC U-boat.
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  • 1939
    Age 30
    In October 1939 Hartenstein transferred and switched command of torpedo boat Jaguar with Kapitänleutnant Franz Kohlauf who took over command of Seeadler.
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  • 1938
    Age 29
    Hartenstein took command of torpedo boat Seeadler on 20 November 1938.
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  • 1937
    Age 28
    Hartenstein participated in several patrols in 1937 and 1938 on board Greif in Spanish waters during the Spanish Civil War.
    More Details Hide Details For these services he was awarded the Spanish Cross in Bronze on 6 June 1936. At the outbreak of World War II, Hartenstein continued to serve on torpedo boats. In this position, he completed 65 patrols in the North Sea, Norwegian waters, the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel in the first one and a half years of the war.
    He was promoted to Kapitänleutnant (captain lieutenant) on 1 June 1937.
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  • 1936
    Age 27
    Hartenstein served as first watch officer on the torpedo boat Greif from 30 September 1936 to 13 November 1938.
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  • 1930
    Age 21
    Following a 14-month stay on board the cruiser Emden (16 October 1928 – 3 January 1930) he advanced in rank to Fähnrich zur See (officer cadet) on 1 January 1930.
    More Details Hide Details Emden at the time was under the command of Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière, a U-boat commander during World War I. Hartenstein then underwent a number of officer training courses at the Naval Academy at Mürwik, including navigational training cruises on the survey vessel Meteor, before transferring to the light cruiser Köln (1 October 1931 – 23 September 1934). His stay on Köln was occasionally interrupted to attend further training courses at Wilhelmshaven and Kiel-Wik. During this assignment on 30 January 1933, the Nazi Party, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, came to power in Germany, and began to rearm the navy. In 1935, the Reichsmarine was renamed the Kriegsmarine.
  • 1928
    Age 19
    Hartenstein was then transferred to the training ship Niobe (1 July 1928 – 15 October 1928), attaining the rank of Seekadett (midshipman) on 11 October 1928.
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    Aged 20, Hartenstein re-applied for the cadetship, was accepted and began his naval career with the Reichsmarine on 1 April 1928 as a member of "Crew 28" (the incoming class of 1928).
    More Details Hide Details He underwent basic military training in the 2nd department of the standing ship division of the Baltic Sea in Stralsund (1 April 1928 – 30 June 1928).
  • 1927
    Age 18
    He matriculated at the University of Freiburg (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg) in Freiburg im Breisgau on 29 April 1927.
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  • 1923
    Age 14
    He celebrated his confirmation in 1923 and graduated from a humanities-oriented secondary school in Plauen with his diploma (Abitur) in 1926.
    More Details Hide Details After graduation in 1926 he applied for a naval officer cadetship but was rejected at first, and instead studied two semesters of jurisprudence.
  • 1908
    Hartenstein was born in Plauen in the Vogtland of the Kingdom of Saxony, then a federated state of the German Empire, on 27 February 1908.
    More Details Hide Details He was the second child of William Karl Adolf Hartenstein, an export merchant, and Selma Emma Hartenstein, née Schlingensiepen. Hartenstein had one older sister, Thea Irena, and a younger sister, Charlotte.
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