Erich Raeder : Nazi Germany

Erich Raeder : Nazi Germany

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Erich Raeder, the son of a headmaster, was born in Wandsbek, Schleswig-Holstein, on 24th April, 1876. After a good classical education he entered the Imperial Navy in 1894. He made rapid progress and became Chief of Staff to Franz von Hipper in 1912. During the First World War he saw action and in 1928 was promoted to admiral and head of the German Navy.

Raeder disliked the domestic policies of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) but supported Adolf Hitler in his attempts to restore Germany as a great power. In 1939 Hitler promoted Raeder to the rank of grand admiral, the first German to hold this post since Alfred von Tirpitz.

Raeder strategy was to build a German Navy that could challenge the British Navy. This brought him into conflict with Hermann Goering who as director of the German economy directed more resources to the Luftwaffe than the navy.

In October 1939 Raeder sent Adolf Hitler a proposal for capturing Denmark and Norway. He argued that Germany would not be able to defeat Britain unless it created naval bases in these countries. In April 1940 Hitler gave permission for this move but he was disappointed by the heavy losses that the German Navy suffered during the achievement of this objective.

Raeder supported Operation Sealion, the planned German invasion of Britain, but argued that first the Luftwaffe had to gain air superiority. When Hermann Goering failed to win the Battle of Britain Reader advised Hitler to call off the invasion. He was also a strong opponent of Operation Barbarossa.

Adolf Hitler grew increasingly disillusioned with the performance of the German Navy and after the Luetzow and Admiral Hipper failed to stop a large Arctic convoy he accused his commander of incompetence. Raeder resigned in January, 1943 and was replaced by Karl Doenitz as Commander in Chief of the navy.

At the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial Raeder was found guilty of conspiring to wage aggressive war and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released in 1955 and in retirement wrote his memoirs Mein Leben (1957). Erich Raeder died in Kiel, on 6th November, 1960.

The replacement of Admiral Raeder, Commandet-in-Chief of the German Navy, by the U-boat expert Admiral Donitz (announced on Saturday) is regarded in Sweden as a substantiation of recent signs that Hitler is pinning ail his hopes on winning the war by U-boats. Stockholm reports say that it was known there that Hitler had virtually stopped all major naval building in order to build submarines. It is said that the rate is almost one a day.

Raeder, who "has been appointed Admiral-Inspector" is being relieved of his daily work in the leadership of the Navy" at his own request"

Donitz has been chief of the U-boat fleet. He is reputed to be "the greatest submarine expert" in Germany, and is the inventor of the "wolf-pack" system.

According to the German radio Admiral Donitz, in an address to the German Naval Staff when his flag was hoisted over the German Admiralty, said: "The entire German Navy will henceforth be put into the service of inexorable fight to the finish."

In an order of the day, announced on Saturday, Donitz said he will continue to Command the U-boats, personally.

The dismissal of Admiral Raeder will add to Germany's despair, for he was a man who was trusted, says Reuter. The Navy - least Nazified of the German forces - will deplore, his departure. Raeder put the Navy before the party and as far as possible kept It efficient and self-respecting. He Is replaced by a more ardent Nazi.

Erich Raeder pre Grand Admiral

Erich Johann Albert Raeder (24 April 1876 – 6 November 1960) was a naval leader in Germany before and during World War II. Raeder attained the highest possible naval rank—that of Großadmiral (Grand Admiral) — in 1939, becoming the first person to hold that rank since Alfred von Tirpitz. Raeder led the Kriegsmarine (German War Navy) for the first half of the war he resigned in 1943 and was replaced by Karl Dönitz. He was sentenced to life in prison at the Nuremberg Trials, but was released early due to failing health. Raeder is also well known for dismissing Reinhard Heydrich from the Reichsmarine in April 1931 for "conduct unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman".

This article covers Raeder's life before he became the Grand Admiral.

Erich Raeder II

Erich Raeder viewed the Nazi persecution of Jews and other groups as a nasty business of which he did not approve, but, as it was not a naval matter, he considered it basically none of his concern. When such persecution touched on his navy, however, he sprang into action like an angry rooster. In the late 1930s, for example, the Nazis began to harass retired Rear Admiral Karl Kuehlenthal because he was half-Jewish and his wife and children were Jews. As soon as Raeder got word of it, he took the matter straight to Adolf Hitler himself. The first time Raeder brought up the matter, the Fuehrer sharply refused the naval commander-in-chief’s request to exempt the Kuehlenthals from the Nuremberg Laws (which set the framework for the Jewish persecution), but if Hitler thought the matter was ended here, he was seriously mistaken. Like a bulldog that has been kicked off once, Raeder simply kept coming back to it. These people were navy! Stinging verbal reprimands to the sailor’s face did the Fuehrer no good. The diminutive admiral brought up the request at the next encounter, and the one after that, and the one after that, until Hitler finally realized that the only way he would ever lay the matter to rest was to replace Raeder or give him his way. At last worn down, he personally signed the exemption. With this document, the Kuehlenthals not only avoided the death camps—they got to keep their property and Admiral Kuehlenthal continued to draw his pension until the end of the war. This was not the only case of Raeder protecting naval people who happened to be Jewish in fact, the Nazis succeeded in forcing only two non-Aryan officers out of the navy under the Nuremberg Laws. When the war broke out, however, Raeder quickly recalled them to active duty, where they received the same treatment as other officers. Raeder even went so far as to intercede (successfully) for a few Jewish families he knew as a child in Gruenberg, even to the point of securing their release from the concentration camps, which he later swore he knew nothing about. This was as far as he would go, however he did nothing to try to halt the persecution of non-naval Jews or other groups that the Nazis hated.

Jews were not the only people Raeder protected—provided, of course, they were navy people or personal friends. Christian Science Church members (with navy connections, of course) benefited from his intercessions, and at least one was released from a concentration camp because of him. Raeder also had a more or less continuous running battle with Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and the Gestapo over the naval chaplains, who Raeder firmly supported on every occasion. A 1942 incident is typical. A naval officer (who doubled as a Gestapo stool pigeon) accused a naval chaplain of making derogatory remarks about some leading Nazis. The Gestapo attempted to have the case tried in a civil (i.e., Nazi) court, but Raeder would not stand for it. The chaplain was quickly brought before a naval court-martial (the members of which were appointed by Raeder) and was promptly acquitted. The admiral personally confirmed the verdict and then gave the Gestapo agent a dishonorable discharge from the navy for perjury!

Raeder’s relationship with Hitler became strained on November 1, 1938, when Hitler lost his temper with the admiral for the first time. Hitler tore the naval construction program plans to pieces and ordered Raeder to submit a new one. The Fuehrer was especially critical of the weak armament and armor on the Bismarck and Tirpitz and demanded that the U-boat fleet be rapidly expanded to reach parity with the British submarine fleet. He also ordered that the British be notified of his intentions immediately, in accordance with the terms of the 1935 treaty.

There were several more meetings between Hitler and Raeder in the winter of 1938–1939. And Raeder warned, “If war breaks out in the next year or two, our fleet won’t be ready.” Hitler loftily replied, “For my political aims I shall not need the Fleet before 1946!”

Once again Raeder believed him, just as he had when he had promised that there would be no war with Great Britain. Now the talk was of war with Britain and her allies, but not before 1946, and still Raeder believed—even though the Sudetenland crisis had brought the world to the brink of war barely three months before. The results of all of this was the famous Z-Plan (Z for Ziel, or “target”), which Raeder submitted to the Fuehrer on January 17, 1939. Although its final target date was not until 1947, the new naval construction plan called for Germany to have six Type H battleships (of more than 56,000 tons displacement and armed with 420mm guns) by the beginning of 1944, in addition to four Bismarck class battleships. It was also to have four aircraft carriers, 15 surface raiders (Panzerschiffe, or pocket battleships), five heavy cruisers, 44 smaller cruisers, 68 destroyers, and 249 U-boats. Hitler approved the plan on January 27 and assigned it absolute priority over both other services, while at the same time assuring Raeder that he would not need the fleet for several more years.

After the approval of the Z-Plan, Raeder was back in the Fuehrer’s good graces in the first half of 1939. On April 1, 1939, Hitler promoted him to grand admiral (Grossadmiral), the fifth in German history. This era of good feeling was short-lived, however, and the reason was Hitler’s defense of a woman he had not even met.

In June 1938, Commander Karl-Jesso von Puttkamer, Hitler’s naval adjutant, returned to the destroyers for a tour of sea duty. He was replaced by 35-year-old Lieutenant Commander Alwin Albrecht. In 1939, Albrecht married a young schoolmistress from Kiel, with Erich Raeder acting as one of the witnesses. A few weeks later, in June 1939, the grand admiral received some anonymous letters revealing that she had been living in sin with a wealthy man. It turned out that she was well known to the local naval garrison at Kiel—in the biblical sense. Naturally, tales of Frau Albrecht’s past reached the ears of the navy wives, who quickly made their indignation known. Commander Albrecht sued one agitator—and lost. At this point the puritanical Raeder sent the adjutant on leave and showed up unexpectedly at the Berghof (Hitler’s residence on the Obersalzburg) and insisted that the commander be dismissed for entering into a dishonorable marriage. Hitler, however, refused to sack Albrecht or allow the grand admiral to do so.

The ensuing argument lasted two hours. Hitler screamed at Raeder—and Raeder screamed back. Their shouts could be heard all over the house. “How many of the navy wives now flaunting their virtue have had affairs in the past?” yelled the outraged Fuehrer. “Frau Albrecht’s past is the concern of nobody but herself!” Finally Raeder announced that he would resign unless Albrecht were dismissed.

The grand admiral could do as he pleased, Hitler replied. Raeder returned to Berlin in a huff. Shortly thereafter, Hitler invited Frau Grete Albrecht to the Obersalzburg. She was taken to the Bechstein guest house, an isolated villa near the Berghof, where Hitler visited with her for an hour and a half. Grete Albrecht was a tall blonde—just the type of woman Hitler liked. He found her charming and left the guest house furious with what he considered the double standard of the officer corps.

After this the incident took on overtones of a comic opera. Instead of resigning, Raeder dismissed Albrecht as naval adjutant on his own authority as commander-in-chief of the navy. Hitler retaliated by making Albrecht a personal adjutant. Albrecht was discharged from the navy on June 30, 1939, and was commissioned Obetfuehrer in the National Socialist Motor Corps the next day. (In effect, he had been promoted three grades in rank.) Raeder then refused to appoint a new naval adjutant. With war on the horizon, however, this important post could not remain vacant, so Puttkamer was recalled from the destroyer branch to reassume his old duties (although he was officially referred to as Alfred Jodl’s adjutant until October, to save Raeder’s face). Meanwhile, the navy invited Hitler to a launching at Bremen on July 1, but the dictator declined. The navy wives, meanwhile, rallied around Raeder, bombarding Albrecht with social invitations but not inviting his wife. For his part, Admiral Raeder never forgave Hitler’s insults and refused to confer with him again—a resolution he did not break until the start of the war.

Meanwhile, as if to complete the comedy, Grete Albrecht left her husband and moved back in with her former lover. Oberfuehrer Albrecht divorced her in 1940 and remarried the following year—more fortunately, this time. As a footnote, Albrecht never forgot the way Hitler defended him. He became a fervent Nazi and was reportedly killed fighting Russians in the streets of Berlin in 1945.

On the afternoon of September 3, 1939, two days after the invasion of Poland began, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder put his personal feelings aside and met with Adolf Hitler. Even now Hitler expressed the opinion that Britain would not fight. For the first time, Erich Raeder did not believe him. But now it was too late. The United Kingdom declared war on Nazi Germany that same day.

The German Navy went to war five years ahead of schedule and only four years after the post-Versailles expansion began. It had the wrong kinds of vessels and was in no way ready. “The surface forces . . . can do no more than show that they know how to die gallantly,” Admiral Raeder wrote gloomily in the SKL war diary. The German Navy’s total strength in surface vessels stood at two battleships, three pocket battleships, one heavy cruiser, six light cruisers, and 34 destroyers and torpedo boats. Of this total, however, very little was at sea, except for the pocket battleships Deutschland and Graf Spee, and the U-boats, which were under tight restrictions. Gradually Raeder persuaded the dictator to relax these restrictions until, in November 1939, with the main armies home from Poland and western Germany no longer exposed to invasion, Hitler agreed to declare unrestricted submarine warfare.

Germany’s most effective naval weapon in 1939, however, was not the U-boat but the magnetic mine. Deposited off the east coast of Britain by destroyers and minelayers, and off the southern and western coasts by U-boats and naval floatplanes, they were unsweepable by the technology of the day. By December they had sunk 67 Allied and neutral ships (252,237 gross registered tons), and by March 1940, they had sunk 128 merchant ships, three destroyers, and six auxiliary ships. Unfortunately for Germany, Grand Admiral Raeder, with his multiplicity of prewar armaments plans and his obsession that Germany would not fight England, had all but ignored this as yet undefeatable weapon. Nor was Hermann Goering any help. He refused to use his Luftwaffe to drop mines until his stockpile reached 5,000—and by then the British had discovered a magnetic mine accidentally dropped in a mud-flat by a floatplane and had devised effective countermeasures. Meanwhile, the Graf Spee had been destroyed, and Hitler was sending mixed signals to OKM (Oberkommando der Kriegsmarine, or High Command of the Navy). In one breath he wanted aggressive naval action, but in the next he advised caution and restraint. Raeder took the same approach: he wanted his surface units to achieve major victories but not to risk their capital ships in doing so. Just how a surface commander was supposed to win a major victory over the Royal Navy without risk to his own forces was never specified. But any surface commander who did not conduct operations exactly as Admiral Raeder and his staff thought he should (after the fact!) forfeited his job. The first to go was Admiral Hermann Boehm, the fleet commander.

Admiral Hermann Boehm

Hermann Boehm was born in Rybnik/Upper Silesia (now Poland) on January 18, 1884, and entered the Imperial Navy as a sea cadet in 1903. Commissioned ensign in 1906, he served as the commander of various torpedo boats from 1911 to 1918. Discharged from the navy as a Kapitaenleutnant (lieutenant) in 1919, he reentered the service the following year and went on to distinguish himself in a number of assignments, including commander of the 2nd Torpedo Boat Flotilla (1926–1928), chief of staff of the Fleet Command (1932–1933), commander of the battleship Hessen (1933–1934), and commander of the Reconnaissance Forces (1934–1937), while simultaneously commanding German naval forces in Spanish waters during the first year of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1937). Upon returning to Germany, he was named commander of the North Sea Naval District (on October 4, 1937). Boehm was promoted rapidly by the standards of the day, to lieutenant commander (1922), commander (1928), captain (1930), rear admiral (1934), vice admiral (1937), and admiral (1938). He was made fleet commander on November 1, 1938. His tenure in this important post, however, was destined to be brief. Admiral Boehm was not relieved of his command because he was incapable, or because of any tactical mistakes on his part, or due to any operational considerations whatsoever. Rather, he was sacked because Raeder took exception to the wording of an order that Boehm’s operations officer had issued. The grand admiral thought there was an implied criticism of one of his decisions in an operational recommendation, and Erich Raeder did not take criticism (real or imagined) very well. Boehm was replaced by Vice Admiral Wilhelm Marschall, the former commander of surface raiders, on October 21, 1939.

Despite the fact that he had been sacked, Admiral Boehm’s abilities were never questioned at SKL. After Raeder’s temper cooled he recalled Boehm and appointed him commanding admiral, Norway (and later commander-in-chief, Naval Command Norway), and even promoted him to Generaladmiral on April 1, 1941. He remained at this post until the rise of Grand Admiral Doenitz, who sent him back into retirement in early 1943 because of Boehm’s lack of faith in National Socialism, because of his opposition to the measures imposed on the people of Norway by Reichs-commissioner Josef Terboven, and because the relatively junior Doenitz felt threatened and (like Raeder before him) replaced any senior officer he thought might challenge him.

Hermann Boehm was in retirement a full year. Then, on March 1, 1944, Doenitz (again like Raeder before him) recalled Boehm to active duty as chief of inspectors for naval education. Boehm remained in this office until the end of the Reich was in sight. He retired from active duty on March 31, 1945, and moved to Kiel, where he died on April 11, 1972, at the age of 88.

The Hermann Boehm case was just one example of Grand Admiral Raeder’s inability to make proper use of a potentially gifted subordinate. Raeder’s unsure hand was also seen in the odd command structure he set up. The fleet commander was not directly subordinate to the grand admiral, at least theoretically. Instead, Raeder set up two naval group headquarters (formerly naval districts Baltic and North Sea), which were directly subordinate to him, and the fleet commander was directly subordinate to one of these. (If the fleet was operating in the Baltic, he reported to Naval Group East otherwise, Naval Group West. Conceivably, if the fleet was split, he could be subordinate to both. Later other naval groups were established.) However, Raeder himself often issued orders directly to the fleet commander, bypassing group headquarters: a direct and flagrant violation of the chain of command. It was not uncommon for a commander at sea to receive contradictory orders from Berlin and from group command. To make matters worse, Raeder’s orders were frequently vague. But heads would roll if an admiral did not act exactly as Raeder thought he should—every step of the way.

Admiral Wilhelm Marschall

A good example of Raeder’s fractiousness is the case of Fleet Commander Admiral Wilhelm Marschall, a talented (and perhaps brilliant) officer who had a thorough grasp of naval tactics. Born in Augsburg, Bavaria, on September 30, 1886, he entered the navy as a sea cadet (Seekadett) in 1906. Commissioned in 1909, he served in several types of vessels, from battleships to hulks. Then, in 1916, he volunteered for U-boat school. In the last two years of the Great War he commanded UC-74 (a mine-laying submarine) and later UB-105 and sent a number of Allied ships to the bottom. Consequently, on July 4, 1918, he was decorated with Imperial Germany’s highest medal, the Pour le Merite. Marschall’s postwar career was also conspicuous and included tours as commander of the survey ship Panther (1924–1926), first officer of the battleships Schleswig-Holstein (1929–1930) and Hanover (1930–1931), chief of staff of the Baltic Sea Naval Station (1931–1934), commander of the battleship Hessen (1934) and the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer (1934–1936), chief of operations of OKM (1936–1937), and commander of German Sea Forces in Spain during the Spanish Civil War (1937–1938). He was commander of pocket battleships (Panzerschiffen) when the war broke out.

Marschall first ran afoul of Grand Admiral Raeder in November 1939, when he took the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau out into the North Sea. His objective was to create a diversion in favor of the Deutschland, which was attempting to return home after a disappointing raid into the Atlantic. Just as he hoped, the British Home Fleet came after the two battleships, allowing the Deutschland to reenter German waters safely. Then Marschall not only eluded the British trap, he isolated and sank the British armed merchant cruiser Rawalpindi in the process. However, he received no thanks from the German Admiralty—only unfair and savage attacks and a clear implication that his job was in jeopardy. It seems that the German battleship had withdrawn after seeing the silhouette of a darkened ship at nightfall on November 23. Raeder, ever the chairborne critic, was furious that Marschall had not attacked and sunk the second British ship—whatever it was. Marschall should have attacked an unknown ship at night, in the middle of the British fleet, when any damage that slowed his speed even slightly could cost Germany one of her two operational battleships? This from Raeder, the man who had previously ordered that capital ships should not be risked? “Till now,” Marschall commented, “no one has ever questioned the naval axiom that capital ships should avoid all contact at night with torpedo craft and reconnaissance vessels.” Marschall was quite right, of course: the potential prize was simply not worth the risks. Raeder, however, continued to launch scathing attacks, but never officially and never face-to-face. He never gave Marschall a chance to defend himself. Instead, he made his biting remarks behind Marschall’s back but in places where he could be sure that word of them would get back to the fleet commander.

From the beginning of the war both Admiral Raeder and Winston Churchill wanted the same thing: Norway. Raeder wanted it to prevent the British from cutting off Germany’s supply of Swedish iron ore, which was shipped through the northern Norwegian port of Narvik, and to prevent the British from blocking the German exit to the North Sea, as they had done in World War I. Churchill wanted it for the opposite reasons. In addition, Raeder wanted the excellent ports Norway offered.

Hitler was initially opposed to the idea of invading Norway because he did not believe the British would violate Norwegian neutrality. On December 24, 1939, Raeder arranged a meeting between Hitler and Vidkun Quisling, the head of the Norwegian version of the Nazi Party, in an attempt to change Hitler’s mind, but it did no good. Only in February 1940, when a British warship attacked an unarmed German ship in Norwegian waters (to rescue some British prisoners) did Hitler draw the correct conclusions: the United Kingdom would violate Norwegian neutrality, and he had better act quickly to prevent the loss of his vital iron ore supply.

Urged on by Churchill, the Allied Supreme War Council decided on February 5 to seize Narvik and the Swedish iron mines at Gaellivare, on the pretext of sending aid to the Finns, who were fighting the Soviets in the Winter War of 1939–1940. The Allied plan was thwarted only because Finland sued for an armistice. First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill did not give up, however. In fact, the British began laying mines in Norwegian waters on April 8, while in the Scottish ports British soldiers were already on the troop ships, awaiting the German reaction that Churchill and his cronies hoped the mine-laying would provoke. They were then to put Plan R 4—the Allied occupation of Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen, and Stavanger—into immediate execution. They were too late: the German Fleet had already sailed.

Operation Weserueburg Nord, the occupation of Norway, was the only major action conducted by the German surface fleet in World War II. It was also Erich Raeder’s major contribution to the German war effort. It was an extremely bold and daring plan, taken in the face of nearly overwhelming odds. Even though virtually the entire German fleet was committed, it was no match for the Home Fleet of the Royal Navy therefore a British intervention while the fleet was at sea would result in the failure of the operation and the virtual annihilation of the German Navy. Everything depended on speed, surprise, and accurate timing. The detailed planning was done by a staff under the direction of Captain Theodor Krancke and was modified by the Supreme Naval Staff under Raeder. It consisted primarily of a warship echelon of 11 groups (to clear minefields and conduct the landings) a tanker and export echelon (carrying military equipment and fuel for the destroyers’ trip back to German waters) and a sea transport echelon of eight groups, which formed the main troop and supply movement. Despite Doenitz’s objections (see later discussion), 42 submarines were stationed off the Norwegian coast, to attack the Royal Navy if it tried to intervene. As Raeder saw it, the most dangerous part of the operation would be the return of the warships to their home bases. They would be exposed to attack by superior British forces most of the way back. However, if everything went according to plan, only the submarines would engage the enemy’s naval forces.

Raeder’s defence: German admiral fights for his doomed fleet

Documents seized by Allied forces at the end of the Second World War cast a light on the continuing struggle Hitler’s senior military officers had in waging war and reasoning with their wilful boss.

The dictator was already fed up with what he felt was the Kriegsmarine’s underperformance in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic, but his anger reached the breaking point after a failed attack on an Allied convoy in the Barents Sea in December 1942. He ordered Grand Admiral Erich Raeder to submit a plan for docking the navy’s big ships. Raeder came back days later with guns blazing.

“If Germany’s large ships are decommissioned, the repercussions will be disastrous not only for our own situation but for the overall naval strategy,” Raeder said in a 5,000-word memorandum submitted Jan. 15, 1943, about two weeks after the sea battle in which some of his destroyers mistook Allied ships for their own. “There will be speedy and serious consequences in the other theatres for our allies.

“If we withdraw our threat from the Atlantic,” he continued, “the enemy will be able to concentrate his power somewhere else, and no effort on his part will have been required for the achievement of such a decisive success.

“He will be able to use this situation to settle conclusively the Mediterranean problem or he can mass all the power of his best ships for a decisive blow against the Japanese fleet. In either event, he will regain the initiative which he had lost or which at least had been seriously limited.

“It is impossible to foresee the consequences.”

The memorandum was prepared by several top-ranking officers in the Operations Division of the German Naval Staff. The final draft shows careful corrections made by Raeder himself—most of them aimed at avoiding any room for misinterpretation that could offend the notoriously temperamental Hitler.

Raeder also deleted detailed calculations related to the possible reallocation of guns and other equipment from dismantled ships. Yet where the memorandum spoke of the role of the German Navy in the Second World War, a U.S. intelligence assessment said Raeder’s final corrections “served to bring out his point of view in the clearest and most outspoken form.”

He attached the memorandum to a brief letter addressed to “The Führer and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.” The letter, as Allied intelligence described it, constituted the last plea of the Kriegsmarine.

“Decommissioning of the large surface vessels will be a victory gained [and will] cause joy in the hostile camp, and deep disappointment in the camp of our allies, especially Japan,” Raeder wrote. “It will be viewed as a sign of weakness and of a lack of comprehension of the supreme importance of naval warfare in the approaching final stage of the war.”

The memorandum itself was entitled The Role of the German Naval Surface Forces in the War Effort of the Tripartite Powers.

In it, Raeder explains that the naval forces of Nazi Germany were designed and built to strike at the weak points of hostile naval powers—particularly Anglo-American sea communications. “The very existence of the English people rests on these communications, which also form the prerequisite to the entire British war effort,” says the document. “The enemy is superior in manpower, raw materials, and industrial potential. His chief problem is to maintain the vital shipping lines to Russia, so that he can transport men, materiel, and supplies to the points where he wishes to bring his offensive power to bear.”

This required enough ships with sufficient fighting power and cruising range to do the job. But German construction had only begun in earnest in 1939, he noted, and the building of big ships takes years.

“In order to increase quickly the number of our submarines, it was decided to complete construction of only those ships which were already in the final building stage. Construction of the other big ships was stopped.

“By this decision the German Navy was prevented from cutting the British sea communication lines in the course of the Greater German War for Freedom, and thereby to put a speedy end to the war. All emphasis of the construction program had to be placed upon submarines which were able to operate on the oceans against enemy shipping even without the support of large surface ships.”

Auxiliary cruisers were assigned to operations in remote areas light naval forces, destroyers, torpedo boats and PT boats operated in enemy coastal waters, and the large ships of the fleet were committed to offensive operations against overwhelming enemy forces. However, the occupation of Norway consumed Germany’s larger naval resources.

“Our big ships were not called upon to attack enemy forces encountered at sea or to seek an engagement,” said the document. “Every loss weighed incomparably more on our side than on the side of the far superior enemy, even any minor damage that might arise from the hazards of war at sea, such as a reduction of speed.”

“A German naval task force properly distributed along the western coast of France would have constituted the most effective obstacle for an Allied landing in North Africa, but for this we lacked sufficient strength,” said the memorandum.

“Since the spring of 1942 the command of our fleet had to limit further operations due to the lack of sufficient air support for reconnaissance and escort, and since it was impossible to provide our ships with the additional fighting power of carrier-based aircraft.

“Nevertheless, the opportunity still exists for our ships to keep on a sharp lookout and to await a moment favourable for an engagement. Even in the absence of sufficient air reconnaissance and air cover, favourable weather conditions and the element of surprise can be utilized at any time to achieve success.”

Dismantling the nucleus of the German fleet—the big ships Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Scheer, Luetzow, Prinz Eugen, and Admiral Hipper—would “constitute a bloodless victory for the enemy,” the memorandum said.

“For us, the result would be that the enemy could operate in our coastal waters at his own discretion. It is not possible to maintain air forces in sufficient strength and in constant readiness for defence, especially in northern waters. Even if this were possible, weather conditions such as low ceiling would prevent their successful operation at times.

“We would practically be offering our coastline to the enemy,” the document warned. “Light naval units alone cannot ward off such operations.”

  • About 300 officers and 8,500 enlisted men would become available—less than 1.4 per cent of naval personnel.
  • 125,800 tonnes of iron would be obtained if the ships were scrapped—less than 1/20 of the German monthly requirements.
  • Savings in raw materials, fuel, yard facilities, shipyard workers, etc. would be consumed in large part by the process of mounting the ship guns as shore batteries.
  • Fifteen batteries could be constructed from the newly accessible guns, the first of which would not be ready for action for a year after the order to scrap the ships, the last of them after 27 months.
  • Scrapping the big ships would require the work of 7,000 men in five large shipyards for one-and-a-half years.
  • Benefits to the U-boat program would be slight. Of 300 officers available for reassignment, only about 50 would be gained for the submarine arm. Others would be too old or otherwise unsuitable.
  • If all the scrapped ship iron was used exclusively for U-boat construction, seven more submarines per month could be built, provided 13,000-14,000 specialized workers could be allocated for the job.

“The disappearance of our nucleus fleet will have the most serious political and psychological repercussions in the nations, among our allies and among the neutrals,” said the paper. “Our nation…will conclude that we have abandoned all hope of winning this war by decisive naval operations.

“Our allies, and especially Japan, have felt the full impact of the enemy’s sea power, and they have fought it. They would not be able to comprehend our voluntary abandonment but would see in it a serious sign of weakness of the German war effort.

“The neutral powers too can evaluate a weakening of our naval strength only as a sign of declining strength. Yet to the enemy the disappearance of our warships will represent a political triumph.”

In conclusion, Raeder’s report said it is “impossible to foretell where and how soon the course of the war may demand the exercise of naval power for decisive intervention. It will be our own fault if at such a decisive hour our big ships are lacking, and then it will be too late.”

Raeder resigned two weeks later, on Jan. 30, 1943. He was named Admiral Inspector, a ceremonial office. Dönitz would go on to succeed Hitler and surrender 16 months later.

Raeder was captured by Soviet troops on June 23, 1945, and imprisoned in Moscow. He stood trial at Nuremberg, where he was sentenced to life for conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity along with planning, initiating, and waging wars of aggression and crimes against the laws of war.

He carried on a constant feud with Dönitz in prison before he was released on health grounds in September 1955. He died in Kiel on Nov. 6, 1960, and was buried in the city’s Nordfriedhof (North Cemetery).

Under the Weimar Republic

From the High Seas Fleet Mutiny to the Kapp putsch

In the First World War, Raeder's two younger brothers were both killed in action, and in 1919 his first marriage, which had been under heavy strain due to war-related stresses ended in divorce. [18] For the puritanical Raeder, the divorce was a huge personal disgrace, and as a result for the rest of his life, he always denied his first marriage. [18] The years 1918-1919 were some of the most troubled in his life. [18]

In the winter of 1918-19, Raeder was closely involved in the efforts of the naval officer corps, strongly backed by the Defense Minister Gustav Noske-a Majority Social Democrat with firm law and order views-to disband the sailors' councils established after the mutiny. [19] During this period, Raeder served as the liaison between the naval officer corps and Noske, and it was Raeder who suggested to Noske on 11 January 1919 that Adolf von Trotha be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Navy. [20] Tirpitz's attacks on the Emperor's leadership during the war had caused a split in the officer corps between the followers of "the Master" and the Kaiser, and Raeder wanted Trotha as the only officer acceptable to both fractions. [20] Noske in turn asked the Navy for volunteers for the Freikorps to crush uprisings from the Communists. [21] The Navy contributed two bridges to the Freikorps. [22] The price of the Navy supporting the Freikorps was the continuation of the Navy's "state-within-the state" status and the end of attempts to democracise the military. Under the Weimar republic, the military considered itself überparteiliche (above party), which did not mean political neutrality as implied. [23] The military argued that there were two types of "politics", parteipolitisch (party politics) which was the responsibility of the politicians and staatspolitisch (state politics) which was the responsibility of the military. [23] Staatspolitisch concerned Germany "eternal" interests and the "historic mission" of winning world-power, which was to be pursued regardless of what the politicians or the people wanted. [23]

After the war, in 1920, Raeder was involved in the failed Kapp Putsch where together with almost the entire naval officer corps he declared himself openly for the "government" of Wolfgang Kapp against the leaders of the Weimar Republic. [2] In the summer of 1920 Raeder married his second wife, by whom he was to have one son.

From the Kapp putsch to the Inspector of Training

After the failure of the Kapp putsch he was marginalized in the Navy, being transferred to the Naval Archives, where for two years he played a leading role in the writing of the Official History of the Navy in World War I. [24] After this, Raeder continued to rise steadily in the navy hierarchy, Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) in 1925.

Erich Raeder

In the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, the world was faced with a challenge—how to hold individually accountable those German leaders who were responsible for the commission of monstrous crimes against humanity and international peace. The International Military Tribunal (IMT) held in Nuremberg, Germany, attempted to face this immense challenge. On October 18, 1945, the chief prosecutors of the IMT brought charges against 24 leading German officials, among them Erich Raeder.

Erich Raeder (1876–1960) was Commander in Chief of the German Navy until his resignation and retirement in May 1943.

At the International Military Tribunal held in Nuremberg, Raeder was found guilty on counts one, two, and three (conspiracy, crimes against peace, and war crimes). He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Raeder was released due to poor health in 1955, having served only nine years of his sentence.

Defendants Karl Doenitz (left), Erich Raeder (center), and Baldur von Schirach under guard in the defendants' dock at Nuremberg. - Harry S. Truman Library

World War II Database

ww2dbase Erich Johann Albert Raeder was born into a middle-class family in Wandsbek, Hamburg, Germany. He joined the Imperial German Navy in 1894. By 1912 he was already the Chief of Staff for Franz von Hipper. During WW1, he participated in the Battle of Dogger Bank in 1915 and the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He joined the admiral rank in 1922 with a promotion to rear admiral. He was promoted vice admiral in 1925 and full admiral in 1928. Although he disliked the Nazi philosophy, he supported Adolf Hitler's rise for the opportunity to strengthen the navy. On 20 Apr 1936, Hitler presented him with the rank of general admiral he was later awarded the rank of grand admiral in 1939.

ww2dbase When the military phase of WW2 broke out in Europe, Raeder was instrumental in Germany's interest in Denmark and Norway, which gained the Kriegsmarine valuable ports on the long Norwegian coast. Understanding that his navy cannot compete with its British counterparts, he voiced against a German invasion of Britain, but the planning for Operation Sealion continued nevertheless. That plan was later postponed indefinitely after Göring's inability to win the Battle of Britain. Raeder also voiced his recommendation against an invasion of Russia, but as the Russian invasion largely involved land forces, he had even less influence on the decision making process. During 1943, his career became overshadowed by the recent successes of Admiral Karl Dönitz. Raeder finally resigned from his position in May 1943 Dönitz had already taken over Raeder's command position in Jan 1943.

ww2dbase After the war Raeder was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Nuremberg Trials for waging a war of aggression. The sentence was later reduced, and then he was released early on 26 Sep 1955 for health reasons. He wrote an autobiography in 1957 and passed away in Kiel in 1960.

ww2dbase Source: Wikipedia.

Last Major Revision: Feb 2006

Erich Raeder Interactive Map

Erich Raeder Timeline

24 Apr 1876 Erich Raeder was born.
13 Dec 1935 Representatives of Deutsche Werke Kiel AG in Germany met with Erich Raeder on the construction of a third slip.
23 Oct 1939 On being told by Admiral Erich Raeder that he lacked adequate support from both the civil administration and the other two military branches, Adolf Hitler sent a memorandum to the Air Force and Army Commanders-in-Chiefs as well as to the Ministers concerned. The memo made it clear that "All measures for attacking the merchant shipping and economic resources of Great Britain were to be directed through the O.K.W. (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht)." This gave Raeder the chance to press for a relaxation of the restrictions on sinking neutral vessels trading with England. Hitler however remained adamant that any incidents should be forbidden until he was ready to strike on land. He told the admiral that he was worried about the name of the heavy cruiser Deutschland. As soon as she arrived back her name was to be changed to Lützow. "Should she be sunk with her present name it would have serious repercussions back home." Hitler then ordered a meeting of Naval Staff in Berlin, Germany on 1 Nov 1939.
1 Nov 1939 In a meeting with General Wilhelm Keitel and Lieutenant Commander Karl-Jesko von Puttkamer, Adolf Hitler's liaison officer with the Naval War Staff in Berlin, Hitler repeatedly told the officers that the name of the cruiser Deutschland should be changed and the ship was to avoid any action the same orders were to be issued to the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. Hitler was worried that any action would bring out the British Grand Fleet before air protection was organised. The Graf Spee, on station in the South Atlantic was to be ordered to be ready to sail to the Indian Ocean. Any operations of battleships must be held until Italy entered the war and the British Forces consequently held down. Submarine warfare was to be intensified. Passenger ships could be attacked and neutral ships would be attacked once a state of siege be declared against Britain. Hitler would not give priority to the production of submarines however, as Army equipment and ammunition supplies were of prime importance. Erich Raeder sent a copy to Admiral Karl Dönitz, Commander of the Submarine Arm with a note saying that in order to carry out a large scale submarine war then continuous pressure would be necessary.
15 Nov 1939 Anticipating Adolf Hitler's wishes, Erich Raeder asked his staff officers to evaluate the possibility of an invasion of Britain.
8 Dec 1939 Admiral Erich Raeder requested a meeting with Adolf Hitler as political and military situations were developing quickly in these early days of the war. Great Britain told Germany that they would confiscate all German exports (until then only imports had been treated as contraband). This was because of Germany's act of laying magnetic mines since 18 Nov 1939. Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden all protested to London about this and Raeder thought it would help him to convince Hitler to sanction his plan for "Siege of England". At the end of the meeting Raeder had got no further with his plans of blockade and realised that the situation would not change until after the invasion of the Low Countries.
12 Dec 1939 Erich Raeder reported to Adolf Hitler after Raeder had met with Norwegian leaders Vidkun Quisling and Albert Viljam Hagelin. Raeder noted of the Norwegian popular hostility toward Germany, Britain's great influence on the Norwegian government through its high court, and the possibility that Britain might soon occupy Norway. Hitler stated that Britain must never be allowed to occupy Norway. Raeder also recommended Hitler to be neutral in the Winter War, although it was advisable to continue supplying fuel for Soviet submarines.
15 Dec 1939 Erich Raeder suggested that the pocket battleship Lützow and the blueprints for the Bismarck-class battleships could be made available for sale to the Soviet Union if the Soviet Union was willing to pay a good price.
20 Jun 1940 Adolf Hitler, jubilant over the victory in France, summoned his military chiefs to the Wolfsschlucht I headquarters in the village of Brûly-de-Pesche, Belgium to discuss the future regarding Britain and the situation that Germany faced.
21 Jun 1940 Erich Raeder met with Adolf Hitler to discuss the invasion of Britain.
11 Jul 1940 A meeting between Admiral Erich Raeder and Adolf Hitler took place at the Obersalzberg, Berchtesgaden, Germany where matters of how things were in Norway and Hitler's plans for that area were made clear. How to continue the war against Britain was discussed and again Hitler made it clear of his aims and that no invasion was to take place until all efforts had been made to bring the British government to sue for peace. However, within the next few days Hitler would change his mind.
13 Aug 1940 Erich Raeder met with Adolf Hitler and attempted to convince Hitler to reduce the landing front for the planned invasion of Britain as the German Navy had little means to maintain the security of a wide landing area.
6 Sep 1940 Erich Raeder met with Adolf Hitler in regards to the invasion of Britain.
26 Sep 1940 Erich Raeder met with Adolf Hitler, noting that the Italian territories in the Mediterranean Sea was in danger of being attacked by the British as he deduced from the importance the British had placed on the region historically. To prevent this, he recommended Hitler to make plans to seize Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, and the Suez Canal.
27 Dec 1940 Erich Raedar met with Adolf Hitler in Berlin, Germany.
4 Feb 1941 Erich Raeder thought that the US entry into the war might be advantageous for the Germans as it would force Japan into belligerency.
18 Mar 1941 Adolf Hitler met with Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Jodl, and Erich Raeder Raeder urged Hitler to convince Japan to attack Singapore and recommended Hitler to reveal the plans of the Soviet invasion to Japan.
20 Apr 1941 Erich Raeder attempted to convince Adolf Hitler to allow German submarines to attack American ships Hitler rejected the request, citing his unwillingness to provoke the Americans to fully enter the war.
22 Apr 1941 Erich Raeder reported to Adolf Hitler regarding American belligerency despite of neutrality pledges.
22 May 1941 Erich Raeder responded to Adolf Hitler's inquiry regarding a German occupation of the Azores islands as long range bomber bases (although Germany had no such bombers at that time) as difficult, as the German Navy was not strong enough to guard the islands should they be taken.
30 May 1941 Erich Raeder recommended Adolf Hitler an attack on the Suez Canal in Egypt.
17 Sep 1941 At Adolf Hitler's Wolfsschanze headquarters in East Prussia, Germany, Erich Raeder once again asked Hitler for permission to attack American shipping Hitler again rejected him.
12 Dec 1941 In a meeting with Adolf Hitler, Erich Raeder noted to Hitler that the Americans would most likely divert warships to the Pacific Ocean which was advantageous for the German Navy.
6 Jan 1943 In a conference between Adolf Hitler and Erich Raeder, Hitler continued to express his anger in the German Navy's ineffectiveness. Raeder asked to be relieved of his duty.
30 Jan 1943 Erich Raeder was officially relieved of his duty as the head of the German Navy.
26 Sep 1955 Erich Raeder was released from Spandau Prison in Berlin, Germany.
6 Nov 1960 Erich Raeder passed away.

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Erich Raeder I

Erich Raeder was born on April 24, 1876, at the small seaside resort of Wandsbeck (near Hamburg), where his father, Hans Raeder, was a teacher of French and English at a public school. His mother’s father was Albert Hartmann, a musician at the royal court, and she instilled in him a love for music that stayed with him his entire life. In the spring of 1889, Dr. Raeder was transferred to the small town of Gruenberg, Silesia, where his son matriculated with honors in March 1894. Young Erich immediately applied to join the Imperial German Navy, a decision he had taken only two weeks before.

Unlike the army, the Imperial Navy did not place a premium on a young man’s Prussian Junker background, so Raeder’s middle-class origins would not be held against him. He was accepted at once and ordered to report to Kiel on April 1 to begin his training. Perhaps because of his lack of athletic ability, his initial homesickness, and his relatively small stature (he was only five foot six), Raeder was at first seemingly overlooked by his superiors. However, his academic achievement was such that he graduated first in the class of 1895, becoming a Faehnrich zur See (midshipman). By that time he had already made training cruises in the Baltic Sea and to the West Indies. Further training followed in navigation, gunnery, torpedoes, mines, tactics, sports, and sailing. He again excelled and in the fall of 1897 was commissioned ensign and assigned to SMS Sachsen as the signals officer. Undoubtedly he made a good impression, for shortly thereafter he was made signals officer for the battleship Deutschland, the flagship of Prince Heinrich, the brother of the Kaiser and commander of the Eastern Squadron. Young Ensign Raeder was thus a member of the admiral’s staff as well and, as an additional duty, was in charge of the ship’s band.

The Deutschland sailed for China in late 1897. Prince Heinrich soon took his young communications officer under his wing and Raeder accompanied him to Tsingtao, Peking, Port Arthur, Vladivostok, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Saigon, and other stations. Promoted to lieutenant in 1901, Raeder returned to Kiel as a training officer. Later that year, however, he was transferred to the battleship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, the new flagship of his mentor, Prince Heinrich, who was now the commander of the 1st Battleship Squadron. From 1903 to 1905 he attended the Naval Academy at Kiel, a sure sign that he had impressed his superiors and was marked for distinction. During this period he was sent to Russia for three months of advanced language training. (He chose Russian because he was already fluent in French and English and was studying Spanish on his own time.) After graduating from the academy in 1905, he served as navigation officer for the coastal defense armored ship Frithjof and on April 1, 1906, was posted to the Naval Information Office in Berlin, where he dealt with the foreign press and edited the naval journal Marine Rundschau (Naval Review) and Nauticus, the German naval annual. “Clear-headed and responsive to another point of view, he was exactly the man to deal with foreign press questions and to present an acceptable exterior to the many anxious inquirers from other countries,” a former officer wrote of him later. He also proved to be an excellent writer and was calm and composed, without being eloquent, when being interrogated by foreign journalists. All of this combined to create a very favorable impression. He also attracted the attention of the Imperial Navy’s leading benefactor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who, in 1910, named him navigation officer for his personal yacht, the Hohenzollern. This was quite an honor for Raeder, who remained something of a monarchist his entire life. Even as the commander-in-chief of Hitler’s navy, his personal flag carried the colors and emblems of the Imperial Navy, rather than the swastika

Raeder was promoted to commander in 1911 and the following year became senior staff officer (and in 1917 chief of staff) to Vice Admiral Ritter Franz von Hipper, the commander-in-chief of the reconnaissance forces of the German High Seas Fleet. In 1914 and 1915, he took part in mining operations and hit-and-run attacks against the British coast and in support operations for the German Army in the Baltic area. He also fought in the battles of the Dogger Bank (April 24, 1915) and Jutland (May 21, 1916), called the Battle of the Skaggerak by the Germans. Here he was in the navigation room of the Luetzow when it was battered to pieces by British warships. Somehow Raeder escaped the inferno and ended the battle aboard a cruiser.

In January 1918, Raeder left Hipper’s staff and took command of the light cruiser Koeln II, a post he held until October. Shortly before the war ended, Captain Raeder became chief of the Central Bureau of the German Naval Command.

In late October and early November 1918, the German High Seas Fleet mutinied, an event that sparked the revolution that swept away the House of Hohenzollern. Wilhelm II fled into exile in Holland on November 9, and the Weimar Republic was proclaimed in Berlin a few hours later. From the beginning, Captain Raeder was deeply involved in the political maneuvering that accompanied the birth of the republic. With the admirals of the old naval command in disgrace and retiring in droves, the conservative Raeder wanted to make sure that the new commander of the navy was not someone from the political left. He therefore visited the new defense minister, Gustav Noske, almost as soon as he arrived in Berlin. During this meeting, Raeder emphasized that the new head of the navy should be an active officer who had the confidence of the Officer Corps. He added that Admiral Adolf von Trotha, the then chief of the Personnel Office (and former chief of staff of the High Seas Fleet), was just such a man. Noske was receptive and sent Raeder to discuss the matter with Friedrich Ebert, the new president of the republic. It is impossible to tell if Raeder’s actions were decisive, but von Trotha was eventually appointed.

Naturally, Erich Raeder was selected for retention in the 15,000-man navy of the Weimar Republic, where he did what he could to circumvent the harsh Treaty of Versailles, later telling the judges at Nuremberg that he did so “as a matter of honor.” In the spring of 1920, he backed Wolfgang Kapp’s Putsch against the republic.6 When this East Prussian monarchist was defeated by a general strike and fled into exile in Sweden, Raeder’s continued presence in the Central Bureau was unacceptable to the government indeed, he was fortunate to have been allowed to remain in the service at all. He was assigned to the Naval Archives—a backwater post, true enough, but much more significant than one might think. Here Raeder had the chance to study the development of the naval tactics and strategy of World War I as they affected Germany. He was also assigned the task of preparing a two-volume history of German cruiser warfare in foreign waters and in the process became a noted naval historian and strategic theorist, especially on the subject of cruiser warfare. His books included Die Kreuzerkrieg in den Auslandischen Gewaessern (published in 1922), Das Kreuzergeschwader (1922), Die Taetigkeit der Kleinen Kreuzer Emden und Karlsruhe (1923), and Der Krieg zur See. In his spare time he attended the University of Berlin and was on the verge of earning his Ph.D. in political science when he was promoted to Konteradmiral (rear admiral) and became inspector of naval education in July 1922.

By this time Raeder was a professed democrat and a strong believer in the Weimar Republic, or so he said. In reality his views had not changed. One officer referred to his attitude as “stage-prop liberalism.” Nevertheless his politically adaptable attitude fooled most of the politicians and parliamentarians. His participation in the Kapp Putsch was forgiven, and he was no longer disqualified from rising to the top posts of the navy. In October 1924, he became commander of Light Reconnaissance Forces, North Sea, and in January 1925, was promoted to vice admiral and made commander of the Baltic Naval District. He became noted for his strict (if fussy) moral code and his strong sense of duty.

In August 1927, the “Lohmann Scandal” rocked the navy. A Berlin newspaper exposed the fact that secret naval rearmament funds existed and were being administered by Kapitaen zur See (Captain) Walter Lohmann of the Naval Transport Department and Captain Gottfried Hansen of the Weapons Department. Among other things, it was revealed that German-designed submarines were being constructed at a Krupp-controlled shipyard in Turkey. A Reichstag investigation followed and, naturally, heads rolled, chief among which were the defense minister and Admiral Hans Adolf Zenker, the chief of the Naval Command. What was needed now was a good republican flag officer to replace the disgraced Zenker. Erich Raeder suited the bill admirably. The fact that President Paul von Hindenburg liked him did not hurt his cause at all. On October 1, 1928, after some unpleasant Reichstag hearings, he was promoted to Admiral (equivalent to U.S. vice admiral) and became chief of the Naval Command—the highest post in the German Navy at that time.

The first item on Raeder’s agenda was to set an authoritarian tone for his administration of the navy. He ordered, among other things, that once he made a decision all officers were to support it, no matter what. He then carried out what the junior officers called the “great seal hunt,” in which several senior officers were forced to retire, supposedly so that bright, young officers could be promoted. However, as Charles Thomas, the noted historian of the German Navy, wrote, “Raeder was clearly taking no chances that his authority might be challenged by one of his more charismatic subordinates, and throughout Raeder’s tenure of office one criticized the commander at one’s peril.”

In his new post Raeder pursued the policy of a balanced fleet—a policy he continued into World War II and one that was disastrous to the German Navy and, indeed, to the entire German war effort.

Basically Raeder was a “big ship” man. He wanted some of every type of naval vessel, but his main reliance was on the Panzerschiff, the so-called pocket battleship—light battle cruisers that could “outrun anything that could defeat it and could defeat anything that could overtake it.” He also authorized the construction of a flotilla of freighters that could double as auxiliary cruisers and a flotilla of trawlers that could quickly be converted into minesweepers. Secretly, but more carefully than Zenker, he continued to support submarine development abroad.

Raeder wanted a navy of highly trained and disciplined men divorced from political activity of any kind. Straitlaced, taciturn, and almost devoid of humor, he was old-fashioned and considered himself the guardian of the morality of the naval officers corps—which included their wives. He once issued an order that officers’ wives could not bob their hair, wear any type of cosmetics or short skirts, or put lacquer on their fingernails! He also had an unpleasant knack for showing up unannounced at isolated bases, poking his nose into crew’s quarters and galleys, and generally making a pest of himself. He was particularly concerned with the appearance of uniforms and flower boxes in barracks’ windows. Such fussiness, plus his regulations prohibiting naval personnel from visiting bars in uniform, or from smoking when driving, walking on the streets, or riding in public vehicles, did not make him particularly popular with his men. Once, a submarine returned after a patrol of several weeks. As soon as it docked, according to one German officer, Admiral Raeder jumped abroad, inspected the men, and reprimanded the crew for its slovenly appearance.

Although fastidious, he was somewhat different at home. Married, with a son, he purchased a modest villa in Charlottenburg (a suburb of Berlin) and enjoyed playing with his dachshund and listening to music. He liked to attend musical concerts (especially if Beethoven or Brahms was being played), enjoyed yachting, and went to every soccer game he could find.

Despite some misgivings, Admiral Raeder welcomed the rise of National Socialism because he could now press on with his naval expansion program without interference—although he was careful not to alienate any possible future governments until after the Nazis came to power on January 30, 1933. He first met Hitler on February 2, 1933, and soon was describing him as “an extraordinary man who was born to lead.” Hitler also was glad to have Raeder in charge of the navy, because the admiral confined his ambition to his own branch of the service, was not a danger to the regime, and seemed to be an excellent adviser on naval affairs, about which Hitler admitted he knew nothing.

The Raeder naval construction program began in earnest in March 1935, when Hitler unilaterally renounced the Treaty of Versailles. On June 18, 1935, German special envoy Joachim von Ribbentrop signed the Anglo-German Naval Treaty in London. Under the terms of this treaty, Germany agreed to restrict the size of its naval forces to 35 percent of those of Great Britain and her Commonwealth—except in the area of U-boats, where Germany was allowed parity. Hitler and Raeder were delighted, for the treaty seemed to rule out the possibility of Britain as a naval adversary. Raeder went so far as to forbid any references to a possible naval war with Britain—even in contingency plans or theoretical studies by his staff. Hitler had told him as early as February 3, 1933, that he wanted peaceful coexistence with Great Britain, and the admiral stubbornly insisted on believing him, to the exclusion of all other possibilities. Raeder continued to maintain this dangerously unrealistic position until May 1938.

It takes much longer to build a navy than an army and, to a much greater degree than with ground forces, a navy must be modeled after that of its most likely enemy. Hitler told Raeder to pattern his navy after those of Russia and France—the most likely enemies. Raeder did so without a backward glance. Neither wanted a war with Great Britain therefore, they assumed that there would be no war with Great Britain. Apparently it never occurred to either of them that, whatever the provocation, Britain might declare war on Germany in 1939, just as she had done in 1914.

The honeymoon period between Raeder and the Fuehrer continued into 1937. In 1935, Raeder’s title was changed to commander-in-chief of the navy, and on April 20, 1936, Hitler used the occasion of his own 47th birthday to promote Raeder to Generaladmiral (full admiral). The straitlaced officer was made an honorary member of the Nazi Party in 1937. Meanwhile, in 1936, the keels were laid for the giant battleships Bismarck (41,700 tons) and Tirpitz (42,900 tons). In the following two years the battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau joined the fleet, as did the light cruisers Leipzig and Nuremberg. The heavy cruisers Admiral Hipper and Bluecher followed soon after. Numerous destroyers, submarines, and other vessels were also built during this period, and the 1st U-boat Flotilla was created under Captain Karl Doenitz (see later discussion).

Cracks began to appear in Raeder’s relationship with the Nazi Party in 1938.11 As early as January, Hitler was clearly putting pressure on him, saying that Germany needed a bigger battle fleet and criticizing Raeder for not moving fast enough. The admiral caustically pointed out that his naval construction program was in competition with Hitler’s public works programs, such as the Munich subway system, the huge Volkswagen Works, the autobahns, the reconstruction programs in Berlin and Hamburg, and others. As a result, the shipyards lacked skilled laborers, welders, and raw materials. Hitler ignored the protest but brought up the matter again on May 27 when he demanded, among other things, that the Bismarck and Tirpitz be completed by early 1940, that shipyard capacity be increased, that an artillery U-boat be developed, and that the Type VII U-boat go into mass production. No doubt on Raeder’s instructions, the German Supreme Naval Staff (Seekriegsleitung, or SKL also referred to as the German Admiralty) responded by asking that all nonmilitary construction projects be shut down to release skilled labor for the military. Hitler refused to do this, so the naval construction program struggled slowly forward—well behind Hitler’s schedule for it.

A major part of the problem was that Hermann Goering, the commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, was also head of the Four Year Economic Plan, which was in charge of resource allocation to industry and to the various branches of the armed forces. He and the puritanical admiral despised each other. Raeder hated Goering because he blocked all the admiral’s attempts to secure a Fleet Air Arm and because of Goering’s disgraceful part in the Blomberg-Fritsch affair. Goering, on the other hand, undermined Raeder’s standing with Hitler by questioning his political beliefs, by pointing out that he went to church suspiciously often, and by giving the Fuehrer false or misleading information about the navy. Unwilling or unable to curry favor, or to persuade Hitler to overrule Goering on matters of allocation, the admiral saw his program languish. He did not seem overly concerned about it, however. The Fuehrer had told him that he would not need the navy until 1944 at the earliest, and Raeder believed him and acted accordingly.

Raeder was also having trouble from another enemy at court: SS-Gruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich, head of the notorious State Secret Police (Geheimes Staatspolizeiamt, or Gestapo) and the Security Service (the SD). As a young naval officer Heydrich had broken off a marriage engagement in such a “peculiarly tasteless manner” that the young woman subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown. The puritanical Raeder—always the unbending guardian of naval morality—had him hauled before a court of honor and dismissed from the service for “impropriety.” Heydrich retaliated in the late 1930s by trying to “get something” on Raeder. He never did (because there was nothing to get), but having the vengeful chief of the Gestapo as an implacable enemy would be enough to play on anybody’s nerves. Because of the backbiting political infighting, Raeder was considering resigning in 1938.

Erich Raeder

Erich Raeder, the son of a headmaster, was born in Wandsbek, Schleswig-Holstein, on 24th April, 1876. After a good classical education he entered the Imperial Navy in 1894. He made rapid progress and became Chief of Staff to Franz von Hipper in 1912. During the First World War he saw action and in 1928 was promoted to admiral and head of the German Navy.

Raeder disliked the domestic policies of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) but supported Adolf Hitler in his attempts to restore Germany as a great power. In 1939 Hitler promoted Raeder to the rank of grand admiral, the first German to hold this post since Alfred von Tirpitz.

Raeder's strategy was to build a German Navy that could challenge the British Navy. This brought him into conflict with Hermann Goering who as director of the German economy directed more resources to the Luftwaffe than the navy.

In October 1939, Raeder sent Adolf Hitler a proposal for capturing Denmark and Norway. He argued that Germany would not be able to defeat Britain unless it created naval bases in these countries. In April 1940 Hitler gave permission for this move but he was disappointed by the heavy losses that the German Navy suffered during the achievement of this objective.

Raeder supported Operation Sealion, the planned German invasion of Britain, but argued that first the Luftwaffe had to gain air superiority. When Hermann Goering failed to win the Battle of Britain, Reader advised Hitler to call off the invasion. He was also a strong opponent of Operation Barbarossa.

Adolf Hitler grew increasingly disillusioned with the performance of the German Navy and after the Luetzow and Admiral Hipper failed to stop a large Arctic convoy he accused his commander of incompetence. Raeder resigned in January 1943, and was replaced by Karl Doenitz as Commander in Chief of the Navy.

At the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial Raeder was found guilty of conspiring to wage aggressive war and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released in 1955 and in retirement wrote his memoirs Mein Leben (1957). Erich Raeder died in Kiel, on November 6, 1960.

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The J. Paul Getty Museum

Portrait of Erich Raeder, from the chest up. Raider is wearing a navy uniform with ribbon bar. Raeder is looking off to the left.


Volker Kahmen & Georg Heusch, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1984.

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