|The Kriegsmarine was the name of
the Navy of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It superseded the Imperial
German Navy of World War I and the inter-war Reichsmarine. The Kriegsmarine
was one of three official branches of the Wehrmacht, the armed forces of
The Kriegsmarine grew rapidly during
German naval rearmament in the 1930s (the Treaty of Versailles had limited
the size of the German navy previously). In January 1939 Plan Z was ordered,
calling for the construction of many naval vessels. The ships of the Kriegsmarine
fought during the Spanish Civil War and World War II. The Commander-in-Chief
of the Kriegsmarine (as for all branches of armed forces during the period
of absolute Nazi power) was Adolf Hitler, who exercised his authority through
the Oberkommando der Marine.
The Kriegsmarine's most famous ships
were the U-boats, most of which were constructed after Plan Z was abandoned
at the beginning of World War II. Wolfpacks were rapidly assembled groups
of submarines which attacked British convoys during the first half of the
Battle of the Atlantic but this tactic was largely abandoned in the second
half of the war. Along with the U-boats, surface commerce raiders (including
auxiliary cruisers) were used to disrupt Allied shipping in the early years
of the war, the most famous of these being the heavy cruisers Admiral Graf
Spee and Admiral Scheer and the battleship Bismarck. However, the adoption
of convoy escorts, especially in the Atlantic, greatly reduced the effectiveness
of commerce raiders against convoys.
After the end of the Second World
War, the Kriegsmarine's remaining ships were divided up amongst the Allied
powers and were used for various purposes including minesweeping.
Adolf Hitler was the Commander-in-Chief
of all German armed forces, including the Kriegsmarine. His authority was
exercised through the Oberkommando der Marine, or OKM, with a Commander-in-Chief
(Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine), a Chief of Naval General Staff (Chef
der Stabes der Seekriegsleitung) and a Chief of Naval Operations (Chef
der Operationsabteilung). The first Commander-in-Chief of the OKM was Erich
Raeder who was the Commander-in-Chief of the Reichsmarine when it was renamed
and reorganized in 1935. Raeder held the post until falling out with Hitler
after the German failure in the Battle of the Barents Sea. He was replaced
by Karl Dönitz on 30 January 1943 who held the command until he was
appointed President of Germany upon Hitler's suicide in April 1945. Hans-Georg
von Friedeburg was then Commander-in-Chief of the OKM for the short period
of time until Germany surrendered in May 1945.
Subordinate to these were regional,
squadron and temporary flotilla commands. Regional commands covered significant
naval regions and were themselves sub-divided, as necessary. They were
commanded by a Generaladmiral or an Admiral. There was a Marineoberkommando
for the Baltic Fleet, Nord, Nordsee, Norwegen, Ost/Ostsee (formerly Baltic),
Süd and West. The Kriegsmarine used a form of encoding called Gradnetzmeldeverfahren
to denote regions on a map.
Each squadron (organized by type
of ship) also had a command structure with its own Flag Officer. The commands
were Battleships, Cruisers, Destroyers, Submarines (Führer der Unterseeboote),
Torpedo Boats, Minesweepers, Reconnaissance Forces, Naval Security Forces,
Big Guns and Hand Guns, and Midget Weapons.
Major naval operations were commanded
by a Flottenchef. The Flottenchef controlled a flotilla and organized its
actions during the operation. The commands were, by their nature, temporary.
The Kriegsmarine's ship design bureau,
known as the Marineamt, was administered by officers with experience in
sea duty but not in ship design, while the naval architects who did the
actual design work had only a theoretical understanding of design requirements.
As a result the German surface fleet was plagued by design flaws throughout
Post–World War I origins
Under the terms of the Treaty of
Versailles in 1919, Germany was only allowed a minimal navy of 15,000 personnel,
six capital ships of no more than 10,000 tons, six cruisers, twelve destroyers,
twelve torpedo boats and no submarines or aircraft carriers. Military aircraft
were also banned, so Germany could have no naval aviation. Under the treaty
Germany could only build new ships to replace old ones. All the ships allowed
and personnel were taken over from the Kaiserliche Marine, renamed Reichsmarine.
Build-up during the interwar period
The launching of the first pocket
battleship, Deutschland in 1931 (as a replacement for the old pre-dreadnought
battleship Preussen) was a sign for the rebuilding of a modern German fleet.
Modern destroyers and light cruisers were also built. All of these new
ships were built in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles
that allowed replacements of the old ships taken over from the German World
War I fleet. The building of the Deutschland caused consternation among
the French and the British as they had expected that the restrictions of
the Treaty of Versailles would limit the replacement of the pre-dreadnought
battleships to coastal defence ships, suitable only for defensive warfare.
By using innovative construction techniques, the Germans had built a heavy
ship suitable for offensive warfare on the high seas while still abiding
by the letter of the treaty.
From the start, through German-owned
front companies, the Germans continued the banned work on U-boats through
a submarine design office in the Netherlands and a torpedo research program
Even before the Nazi takeover on
30 January 1933 the German government decided on 15 November 1932 to launch
a naval re-armament program that included U-boats, airplanes and an aircraft
carrier which were not allowed under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
When the Nazis came to power in
1933, Adolf Hitler soon began to ignore many of the Treaty restrictions
and accelerated German naval rearmament. The Anglo-German Naval Agreement
of 18 June 1935 allowed Germany to build a navy equivalent to 35% of the
British surface ship tonnage and 45% of British submarine tonnage; battleships
were to be limited to no more than 35,000 tons. That same year the Reichsmarine
was renamed as the Kriegsmarine. In April 1939, as tensions escalated between
the United Kingdom and Germany over Poland, Hitler unilaterally rescinded
the restrictions of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement.
The building-up of the German fleet
in the time period of 1935–1939 was slowed by problems with marshaling
enough manpower and material for ship building. This was because of the
simultaneous and rapid build-up of the German army and air force which
demanded substantial effort and resources.
Spanish Civil War
The first military action of the
Kriegsmarine came during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). Following the
outbreak of hostilities in July 1936 several large warships of the German
fleet were sent to the region. The heavy cruisers Deutschland and Admiral
Scheer, and the light cruiser Köln were the first to be sent in July
1936. These large ships were accompanied by the 2nd Torpedo-boat Flotilla.
The German presence was used to covertly support Franco's Nationalists
although the immediate involvement of the Deutschland was humanitarian
relief operations and the rescuing of 9,300 refugees from the fighting,
including 4,550 Germans. Following the brokering of the International Non-Intervention
Patrol to enforce an international arms embargo the Kriegsmarine was allotted
the patrol area between Cabo de Gata (Almeria) and Oropesa. Numerous vessels
served as part of these duties including Admiral Graf Spee. U-Boats also
participated in covert action against Republican shipping as part of Operation
Ursula. At least eight U-Boats engaged a small number of targets in the
area throughout the conflict. By way of comparison the Italian Navy, Regia
Marina, operated 58 submarines in the area as part of Sottomarini Legionari.
On 29 May 1937 the Deutschland was attacked in the Deutschland incident
off Ibiza by two bombers from the Republican Airforce. Total casualties
from the Republican attack were 31 dead and 110 wounded, 71 seriously,
mostly burn victims. In retaliation the Admiral Scheer shelled the harbour
of Almeria on 31 May. Following further attacks by Republican submarine
forces against the Leipzig off the port of Oran between 15–18 June 1937
Germany withdrew from the Non-Intervention Patrol although the Kriegsmarine
maintained a continuous presence in the area until the end of the conflict.
Below: The First World War battlecruiser
Seydlitz. The German Navy of the time had officially only Kleine Kreuzer
(small cruisers) and Grosse Kreuter (large cruisers), and Seydlitz was
classified as the latter. Built at Blohm & Voss, Hamburg, with the
builder's number 209, she was launched on 30 March 1912 and commis sioned
on 22 May T913. She had a maxi mum displacement of 28,550 tons. I In steam
turbines drove four shafts and pro duced an output of 84,738shp for a speed
of 28.1 knots. The armament comprised ten 28cm guns in five twin turrets,
twelve 15cm guns in casemates, twelve S.Krm (used from 1916 solely as Flak
weapons) and four 50cm torpedo tubes. The ship's complement was 43 officers
and 1,025 men. Seydlitz received heavy battle damage in Dogger Bank (24
January 1915) and in Jutland (31 May 1916). Following the latter she made
Wilhehnshaven with 5,000 tons of sea water below decks. She was scuttled
at Scapa Flow on 21 June 1919 was salved on 2 November 1928 and scrapped.
The Kriegsmarine saw as her main
tasks the controlling of the Baltic Sea and winning a war against France
in connection with the German army, because France was seen as the most
likely enemy in the event of war. But in 1938 Hitler wanted to have the
possibility of winning a war against Great Britain at sea in the coming
years. Therefore he ordered plans for such a fleet from the Kriegsmarine.
From the three proposed plans (X, Y and Z) he approved Plan Z in January
1939. This blueprint for the new German naval construction program envisaged
building a navy of approximately 800 ships during the period 1939–1947.
Hitler demanded that the program was to be completed by 1945. The main
force of Plan Z were six H-class battleships. In the version of Plan Z
drawn up in August 1939 the German fleet was planned to consist of the
following ships by 1945:
4 aircraft carriers
3 armored ships (Panzerschiffe)
5 heavy cruisers
44 light cruisers
158 destroyers and torpedo boats
Numerous smaller craft
Personnel strength was planned to
rise to over 200,000.
The planned naval program was not
very far advanced by the time World War II began. In 1939 two M-class cruisers
and two H-class battleships were laid down and parts for two further H-class
battleships and three O-class battlecruisers were in production. The strength
of the German fleet at the beginning of the war was not even 20% of Plan
Z. On 1 September 1939, the navy still had a total personnel strength of
only 78,000, and it was not at all ready for a major role in the war. Because
of the long time it would take to get the Plan Z fleet ready for action
and shortage in workers and material in wartime, Plan Z was essentially
shelved in September 1939 and the resources allocated for its realization
were largely redirected to the construction of U-boats, which would be
ready for war against the United Kingdom quicker.