Erich Raeder

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Erich Raeder

Erich Johann Albert Raeder (born April 24, 1876 in Wandsbek ; † November 6, 1960 in Kiel ) was a German naval officer. From 1928 to 1943 he was head of the high command of the Navy and from 1935 Commander in Chief of the Navy of the Reich and Navy . On January 30, 1937, he received the NSDAP's golden party badge .

Raeder was indicted in the Nuremberg trial of the main war criminals before the International Military Tribunal , found guilty on three counts and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1955 he was released.

Empire and First World War

Erich Raeder (second from left) on the staff of Vice Admiral Hipper (center), 1916

Erich Raeder was born in Wandsbek, today part of Hamburg , as the son of the secondary school teacher Hans Friedrich Eduard Raeder and his wife Gertrud Wilhelmine Margaretha, born Born carpenter . His father later became the high school director in Grünberg in Silesia . After attending a secondary school in Grünberg, he passed the Abitur in 1894 .

Raeder joined the Imperial Navy in April 1894 and, after completing basic training, went on the Stosch training ship and then on the Gneisenau . On October 25, 1897, after passing the naval officer examination with distinction, he was appointed lieutenant at sea. In 1900 Raeder was promoted to lieutenant at sea after serving as a signal officer on various armored cruisers. Various land and board commands followed, as well as a stay at the naval academy, and in March 1905 Raeder was appointed lieutenant captain.

In April 1906 he was transferred to the intelligence office of the Reichsmarineamt as a consultant , and two years later Raeder came on board the great cruiser Yorck as a navigational officer . He was also used as a navigational officer from 1910 to 1912 on the imperial yacht Hohenzollern . In the course of this command he was promoted to Korvettenkapitän in April 1911 . Since that time on the Hohenzollern , Raeder had a personal sympathy for Wilhelm II , which he later did not deny.

After the end of the command on the Hohenzollern , he was appointed First Admiral Staff Officer by the Commander of the Reconnaissance Forces. By this time Raeder had already been active as a writer several times and translated the French naval war expert René Daveluy , a representative of the Jeune École , with whose theories he critically examined.

At this post, Raeder took part in the battle on the Dogger Bank and in the Battle of the Skagerrak after the outbreak of the First World War. In April 1917 he was promoted to frigate captain and his post was renamed Chief of Staff with the Commander of the Reconnaissance Forces. Raeder kept this post until the beginning of 1918, when he was given command of the small cruiser Cöln , with which, however, he no longer took part in any combat operations.

Weimar Republic

As early as October 1918 he was reassigned to his desk when he was appointed head of the central department of the Reichsmarinamt . He held this position from the time of the collapse and the establishment of the Weimar Republic up to the Kapp Putsch . While Raeder points out in his memoir that he was loyal to the elected government during the coup, he was considered compromised enough - not least because of his close cooperation with the head of the Admiralty, Adolf von Trotha , who fell over his involvement in the coup to be transferred to a less influential position in the naval archives.

"Kreuzerkrieg" 1st volume, published in 1922 by ES Mittler & Sohn

Its head at the time, Eberhard von Mantey , was commissioned in 1921 to publish a publication on the operations of the naval forces in World War I from a tactical and operational point of view. Von Mantey decided to look at different theaters of war separately and commissioned Raeder to process the cruiser war , in particular the operations of the East Asia Squadron in the Pacific and South Atlantic . In the course of his work, Raeder came to the realization that the deployment of a strong fleet in the North and Baltic Seas and the simultaneous dispatch of units to wage the trade war in distant waters are interdependent. Accordingly, he worked out the thesis that the passivity of the German fleet in the North Sea had enabled the British side to destroy the German cruiser squadron in the sea ​​battle in the Falkland Islands . This knowledge became an important basis for his later considerations and decisions as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy. The two-volume work was published by ES Mittler & Sohn in 1922 . Raeder's work as a naval historian also found scientific recognition, which was expressed on May 31, 1926 when he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Philosophical Faculty of Kiel University .

He also studied economics , administrative law , political science and economic history .

In 1922, when Raeder was appointed Inspector of Education in the Navy, he was transferred back to the political center of the naval command and at the same time promoted to Rear Admiral. In the autumn of 1924 he took up the post of commander of the light naval forces in the North Sea. As early as January 1925, Raeder was promoted to Vice Admiral and appointed chief of the naval station in the Baltic Sea . Despite his openness to large-scale operations and his profound knowledge of the cruiser warfare, Raeder clearly positioned himself against a memorandum introduced by Rear Admiral Wolfgang Wegener at this time , which caused considerable sensation among young naval officers. Wegener was his crewmate , inspector of the naval artillery in Wilhelmshaven and a maritime strategic thinker. In his memorandum, he criticized the strategy of the former Imperial Navy, which was shaped by Tirpitzian thinking. Wegener emphasized the need for forward bases in order to be able to use the German fleet efficiently outside the North Sea and Baltic Sea and expressly assessed the northern French Atlantic port of Brest as suitable for this. Although Wegener anticipated the strategy of the Kriegsmarine from 1939 on in many aspects, Raeder did not recognize the potential of the memorandum published in 1925 and dismissed his remarks in 1931 as a "work of art".

Erich Raeder, 1928

Probably at the instigation of the Reichswehr Minister Wilhelm Groener , work was carried out on the dismissal of the naval chief Hans Zenker as part of the so-called “ Lohmann Affair ” ; and it must also have been Groener who pushed through the appointment of Raeder as the new head of the naval command on October 1, 1928. In his new position, Raeder endeavored to counteract his image as an anti-republic right winger, which he had been clinging to since the days of the Kapp Putsch ; he repeatedly acknowledged the Weimar Constitution . In April 1931 he dismissed the later head of the Nazi Reich Security Main Office , Reinhard Heydrich , from the Navy for “dishonorable behavior”.

On the one hand, his private correspondence with Admiral von Levetzow, who is close to the NSDAP , reveals his fundamental rejection of social democracy and his support for an authoritarian right-wing government; on the other hand, in 1932 he still had no sympathy for Adolf Hitler . He called Hitler's political speeches "criminal" and was of the opinion that Hitler had maneuvered his party into an awkward position. In his new role as chief of the naval command, Raeder pushed the decision to build the fast, offensive ironclad, for which he had also warmed after initial doubts.

After the construction of the first armored ships had been secured after a bitter political tug-of-war, on November 15, 1932, he presented a so-called "conversion plan". This envisaged an extensive expansion of the naval forces beyond the units allowed in the Versailles Treaty and was therefore illegal. But within the Navy, the treaty no longer played a role: Germany expected equal rights at the Geneva Disarmament Conference , otherwise the Versailles treaty would be unilaterally terminated. Therefore, plans for much larger combat ships have already been initiated.

time of the nationalsocialism

Pre-war period

Raeder in the Uniform of a Grand Admiral (1940)

Raeder subordinated himself (and with it the Navy) without restrictions to Adolf Hitler. After his release in 1943, he looked back with pride that he had succeeded

“In 1933 the navy was closed and brought smoothly to the Führer in the Third Reich. This was given by the fact that the entire upbringing of the navy in the system time [...] aimed at an inner attitude that by itself resulted in a truly National Socialist attitude. For this reason we did not have to change, but from the outset we could become true followers of the Führer with sincere hearts. "

- Address to officers of the OKM on January 30, 1943

After Hitler came to power, Raeder made every effort to convince him of the necessity of building and maintaining a powerful navy . Hitler had previously called for a renunciation of sea armament in " Mein Kampf " as well as in numerous speeches and articles. This was responsible for the hostility of Great Britain in World War I - but the island empire took the place of an ally in Hitler's plans for the future.

With reference to the French navy, Raeder appeared to have succeeded in obtaining Hitler's approval for the expansion of the navy in a conversation in March 1933. In doing so, Raeder once again used the idea of ​​the “ability to form alliances”, with which Tirpitz's naval laws had already been established. Both quantitatively and qualitatively, the last inhibitions with regard to secret armaments and other violations of the Versailles armament restrictions fell when Germany left the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations in October 1933 .

In 1934 Raeder was granted honorary citizenship in Kiel, which was revoked on December 27, 1945. After the Kiel magistrate came to the conclusion in 1956 that the withdrawal was ineffective for formal reasons, Raeder renounced honorary citizenship.

Raeder refused to take part in the international naval conferences (the next one was scheduled for 1936) because he wanted to prevent the new contractual setting of an upper limit. He also prepared the initiation of the German-British naval agreement from 1934 with mixed feelings, because he considered the ultimately agreed ratio of 35: 100 to the British fleet to be too low. But since the agreement finally allowed the long-awaited construction of capital ships , Raeder was initially satisfied with the circumstances and forced the construction of the first battleships and the first aircraft carrier .

As part of the reorganization of the Wehrmacht , Raeder's post was renamed Commander in Chief of the Navy in 1935. On April 20, 1936 he was appointed Admiral General . On the occasion of a memorial meeting of the cabinet on the anniversary of the seizure of power on January 30, 1937, Hitler awarded Raeder the golden party badge of the NSDAP , which he said he later destroyed.

At the inauguration of the naval memorial in Laboe on May 30, 1936, Raeder was the only one of the officers present to greet - like Hitler himself - with the "German greeting". On the occasion of “ Heroes' Remembrance Day ” on March 12, 1939, Raeder again committed himself to National Socialism: “The German people made National Socialism, which was born out of the spirit of the German soldier at the front, their worldview and followed the symbols of their rebirth with fanatical passion”. Half a month later, on April 1, 1939, Raeder was promoted to Grand Admiral by Hitler .

General der Flieger Milch , General der Artillerie Keitel , Generaloberst von Brauchitsch , General Admiral Raeder and Commanding General of the XIII. Army Corps General of the Cavalry Baron von Weichs during the "Day of the Wehrmacht" at the Nazi Party Congress , September 1938

In the autumn of 1938, the naval command had for the first time developed a concept for building a naval force, which also took into account possible hostility of Great Britain. Raeder's preoccupation with the cruiser war made itself felt to the extent that a worldwide oceanic trade war with cruiser-like units was planned as the core of the strategy . The armaments plan known as the " Z-Plan " turned against the idea of ​​a submarine fleet that could be built relatively quickly and instead provided for the construction of a large number of heavy surface units, of which the battleships (which required the longest construction time) received the highest priority. The consequence of this was that the German Navy was by no means "ready" when the war began. After the British declaration of war on September 3, 1939, Raeder himself noted:

“As far as the Navy is concerned, in the autumn of 1939 it was of course by no means sufficiently armed for the great battle with England. In the short time since 1935 (fleet contract) it has created a well-trained, purpose-built submarine weapon, of which around 26 boats are currently capable of the Atlantic, but which are still far too weak to have a decisive effect on the war. The surface forces, however, are still so few in number and strength compared to the English fleet that - provided they are fully committed - they can only show that they know how to die with decency and are thus willing to create the basis for a later reconstruction. "

- Naval Command's War Diary

Second World War

The overwater concept by Raeder and other officers had failed, and the submarines in particular achieved success. Nevertheless, the line of the trade war was initially continued with surface ships. After the invasion of Norway took place in April 1940 on the initiative of Raeder and the Foreign Policy Office of the NSDAP ( Weser Exercise Company ), better starting positions were available for this.

Nevertheless, the announced "full use" of the few existing units led to high losses of people and material (armored ship Admiral Graf Spee 1939, heavy cruiser Blücher 1940, battleship Bismarck 1941) with moderate success, which led to increasing doubts about Hitler's right to exist the larger surface ships led. Raeder was only able to appease the “Führer” with difficulty. Regardless of this, in 1941, on the occasion of his 65th birthday, he received an endowment of 250,000 Reichsmarks.


With its strategic focus on heavy surface units, Raeder stood in opposition to BdU Karl Dönitz even before the start of the war , who had submitted an alternative construction program directed against Raeder's Z-Plan at an early stage and since then had repeatedly insisted on building a stronger submarine at the expense of the larger ships. In Dönitz's view, the Kriegsmarine should focus more on building submarines and had little need for ships larger than a destroyer . This more or less open conflict with his increasingly high profile subordinate damaged Raeder's position with Hitler, especially since Dönitz also had advocates in the dictator's immediate vicinity, such as Albert Speer and Hitler's naval adjutant Karl-Jesko von Puttkamer . Puttkamer has had an excellent relationship with his former direct superior Dönitz since his time as the commanding officer of the 4th Torpedo Boat Semi-Flotilla. Speer saw himself in agreement with this with regard to the views on armaments issues and the expansion of the bases on the occupied French coast. The fact that Hitler valued Dönitz's lectures, which were always optimistic, did the rest to strengthen the position of the BdU. In contrast, Raeder's personal relationship with Hitler was strained and - in addition to the bad impression the Navy made on the dictator in general - also burdened on a personal level. Dönitz often showed himself to be enthusiastic about Hitler's personality and even admiration. In contrast, Raeder spoke to him reluctantly and in the most succinct form and kept these meetings as short as possible.

Erich Raeder when Hitler dismissed him as Commander in Chief of the Navy in 1943

A proposal submitted by Dönitz in November 1941 to withdraw the large ships from the Atlantic was based on the BdU's need to use the shipyards on the occupied northern French Atlantic coast solely for repairs to the submarines. Although this submission was rejected by the Naval War Command, it was approved by Hitler. Accordingly, he ordered Raeder in early 1942 to move the heavy units to Norway.

When at the end of 1942 an advance by the armored ship Lützow and the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper in association with six destroyers in the battle in the Barents Sea failed miserably, Hitler had a fit of rage, accused the navy of cowardice in their actions and announced the decommissioning and scrapping of the surface ships on. The guns of the ships were to be dismantled and used for coastal fortification.

Raeder, who recognized the failure of his life's work and felt offended in his honor, then asked Hitler in private to say goodbye . This took place on January 30, 1943. Before that, Raeder had the opportunity to defend his position in a memorandum . In addition, at Hitler's request, he had proposed two possible successors. As the first choice, Raeder suggested General Admiral Rolf Carls , who took a similar view of the importance of heavy ship units as Raeder himself. In second place, but "equally suitable", he recommended Dönitz. Convinced that he would support the scrapping of the larger German ships he was considering, Hitler decided in favor of Dönitz. However, Raeder's successor managed to convince Hitler to keep the large surface ships in training units and thus to save them from being scrapped, which Hitler had already ordered. The submarine construction was also given a significantly higher priority in the overall armament . For this, however, Donitz's efforts were less decisive than the fact that in the meantime - especially under the impression of the lost battle of Stalingrad - only the U-boat weapon on the German side had an offensive potential.

The title of "Admiral Inspector" conferred on Raeder was not provided for in the naval hierarchy, it had no meaning and only served to save the Grand Admiral's honor.

Arrest and trial

Eight of the defendants in Nuremberg,
front row from left to right: Göring , Heß , Ribbentrop , Keitel
behind: Dönitz , Raeder, Schirach , Sauckel
Erich Raeder after his release, accompanied by his wife, September 26, 1955

At the time of the surrender he was receiving treatment in a hospital in Potsdam-Babelsberg . After his release in May 1945, he surrendered to the Soviet occupation forces . On June 23, 1945 he was arrested and taken to Lichtenberg prison. In August 1945 he and his wife Erika were flown to the Soviet Union and housed in the strictest secrecy in a country house near Moscow , where they were treated like guests and not like other German prisoners of war. At the instigation of his hosts, Raeder wrote several essays on the German Navy before and during World War II . In view of this treatment, the Raeders were completely surprised when they were brought to Berlin on October 17, 1945 and Erich Raeder was transferred to the judicial prison of the Nuremberg Military Court .

Raeder was accused in the main war crimes trial on counts 1 ("joint plan or conspiracy"), 2 ("crimes against peace") and 3 ("war crimes"), but not under item 4 ("crimes against humanity"). The unanimous judgment of October 1, 1946 found Erich Raeder guilty on the three counts and sentenced the 70-year-old to life imprisonment. The main reasons were:

  • Item 1 - “Common Plan”: Raeder's top position as head of a section of the Wehrmacht during the entire peace period of the “Third Reich” and until 1943; his ideological proximity to National Socialism, as expressed for example in a speech by Raeder on March 12, 1939 ("Merciless declaration of war against Bolshevism and International Judaism"), as well as his presence at key meetings in which Hitler revealed his plans (see e.g. B. Hoßbach minutes and meetings on May 23 and August 22, 1939).
  • Item 2 - "Crimes Against Peace": Its leading role in secret armaments; the willful violations of the Versailles Treaty; the dramatically increased naval budget and - above all - the plan to invade Norway.
  • Point 3 - "War crimes": Raeder had the unrestricted submarine war waged , which led to the sinking of unarmed merchant ships and the bombardment of shipwrecked people. See, for example, the Athenia incident . With regard to the period up to 1943, the court came to the same decision as in the Dönitz case. Raeder admitted that he passed on the command order , which explicitly did not refer to the naval war, and did not raise any objection to Hitler.

After the verdict was announced, he asked the Allied Control Council to convert his verdict into execution, but had to serve his sentence in the Spandau war crimes prison.

End of life

Tomb in Kiel

On September 26, 1955 he was due to health reasons, u. A. released from prison due to severe rheumatism . At first he lived with his wife and daughter in Lippstadt before he later moved to Kiel . In 1957 he published his memoirs under the title Mein Leben , most of which had been written by the former Admiral Erich Förste and were intended to justify Raeder after the Nuremberg trials. They were also intended to provide a coherent picture of the German naval command in World War II, for which purpose, at the urging of the editors, disputes with Dönitz, which Raeder wanted to include in his memoirs, were suppressed.

He died on November 6, 1960 in Kiel. At his funeral in Kiel, at the request of the Inspector of the Navy , Friedrich Ruge , Raeder's successor as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy , the former Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz , gave the eulogy .

His grave is in the north cemetery in Kiel .


Web links

Commons : Erich Raeder  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Biography of the LeMO
  2. Werner Rahn: "Strategic options and experiences of the German naval command 1914 to 1944; On the chances and limits of a Central European continental power against sea powers" in Wilfried Rädisch (ed.): "Werner Rahn - Dienst und Wissenschaft", Military Research Office, Potsdam 2010, ISBN 978-3-941571-08-2 , pages 48-49
  3. Lars Hellwinkel : "Hitler's Gate to the Atlantic. The German naval bases in France 1940–1945" , Ch. Links Verlag, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-86153-672-7 , pages 12-13
  4. Michael Salewski: The Germans and the Sea . tape 2 . Steiner, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-515-08087-2 , pp. 135 .
  5. published by Michael Salewski: Von Raeder zu Dönitz. The change in the supreme command of the navy in 1943. In: Michael Salewski: Die Deutschen und die See. Studies on German naval history in the 19th and 20th centuries . Ed .: Jürgen Elvert, Stefan Lippert. Steiner, Stuttgart 1998, p. 333 (Doc. 8).
  6. Erich Raeder (1876–1960) . In: . City of Kiel. Retrieved June 3, 2014.
  7. ^ Dieter Hartwig: Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz. Legend and Reality , Paderborn: Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, 2010, ISBN 978-3-506-77027-1 . P. 359.
  8. ^ Dieter Hartwig: Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz. Legend and Reality , Paderborn: Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, 2010, ISBN 978-3-506-77027-1 . P. 179.
  9. ^ Quotation from Ernst Klee : Das Personenlexikon zum Third Reich. Who was what before and after 1945 . 2nd Edition. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 978-3-596-16048-8 , pp. 476 .
  10. Werner Rahn, Gerhard Schreiber (ed.): War Diary of the Naval War Command 1939–1945 . Part A, September 1939. Volume 1 . Mittler & Sohn, Herford, Bonn 1988 (entry from September 3, 1939).
  11. Reinhard Bollmus: The office of Rosenberg and its opponents. Studies on the power struggle in the National Socialist system of rule . 2nd Edition. Oldenbourg, Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-486-54501-2 , pp. 19th f .
  12. Gerd R. Ueberschär , Winfried Vogel : Serving and earning. Hitler's gifts to his elites . Frankfurt 1999, ISBN 3-10-086002-0 .
  13. ^ Ernst Klee : The dictionary of persons on the Third Reich. Who was what before and after 1945 . Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 2nd edition, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 978-3-596-16048-8 , p. 476.
  14. a b Peter Padfield: "Dönitz: Des Teufels Admiral" , Ullstein Verlag, Berlin 1984, ISBN 3-550-07956-7 , pages 300-302
  15. Dieter Hartwig: "Großadmiral Karl Dönitz. Legend and Reality" , Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 201, ISBN 978-3-506-77027-1 , among other things page 167
  16. ^ Michael Salewski: "The German Naval Warfare 1935-1945. Volume II 1942-1945" , Bernard & Graefe Verlag für Wehrwesen, Munich 1975, ISBN 3-7637-5138-6 , pages 202-223
  17. a b Werner Rahn : " Strategic options and experiences of the German naval command 1914-1944: On the opportunities and limits of a Central European continental power against sea powers" , in Wilfried Rädisch (ed.): "Werner Rahn - Dienst und Wissenschaft" , Military History Research Office , Potsdam 1010, ISBN 978-3-941571-08-2 , pages 66-68
  18. ^ Douglas C. Peifer: Three German Marines - dissolution, transitions and new beginnings. Bochum 2007, ISBN 978-3-89911-101-9 , p. 68 ff.
  19. Dieter Hartwig: "Großadmiral Karl Dönitz. Legend and Reality" , Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 201, ISBN 978-3-506-77027-1 , page 322
  20. Jörg Hillmann: The post-war navy in dealing with July 20 . Marine portal, German Navy
  21. Erich Förste . In: Der Spiegel . No. 11 , 1956 ( online ).
  22. Bird: Erich Raeder . 2006, p. XVII.