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The insubordination , formerly known as insubordination referred to is the refusal of a soldier , the command of a superior run. Refusal to obey a legal order is a criminal offense or even a crime punishable by severe penalties in all armies of the world . In the past it was not infrequently punished with execution .

As a mutiny one is going beyond the mere insubordination revolt against supervisors referred. This term is not only used in a military context, but is mainly used in civil shipping . In this context, it is also a well-known topic in literature and film. Mutiny is also a criminal offense on ships and in prison . In the penal system, prisoners are generally obliged to follow-up and to obey the supervising officers and employees. Refusal to do so does not usually constitute a criminal offense, but in most cases it results in internal sanctions.

Refusal to obey and mutiny in German military criminal law


In German law, refusal to obey is a criminal offense under Section 20 of the Military Penal Act (WStG). Refusal to obey does not mean simply not following an order received, but rather

  • to revolt against this order with word or deed or
  • not to execute it even after repeating this command .

In contrast, the simple failure to follow an instruction only upon the occurrence of a serious consequence such as danger to the security of the Federal Republic of Germany, the impact strength of the troops, the life or limb of a person or property of significant value, not owned by the offender, a criminal offense, namely “Disobedience” according to Section 19 of the Military Penal Act (WStG). Otherwise it can only be punished according to the military disciplinary code.

Even the reckless non-compliance with an order, which has serious consequences, is sufficient for criminal liability according to § 21 WStG.

In the civilian environment one speaks colloquially of a “refusal to command”, but means the “refusal to obey” legally described here.


According to the German Military Criminal Law , a mutiny ( Section 27 ) is when soldiers band together and carry out a jointly committed refusal to obey ( Section 20 ), a threat ( Section 23 ), coercion ( Section 24 ) or an assault ( Section 25 ) against a superior . The range of punishment for imprisonment is between six months and five years, in serious cases as a ringleader or the cause of a serious consequence (danger to safety, the strength of the troops, life or limb or other people's things of significant value) the imprisonment is between one and ten years. Even the attempt and the appointment to refuse obedience (appointment to insubordinate) is punishable according to § 28 WStG, and for participation one is still punished even after a resignation (i.e. the decision not to participate after all).


In German military law there is now the possibility to refuse obedience with impunity,

  • if an order is non-binding, especially if it is not given for official purposes or
  • if he violates human dignity or
  • if a criminal offense would be committed by following it ( § 11 SG, § 22 WStG).

An order may not be carried out ( Section 11 (2) SG), the observance of which would in itself result in a criminal offense or a serious violation of the core content of international law , such as the shooting of prisoners by law or the killing of civilians for no reason.

Mutiny in shipping

Section 146 (1) in conjunction with Section 145 (1)no.16, Section 124 (1) sentence 2 of the Maritime Labor Act (SeearbG) punishes the willful failure to comply with an enforceable order from a responsible superior, which serves to avoid an imminent danger to people, for the ship or its cargo, to prevent serious disruptions to ship operations or to comply with regulations on ship safety, with imprisonment of up to five years or with a fine.

Mutiny in the penal system

Situation in Germany

In the penal system , the violent gathering of prisoners in order to violently influence judicial officers or to enable one or more of them to break out, is also known as prison mutiny . The prison mutiny is defined in German criminal law in § 121 StGB . The crime is not a corporate crime .

The regulation is intended to ensure the maintenance of order in the penal institutions and the safety of the officials involved in custody. Only prisoners and persons in preventive detention ( Section 121 (4) of the Criminal Code) can be considered as perpetrators . The regulation is inapplicable to people who were accommodated for another measure of reform and security . However, persons not in custody or in custody may be participants in the crime.

Gathering means that at least two prisoners come together spatially to jointly promote a violent cause. Inwardly, the will to disturb the peace must appear. In addition, according to German criminal law, it is also required that the perpetrators act with combined forces. The perpetrators have to base their act on community will. However, the constituent element does not mean technical complicity.

The act does not have to take place within the correctional facility; a. also conceivable during transport.

The completion occurs with the forceful impact or the outbreak . The attempt is punishable.

In this case, firearms may be used against prisoners in accordance with Section 100 (1) No. 2 of the Prison Act .


Mutinies in the First World War

Demonstration of the sailors in Wilhelmshaven, November 10, 1918

In 1917, after failed offensives in the French army, mutinies broke out , which temporarily affected up to 16 corps. Therefore the French commander-in-chief Nivelle was replaced by General Pétain , who had organized the defense of Verdun. By moving to a strict defensive stance, Pétain was able to contain the unrest in the French army for the time being. Mutinous soldiers were dealt with with extreme severity. Courts- martial passed 629 death sentences, of which 43 were carried out. Pétain recognized the danger and made improvements to food and rest times for the troops. In the future, the soldiers were relieved somewhat through more carefully planned and cautious operations and increased use of materials. As a result, a slow regeneration process began in the French army, and morale stabilized again.

In 1918, despite the German armistice efforts , the German admiralty ordered the fleet to leave for a final desperate battle ("honorable sinking") against the superior Royal Navy in the fleet order of October 24, 1918 for October 29 . Thereupon mutinies broke out in Wilhelmshaven . Some of the fleet was therefore moved to Kiel and the mutineers wanted to be punished. A sailors' uprising broke out, which within a few days grew into a revolution, the November Revolution .

The revolution of 1918/19

The November Revolution began with the collective refusal of obedience ( mutiny ) by the sailors in Kiel (see Kiel Sailors Uprising ). Soldiers' councils should express their demands. A spontaneous movement spread to other port cities as well as central and southern Germany . Representatives of the workers 'parties and trade unions took over the political functions on site as workers' councils or workers 'and soldiers' councils .

The revolution also hit Berlin on November 9th , where Chancellor Prince Max von Baden , worried about a radical political overthrow, arbitrarily announced the abdication of the emperor and the resignation of the crown prince and transferred the chancellorship to the chairman of the SPD , Friedrich Ebert . In the afternoon of the same day, Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the German republic.

Second World War

During the Second World War , those who refused to obey were punished with imprisonment or execution. Regardless of the reasons for their act, they became victims of Nazi military justice .

On June 9, 1942, Hitler gave the Commander-in-Chief of the German Africa Corps , Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (Wüstenfuchs), the Fiihrer's order in writing that German political refugees who fought on the French side in the Africa campaign should be shot . Rommel refused to carry out this order.

A particularly well-known example of insubordination occurred in August 1944: The German city commandant of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz (1894–1966), surrendered and thereby ignored an order from Hitler (Führer's order of August 23, 1944, known as the “ rubble field order ”), Paris to defend or "just to fall into the hands of the enemy as a field of rubble".

Gotthard Heinrici , a highly decorated general (Colonel General since January 1, 1943), had ordered several retreats on the Eastern Front in 1944 and 1945 without first asking Hitler's permission. He was removed from his post by Hitler on April 29, 1945 (the day before Hitler's suicide) and was to be tried by a court martial . Karl Dönitz , whom Hitler had appointed as his successor, ignored this and did nothing against Heinrici.

On April 22, 1945, Hitler ordered SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner to launch a relief attack by his army group in the Battle of Berlin . Steiner refused this Führer order as impracticable. Hitler suffered a nervous breakdown when he found out about this. He complained that everything was lost now, that the SS had also betrayed him, and dismissed parts of his staff. He decided to stay in the Führerbunker in Berlin and instructed his chief adjutant, SS-Obergruppenführer Julius Schaub , to burn all papers and documents from his private vaults in Berlin, Munich and the Berghof . On April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide .

As part of the Wehrmacht's withdrawal from Bordeaux as part of the western campaign, the city's port was to be blown up in August 1944. The explosives specialist Heinz Stahlschmidt , who was commissioned to do this, refused, thus preventing complete destruction.

The crew of the German minesweeper M 612 mutinied on May 5, 1945 when the minesweeper was ordered, contrary to the provisions of the partial surrender, to sail from Denmark to Courland . The mutiny was accidentally noticed by a German speedboat and then put down. Eleven crew members were shot on the same day after a court martial.

Historic fire fighting

After entire rows of houses burned down again and again in many villages of the ruled area, strict orders were issued under Count Palatine Karl IV in 1772 to prevent a fire. It was also stipulated here that refusal to obey the fire fighting team, unauthorized removal from the scene of the fire or deliberate damage to the extinguishing equipment is punishable by severe physical punishment.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: insubordination  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Mutiny  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. See also: Rechtsberater u. WDA. Entrance 02 JAN. 2006, Notes for legal advisers and lawyers: dealing with soldiers who do not want to obey orders for reasons of conscience. ( PDF ).
  2. ^ Trial of mutiny in the navy Deutsche Welle , September 24, 2013.
  3. ^ Mutiny on the ship: Marines before the Augsburger Allgemeine court , September 24, 2013.
  4. ^ Francois Caron: France in the Age of Imperialism 1851-1918 (= Jean Favier (Hrsg.): Geschichte Frankreichs. Vol. 5), DVA, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-421-06455-5 , p. 600.
  5. an example: www.cheminsdememoire.gouv.fr : On the Plateau de Californie (near Ailette; Chemin des Dames) the mutineer (and the dead from a fruitless offensive in April 1917) is commemorated. The 18th Infantry Regiment was in reserve on April 16, 1917; it had to fight from May 4th, losing 40% of its men in the process. The traumatized survivors refused to return to the front after a break on May 27. That sparked the first mutinies. 12 soldiers came before a court martial, 5 were sentenced to death (for "révolte sous les armes"). One was pardoned, one escaped, three were executed (on June 12).
  6. Fuehrer's order of June 9, 1942
  7. ^ The advance of the Allies in France in 1944. German Historical Museum Foundation, accessed on November 17, 2018 .
  8. Ian Kershaw: Hitler. 1936-1945. Stuttgart 2000, p. 1036.
  9. ^ Franz-Josef Sehr : The fire extinguishing system in Obertiefenbach from earlier times . In: Yearbook for the Limburg-Weilburg district 1994 . The district committee of the Limburg-Weilburg district, Limburg-Weilburg 1993, p. 151-153 .