Imperial Navy

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Reich war flag of the Reichsmarine (1922 / 23–1933)
Gösch of the Reichsmarine (1922 / 23–1933)

Reichsmarine was the name of the navy of the German Reich from January 1, 1921 to May 31, 1935. It formed part of the Reichswehr . After the founding of the Wehrmacht , it was renamed the Kriegsmarine on June 1, 1935 .

The navy founded by the Frankfurt National Assembly on June 4, 1848 during the bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1848/49 had already been referred to as the Reichsmarine in some documents . In order to avoid confusion, historians now use the term Reichsflotte for the navy from 1848.

Provisional Imperial Navy

Based on the law approved by the National Assembly on April 16, 1919, the German Navy was called the Provisional Reichsmarine . After the end of the First World War, it emerged from the Imperial Navy of the German Empire . The tasks of the Reichsmarine included coastal protection, fishery protection, mine clearance , the maritime police and support for merchant shipping . In 1919 the leadership of the navy was transferred from the former Reichsmarineamt to the new admiralty . The flag of the provisional Reichsmarine was identical to the flag of the Imperial Navy.

The short period of the Provisional Reichsmarine was determined by a number of important events and developments in German history in which it was directly or indirectly involved:

Revolution and Kapp Putsch

Members of the Ehrhardt Marine Brigade as participants in the Kapp Putsch

The November Revolution of 1918, triggered by the Kiel sailors' uprising of the deep sea fleet, and the internment of the deep sea fleet in Scapa Flow led to the internal collapse of the German naval forces. Left, often communist teams and conservative-monarchist officer groups alike banded together as free groups. The communist sailors formed the People's Naval Division , the conservative forces formed several units, including the Ehrhardt and Loewenfeld naval brigades , which initially consisted primarily of professional soldiers .

Both sides participated in bloody fighting and acts of violence. The People's Navy Division was disbanded in March 1919, the naval brigades only after the Kapp Putsch in March 1920, in which they played a major role. One of the triggers was the order from Reichswehr Minister Gustav Noske to disband the naval brigades. The Ehrhardt Brigade supported the Kapp Putsch and occupied Berlin. The head of the admiralty, Vice Admiral von Trotha , said that the navy was at the disposal of the new government. With that he had put the Provisional Imperial Navy outside the constitution. In the years to come she found herself exposed from the right to the accusation of the sailors' uprising and the November Revolution, from the liberal and left side that of the constitutional breach.

Self-sinking of the deep sea fleet and Treaty of Versailles

Another important event in the short history of the Provisional Reichsmarine was the self-sinking of the deep-sea fleet in Scapa Flow on June 21, 1919. According to the provisions of the Versailles Treaty, the ships should have been handed over to the Allies. As compensation for these losses, the Allies demanded the delivery of further German warships , which were already planned on the German side for the construction of a new fleet.

The Treaty of Versailles limited the size and armament of the German armed forces. Then the Navy was allowed 6 ships of the line (plus 2 in reserve), 6 cruisers (plus 2 in reserve), 12 destroyers (plus 4 in reserve), 12 torpedo boats (plus 4 in reserve), 38 minesweepers , training vehicles without restriction, 8 tenders and Own guards, 8 fishing protection boats , 2 survey ships , 6 sounding boats and 1 sailing training ship . The old ships could only be replaced after a period of 20 years (the large units) or 15 years (the smaller units). New buildings and ship purchases abroad were prohibited, as was the possession of submarines . No number restrictions were imposed on training vehicles and unarmed units. The navy therefore left a whole fleet of submarine destroyers, light minesweepers and shallow clearing boats in a disarmed condition to the Reich Water Protection Authority, from which they later bought some of the boats back. The strength of the Reichsmarine was not allowed to exceed 15,000 men.

Obtaining an independent navy

Due to the events at the end of World War I and during the revolutionary period, the navy's reputation had sunk to a low point. The self-sinking of the deep-sea fleet, however, had helped to at least partially reconcile the conservative public with the navy. In view of the strict restrictions of the Versailles Treaty for German armed forces, a complete renunciation of its own navy - as discussed in individual cases - was out of the question, since the Reich would have weakened itself even further.

The tasks of the Reichsmarine were initially only defined in a memorandum of the naval management from 1920 and corresponded to those of the provisional Reichsmarine (see above) . They were strongly influenced by the necessities of the immediate post-war period. Police and law enforcement tasks were in the foreground compared to the actual defense task. It was only after a few years that the empire's sea-based defense was emphasized again.

Imperial Navy

With the Defense Act of March 23, 1921, the name was changed to Reichsmarine (RM) with retroactive effect from January 1, 1921. At the same time, the final organization as part of the Reichswehr was established. The commander-in-chief of all armed forces was the Reich President . Under him, the Reichswehr Minister had authority over the Reichswehr. The chiefs of the army command and the naval command were subordinate to him as military commanders. The war flag of the German Empire, which was used until December 31, 1921, was replaced by the war flag of the Reichsmarine: black, white and red bars, an iron cross in the middle and the black, red and gold colors of the republic in the leech (top left corner). The colors in the leech were removed again in 1933.

Duties of the Imperial Navy

The operational considerations of the naval command - due to the separation of East Prussia and the Free City of Danzig  - initially dealt with Poland . Then the "hereditary enemy" France was included. In the event of an alliance between the two opponents, a dangerous two-front situation would arise. A conflict with Great Britain seemed unthinkable. He would have led the naval command into a hopeless situation. Even Admiral Erich Raeder officially strictly refused to prepare the Navy for this case or even to play it through. However, in a conversation with Reich Chancellor Hitler on June 27, 1934, he expressed the opinion that “ the fleet would later have to be developed against England, so that from 1936 onwards the large ships would have to be armed with 35cm guns ” to protect the King's units George class. In the opinion of Gerhard Schreiber, this finally revealed the continuity of anti-British thinking since the Tirpitz period. A merger of France with the Soviet Union, on the other hand, appeared again from the beginning as a conceivable danger. France's navy was considerably stronger than the German and was able to block the sea routes in the North Sea . The same applied to an alliance of Franco-Soviet naval forces for the Baltic Sea . That is why German armaments planning concentrated on countering this threat from the mid-1920s at the latest.

It was not until 1928 that the new Reichswehr Minister Wilhelm Groener issued operational guidelines for the army and navy. Among other things, the Navy was required to be able to destroy the Polish Navy within 72 hours and to shut down the Gdynia base . The aim was to be able to send a deterrent signal in the event of a border conflict with Poland, such as the one that had occurred in the immediate post-war period.


The old ships of the line Schleswig-Holstein (front), Silesia (left) and Hessen around 1930. These ships, which were already obsolete in 1919, formed the core of the Imperial Navy for a long time.
The Mürwik Naval School, built in 1910, was built in 1929

After the First World War, the Reichswehr Ministry in Berlin was created as the highest Reich authority for the Reichswehr . In the ministry, in addition to the army command, there was also the naval command as the highest command post of the Reichsmarine. At their head was the chief of naval command. Subordinate to him (as of 1930/31):

Scope and equipment

Article: List of ships of the Reichsmarine

The small cruiser Amazone , built in 1900, served in the Reichsmarine until 1929 and was replaced by the light cruiser Cologne .

The Versailles Treaty (see above) limited the size and armament of the Reichsmarine and prevented them from introducing new technologies. The victorious powers wanted to ensure that a German navy could not become a threat to them again. On the other hand, they had made sure that the Imperial Navy would be the strongest power in the Baltic Sea for the foreseeable future in order to counterbalance the new Soviet Union, which was viewed with suspicion . At the same time, the great powers tried to curb the mutual arms race. On November 12, 1921, a "Conference on Naval Armament Issues" was held in Washington . There, the great powers regulated the strength of their fleets in relation to one another and for this purpose also defined the displacement and armament of the heavy types of warship.

In 1922 the Reichsmarine could not dispose of more than 2 ships of the line, 5 cruisers and a number of auxiliary ships. Therefore efforts were made to reduce the crew of the warships and to increase technical skills through intensive training of the crews, which only consisted of long-serving soldiers. Until 1924, an Inter-Allied Military Control Commission (NIACC) under a British naval officer monitored the disarmament of the Navy and compliance with the deadlines for replacement buildings. The Reichsmarine could only be persuaded to decommission all surplus ships and give them to the Reich Treasury , which took over the sale of the vehicles. Again and again there were re- classifications and renaming, which made it difficult for the control commission to monitor compliance with the provisions.

Replacement structures for outdated ships

The first warship replacement buildings were built from 1925. A long-term shipbuilding plan was not drawn up because of the ties to Versailles. But the German navy benefited from the type displacement established in Washington . The weight of the entire ship was given, but without fuel and boiler feed water. The long ton of 1016 kg was also used. In Germany, the water displacement for the fully equipped ship had previously been specified and always calculated in metric tons at 1000 kg. Now, instead of riveted, welded warships, there was a move to gain considerable space with the same tonnage.

The first major replacement building was the light cruiser Emden (cruiser A), which was commissioned in 1921 and put into service in 1925. 1924 succeeded, the approval of the Reichstag for the procurement of four other light cruisers ( K Cruiser ) and twelve torpedo boats of the bird of prey - and predator class to get.

Modern destroyers like the Z 3 Max Schultz were developed by the Reichsmarine, but were not delivered until later

It was not until 1928, under Admiral Raeder as the new head of the naval command, that a replacement program was tackled and a conversion plan was approved in 1932 . The navy began building armored ships as early as 1929 and with the building of motor torpedo boats (under the camouflage name Schnellboot ) and clearing boats (under the name lock training vehicles ) from 1930.

Secret armaments projects

The Imperial Navy tried to counter the Versailles armaments restrictions with secret armament. These armaments activities brought the Reichsmarine into the headlines again and again. From the total budget of the Reichswehr of 210 million Reichsmarks, the Navy had 23 million RM at its disposal. Officially, no highly technical innovations could be financed with it. But the sale of armaments to be destroyed abroad brought hidden income for the Navy for its unofficial programs ("B budget"). In this way, the navy carried out illegal armaments projects on a large scale. There was great interest abroad in particular in German submarine construction plans . A secret German design office, the Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw in The Hague, had been working since 1922 , but it was not until 1928 that two boats could be delivered to Turkey and 1930 more boats to Finland.

The new cruiser Karlsruhe , put into service in 1929 , which was mainly used by the Reichsmarine as a training ship

The marine transport department under Captain Walter Lohmann was responsible for coordinating these activities in naval management , as his department offered the best camouflage options for this. Lohmann was responsible for supplementing naval warfare, including mines, speedboats, and airplanes, and for this purpose he founded a widespread network of private companies and enterprises. In connection with the discussion about the construction of new ironclad ships, his activities came to the public in the autumn of 1927. The so-called Lohmann affair brought the Navy back into the negative headlines. Reichswehr Minister Geßler had to resign and the chief of the naval command, Admiral Zenker , was dismissed by Geßler's successor Wilhelm Groener .

The SB X air protection group was responsible for naval aviation in the naval command . Until the end of the Weimar Republic , the Reichsmarine insisted on special types of aircraft and its own organization. SB X maintained its own test center for aircraft and also took part in pilot training in Lipetsk . In the budget of the Reich Ministry of Transport , the Reichsmarine had funds available for the development of aircraft in the same way as the Heereswaffenamt .

The armored ship question

In view of the obsolescence of the remaining ships of the line and the need to be able to counter the French Navy with a few modern warships, the Navy pursued the intention to build ships of a new type of armored ship to the extent permitted by the Versailles Treaty. The aim was to create a ship that was to be classified as a cruiser according to the provisions of the Washington Naval Agreement , but was a small battleship in terms of armament and armor. It should be faster than traditional battleships and stronger than other nations' faster cruisers. The displacement should be 10,000 ts. First a ship should be procured.

After the Lohmann affair, all political approval for this project initially seemed to have been lost. The SPD contested a successful election campaign in 1928 with the slogan "Panzerschiff oder Kinderspeisung" and became the strongest parliamentary group in the Reichstag. The Reich Chancellor Hermann Müller , who was appointed by her, was ready to support the project in order to be able to form a coalition with the bourgeois parties. Therefore, the construction of the ironclad A was decided in August 1928 with the votes of the SPD in the Reichstag. The ship was launched in 1931 under the name Deutschland .

In 1931 and 1932, Admiral Raeder , head of the naval command , who had been in office since 1928 , also succeeded in obtaining approval for the construction of a second and third ironclad in the Reichstag, since this number was regarded as the minimum of what was necessary, the French To keep the Navy from blocking the German coasts.

Transition to the Navy

The chief of the naval command, Admiral Raeder, with other admirals at the Skagerrak celebration on May 31, 1935. The next day, the Reichsmarine was renamed the Kriegsmarine

In the early 1930s, the Navy hoped to relax the Versailles regulations by participating in the London Naval Conference in 1930 and successes at the Geneva Disarmament Conference . Both failed because of the tough stance of France, which neither agreed to German participation in London nor to a compromise proposed by Great Britain in Geneva regarding the strength of German armed forces.

In response to the failure of the Geneva Compromise, Reichswehr Minister von Schleicher announced on July 26, 1932 that Germany no longer felt bound by the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty. In the same year he approved a reconstruction plan for the Navy, which provided for its expansion, the expansion of armaments beyond the previously permitted level and, in particular, the creation of a submarine weapon and a naval air force including an aircraft carrier . Thus, before the end of the Weimar Republic, the prerequisites were created for the Reichsmarine to build up adequate combat strength for the defense tasks of the Reich.

On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler seized power , who, after the death of Reich President Paul von Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, had the entire Reichswehr sworn in on his name on the same day and became its commander-in-chief. On June 1, 1935, the Reichsmarine was renamed the Kriegsmarine . Immediately after the German-British naval agreement of June 18, 1935, the Reichsmarine could be expanded considerably to a tonnage of 35 percent of the British fleet , and preparations for the Second World War began .


See also


  • Ranking list of the German Reichsmarine: according to the status of ... / Ed. Reichswehr Ministry, naval officer personnel department. - Berlin 1922-1934.
  • Helmut Sprotte: The Reichmarine in its organizational development since the revolution. Berlin 1922.
  • Heinz Junghänel: Naval budget and naval spending policy in Germany (1868–1930). Lucka 1932.
  • Schüssler (captain at sea): The battle of the navy against Versailles 1919-1935. Bulletin No. 15, M.Dv. No. 352 / Ed. High Command of the Navy. - Berlin 1937
  • Michael Salewski : Disarmament and Military Control in Germany 1919–1927. Munich 1966.
  • Siegfried Sorge: The Reichsmarine of the Weimar period. A piece of marine history experienced. Frankfurt / M. 1972.
  • Jost Dülffer: Weimar, Hitler and the Navy, Reich Policy and Fleet Construction 1920–1933. Droste, Düsseldorf 1973, ISBN 3-7700-0320-9 .
  • Werner Rahn : Imperial Navy and National Defense 1919–1928: Conception and leadership of the Navy in the Weimar Republic Bernard and Graefe, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-7637-5143-2 . (At the same time: Hamburg, University, Department of History, 1976 under the title: Rahn, Werner: Defense Concept and Reichsmarine in the Weimar Republic.)
  • Gerhard Schreiber : Theses on ideological continuity in the power-political objectives of the German naval command 1897-1945 . In: Manfred Messerschmidt (Ed.) Military history: problems, theses, ways . DVA, Stuttgart 1982, pp. 260-280
  • Peter Doepgen: The Washington Conference, the German Reich and the Reichsmarine. The effects of the Washington Disarmament Conference 1921/1922 on the German Reich and the Reichsmarine 1922–1935. Dissertation: University of Kiel 2001.
  • Stefan Kiekel: The Imperial Navy between coastal defense and pursuit of world power. Problems of the German maritime strategy in the Baltic Sea region 1918–1933. Bernard and Graefe, Bonn 2007, ISBN 978-3-7637-6277-4 .

Web links

Commons : Reichsmarine  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Reichsmarine  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Konrad Ehrensberger: 100 years of organization of the German navy . Bonn 1993, ISBN 3-7637-5913-1 .
  2. M. Salewski: Self-image and historical awareness of the German navy . In: Marine-Rundschau , Issue 2, 1970, 73 f.
  3. G. Schreiber: Theses on ideological continuity in the power-political objectives of the German naval command 1897-1945 . In: Manfred Messerschmidt (Ed.) Military history: problems, theses, ways . DVA, Stuttgart 1982, p. 268. There also source reference.
  4. Werner Rahn: Naval armament and domestic politics of a parliamentary democracy - the example of the armored ship A 1928 . In: The German Navy - Historical Self-Image and Position Determination . Series of publications by the German Marine Institute; German Marine Academy, Vol. 4, Herford and Bonn 1983, ISBN 3-8132-0157-0 , p. 53 ff.
  5. ^ Wilhelm Köhler, collaboration with Max Plüddemann. Illustrated German fleet calendar for 1932 (Koehler's fleet calendar), 30th year, Minden