People's Naval Division

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The People's Navy Division was an armed formation that arose during the November Revolution in Germany after the end of the First World War . The People's Mariner Council of Greater Berlin and the suburbs in the Berlin Marstall put it up on November 11, 1918 at the suggestion of Chief Mate Paul Wieczorek . Revolutionary sailors of the former Imperial Navy should be made available to the new police president of Berlin , Emil Eichhorn ( USPD ), as an armed police force. Wieczorek was elected the first commander.

Memorial plaque for the People's Naval Division at the Naval House , unveiled November 11, 1980


Initially the People's Naval Division comprised around 600 men, on November 13, 1918 already 1,500 and at the end of November around 3,200 men. By December 1918, the number had dropped to 1,800. The members of the People's Naval Division included members of the SPD , USPD , Spartacists and Communists , but mostly they were non-party sailors.

Memorial plaque at the New Marstall, 1978

In its most important period, the People's Naval Division was divided into three departments. The I. Department with 1,550 men was located in the Marstall and was responsible for guarding the Reich Chancellery , Reichsbank , Museum Island and Ullstein Verlag , among other things .

The second division with 800 men was initially located in the Berlin Palace , later in a bar on Kistenmacherstrasse and then in the Prussian House of Representatives . This department was responsible for guarding the Prussian House of Representatives and Manor .

The III. Division consisted mostly of Cuxhaven sailors and reached a strength of 900 men. It was located at the Lehrter Bahnhof in Berlin. She provided on-call duty and patrol duty as well as guarding the stations.

The administrative department of the People's Marine Division with 100 men was initially located in the Marstall, later in the Marinehaus on Märkischer Ufer 48/50. There is also a memorial plaque for the staff of the People's Naval Division. Their duties included the activities of the rear services .


Otto Tost

On November 13th, 1918, Paul Wieczorek was shot by Corvette Captain Friedrich Brettschneider. A few hours later, the Cuxhaven sailor Otto Tost was elected as the new commander of the People's Navy Division.

Tool of counter-revolutionary intentions

At first the People's Naval Division was on the side of the moderate social democracy. Together with other units, sailors from the troop marched on December 6, 1918 under the command of Lieutenant of the Reserve Hermann von Wolff-Metternich together with other units to the Reich Chancellery and publicly expressed their support for Friedrich Ebert, called for elections to the National Assembly in December 1918 and criticized the Executive Council of the Workers 'and Soldiers' Councils in Greater Berlin . On the part of the sailors, Ebert was offered the office of president. This weighed off. The troops then withdrew and searched the offices of the Rote Fahne editorial office . The Executive Council was arrested by other troops (not the People's Naval Division). This led to violent clashes. The plans to have Ebert proclaimed by the troops as head of state with dictatorial powers came from Colonel in the Supreme Army Command, Hans von Haeften . The aim of this counter-revolutionary action was to eliminate the workers 'and soldiers' councils and restore the command of the officers. Haeften talked about it with the Ministerial Director Ferdinand von Stumm . He had proposed that the People's Naval Division, led by his relative Metternich, run the company.

Left turn

In the following weeks the troops began to orient themselves more to the left . On December 30, 1918, a department guarded the Prussian House of Representatives in Berlin, where the founding convention of the Communist Party of Germany was taking place.

The People's Naval Division, which had taken up quarters in the city palace, increasingly aroused the displeasure of those in charge of politics. Finance Minister Hugo Simon accused the troops of stealing valuable assets on December 12th. After the entry of the guards, the military in particular pushed for the division to be disbanded. Otto Wels, as the city commandant of Berlin, planned to integrate the reliable parts into the republican Reichswehr and to dismiss the rest on payment of a severance payment. The troops refused. Then Wels gave her an ultimatum to vacate the castle by December 16. The People's Navy Division did not respond to this either. Rather, Heinrich Dorrenbach , an influential member of the division's main committee, succeeded in enforcing a resolution by the soldiers' councils of Greater Berlin on December 17th. According to this, the soldiers' councils were to form the bearers of the supreme command over the army units, all badges of rank were to be abolished and all officers were to be dismissed. A delegation from the People's Navy Division penetrated the plenary session of the Reichsrätekongress and demanded an immediate resolution on the points. After violent tumult, Hugo Haase managed to postpone the meeting until the next day. Under pressure from the soldiers' councils, the Hamburg points were resolved on December 18, which came very close to the demands of the People's Navy Division.

Christmas fights

The refusal of the People's Naval Division to leave the castle without the outstanding payment of wages led to the so-called Christmas battles on December 23 and 24, 1918 . In the course of this, the division took Otto Wels prisoner, established the government and controlled the telephone switchboard of the Reich Chancellery. In the end, Ebert saw no other option than to ask the army for support for the first time as part of the Ebert-Groener Pact . With guns, regular troops under the command of General Arnold Lequis advanced against the People's Navy Division, but could not storm the castle because the People's Navy Division was supported by armed workers and other revolutionary units. After 56 soldiers from the government troops and civilians had been killed, Ebert gave the order to stop the fighting. The government then had to make substantial concessions to the People's Naval Division. The troop remained as a whole; was taken over as a unit in the Republican Army and received the outstanding pay, which seems to have been the main motive of the sailors in the fighting. According to one contemporary, the People's Naval Division was "in reality [...] a real mercenary formation , to whom their material interests were much more important than any politics". Wels was replaced as city commander. Politically, the Christmas fights led to the breakup of the coalition of the SPD and USPD.

January and March fights

During the January fighting of 1919, the troops were on the side of the radical left, despite their incorporation into the Republican Army. Your commander Dorrenbach played a decisive role in the decision to strike, insofar as he claimed that not only the People's Navy Division, but all the troops in Berlin stood behind the Revolutionary Oblemen and were ready to use force against the government of Ebert and Philipp Scheidemann . This was one of the triggers for Karl Liebknecht and others present to see pressure from the troops not only to protest against the dismissal of Police President Emil Eichhorn , but also to aim at overthrowing the government.

During the fighting themselves, Dorrenbach's statements turned out to be completely inaccurate. The Berlin troops did not support the uprising, and even the People's Navy Division remained neutral.

During the March fighting on March 5, 1919, the remnants of the People's Navy Division were ordered to relieve the government troops trapped in the police headquarters. The units entrenched there, however, mistook the division for opponents and opened fire. The sailors shot back and joined the insurgents. The government troops acted brutally against their opponents. One Lieutenant Otto Marloh alone had around 30 sailors shot. The Republican Army and with it the People's Navy Division were then disbanded.


In its communist-socialist tradition, the naval forces of the GDR were named after the People's Navy Division ; Troops and ships were named after well-known members of the People's Navy Division.

Commanders of the People's Naval Division


  • Sailors in Berlin (GDR 1978, directed by Günter Jordan , DEFA studio for documentary films).

Web links

Commons : People's Naval Division  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files


Individual evidence

  1. Klaus Gietinger : Paul Wieczorek - News about the first commander of the People's Navy Division, in progress - Movement - History , Issue I / 2019, pp. 41–60.
  2. ^ Ulrich Kluge: Soldiers' Councils and Revolution. Studies on military policy in Germany 1918/19 (= critical studies on historical science . Vol. 14). Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 1975, ISBN 3-525-35965-9 , p. 180 (also: Berlin, Freie Universität, dissertation, 1972).
  3. Winkler: From revolution to stabilization. 1984, p. 97 f.
  4. Winkler: From revolution to stabilization. 1984, p. 104 f.
  6. Quoted in Hagen Schulze : Weimar. Germany 1917–1933 (= The Germans and their Nation. Vol. 4). Siedler, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-88680-500-X , p. 177.
  7. Winkler: From revolution to stabilization. 1984, p. 109 f.
  8. Winkler: From revolution to stabilization. 1984, p. 121.
  9. Winkler: From revolution to stabilization. 1984, p. 124.
  10. Winkler: From revolution to stabilization. 1984, p. 180 f.
  11. ^ Ernst-Heinrich Schmidt: Heimatheer and Revolution 1918: The military powers in the home area between the October reform and the November revolution . Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG, 2017, ISBN 978-3-486-82640-1 , p. 403 ( [accessed December 29, 2019]).