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War Ensign of Germany (1935–1938)
War Ensign (Reichskriegsflagge) 1938−1945

The Kriegsmarine is largely identified today with the navy of National Socialist Germany being one of three official branches of the Wehrmacht, the German armed forces from 1 June 1935 to 1945. However it was a lineal continuation of the Reichsmarine of the Weimar Republic (1919-1935) as well as the Kriegsmarine (Kaiserliche Marine) of the German Empire before it. The K.u.k. Kriegsmarine was also the official name used by the Imperial and Royal Navy of Austria-Hungary until and including 1918.


The battleship "Bismarck", 1941
Luftwaffe assisting the Kriegsmarine during the Operation Rösselsprung (1942)
The Brandenburgers had their own small naval unit: Coastal Raiders of the Meeres- und Küstenjägerabteilung during the anti-partisan (Bandenbekämpfung) Operation "Delphin" (1943).
Battleship "Tirpitz" in Norway, 1944
Karl Dönitz with combat swimmers (German: Kampfschimmer or Meereskämpfer) of the Kriegsmarine, September 1944
1: Kapitän zur See als Kommodore; 2: Konteradmiral; 3: Vizeadmiral; 4: Admiral; 5: Generaladmiral; 6: Großadmiral

Germany's Kriegsmarine grew rapidly during German naval rearmament from the later 1920s, the Treaty of Versailles had limited the size of the German navy and ways to circumvent this were to some extent found. In January 1939 Plan Z was ordered, calling for the construction of many naval vessels. The ships of the Kriegsmarine were on station during the Spanish Civil War and fought in World War II.

The Kriegsmarine's U-boats, most of which were constructed after Plan Z was abandoned at the beginning of World War II, became famous. Wolfpacks (groups of submarines) were rapidly assembled 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 due to the Allies development of accurate underwater radar.

The ultimate Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine (as for all branches of armed forces during the period of absolute National Socialist power) was Adolf Hitler, who exercised his authority through the Oberkommando der Marine.

With the end of World War I and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the Weimar Republic – the successor to Imperial Germany – was allowed only a small defensive military force known as the Reichswehr. The Reichswehr’s size and composition were strictly controlled by the Allies in the hope that by restricting its constitution they could prevent future German military aggression. The Reichswehr consisted of 100,000 men divided between a small standing army, the Reichsheer, and a small defensive navy, the Reichsmarine. In 1933 the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) came to power and the infamous Third Reich was born. Two years later in 1935, the Treaty of Versailles was renounced and the Reichswehr became the Wehrmacht. The newly formed Wehrmacht would still consist of an army and a navy – the renamed Heer and Kriegsmarine, but a new air force was born as well – the Luftwaffe. The Kriegsmarine can be said to have consisted of three main components between 1935 and 1945, individual naval vessels, naval formations consisting of specific types of ships, and a wide variety of ground-based units. From these three main components, the Kriegsmarine fielded thousands of ships and hundreds of naval formations and ground units. Between 1939 and 1945 over 1.5 million served in the Kriegsmarine. Over 65,000 were killed [[[Killed in action|]]), over 105,000 went missing and over 21,000 were wounded. Of the 7361 men awarded the initial grade of the highest German combat honor of WWII, the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, 318 were from the Kriegsmarine making up 4 % of the total awarded. Of all the branches of the Wehrmacht, the Kriegsmarine was the most under-appreciated. It fought against superior numbers on almost every front with a force greatly limited by a lack of effective coordination and a harsh misunderstanding from within the German High Command (OKW). Although Allied air and naval power largely destroyed the entire German High Seas Fleet and U-boat force, the smaller and auxiliary vessels of the Kriegsmarine continued to serve effectively until the last hours of WWII. These vessels saw service along thousands of miles of coast in every theater of war and provided an important link in the backbone of the Wehrmacht. German naval ground units also provided a critical service during WWII, manning massive guns along the Atlantic Wall in the west and naval flak and artillery units all across Western and Eastern Europe. There were also countless naval infantry, engineer, and communications units as well. In the last months of WWII most, all of the naval ground units were involved directly in fighting of some form or another, some naval units even took part in the Battle of Berlin in 1945. The Kriegsmarine was officially disbanded in August of 1946 by the Allied Control Commission, although many smaller Kriegsmarine ships survived on active service, now under Allied control, as a part of the German contingent to clear the oceans and seas of mines sown by Axis and Allies alike.[1]

Major wartime operations

  • Wikinger ("Viking") (1940) – foray by destroyers into the North Sea
  • nternehmen_„Weserübung“ Weserübung ("Exercise Weser") (1940) – invasion of Denmark and Norway
  • Juno (1940) – operation to disrupt Allied supplies to Norway
  • Nordseetour (1940) – first Atlantic operation of Admiral Hipper
  • Berlin (1941) – Atlantic cruise of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau
  • Rheinübung ("Exercise Rhine") (1941) – breakout by Bismarck and Prinz Eugen
  • Doppelschlag ("Double blow") (1942) – anti-shipping operation off Novaya Zemlya by Admiral Scheer and Admiral Hipper
  • Sportpalast (1942) – aborted operation (including Tirpitz) to attack Arctic convoys
  • Rösselsprung ("Knights Move") (1942) – operation (including Tirpitz) to attack Arctic convoy PQ 17
  • Wunderland (1942) – anti-shipping operation in Kara Sea by Admiral Scheer
  • Paukenschlag ("Drumbeat" ("Beat of the Kettle Drum"); "Second Happy Time") (1942) – U-boat campaign off the United States east coast
  • Regenbogen ("Rainbow") (1942) – failed attack on Arctic convoy JW-51B, by Admiral Hipper and Lützow
  • Cerberus (1942) – movement of capital ships from Brest to home ports in Germany (Channel Dash)
  • Ostfront ("East front") (1943) – final operation of Scharnhorst, to intercept convoy JW 55B
  • Domino (1943) – second aborted Arctic sortie by Scharnhorst, Prinz Eugen and destroyers
  • Zitronella ("Lemon extract") (1943) – raid upon Allied-occupied Spitzbergen (Svalbard)
  • Hannibal (1945) - evacuation proceedings from Courland, Danzig-West Prussia and East Prussia.
  • Deadlight (1945) – the British Royal Navy's postwar scuttling of Kriegsmarine U-boats

Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (OBdM)

  • Admiral/Generaladmiral/Großadmiral Erich Raeder – 1 June 1935 until 30 January 1943 (de facto since 1928)
  • Großadmiral Karl Dönitz – 30 January 1943 until 30 April 1945
  • Generaladmiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg – 1 May until 23 May 1945
  • Generaladmiral Walter Warzecha – 23/24 May until 22 July 1945 m. d. W. d. G. b. (under the command of the occupying forces or Allies)

Comparative ranks (during World War II)


Kriegsmarine US Navy/Royal Navy
Großadmiral (= Generalfeldmarschall of the Heer) Fleet Admiral/Admiral of the Fleet
Generaladmiral (= Generaloberst and SS-Oberst-Gruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS) Admiral
Admiral (= General der Waffengattung and SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS) Vice Admiral
Vizeadmiral (= Generaleutnant and SS-Gruppenführer und Generaleutnant der Waffen-SS) Rear Admiral (Upper Half)/Rear Admiral
Konteradmiral (= Generalmajor and SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS) Rear Admiral (Lower Half)/Commodore Admiral
Kommodore (Kapitän zur See als Kommodor) Commodore Junior Grade/ Commodore
Kapitän zur See Captain
Fregattenkapitän Commander
Korvettenkapitän Lieutenant Commander
Kapitänleutnant Lieutenant
Oberleutnant zur See Lieutenant (Jg.)/Sub-Lieutenant
Leutnant zur See Ensign/Acting Sub-Lieutenant
Oberfähnrich zur See Midshipman (Senior Grade)
Fähnrich zur See Cadet/Midshipman (Junior Grade)

Seamen and Petty Officers

  • Matrose (Seaman Recruit)
  • Matrosengefreiter (Seaman Apprentice)
  • Matrosenobergefreiter (Seaman)
  • Matrosenhauptgefreiter (Seaman with 4 ½ years time-in-service)
  • Matrosenstabsgefreiter (Seaman with 6 years time-in-service)
  • Matrosenoberstabsgefreiter (Seaman with 8 years time-in-service)
  • Bootsmannsmat (Petty Officer 3rd Class)
  • Oberbootsmannsmat (Petty Officer 2nd Class)
  • Bootsmann/Feldwebel (Petty Officer 1st Class)
  • Stabsbootsman/Stabsfeldwebel (Petty Officer 1st Class with 12 years time-in-service)
  • Oberbootsman/Oberfeldwebel (Chief Petty Officer)
  • Stabsoberbootsman/Stabsoberfeldwebel (Chief Petty Officer with 10 years time-in-service including 3 years time-in-grade)

Further reading

External links

In German