Wilhelm Canaris

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Wilhelm Canaris

Wilhelm Franz Canaris (b. 1 January 1887 in Aplerbeck, Province of Westphalia, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire; d. 9 April 1945 Flossenbürg concentration camp, Gau Bayreuth, German Reich) was a German naval officer, Admiral of the Kriegsmarine and Chief of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944. At some point, he became a member of the so-called German resistance, sabotaging Germany's war effort, providing the Allies with information, and providing important support for any internal opposition. This has been argued by some to have been an important cause of Germany losing the war.


Admiral Wilhelm Canaris in Brandenburg an der Havel visiting the Brandenburgers 1940; with Stahlhelm Dr. Theodor von Hippel, to the left Major Kewisch, delegated with the leadership of the Bau-Lehr-Regiment z. b. V. 800 „Brandenburg“. Von Hippel was now to organize the 1st battalion of the new and larger Bau-Lehr-Regiment z. b. V. 800 „Brandenburg“, which he did until Oktober 1940.

First World War

Canaris joined the Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) in 1905 and became an officer in 1908. During the First World War he was on board the cruiser SMS Dresden. Although they were in neutral waters off the coast of South America, they were fired upon by British warships. The ship survived the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914, but was subsequently scuttled by the crew, who were interned in Chile, in March 1915. Nevertheless, together with some others Canaris succeeded in escaping to Germany.

Later, now serving within the German naval intelligence, he was sent to Spain, where, in Madrid, his task was to provide clandestine reconnaissance over enemy shipping movements and to establish a supply service for U-boats serving in the Mediterranean Sea. After being assigned to the Inspectorate of U-Boats by the Naval Staff on 24 October 1916, he took up training for duty as a U-boat commander and graduated from Submarine School on 11 September 1917. He commanded SM U-38, U-27, U-47 and U-34. In the last months of the war he commanded U-Boot SM UB-128. In 1919, he fought with the Freikorps (Marine-Brigade „Ehrhardt“) alongside Wolf von Trotha and others and then re-joined the Reichsmarine.

National socialism and Second World War

During the National Socialist period in government, Canaris, who spoke six languages fluently, including English, was a leader of the Abwehr, German military intelligence. Canaris is known for initiating the Star of David patch Jews had to wear from September, 1939 in Poland and from the 1st September, 1941, in Germany and other parts of Europe. Canaris failed to understand the Allie's aims and strategy, and believed that Hitler and his Party were responsible for the war. Therefore his activities concentrated on keeping Hitler's allies and friends out of the war. This resulted in the initial "non-belligerence" of Mussolini, and possibly the reticence of Franco, when it was suggested he allow the Germans to occupy Gibraltar, that could have stopped the war before the invasion of Russia and the so-called holocaust. The assassination of Reinhard Heydrich on 4 June 1942 has been said to be related to Heydrich becoming suspicious of Canaris.

Finally, at the insistence of Himmler, Hitler dismissed Canaris and abolished the Abwehr in February 1944. Canaris was suspected of involvement in the 20 July plot. Eventually, Canaris' personal diary was discovered, implicating him in the conspiracy. As leader of the military intelligence service, Canaris was a protégé of numerous enemies of National Socialist Germany, such as Hans Oster, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Klaus Bonhoeffer, Hans von Dohnanyi and Erwin von Lahousen.


On 9 April 1945 the once so highly decorated Canaris was executed as an enemy of the state Flossenbürg concentration camp.


Canaris was born the son of Carl Canaris, a wealthy industrialist, and his wife, Auguste, née Popp. In 1919, he married Erika Waag, also the child of an industrialist, with whom he had two children.


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  • 1 April 1905 Seekadett
  • 7 April 1906 Fähnrich zur See
  • 28 September 1908 Leutnant zur See
  • 29 August 1910 Oberleutnant zur See
  • 16 November 1915 Kapitänleutnant


  • 1 January 1924 Korvettenkapitän
  • 1 June 1929 Fregattenkapitän
  • 1 October 1931 Kapitän zur See
  • 1 May 1935 Konteradmiral


  • 1 April 1938 Vizeadmiral
  • 1 January 1940 Admiral

See also

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