Ensign of the Kreigsmaine 1938 to 1945
|Part of||High Command of the Navy|
The Kriegsmarine or War Navy was the navy of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It superseded the Imperial German Navy of the German Empire (1871–1918) and the inter-war Reichsmarine (1919–1935) of the Weimar Republic.
The Kriegsmarine was one of three official branches, along with the Heer and the Luftwaffe of the Wehrmacht, the German Armed Forces from 1935 to 1945.
The war navy was controlled and directed by the High Command of the Navy or the Oberkommando der Marine (OKM) who's head was the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy or Oberbefehlshaber der Marine.
Following 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 in May 1935, the Treaty of Versailles was renounced after the passing of the “Law for the Reconstruction of the National Defense Forces”. The former Reichswehr (or Realm Defence) became the Wehrmacht or (Defence Force) of Germany. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe (air force). On 18 June 1935 the Anglo-German Naval Agreement between the United Kingdom allowed Germany to build a navy equivalent to 35% of the British surface ship tonnage and 45% of British submarine tonnage; battleships were to be limited to no more than 35,000 tons. That same year the Reichsmarine was renamed as the Kriegsmarine.
The building-up of the German fleet in the time period of 1935–1939 was slowed by problems with marshaling enough manpower and material for ship building. This was because of the simultaneous and rapid build-up of the German army and air force which demanded substantial effort and resources. Some projects, like the D-class cruisers and the P-class cruisers, had to be cancelled.
The first military action of the Kriegsmarine came during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). Following the outbreak of hostilities in July 1936 several large warships of the German fleet were sent to the region. The heavy cruisers Deutschland and Admiral Scheer, and the light cruiser Köln were the first to be sent in July 1936. These large ships were accompanied by the 2nd Torpedo-boat Flotilla. The German presence was used to covertly support Franco's Nationalists although the immediate involvement of the Deutschland was humanitarian relief operations and evacuating 9,300 refugees, including 4,550 German citizens. Following the brokering of the International Non-Intervention Patrol to enforce an international arms embargo the Kriegsmarine was allotted the patrol area between Cabo de Gata (Almeria) and Cabo de Oropesa. Numerous vessels served as part of these duties including Admiral Graf Spee. On 29 May 1937 the Deutschland was attacked off Ibiza by two bombers from the Republican Air Force. Total casualties from the Republican attack were 31 dead and 110 wounded, 71 seriously, mostly burn victims. In retaliation the Admiral Scheer shelled Almeria on 31 May killing 19–20 civilians, wounding 50 and destroying 35 buildings. Following further attacks by Republican submarines against the Leipzig off the port of Oran between 15 and 18 June 1937 Germany withdrew from the Non-Intervention Patrol.
U-boats also participated in covert action against Republican shipping as part of Operation Ursula. At least eight U-boats engaged a small number of targets in the area throughout the conflict. (By comparison the Italian Regia Marina operated 58 submarines in the area as part of the Sottomarini Legionari.)
In April 1939, as tensions escalated between the United Kingdom and Germany over Poland, Hitler unilaterally rescinded the restrictions of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. The Kriegsmarine saw as her main tasks the controlling of the Baltic Sea and winning a war against France in connection with the German army, because France was seen as the most likely enemy in the event of war. But in 1938 Hitler wanted to have the possibility of winning a war against Great Britain at sea in the coming years. Therefore, he ordered plans for such a fleet from the Kriegsmarine. From the three proposed plans (X, Y and Z) he approved Plan Z in January 1939. This blueprint for the new German naval construction program envisaged building a navy of approximately 800 ships during the period 1939–1947. Hitler demanded that the program was to be completed by 1945. The main force of Plan Z were six H-class battleships. In the version of Plan Z drawn up in August 1939 the German fleet was planned to consist of the following ships by 1945:
The organization of the Kriegsmarine refers to the operational and administrative structure of the German Navy from 1935 to 1945. Many of the organizational tenets of the Kriegsmarine were inherited from its predecessor the Reichsmarine. As World War II unfolded, the Kriegsmarine expanded to cover additional regions and responsibilities.
The ultimate command authority for the Kriegsmarine was the Oberkommando der Marine (OKM) translated as High Command of the Navy, which was headed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy (Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine). OKM in turn answered to the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, translated as High Command of the Wehrmacht
- Grand Admiral Erich Johann Albert Raeder, 1 June 1935 – 30 January 1943.
- Grand Admiral Karl Donitz, 30 January 1943 – 1 May 1945.
- General Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, 1 May 1945 – 23 May 1945.
- General Admiral Walter Wilhelm Julius Warzecha, 23 May 1945 – 22 June 1945.
Components under the High Command
At various times it encompassed naval formations and other ships not attached to other fleets. In addition to geographical naval stations and group regional commands.
|Baltic Sea Naval Station||1935||1938/9|
|North Sea Naval Station||1935||1938/9|
The previous Reichsmarine did not maintain traditional at-sea fleets, but instead assigned two geographical areas (known as Marinestation) which oversaw all vessels operationally deployed in the North and Baltic Seas. Each naval station maintained a headquarters staff, general naval inspectorate, training department, artillery arsenal inspector, as well as a medical command unit. The naval stations also served as a senior officer for the commanders of the various German navy ports. In 1938/9 these two stations became subordinate commands of Marine Group Commands West and East.
|Marine Group Command East||1938||1940|
|Marine Group Command North||1940||1944|
|Marine Group Command South||1941||1944|
|Marine Group Command West||1938||1944|
The Navy Group Commands were the highest operational authority of the Kriegsmarine and held direct tactical control of all naval vessels and personnel in their region of responsibility. In contrast to other navies, the Kriegsmarine did not use numbered fleets, but instead used geographical regions to determine operational control. Thus, vessels were not permanently assigned to a group, but were administratively commanded by a type commander and then operationally deployed into a particular Navy Group commander's area. Below the group commands were the naval shore commands
- Waldeyer-Hartz, H. Ein Mann: Das Leben des Admirals Ludwig v. Schröder. Vieweg+Teubner Verlag (1934), pg. 47