Erich Raeder

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Erich Raeder
Erich Raeder, Official Portrait (1940).
Chief of the German Navy High Command
In office
1 June 1935 – 30 January 1943
DeputyRolf Carls
Preceded byHimself (as Head of the Naval Command)
Succeeded byKarl Dönitz
Head of the German Naval Command
In office
1 October 1928 – 1 June 1935
Preceded byHans Zenker
Succeeded byHimself (as Oberbefehlshaber der Marine)
Personal details
Erich Johann Albert Raeder

(1876-04-24)24 April 1876
Wandsbek, Hamburg German Empire
Died6 November 1960(1960-11-06) (aged 84)[1]
Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein, West Germany
Resting placeNordfriedhof cemetery, Kiel[2][3]
SpouseAugusta Schultz
Parent(s)Hans Friedrich Eduard Raeder (father)
Gertrud Wilhelmine Margaretha (mother)
Military service
Years of service1894–1943
Rank Großadmiral
CommandsSMS Cöln
Battles/warsWorld War I World War II
Criminal conviction
Criminal statusDeceased
Conviction(s)Conspiracy to commit crimes against peace
Crimes of aggression
War crimes
TrialNuremberg trials
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment

Erich Johann Albert Raeder (24 April 1876 – 6 November 1960[1]) was a German admiral who played a major role in the naval history of World War II, and was convicted of war crimes after the war. Raeder attained the highest possible naval rank, that of grand admiral, in 1939, becoming the first person to hold that rank since Henning von Holtzendorff in 1918. Raeder led the Kriegsmarine for the first half of the war; he resigned in January 1943 and was replaced by Karl Dönitz. At the Nuremberg trials he was sentenced to life imprisonment but was released early owing to failing health.

Early career[edit]

Early years[edit]

Raeder was born in Wandsbek[4] in the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein in the German Empire. His father was a headmaster, who as a teacher and a father was noted for his marked authoritarian views, and who impressed upon his son the values of hard work, thrift, faith and obedience – all values that Raeder preached throughout his life.[5] Hans Raeder also warned his children that if Germany were to become a democracy, that would be a disaster as it meant government by men "playing politics" – doing what was only best for their petty sectarian interests instead of the nation.[5]

Imperial German Navy[edit]

Erich Raeder (second from left) and the staff of Vice Admiral Franz von Hipper (center), 1916

Raeder joined the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial Navy) in 1894 and rapidly rose in rank, becoming chief of staff for Franz von Hipper in 1912. Raeder's rise up the ranks was due mostly to his intelligence and hard work[6] though from 1901 to 1903 Raeder served on the staff of Prince Heinrich of Prussia, and gained a powerful patron in the process.[7] Owing to his cold and distant personality, Raeder was a man whom even his friends often admitted to knowing very little about.[6] The dominating figure of the Navy was Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the autocratic State Secretary of the Navy. Tirpitz's preferred means of obtaining "world power status" was through his Risikotheorie (risk theory) where Germany would build a Risikoflotte (Risk Fleet) that would make it too dangerous for Britain to risk a war with Germany, and thereby alter the international balance of power decisively in the Reich's favor. Tirpitz transformed the Navy from the small coastal defense force of 1897 into the mighty High Seas Fleet of 1914.

In 1904, Raeder, who spoke fluent Russian, was sent to the Far East as an observer of the Russo-Japanese War.[8] Starting in 1905, Raeder worked in the public relations section of the Navy, where he first met Tirpitz and began his introduction to politics by briefing journalists to run articles promoting the Seemachtideologie and meeting politicians who held seats in the Reichstag in order to convert them to the Seemachtideologie.[9] Working closely with Tirpitz, Raeder was heavily involved in the lobbying the Reichstag to pass the Third Navy Law of 1906 which committed Germany to building "all big gun battleships" to compete with the new British Dreadnought class in the Anglo-German naval race that had only begun at the start of the 20th century.[10]

Raeder was the captain of Kaiser Wilhelm II's private yacht in the years leading up to World War I. In itself, this was not a rewarding post, but often people in this post were quickly promoted afterwards.[11]

World War I[edit]

Raeder served as Hipper's chief of staff during World War I, as well as in combat posts. He took part in the Battle of Dogger Bank in 1915 and in the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Raeder later described Hipper as an admiral who "hated paperwork"; accordingly, Hipper delegated considerable power to Raeder, who thus enjoyed more influence than his position as chief of staff would suggest.[12]

During and after World War I the German navy was divided into two schools of thought. One, led by Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz (1849–1930), consisted of avid followers of the teachings of the American historian Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840–1914) and believed in building a "balanced fleet" centered around the battleship that would seek out and win a decisive battle of annihilation (Entscheidungsschlacht) against the Royal Navy in the event of war.[13] The other school, led by Commander Wolfgang Wegener (1875–1956), argued that because of superior British shipbuilding capacity Germany could never hope to build a "balanced fleet" capable of winning an Entscheidungsschlacht, and so the best use of German naval strength was to build a fleet of cruisers and submarines that would wage a guerre de course (commerce raiding against an enemy's merchant shipping).[14] After reading all three of Wegener's papers setting out his ideas, Admiral Hipper decided to submit them to the Admiralty in Berlin, but changed his mind after reading a paper by Raeder attacking the Wegener thesis as flawed.[15] This marked the beginning of a long feud between Raeder and Wegener, with Wegener claiming that his former friend Raeder was jealous of what Wegener insisted were his superior ideas.[16]

In May 1916 Raeder played a major role planning a raid by Hipper's battlecruisers that aimed to lure out the British battlecruiser force which would then be destroyed by the main High Seas Fleet.[17] This raid turned into the Battle of Jutland. Raeder played a prominent role, and was forced midway through the battle to transfer from SMS Lützow to SMS Moltke as a result of damage to Hipper's flagship.

As chief of staff to Admiral Hipper he was closely involved in a plan of Hipper's for a German battlecruiser squadron to sail across the Atlantic and sweep through the waters off Canada down to the West Indies and on to South America to sink the British cruisers operating in those waters, and thereby force the British to redeploy a substantial part of the Home Fleet to the New World.[18] Though Hipper's plans were rejected[when?] as far too risky, they significantly influenced Raeder's later thinking.[19]

On 14 October 1918, Raeder received a major promotion with appointment as deputy to Admiral Paul Behncke, the Naval State Secretary.[20] Raeder had doubts about submarines, but he spent the last weeks of the war working to achieve the Scheer Programme of building 450 U-boats.

On 28 October 1918 the Imperial German fleet mutinied.[21] Raeder played a major role in attempting to crush the mutiny.

Weimar Republic[edit]

Raeder's two younger brothers were both killed in action in the First World War, and in 1919 his first marriage, which had been under heavy strain due to war-related stress, ended in divorce.[22] For the puritanical Raeder, the divorce was a huge personal disgrace, and for the rest of his life he always denied his first marriage.[22] The years 1918–1919 were some of the most troubled in his life.[22]

High Seas Fleet mutiny[edit]

In the winter of 1918–19, Raeder was closely involved in the efforts of the naval officer corps, strongly backed by the Defense Minister Gustav Noske to disband the sailors' councils established after the mutiny.[23] Noske was a Majority Social Democrat with firm "law and order" views. During this period, Raeder served as the liaison between the naval officer corps and Noske, and it was Raeder who suggested to Noske on 11 January 1919 that Adolf von Trotha be appointed commander-in-chief of the Navy.[24] Tirpitz's attacks on the Emperor's leadership during the war had caused a split in the officer corps between the followers of "the Master" and the Kaiser, and Raeder saw Trotha as the only officer acceptable to both factions.[24] Noske in turn asked the Navy for volunteers for the Freikorps to crush uprisings from the Communists.[25] The Navy contributed two brigades to the Freikorps.[26] The price to the Navy for supporting the Freikorps was the continuation of the Navy's "state-within-the state" status, and the end of attempts to democratize the military. Under the Weimar Republic, the military considered itself überparteiliche (above party), which did not mean political neutrality as implied.[27] The military argued that there were two types of "politics": parteipolitisch (party politics) which was the responsibility of the politicians, and staatspolitisch (state politics) which was the responsibility of the military.[27] Staatspolitisch concerned Germany's "eternal" interests and the "historic mission" of winning world power, which was to be pursued regardless of what the politicians or the people wanted.[27]

Kapp putsch[edit]

Raeder in 1928

After the war, in 1920, Raeder was involved in the failed Kapp Putsch when, together with almost the entire naval officer corps, he declared himself openly for the "government" of Wolfgang Kapp against the leaders of the Weimar Republic.[7] In the summer of 1920 Raeder married his second wife, with whom he was to have one son.

After the failure of the Kapp Putsch he was marginalized in the Navy, being transferred to the Naval Archives, where for two years he played a leading role in writing the official history of the Navy in World War I.[28] After this, Raeder resumed his steady rise in the navy hierarchy, becoming Vizeadmiral (vice admiral) in 1925.


Raeder and Paul von Hindenburg in Kiel, 1931

On 1 October 1928, Raeder was promoted to admiral and made chief of the Naval Command (Chef der Marineleitung) of the Reichsmarine, the Weimar Republic Navy. On 1 June 1935, the Reichsmarine was renamed the Kriegsmarine and Raeder became its commander-in-chief with the title of Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine. On 20 April 1936, Raeder was promoted to the new rank of Generaladmiral and granted the rank and authority of a Reichsminister but without the formal title.[29] On 30 January 1937, Hitler conferred the Golden Party Badge on Raeder, thereby enrolling him in the Party (membership number 3,805,228).[30]

World War II[edit]

Erhard Milch, Wilhelm Keitel, Walther von Brauchitsch, Raeder and Maximilian von Weichs at the 1938 Nuremberg Rally

Raeder believed the navy was unprepared for the start of World War II by at least five years. The surface fleet was inadequate to fight the Royal Navy and instead adopted a strategy of convoy raiding. Raeder wanted the Kriegsmarine to play an active part because he feared the budget would be cut after the war. The smaller ships were dispersed around the world in order to force the Royal Navy to disperse their ships to combat them, while the battleships would carry out raids in the North Sea, with a view towards gradually reducing the Royal Navy's strength at home.

Raeder was unhappy with the outcome of the Battle of the River Plate and believed that Hans Langsdorff should not have scuttled the ship, but instead sailed out to engage the Royal Navy. Fleet commander Hermann Boehm was held responsible and was sacked by Raeder, who also issued orders that ships were to fight until the last shell and either win or sink with their flags flying.

The Allies were using Norwegian airfields to transfer aircraft to the Finns fighting against the Soviets in the Winter War, as well as mining Norwegian waters, and the Germans were alarmed by these developments. If the Allies were to use Norwegian naval bases or successfully mine Norwegian waters, they could cut off Germany's vital iron ore imports from Sweden and tighten the blockade of Germany. The Allies had made plans to invade Norway and Sweden in order to cut off those iron ore shipments. Admiral Rolf Carls, commander of the Kriegsmarine in the Baltic Sea region, proposed the invasion of Norway to Raeder in September 1939. Raeder briefed Hitler on the idea in October, but planning did not begin until December 1939. The operation was in low-priority planning until the Altmark incident in February 1940, during which a German tanker carrying 300 Allied prisoners in then-neutral Norwegian waters was boarded by sailors from a Royal Navy destroyer and the prisoners were freed. After this, plans for the Norwegian invasion took on a new sense of urgency. The invasion proved costly for the Kriegsmarine, which lost a heavy cruiser, two of its six light cruisers, 10 of its 20 destroyers and six U-boats. In addition, almost all of the other capital ships were damaged and required dockyard repairs, and for a time the German surface fleet had only three light cruisers and four destroyers operational in the aftermath of the Norwegian campaign.

The swift victory over France allowed the Kriegsmarine to base itself in ports on France's west coast. This was strategically important as German warships would no longer have to navigate through the dangerous English Channel in order to return to friendly ports, as well as allow them to range farther out into the Atlantic to attack convoys. With the surrender of France, Raeder saw the opportunity to greatly enhance the navy's power by confiscating the ships of the French Navy and manning them with his crews. Hitler however, vetoed this idea, afraid that doing so would push the French navy to join the Royal Navy. British fears of Raeder's plan resulted in the Attack on Mers-el-Kébir, in which the Royal Navy attacked the French navy despite being at peace with France.

Raeder with Otto Kretschmer (left), August 1940

On 11 July 1940, Hitler and Raeder agreed to continue building the battleships called for by Plan Z. Raeder also had bases built at Trondheim on the Norwegian Sea and at Saint-Nazaire and Lorient on the Bay of Biscay. At this time, Raeder and other senior officers began submitting memos to invade (among others) Shetland, Iceland, the Azores, Iran, Madagascar, Kuwait, Egypt and the Dutch East Indies.

In January 1941, the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were sent on a successful commerce-raiding mission in the Atlantic. On 18 March, following the beginning of Lend-Lease, Raeder wanted to start firing on US warships even if unprovoked. He declined to invade the Azores because of the surface ship losses the previous year. Raeder urged Hitler to declare war on the United States throughout 1941 so the Kriegsmarine could begin sinking American warships escorting British convoys.[31]

In April 1941, Raeder planned to follow up the success of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau's commerce-raiding mission with an even larger mission involving a battleship, two battlecruisers and a heavy cruiser under the command of Lütjens, codenamed Operation Rheinübung. The original plan was to have the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau involved in the operation, but Scharnhorst was undergoing heavy repairs to her engines, and Gneisenau had just suffered a damaging torpedo hit days before which put her out of action for six months. In the end only the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were sent out on the mission, which ended with Bismarck's sinking. The debacle almost saw the end of using capital ships against merchant shipping.[citation needed] Hitler was not pleased and saw the resources used in the construction and operation of the large Bismarck as a poor investment.

In late 1941, Raeder planned the "channel dash" which sent the remaining two battleships in the French ports to Germany, for further operations in Norwegian waters. The plan was to threaten the Lend-Lease convoys to the Soviet Union, to deter an invasion of Norway, and to tie down elements of the Home Fleet that might otherwise have been used in the Atlantic against the U-boat wolfpacks.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor Raeder, along with Field Marshal Keitel and Reichsmarschall Göring, urged Hitler to immediately declare war on the United States in view of the US war plan Rainbow Five, and to begin the U-boat attacks off the US east coast, which would be called the "Second Happy Time" by German submariners.[32]


Raeder with Adolf Hitler, 1943

On 30 January 1943, following Hitler's outrage over the Battle of the Barents Sea, Karl Dönitz, the supreme commander of the Kriegsmarine's U-boat arm, was promoted to grand admiral, and Raeder was named admiral inspector, a ceremonial office. Raeder had failed to inform Hitler of the battle, which Hitler learned about from the foreign press. Hitler thought the Lützow and Admiral Hipper lacked fighting spirit, according to Albert Speer. The reorganisation fitted Speer's goal of working more closely with Dönitz.[33]

After the war[edit]

Nuremberg trial[edit]

Raeder with his wife after being released from prison (September 26, 1955)

Raeder was captured by Soviet troops on 23 June 1945[34] and imprisoned in Moscow. At the end of July he was taken to Nuremberg to stand trial on the counts of: (1) conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; (2) planning, initiating, and waging wars of aggression; and (3) crimes against the laws of war.

Raeder was found guilty on all counts[35] and sentenced to life imprisonment.[36] He was surprised as he had expected to be sentenced to death.[37] His wife, supported by German veterans, led several campaigns to free him until, on account of his ill health, he was released on 26 September 1955.[38]


Raeder's Grave in Kiel

Raeder wrote his autobiography, Mein Leben, using a ghostwriter.

He died of natural causes in Kiel on 6 November 1960.[1][39] His wife had died the previous year. He is buried in the Nordfriedhof (North Cemetery) in Kiel.[2][3][40] Former Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz attended his funeral on 12 November 1960.[41]

Service summary[edit]

Dates of rank

Awards and decorations



  1. ^ a b c The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2 November 2020) [20 July 1998]. "Erich Raeder". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 13 April 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Erich Raeder 24.IV.1876 – 06.XI.1960". Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 14 April 2021. Obituary.
  3. ^ a b Thorne, Stephen J. (30 October 2019). "Raeder's Defence: German Admiral Fights for His Doomed Fleet". Legion. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  4. ^ Bird, Keith W. (2013). Erich Raeder: Admiral of the Third Reich. Naval Institute Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-55750-047-2. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  5. ^ a b Bird Erich Raeder pp. 1–2.
  6. ^ a b Bird Erich Raeder p. xxvi.
  7. ^ a b Thomas p. 51.
  8. ^ Bird Erich Raeder p. 13.
  9. ^ Bird Erich Raeder pp. 13–14.
  10. ^ Bird Erich Raeder pp. 14–15.
  11. ^ Bird Erich Raeder p. 17.
  12. ^ Bird Erich Raeder p. 18.
  13. ^ Herwig p. 73.
  14. ^ Herwig pp. 83–85.
  15. ^ Hansen p. 89.
  16. ^ Hansen p. 81.
  17. ^ Bird Erich Raeder p. 23.
  18. ^ Bird Erich Raeder p. 89.
  19. ^ Hansen p. 93.
  20. ^ Bird Erich Raeder p. 31.
  21. ^ Bird Erich Raeder p. 34.
  22. ^ a b c Bird Erich Raeder p. 49.
  23. ^ Bird Erich Raeder pp. 35–36.
  24. ^ a b Bird Erich Raeder p. 37.
  25. ^ Bird Weimar pp. 45–46.
  26. ^ Bird Weimar pp. 46–52.
  27. ^ a b c Bird Weimar p. 140.
  28. ^ Thomas pp. 57–58.
  29. ^ "Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Volume V, pp. 542-543, Document 2879-PS" (PDF). Office of United States Chief of Counsel For Prosecution of Axis Criminality. 1946. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  30. ^ Wistrich, Robert (1982). Who's Who in Nazi Germany. Macmillan Publishing Co. p. 239. ISBN 0-02-630600-X.
  31. ^ Murray, Williamson & Millet, Alan A War to Be Won Fighting the Second World War, Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2000, ISBN 9780674006805., p. 248
  32. ^ "The Big Leak". Archived from the original on 18 August 2018. Retrieved 17 January 2018.
  33. ^ Speer, Albert (1995). Inside the Third Reich. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. pp. 374–375. ISBN 978-1-84212-735-3.
  34. ^ Biagi, Enzo (1983). La seconda guerra mondiale, una storia di uomini [The world war two, a history of men] (in Italian). Milan: Gruppo editoriale Fabbri. p. 2743.
  35. ^ Biagi, p. 2757
  36. ^ Biagi, p. 2759
  37. ^ Bird, Keith (2013). Erich Raeder: Admiral of the Third Reich. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1612513751.
  38. ^ Bird, Keith (2013). Erich Raeder: Admiral of the Third Reich. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1612513751.
  39. ^ "Admiral Erich Raeder Is Dead; Led German Navy Under Hitler; Played an Important Role in Developing of Nazi Fleet—Convicted for War Crimes". The New York Times. 7 November 1960. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  40. ^ "Admiral Erich Raeder Is Dead; Led German Navy Under Hitler; Played an Important Role in Developing of JVczi Fleetu Convicted for War Crimes". The New York Times. 7 November 1960. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
  41. ^ "GERMANY: KIEL: DOENITZ AT RAEDER FUNERAL". Reuters Archive Licensing. Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h Dörr 1996, p. 142.
  43. ^ Bird, Keith W. (2006). Erich Raeder : Admiral of the Third Reich. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1612513751. OCLC 843883018.
  44. ^ Scherzer p. 611.


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External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Admiral Hans Zenker
Commander in Chief of the Reichsmarine
Succeeded by
himself as Commander in Chief of the Kriegsmarine
Preceded by
himself as Commander in Chief of the Reichsmarine
Commander in Chief of the Kriegsmarine
Succeeded by
Awards and achievements
Preceded by Cover of Time magazine
20 April 1942
Succeeded by