Ludwig von Reuter

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Ludwig von Reuter
Born(1869-02-09)9 February 1869
Guben, Prussia
Died18 December 1943(1943-12-18) (aged 74)
Potsdam, Prussia, Germany
Allegiance German Empire
Service/branch Imperial German Navy
Service years1885–1920
Commands held

Hans Hermann Ludwig von Reuter (9 February 1869 – 18 December 1943) was a German admiral who commanded the High Seas Fleet when it was interned at Scapa Flow in the north of Scotland at the end of World War I. On 21 June 1919 he ordered the scuttling of the German fleet in Scapa Flow to prevent the UK from seizing the ships.

Early life[edit]

Reuter was born in Guben into a Prussian military family. His father, a colonel in the army, was killed in the Franco-Prussian War. In 1885, he became a cadet in the Imperial German Navy at the instigation of his mother. As a midshipman at the age of 17, he was promoted to Unterleutnant zur See in 1888. By 1910, he was a Kapitän zur See, commanding the armored cruiser SMS Yorck.[1]

World War I[edit]

Two months after the outbreak of World War I, he was made captain of the battlecruiser SMS Derfflinger, which he also commanded during the Battle of Dogger Bank. In September 1915, he became Commodore and commanding officer of the Fourth Scouting Group of five light cruisers (SMS Stuttgart, SMS Hamburg, SMS München, SMS Stettin, SMS Frauenlob), leading the group during the Battle of Jutland. Promoted to Konteradmiral in November 1916, he was placed in command of the Second Reconnaissance Group, a fleet of six light cruisers including his flagship SMS Königsberg. He commanded the group during the mine sweeping operation that led to the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight in November 1917. Faced with a surprise attack by a numerically superior force of British ships, he successfully withdrew his group under fire to the protection of the battleships SMS Kaiser and SMS Kaiserin.[1] Reuter was appointed Commander, Reconnaissance Forces and I Scouting Group in August 1918, succeeding Franz von Hipper.

Scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow[edit]

von Reuter's Command flag, reputedly removed from the Hindenburg after her scuttling at Scapa Flow

After the armistice that ended World War I, Konteradmiral von Reuter was requested to take command of the fleet that was to be interned at Scapa Flow until its final disposition would be decided at Versailles. Admiral Franz von Hipper, commander-in-chief of the High Seas Fleet, had refused to lead his ships into internment. He thus protested against the seizing of the fleet by Britain and its relocation to a British war harbour instead of a neutral location, as had been agreed initially.[1]

As the final deadline neared for the German delegation to sign the Treaty of Versailles, Reuter anticipated that his ships would be handed over to the victorious Allies. To prevent this, he ordered all 74 ships scuttled on 21 June 1919, using an unusual flag signal previously agreed upon. Unbeknownst to the British, all ships had long ago been prepared for this action. Within five hours, 10 battleships, five battlecruisers, five light cruisers, and 32 destroyers sank in Scapa Flow. The battleship SMS Baden, the three light cruisers SMS Emden, SMS Nürnberg, and SMS Frankfurt, and 14 destroyers were beached when British watch personnel were able to intervene in time and tow them to shallow water. Only four destroyers remained afloat. Nine Germans were killed by British soldiers either aboard some of the ships (including Walter Schumann, the captain of SMS Markgraf) or some of their lifeboats, while flying a white flag – the last German war deaths of World War I.[2]

Reuter was vilified in Britain and made a prisoner of war, along with the other 1,773 officers and men of the fleet's remaining rump crews. In Germany, he was celebrated as a hero who had protected the honour of the navy.[3] While most of the imprisoned Germans were soon returned to Germany, Reuter was among several who remained imprisoned in Britain. He was eventually released and finally returned to Germany in late January 1920.[4]

Later life[edit]


Five months after his return from Britain, Reuter was requested to hand in his resignation from the Navy. The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to drastically reduce the size of its navy leaving Reuter without a suitable command, given his rank and age. Moving to Potsdam, he eventually became a state councillor. He also wrote a book on the scuttling of the High Fleet, Scapa Flow: Grave of the German Fleet. On 29 August 1939, he was made full admiral by Hitler to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Tannenberg.


Reuter died in Potsdam of a heart attack on 18 December 1943.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Van der Vat, 1982, pp. 109–111.
  2. ^ Massie, 2003, p. 787.
  3. ^ Van der Vat, 1982, pp. 180–185.
  4. ^ a b Van der Vat, 1982, pp. 194–195.


  • Massie, Robert (2003). Castles of Steel: Britain Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-45671-6.
  • Van der Vat, Dan (1982). The Grand Scuttle: The Sinking of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow in 1919. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-27580-4.

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