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|Birth name||Wilhelm Franz Canaris|
|Born||1 January 1887
Aplerbeck, Westphalia, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
|Died||9 April 1945 (aged 58)
Flossenbürg concentration camp, Bavaria, Nazi Germany
|Allegiance|| German Empire
|Service/branch|| Kaiserliche Marine
|Years of service||1905–44|
World War I
|Awards||Iron Cross First and Second Class
German Cross in Silver
The Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918
Wehrmacht's Twelve and Twenty-Five Year Long-Service Ribbons.
Wilhelm Franz Canaris (1 January 1887 – 9 April 1945) was a German admiral and chief of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944. During the Second World War, he was among the military officers involved in the clandestine opposition to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. He was executed in Flossenbürg concentration camp for the act of high treason.
Early life and First World War
Canaris was born in Aplerbeck (now a part of Dortmund) in Westphalia, the son of Carl Canaris, a rich industrialist, and his wife Auguste Popp. Canaris himself believed that his family was related to the 19th-century Greek admiral, freedom fighter, and politician Constantine Kanaris, a belief that influenced his decision to join the Imperial German Navy. While on a visit to Corfu, he was given a portrait of the Greek hero that he always kept in his office. However, according to Richard Bassett, a genealogical investigation in 1938 revealed that his family was actually of Northern Italian descent, originally called Canarisi, and had lived in Germany since the 17th century. His grandfather had converted from Roman Catholicism to Lutheranism.
In 1905, at the age of seventeen, Canaris joined the Imperial Navy and by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 was serving as an intelligence officer on board the cruiser SMS Dresden. This was the only warship that managed to evade the British fleet for a prolonged period during the Battle of the Falkland Islands of December 1914, largely due to the excellent deception tactics of Canaris. While anchored in Cumberland Bay, Robinson Crusoe Island, Dresden was trapped and forced to scuttle after the Battle of Más a Tierra with the Royal Navy was lost. Most of the crew was interned in Chile in March 1915, but in August 1915 Canaris escaped by using his fluency in Spanish. With the help of some German merchants he was able to return to Germany in October 1915. On the way, he called at several ports, including one in Great Britain.
Canaris was then given intelligence work and sent to Spain, where he survived a British assassination attempt. Returning to active service, he ended the war as a celebrated U-boat commander from late 1917 in the Mediterranean and was credited with eighteen sinkings. He spoke English fluently (as well as four other foreign languages), and as a naval officer of the old school had great respect for Great Britain's Royal Navy, despite the rivalry between the two nations.
During the German Revolution of 1918–19, Canaris helped organise the formation of Freikorps units (paramilitary units) in order to suppress the Communist revolutionary movements that were attempting to spread the ideals of the Russian Revolution into central European nations. He was also a member of the military court that tried (and mostly acquitted) those involved in the assassination of the leftist revolutionaries Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Also during this period, he was appointed to the adjutancy of defence minister Gustav Noske. In 1919, he married Erika Waag, also the child of an industrialist. They had two daughters, Eva and Brigitte.
Canaris remained in the military after the war, first as a member of the Freikorps and then as part of the Reichsmarine (the German navy). He was promoted rapidly in the Reichsmarine, first to the rank of captain in 1931, then Executive Officer of the cruiser Berlin and Commanding Officer of the battleship Schlesien. At this time, he became involved in intelligence work again. He made a series of contacts with high-ranking German officers, politicians and industrialists for the purpose of creating order in German politics. During his Freikorps period, he was on intimate terms with individuals such as Horst von Pflugk-Harttung who were accused of arranging assassinations of leftist political leaders. Canaris was himself accused, although later acquitted, of being involved in assassinations and other crimes (including the murder of Rosa Luxemberg). During the period 1930-33, Canaris followed a course quite parallel to the one followed by many future leaders of the Nazi Party, although he never became a party member himself.
Canaris was made head of the Abwehr, Germany's official military intelligence agency, as of 1 January 1935, a little less than two years after Adolf Hitler took control of the German government in 1933. Later in 1935, he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral. During the period 1935–36, he made contacts in Spain to organise a German spy network there, due to his excellent Spanish.
Until 1937, Canaris was a supporter of Hitler's Nazi regime as the only available political entity capable of stopping the spread of Communism from the Soviet Union. He started to alter his thinking about the nature of Hitler's political policies radically beginning in 1938.
Canaris tried to hinder Hitler's attempts to absorb Czechoslovakia, and he also advised Franco not to permit German passage through Spain for the purpose of capturing Gibraltar. Arguments used by Franco to counter Hitler's demands for German access to Spanish territory were influenced directly by Canaris, who met with a number of Franco's top advisors. Additionally, a significant sum of money was deposited by the British in Swiss accounts for Franco and his generals to maintain their neutrality.
During the 1938 crisis over Czechoslovakia that culminated in the Munich Agreement, Canaris was a leader of the "anti-war" group in the German government together with the army chief of staff, General Ludwig Beck, and the Foreign Office's state secretary Ernst von Weizsäcker. These individuals were determined to avoid a war in 1938 that it felt Germany would lose.
Canaris and his associates were not necessarily committed to the overthrow of Hitler's regime, but they were loosely allied to another, more radical group, the "anti-Nazi" faction centered around Colonel Hans Oster and Hans Bernd Gisevius that wanted to use the crisis as an excuse for executing a putsch to overthrow the Nazi regime.
The most audacious plan contemplated by Canaris, in collaboration with Ewald von Kleist-Schmenzin, was to capture and eliminate Hitler and the entire Nazi party before the invasion of Czechoslovakia. At this particular moment, Kleist visited Britain secretly and discussed the situation with British MI6 and some high-ranking politicians. There, the name of Canaris became widely known as Kleist's executive hand in the event of an anti-Nazi plot. The high-ranking German military leaders believed that if Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, or any other country, Britain would declare war on Germany. MI6 was of the same opinion. The British declaration of war would have given the General Staff, in their belief, both the pretext and support for an overthrow of Hitler.
The reaction of the British government to Hitler's demands on the Sudetenland was more cautious, however. At a meeting with Hitler in Munich, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier chose diplomacy over war. The Munich Agreement was thus a severe disappointment for Kleist and Canaris. It gave Hitler's international reputation an important boost, since he was able to play the part of a man of reason and compromise who could boast that his predictions about Great Britain and France not responding with war were correct. There are claims that Canaris, who was extremely shocked by this "dishonest and stupid decision" (his own words), decided to be cautious and wait for a better time to act against Hitler.
In January 1939, Canaris manufactured the "Dutch War Scare" that gripped the British government. By 23 January 1939, the British government received information to the effect that Germany intended to invade the Netherlands in February 1939 with the aim of using Dutch airfields to launch a strategic bombing offensive intended to achieve a "knock-out" blow against Britain by razing British cities to the ground. All this information was false, and it was intended by Canaris to achieve a change in British foreign policy. In this, Canaris was successful, and the "Dutch War Scare" played a major role in causing Chamberlain to make the "continental commitment" (i.e. sending a large British ground force to the defence of France) in February 1939.
Nevertheless, it appears likely[vague] that MI6 maintained contact with Canaris even after the Munich Agreement signed on 30 September 1938. When Winston Churchill came to power after the resignation of Chamberlain in May 1940, Canaris' hopes were renewed, given the new Prime Minister's strong position against Hitler.
World War II
Reinhard Heydrich, who as a naval cadet had served under Canaris and had become his protégé, friend, and neighbour, was at the time the leader of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, or "Security Service") and now became Canaris' rival. The posting of Canaris to the Abwehr is supposed to have had the secret approval of the dynamic Heydrich, who preferred him to his predecessor, Konrad Patzig, who had been out of step with the Nazi party. Heydrich wanted an Abwehr that could be controlled and he kept a close eye on Canaris. Outwardly Canaris gave the appearance of siding with his friend Heydrich, but this was in order to give the Abwehr a chance to grow and become a considerable force.
According to Richard Bassett, Canaris was deeply frustrated by a briefing given by Hitler before the attack on Poland in 1939. During this briefing, he learned about a series of exterminations that had been ordered and was required to take notes on them. These notes, the book states, were sent to the British intelligence service, MI6. After the outbreak of war between Germany and Poland, in September 1939, Canaris visited the front and witnessed examples of the war crimes committed by the SS Einsatzgruppen, including the burning of the synagogue in Będzin. He also received reports from Abwehr agents about several incidents of mass murder throughout Poland.
After hearing reports of massacres in Poland and even witnessing war crimes himself, Canaris visited Hitler's headquarters train on 12 September 1939, at the time in Upper Silesia, to register his objection to the atrocities. Before getting to see Hitler, he met General Wilhelm Keitel, whom he informed, "I have information that mass executions are being planned in Poland, and that members of the Polish nobility and the Roman Catholic bishops and priests have been singled out for extermination." Keitel warned Canaris to go no further with his protest, as the detailed plan of atrocities came directly from Hitler himself.
Shocked by these incidents, Canaris began working more actively, at increasing risk to himself, to overthrow Hitler's régime, although he also cooperated with the SD to create a decoy. This made it possible for him to pose as a trusted man for some time. He was promoted to the rank of full Admiral in January 1940. With his subordinate Erwin Lahousen, he formed a circle of like-minded Wehrmacht officers, many of whom would be executed or forced to commit suicide after the failure of the 20 July Plot in 1944. At a conference of senior officers in Berlin, in December 1941, Canaris is quoted as saying "the Abwehr has nothing to do with the persecution of Jews....no concern of ours, we hold ourselves aloof from it". It has been speculated that Canaris was in contact with British intelligence during this time, despite the war between the two countries. It is thought that during the invasion of Russia, he received a detailed report of all the enemy positions that was known only to the British. The head of MI6, Stewart Menzies, who shared Canaris' strong anti-communist beliefs, praised Canaris' courage and bravery at the end of the war.
In June 1942, Canaris sent eight Abwehr agents to the East Coast of the United States as part of Operation Pastorius. The mission was to sabotage American economic targets and demoralize the civilian population inside the United States. However, two weeks later, all were arrested by the FBI thanks to two Abwehr agents who betrayed the mission. Because the Abwehr agents were arrested in civilian clothes, they were subject to court martial by a military tribunal in Washington, D.C. All were found guilty and sentenced to death. Two others who cooperated with the FBI received sentences of life imprisonment instead. The others were executed by the electric chair in the District of Columbia jail. Due to the embarrassing failure of Operation Pastorius, no sabotage attempt was ever made in the United States.
After 1942, Canaris visited Spain frequently and was probably in contact with British agents from Gibraltar. In 1943, while in occupied France, Canaris is said to have made contact with British agents. He was conducted blindfolded to the Convent of the Nuns of the Passion of our Blessed Lord, 127 Rue de la Santé, where he met the local head of the British Intelligence Services, code name "Jade Amicol", in reality Colonel Claude Olivier. Canaris wanted to know the terms for peace if Germany got rid of Hitler. Churchill's reply, sent to him two weeks later, was simple: "Unconditional surrender".
During Heydrich's posting in Prague, a serious incident put him and Canaris in open conflict. Heydrich requested that Canaris put the Abwehr under SD and SS control. Canaris appeared to retreat and handled the situation diplomatically, but there was no immediate effect on the Abwehr for the time being. In fact, Canaris had established another two links with MI6 — one via Zürich, and the other via Spain and Gibraltar. It is also possible that Vatican contacts provided a third route to his British counterparts.
Canaris also intervened to save a number of victims of Nazi persecution, including Jews, some by getting them to Spain. Many such people were given token training as Abwehr "agents" and then issued papers allowing them to leave Germany. One notable person he is said to have assisted was the then Lubavitcher Rebbe in Warsaw, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn. This has led Chabad Lubavitch to campaign for his recognition as a Righteous Gentile by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
Foiling Hitler's plot to kidnap Pope Pius XII
Colonel Wessel von Freytag-Loringhoven's son Niki, testifying in Munich in 1972 and in revelations that came to light in 2009, has reported that Canaris was involved in the foiling of Hitler's plot to kidnap Pope Pius XII. Colonel Freytag-Loringhoven was a subordinate of Canaris. According to Niki von Freytag-Loringhoven, Hitler wanted to respond to the dismissal and arrest of Benito Mussolini as ordered by King Victor Emmanuel III on 25 July 1943 by retaliating against the Italians. Within days of Mussolini's downfall, Hitler commanded the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (the Third Reich's Security Headquarters) to kidnap or murder Pope Pius XII and the king. Also according to Niki von Freytag-Loringhoven, his father and Erwin von Lahousen, both of whom were employed in the section of German intelligence dealing mainly with sabotage, attended a meeting in Venice on 29 and 30 July 1943 at which Canaris informed the Italian General Cesare Amè of the plot. General Amè relayed the news that allowed the plot to be foiled. The Italian paper Avvenire maintains that the younger Freytag-Loringhoven's accounts agree with Lahousen's Nuremberg war crimes trials deposition.
Downfall and execution
The evidence that Canaris was playing a double game grew, and at the insistence of Heinrich Himmler, who had suspected him for a long time, Hitler dismissed Canaris from the Abwehr in February 1944, replacing him with Walter Schellenberg and merging most of the Abwehr with the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). Some weeks later, Canaris was put under house arrest. This prevented him from taking part directly in the 20 July Plot of 1944, the goal of which was to assassinate Hitler.
However, just after the German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad early in 1943, Canaris had already planned a coup against the entire Nazi regime. He envisioned the arrest of many Nazi officials for known crimes, while Hitler would be arrested as an insane person based on his exposure to mustard gas in World War I, then imprisoned for life. After the 20 July Plot, Canaris' long-time rival, SS leader Heinrich Himmler discovered that one of the officers involved in the plot, a friend of Canaris who had committed suicide, had kept the plot details in a metal box. The investigations revealed that a number of other assassination plots (possibly another 10 or 15) had been activated, but had failed and were covered up at the last minute. Most people who participated in these plots were people Canaris knew well. In the aftermath of the attempt on Hitler's life, the Gestapo found no direct evidence tying Canaris to the plot, but his close association to many of the conspirators that were arrested was enough to seal his fate.
Himmler kept Canaris alive for some time because he planned to use him secretly as a future contact with the British in order to come to an agreement to end the war with himself as the leader of Germany. Hitler also wanted to keep him alive in order to get the names of additional conspirators. When Himmler's plan failed to materialize, he received the approval of Hitler to send Canaris to an SS drumhead court-martial presided over by Otto Thorbeck with Walter Huppenkothen as prosecutor; it sentenced him to death.
|"||I always believed in National Socialism but never in Hitler.||"|
|– Quote attributed to Canaris|
Together with his deputy General Hans Oster, military jurist General Karl Sack, theologian Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Ludwig Gehre, Canaris was humiliated before witnesses and then executed on 9 April 1945, in the Flossenbürg concentration camp, just weeks before the end of the war. He was led to the gallows naked. The night before his execution, in a coded message tapped out on the wall of his cell and heard by another prisoner, Canaris denied he was a traitor and said he acted out of duty to his country.
Erwin von Lahousen and Hans Bernd Gisevius, two of Canaris' main subordinates, survived the war and testified during the Nuremberg Trials about Canaris' courage in opposing Hitler. Lahousen recalled a conversation between Canaris and General Wilhelm Keitel (also detailed above) in which Canaris warned Keitel that the German military would be held responsible for the atrocities in Poland. Keitel responded that they had been ordered by Hitler. Keitel, who also survived the war, was found guilty of war crimes at Nuremberg and hanged.
Decorations and awards
During his military career, Canaris had been decorated with the Iron Cross First and Second Class, the Silver German Cross, the Cross of Honour and the Wehrmacht Twelve and Twenty-Five Year Long-Service Ribbons:
- Order of the Bust of Bolivar, 5th class (Venezuela, 1909)
- Order of the Crown, 4th class (Prussia)
- Iron Cross of 1914, 1st and 2nd class
- U-boat War Badge (1918)
- Military Merit Cross, 3rd class with War Decoration (Austria-Hungary)
- Ottoman War Medal (Turkish: Harp Madalyası), better known as the "Gallipoli Star", or the "Iron Crescent"
- The Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918
- Wehrmacht Long Service Award, 4th to 1st class
- War Merit Cross (1939) with swords, 1st and 2nd class
- Iron Cross 1939 clasp, 1st and 2nd class
- Finnish Order of the Cross of Liberty
- First Class with Star and Swords (16 September 1941)
- First Class with Star, Swords and Oak Leaves and Breast Star (19 September 1941)
- German Cross in Silver (11 November 1943)
In popular culture
- The 1954 film Canaris starring O. E. Hasse is based on his biography.
- In the 1961 novel, Es muß nicht immer Kaviar sein (It Can't Always Be Caviar) by German author Johannes Mario Simmel, Canaris is the primary benefactor of agent Thomas Lieven during his time as German Agent in World War II. The novel is claimed by the author to be authentic.
- In the 1968 Soviet film The End of Saturn, Canaris was portrayed by actor Bruno Freindlich.
- In a 1968 episode of Hogan's Heroes (Season 4, Episode 11 – "Bad Day in Berlin"), Major Hans Tepple of the Abwehr speaks of needing to attend a meeting with Admiral Canaris.
- In the 1970 Colin Forbes novel The Heights of Zervos, Canaris is mentioned along with the Abwehr.
- In the 1976 film The Eagle Has Landed, Canaris was played by actor Anthony Quayle.
- In the Frederick Forsyth novel The Odessa File, set in the mid-1960s, the hero infiltrates the organization of former SS members by claiming to have commanded, as a 19-year-old sergeant, the firing squad which executed Canaris. This is not in fact how Canaris was executed, which was by hanging.
- In the 1980 Brian Garfield novel The Paladin, Canaris is visited by an agent acting for Churchill. It is apparent that in this book, Canaris is acting as a knowing conduit for British misinformation.
- In the 1985 James P. Hogan novel The Proteus Operation, Canaris reviews evidence that elite enemy soldiers have been trained to assassinate or sabotage in Germany.
- In the 1996 Daniel Silva novel The Unlikely Spy, Canaris is the head of the Abwehr who initiated the infiltration of SHAEF to discover its invasion plans of Normandy.
- In the Phillip Kerr novel Hitler's Peace, Canaris attempts to have Hitler poisoned during a secret appearance at the 1943 Tehran Conference.
- In the 2001 Mike Whicker novel Invitation to Valhalla, Canaris is the head of Abwehr who sends a female spy to America.
- In Philip Kerr's 2013 novel A Man Without Breath, Canaris appears briefly to give evidence against an NKVD secret agent.
- In Peter Quinn's novel Hour of the Cat (2005), a murder mystery set mostly in New York and Berlin in 1938, Admiral Canaris and Colonel Oster play major parts.
- He is mentioned in the first half of Ken Follett's 1977 thriller Eye of the Needle.
- In the Southern Victory Series of alternate history novels by Harry Turtledove, the Confederate character General Clarence Potter, an intelligence chief of the dictator-controlled C.S.A., plays a role analogous to Canaris in the Third Reich.
- Bassett, Richard (2005). Hitler's Spy Chief: The Wilhelm Canaris Mystery. Cassell. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-304-36718-4.
His name was of Italian origin, as was later shown in an elaborate family tree
- Wilhelm Canaris. LeMO: Lebendiges virtuelles Museum Online
- Bassett, Richard (2005). Hitler's Spy Chief: The Wilhelm Canaris Mystery. Cassell. p. 200. ISBN 978-0-304-36718-4.
Franco's position at Hendaye was totally influenced by Canaris
- Bassett, Richard (2005). Hitler's Spy Chief: The Wilhelm Canaris Mystery. Cassell. p. 201. ISBN 978-0-304-36718-4.
Churchill ... had ordered 10 million dollars to be deposited ... to 'persuade them of the sweets of neutrality'
- Müller, Klaus-Jürgen "The Structure and Nature of the National Conservative Opposition in Germany up to 1940" pages 133-178 from Aspects of the Third Reich edited by H.W. Koch, Macmillan: London, United Kingdom pages 162-163 & 166-167.
- Bassett, Richard (2005). Hitler's Spy Chief: The Wilhelm Canaris Mystery. Cassell. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-304-36718-4.
Hitler, about to be betrayed by nearly all his generals, was facing a well-thought-out coup d'etat
- Watt, D.C. How War Came, New York: Pantheon Books, 1989 page 101
- Watt, D.C. How War Came, New York: Pantheon Books, 1989 pages 103–104
- Watt, D.C. How War Came, New York: Pantheon Books, 1989 pages 102–103
- Hitler's Spy Chief: The Wilhelm Canaris Mystery, by Richard Bassett, 2005, Cassell, London, ISBN 0-304-36718-4.
- Gilbert, Sir Martin, The Second World War: A Complete History, p. 8, MacMillan 2004
- MI6 Sub-section Vf files NA HW 1/327
- Is Paris Burning by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, published by Pocket Books, 1977
- Segev, Tom, The Good Germans, Haaretz, April 2, 2010
- Altein, R, Zaklikofsky, E, Jacobson, I: "Out of the Inferno: The Efforts That Led to the Rescue of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch from War Torn Europe in 1939–40", page 160. Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, 2002 ISBN 0-8266-0683-0
- Chabad: Make Nazi commander a 'righteous gentile', By MATTHEW WAGNER, jpost.com, Aug 5, 2009.
- MORE PROOF OF HITLER'S PLAN TO KILL PIUS XII: Son of German Intelligence Officer Comes Forward, Zenit News June 16, 2009
- Italian newspaper reveals details behind Hitler's plan to kill Pius XII CBCP News June 17, 2009
- Abshagen, Karl Heinz (1956). Canaris. London: Hutchinson. pp. 252–255.
- Canaris (1954) at the Internet Movie Database
- Bassett, Richard. Hitler's Spy Chief: The Wilhelm Canaris Mystery, 2005, Cassell, London, ISBN 0-304-36718-4.
- Brissaud, André. Canaris; the Biography of Admiral Canaris, Chief of German Military Intelligence in the Second World War (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1974)
- Brown, Anthony Cave. Bodyguard of Lies, (New York, Harper and Row, 1975, ISBN 1-58574-692-4.)
- Brown, Anthony Cave. C: The Secret Life of Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, Spymaster to Winston Churchill, 1987, Macmillan Publishing, New York, ISBN 0-02-517390-1.
- Gisevius, Hans Bernd,"To the Bitter End", 1947, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston
- Höhne, Heinz. Canaris (London: Secker & Warburg, 1979)
- Kahn, David (2000). Hitler's Spies: German Military Intelligence in World War II. Perseus.
- Knopp, Guido, Hitlers Krieger, 2000, Goldman Verlag, ISBN 3-442-15045-0.
- Mueller, Michael. Canaris: the life and death of Hitler's spymaster. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press, 2007. ISBN 9781591141013
- Müller, Klaus-Jürgen. "The German Military Opposition before the Second World War" pages 61–75 from The Fascist Challenge and the Policy of Appeasement edited by Wolfgang Mommsen & Lothar Lettenacke, George Allen & Unwin: London, United Kingdom, 1983, ISBN 0-04-940068-1.
- Müller, Klaus-Jürgen. "The Structure and Nature of the National Conservative Opposition in Germany up to 1940" pages 133-178 from Aspects of the Third Reich edited by H.W. Koch, Macmillan: London, United Kingdom, ISBN 0-333-35272-6.
- Paine, Lauran (1984). The Abwehr: German Military Intelligence in World War Two. Xs Books. ISBN 0-7091-9628-8.
- Waller, John H. "The double life of Admiral Canaris." International Journal of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence (1996) 9#3 pp: 271-289.
- Waller, John H. The Unseen War in Europe, 1996, Random House, New York, ISBN 0-679-44826-8
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