Wilhelm Souchon

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Wilhelm Souchon
Admiral Souchon
Born June 2, 1864
Leipzig, Kingdom of Saxony
Died January 13, 1946(1946-01-13) (aged 81)
Bremen, Germany
Allegiance  German Empire
 Ottoman Empire
Service/branch  Kaiserliche Marine
 Ottoman Navy
Years of service 1881-1919
Rank Vice Admiral
Commands held Mittelmeerdivision

World War I

Awards Pour le Mérite
Relations Hermann Souchon

Wilhelm Anton Souchon (German pronunciation: [suˈʃɔŋ]; June 2, 1864 – January 13, 1946) was a German and Ottoman Admiral in World War I, who commanded the Kaiserliche Marine's Mediterranean squadron in the early days of the war. His initiative made him one of the most important influences on the entry of the Ottoman Empire into World War I.


Wilhelm Anton Souchon was born June 2, 1864, to a family of Huguenot ancestry.[1]

When hostilities erupted between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Serbia in July 1914, Rear Admiral Souchon, a native of Leipzig, feared being trapped in the Adriatic Sea in the event of other nations joining in the conflict. He therefore took his two ships, the battlecruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau into the western Mediterranean and bombarded the French-Algerian ports of Bône and Philippeville when war had begun on August 4, 1914. He then successfully eluded British attempts to corner him (see Pursuit of Goeben and Breslau), and on August 10, 1914, his small squadron arrived at the Dardanelles.

After two days of negotiations, he was allowed to take his ships to Istanbul, where they were subsequently transferred officially into the Ottoman navy. Souchon was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Ottoman navy and served in this position until September 1917. This gesture by Germany had an enormous positive impact with the Turkish population; at the outbreak of the war, the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill had caused outrage when he "requisitioned" without compensation two almost completed Turkish battleships in British shipyards, the Sultan Osman I and the Reshadieh, that had been financed by public subscription. (These ships were commissioned into the Royal Navy as Agincourt and Erin respectively). In the aftermath of Souchon's daring dash to Constantinople, Turkey on August 15, 1914, cancelled her maritime agreement with Britain and the Royal Navy mission under Admiral Limpus left by September 15.

The Dardanelles were fortified with German assistance, the Bosporus was secured by the presence of Goeben, now named Yavuz Sultan Selim, and on September 27 the Straits were officially closed to all international shipping.

On October 29, Souchon's fleet launched the Black Sea Raid, a naval attack which brought the Ottoman Empire into World War I. His ships shelled the Russian Black Sea ports of Sevastopol, Odessa and others, destroying the Russian minesweeper Prut in the process and laid several sea minefields. Almost simultaneously British naval units attacked Turkish merchant ships off İzmir. On 2 November, 1914 Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire, Britain followed suit on November 5, and on November 12, 1914, the Ottoman government officially declared war on the Triple Entente.

For the next three years Souchon attempted to reform the Ottoman Navy, while conducting a number of raids on Russian shipping, port and coastal installations in the Black Sea. Promoted to Vice Admiral, he was awarded the Pour le Mérite, Germany's highest military order, on October 29, 1916.

Souchon returned to Germany in September 1917 and received command of the Fourth Battleship Squadron of the High Seas Fleet during Operation Albion. At the end of the war he was commanding officer of the Imperial Navy base at Kiel.

At the outbreak of the mutiny in Kiel on November 3, 1918, Souchon contacted the Deputy General Command of the adjacent corps area in Altona directly. Its Commanding General, the General of Infantry Falk, instructed the commander of the fortress area nearest to Kiel, represented by Brigade general (or. possibly Lieutenant general) v. Wright, to collect all available infantry forces from his replacement battalions under his command and leave for Kiel in the same night. The General Command sent trains for their transport to Lübeck and Neumünster. Wright alerted the replacement battalions of the 162nd I.D. (Lübeck) and the here garrisoned one of the Reserve Regiment from Schleswig and the 163rd I.D. at Neumünster. Yet the actions taken by Wright were reversed before midnight when the mutiny seemed to have calmed down.

When the mutiny revived at the next morning, Souchon requested (around 10 a.m.) the Chief of General Staff of the deputy corps to help with troops from Rendsburg and Lübeck. The Chief of staff appointed Wright at 11 a.m. by phone to the commander of all replacement battalions on the way to Kiel.

Wrights plan was to collect all of the arriving forces south of Kiel and invade the town in united strength.[2][3] The plan was based not only on his "experiences during the war", but also on a General Staff study distributed to Brigade staffs in 1908 about the "struggle in insurgent towns".

Yet there a problem remained. Souchon rejected the concept of a commander's leadership of a land army taking place in the field of the naval war port in Kiel. Wright's plan and the commander personally were not acceptable to him. Thus he contacted the military commander in Altona and pushed through his opinions by using his extensive statement of his personal reputation and his special position as senior officer (Immediatstellung). At noon Wright was released from command by a call from the General Command and was forced to put the intervention forces under the direct command of Souchon, whose plan it was to use his most devoted formations in addition with the new ones from the railway station to solve the problem.

The project, however, proved to be nipped in the bud. Contrary to the urgent remonstrances of the rejected army leader, all occupied with all special trains occupied by Intervention forces were sent to Kiel main railway station, which was controlled by insurgents. The revolutionary-minded crowd met the oncoming transports and was able to draw many units to the side of the mutineers.[4]

Admiral Souchon died in Bremen on January 13, 1946.


His nephew Hermann Souchon (1894–1982) was the murderer of Rosa Luxemburg.[5]


  1. ^ Henry Morgenthau. "Ambassador Morgenthau's Story". Retrieved 2013-12-28. 
  2. ^ Czech-Jochberg: ‘ ‘Die Politiker der Republik. ‘‘ K. F. Koehler, Leipzig 1933 , S. 20.
  3. ^ ‘‘Revolution in Kiel. ‘‘ In: Bundeszeitung der Vereinigung ehemaliger 163er. 13. Jahrgang, Nr. 11, Ausgabe vom 1. November 1936, S. 3
  4. ^ Ernst-Heinrich Schmidt: Heimatheer und Revolution 1918. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart 1981, ISBN 3-421-06060-6.
  5. ^ Liebknecht – Luxemburg: Der dritte Mann. In: Der Spiegel. Nr. 8, 1967, p. 40 (German)

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