Bird, 86: Raeder’s source of information about the National Socialist Party and Hitler was Raeder’s former colleague, Magnus von Levetzow, whom he credited with impressing the future führer as to the navy’s reliability and solid military spirit “free from all party politics.” 2 Levetzow’s contacts with Hitler began in 1928 and led to an active discussion of Germany’s past and future naval policy. Levetzow reported that Hitler showed a “lively attention” and “understanding” of naval issues and shared the “bitterness” over the fleet’s ineffective leadership in 1914. 3 In 1931, Levetzow’s contacts with the party led to an unofficial exchange between Hitler and Raeder on naval policy. When Hitler asked why the navy’s new light cruisers would be armed with nine 15-cm guns compared to the six 21-cm guns of the Japanese Aoba class cruisers, Levetzow requested an explanation from “the chief of the naval command, Admiral Raeder,” his “close confidant.” Raeder responded that the “threatening objections” of the Allies had prevented the navy from increasing the size of the cruisers’ armament. 4 This question was Raeder’s first indication of Hitler’s detailed knowledge of naval armaments and his view that ships should be armed as heavily as possible. 5 Raeder remained wary of Hitler’s attitude toward the navy. Hitler’s criticism of Tirpitz and the navy’s prewar policies had been detailed in his Mein Kampf in the mid-twenties. His rejection of Germany’s sea power and colonial policies in favor of an alliance with England threatened Raeder’s goals of winning the government over to the navy’s conception of its long-range “world political” role and securing a large battleship program. Moreover, Hitler had condemned the naval leadership in World War I as “half-hearted” and criticized Tirpitz’s construction policies, which had produced ships that were too slow and poorly armed. The failure of the Imperial Navy was the result of the “absolutely erroneous so-called idea of risk,” which renounced attack and assumed the defensive. He accused the navy of succumbing to Parliamentarismus and its prewar dependence on its “better [than the army’s] parliamentary representation.” These tendencies had contributed to its “serious lack of logic” and “half-baked ideas” in leadership, strategy, ship construction, and organization. In his unpublished “Second Book,” dictated in 1928, Hitler characterized the High Seas Fleet as a collection of “so-called battleships” at best fit only for the enemy’s target practice. “In the end, our fleet was only a romantic plaything, a parade piece that was built for its own sake.” Hitler also rejected “the perverse and calamitous statement” that “Our future lies on the water.” Germany’s fate would always be determined on land, in Europe, because of its “disastrous” military-geographic position.6
During the intense debates over the building of the first Panzerschiff in 1928, Hitler disparaged these ships (“with them we cannot command the seas”). His only reason for supporting them was that a period of “no rearmament” represented nothing more than a guaranteed fulfillment of the imposed “peace” treaty. 8 Levetzow believed that Hitler was more sympathetic to a strong navy and shared with him in November 1931 a comment from a retired officer who decried the fact that “the National Socialists had no understanding and no interest in the sea”—a statement “which amused us.” 9 With the party’s growing success, Hitler’s attitude toward the navy became even more critical. In May 1932, Hitler visited the cruiser Köln, where he wrote in the ship’s guest book of his hopes for the rebuilding of the German fleet. 10 Hitler also used the occasion to declare that he would rebuild the fleet within the limits by these statements, especially given fears that Hitler might renounce a navy altogether.
In late October 1932, however, Hitler shocked Raeder with sharp criticism regarding the Papen government’s support for his proposed naval program. The building of large battleships, Hitler argued, would adversely affect Anglo-German relations, and the high cost of construction would take money away from the army. The navy’s focus should be in the Baltic, which did not require battleships. Characteristic of his attacks on the Imperial Navy, he faulted the navy for not sufficiently taking into account new technology. “Psychological reminiscences” more than technical considerations appeared to determine the navy’s rearmament. 12 An angry Raeder complained to Levetzow, now a NSDAP deputy in the Reichstag, that Hitler’s statements were: [the] silliest that he has uttered so far. How can the man in order to attack Papen disturb foreign policy in so criminal a manner and endanger all the threads that we have spun. I have not understood him for a long time. . . . What Hitler says about the Baltic and North Sea is really nonsense. If we were to follow him, we would build a coastal navy and should never be capable of defending [ourselves] against the French. Our mission will very soon be again in the North Sea. The navy, however, cannot [like the army] be remodeled overnight. He [Hitler] should leave the negotiations with England to us and not be like a bull in a china shop. As for the rest [of his statements], he had expressed himself quite differently on board the Cöln [ Köln ]. Raeder warned that Hitler’s “party political” maneuverings were losing him support from the younger officers in the army and navy, who were now “fully healed” from his influence. Recently, Raeder had heard only negative comments from Hitler, nothing positive. 13 Nevertheless, Raeder still expressed his hope that the National Socialists would join the government after the November elections. The appeal of Hitler’s nationalistic, pro-defense, and revisionist policies had attracted the sympathy of many officers, including Raeder, who hoped to utilize the more “positive” elements of the movement for their own agendas.
Levetzow attempted to reassure Raeder about Hitler’s support in spite of the latter’s “unreasonable” comments. 15 In early January 1933, Raeder informed Levetzow that he would welcome the NSDAP’s participation in the government. He believed that Hitler’s party leadership was now secure—a guarantee that the left wing of the NSDAP would not prevail. At the same time, Raeder did not understand the Hitler-Papen coalition—“when men fight in such a filthy manner, they cannot later sit back down at the same table.” He asserted that Papen and Hitler were ambitious intriguers who had no concern for the “well-being of the Fatherland.” He declared to Levetzow that he had “given up trying to understand “party politics” and hoped that the New Year would finally resolve Germany’s domestic politics. 16
At the launching of the Admiral Scheer and the commissioning of the Deutschland, on 1 April 1933, Raeder expressed his optimism in Germany’s naval rebirth. The “government of the national revolution” would lead “a unified people filled with the national feeling in the spirit of the great Chancellor [Bismarck] to a new era.” He utilized the juxtaposition between the Deutschland, Germany’s first capital ship construction under the Versailles treaty, and the Admiral Scheer, named after the “victor of Jutland,” to highlight the need to break the heavy bonds of the treaty restrictions and focus on the symbol of the German sea power—the Battle of Jutland: the “life source, the presupposition for the rebuilding [of] the navy,” for the re-establishing, “even if in a moderate way for the time being, of German Seegeltung. ” 24 Within the navy, as well as to Hitler, Raeder’s message of support for the party was clear. These ships represented only a temporary solution until larger ships could be built. With a unified navy firmly under his leadership, his only remaining obstacle was to convince Hitler of the navy’s value as a power factor in Germany’s foreign policy as well as its role in Germany’s long-term domestic political integration—a legacy of Tirpitz’s claim for his fleet building. Lobbying for Sea Power and the Fleet
Raeder’s first meeting with Hitler occurred on 3 February 1933, shortly after Hitler became chancellor. Hitler used this occasion to outline his foreign and domestic policy and goals for the leaders of the Wehrmacht. He emphasized that he was taking over the leadership of both domestic and foreign policy and that the armed forces would no longer be involved in domestic policy. He declared that he would ensure a period of undisturbed development for the army and navy and assured the military that there would be no competition with the party’s paramilitary forces, Raeder’s account of this meeting reflects his efforts to present a “moderate” Hitler whose more aggressive policies he would learn of only later. Others present, however, noted that the new chancellor spoke of “the conquest” of “ Lebensraum and its ruthless Germanization.” 25 Although Raeder could find many positives in Hitler’s policies, he remained concerned over the navy’s role in defense priorities. In his mind there was still a lingering concern that Hitler might abolish the fleet or at least not enlarge it.
At his first official meeting in late March 1933, Raeder declared up front that the navy had no intention of having England as an enemy. In his later descriptions of this meeting, Raeder characterized Hitler’s foreign policy at this stage as moderate, arguing that the führer never mentioned possible opponents, emphasizing his “firm resolve” to live in peace with England, Italy, and Japan. Hitler, neither “at this time nor later, spoke of preparation for even the possibility of war against either France or Russia.” Raeder reinforced the führer’s view that the “German fleet’s role lies within the framework of its responsibilities toward European continental policy” and observed that the only possible country against which the German fleet could be measured was France, given the insignificance of the Soviet navy. 28
He declared himself in complete agreement with the number of ships permitted by the Versailles treaty, although, anticipating relief from its restrictions, he cited the need to build U-boats and an aircraft carrier as included in the 1932 Umbau plan. In addition to reassuring Hitler of the “reasonableness” of his naval aims, Raeder sought to convince Hitler that the navy should be free to decide the tonnage of the new Panzerschiff “D” in accordance with the agreement that had been reached on the “equality of status” in Geneva in 1932. This would allow the German navy to match the tonnage and armament of the new French battle cruisers of the Dunkerque class. Raeder maintained (as he had done with Groener) that the navy’s role in national defense was the defense of trade and merchant traffic in both the Baltic and North Seas. He also emphasized the necessity of long-term planning and “navy buildup: twenty years in advance. Not for today, but the total situation.” Fleet building was measured by decades and not from one day to the next—a fact that Tirpitz had repeatedly observed. Raeder took pains to point out Germany had actually “disarmed” its navy, in light of the numbers permitted under the treaty. The planned construction of three Panzerschiffe at 10,000 tons each and one new 26,000-ton ship would represent only 56,000 tons, against England’s 525,000 tons of battleships. Although Hitler did not agree to build a 26,000-ton “anti- Dunkerque, ” Raeder received authorization to build the fourth Panzerschiff before 1936, regardless of the outcome of any international negotiations. He believed he had successfully overcome Hitler’s previous criticism of battleship building and had convinced Hitler that his construction plans were no threat to England. Whether he got a glimpse into Hitler’s long-term goals may be inferred from Raeder’s noting the “alliance factor” of the fleet at the end of the meeting. 29 In this case the navy’s Bündnisfähigkei t was seen in concert with England and not, as Tirpitz had proposed, in allying with the lesser naval powers against England. An Anglo-German coalition would presumably set the stage for global hegemony against the emerging world power of the United States. Although Raeder later sought to characterize this idea as “entirely utopian,” this was true only in that it was beyond the capacity of the German fleet for the foreseeable future. 30 Raeder’s immediate concern was to establish his support for Hitler’s foreign policy and military priorities and demonstrate the navy’s absolute loyalty and obedience to the new regime. Henceforth, Raeder would seize every opportunity to educate Germany’s new leader of the value of the navy as a political instrument, beginning with Hitler’s three-day visit in Kiel in May 1933, culminating in a dramatic night-time fleet review featuring the new Deutschland. 31 Raeder’s strategy, in addition to demonstrating the navy’s loyalty to Hitler, was to emphasize repeatedly the case for sea power. which he felt complemented Hitler’s plans. In speeches to the party leaders, Raeder and his senior officers presented the formula that they felt resonated with the führer’s political goals: (1) a small coastal navy had no worth as an alliance factor; (2) a strong navy was needed to represent German interests overseas; and (3) if a navy (even if limited in numbers) was well organized and integrated with all types of ships, it could serve as the nucleus for later development.
In his visit to Kiel in May 1933, Hitler spoke of the desire of Germany to achieve “its place in the sun” peacefully, if possible. But, if necessary, it would be ready for the struggle to win Germany’s “honor and freedom” and “for that purpose we need the fleet.” Departing from his earlier criticism, Hitler praised the navy’s achievements, within only a few decades, to instill in the “entire German people its pride in its bluejackets.” 35
In the fall of 1933, Raeder sharply warned his officers about the need for secrecy in the navy. Carelessness not only threatened the navy’s plans but, above all, threatened the “great domestic reconstruction work of the Führer.” 39 To Raeder’s contemporaries, it appeared that the admirals stood closer to the National Socialist leadership than the army generals. 40
Scapa Flow represented the first turning point in the rebuilding of the nation, which awaited only the leadership of Hitler and National Socialism to lead “us and the entire German nation out of the dark into the dawn of a bright new future” and create a new Volkstum, a new national identity. 41
In September 1933, Raeder proudly announced to his senior leaders: “I can state with joy and satisfaction that the Reichskanzler himself again and again mentions the necessity of building up of the fleet and is deeply convinced of the great political significance of the navy, especially as power and alliance factor in the politics of peace.” 45
p. 92 By May 1934, the situation had become so critical that he reported to Hitler that an SA leader, a former naval officer, was plotting to become the chief of the naval operations staff. 50 Later, Raeder denied any knowledge or involvement with these events or their consequences. He was notably silent on the fate of General Schleicher and General Ferdinand von Bredow, who were also murdered. He admitted to having heard subsequent rumors of illegal and morally unjustifiable actions on the part of the SS troops.
p. 94 His instructions to a new chaplain in December 1937 reflected the traditional Lutheran respect for (and obedience to) the ruling power: “It will not be your duty to wage a church-political battle in the navy or to go expressly into an analysis of the intellectual currents that National Socialism has aroused. You are to preach Christ earnestly and without compromise.” 61 His firm religious conviction may have sustained him during the increasingly obvious—even to a naive or self-deluded Raeder—nature of the Führerstaat. In fact, his main defense at Nuremberg would be his personal profession of Christian faith and defense of religion in the navy. 62 In spite of the growing tensions between the military and the domestic and foreign policy measures of Hitler and the party organizations, Raeder largely glosses over them in his accounts of the period 1934–1937. It was not until 1938, he claimed, that his confidence in Hitler’s honesty was shaken. The first incident involved the scandal around Blomberg’s marriage to a woman of ill repute.
p. 95 At the end of January 1938, Raeder, hoping to derail Göring’s ambitions, went to see Hitler to promote Fritsch as Blomberg’s successor. Hitler, however, shocked Raeder with sordid details of Fritsch’s homosexuality. At the same time, according to Raeder, Hitler offered him Blomberg’s position. Raeder (unaware of Hitler’s decision to assume this function himself), “declined.” 66 Later, he wrote he had been right to “definitively reject” this position, given the dangers associated with dealing primarily with army issues and also because, at this point, he was considering resigning. 67 Fearing the possibility of either Göring or Himmler replacing Fritsch, Raeder proposed General Rundstedt. 68
p. 96 Raeder claimed he “gradually” had begun to doubt the integrity and intentions of the führer. In spite of a growing “emotional burden” that caused him several times to request his retirement in 1938–1939 (which Hitler refused), he remained in his post, believing that as long as he could continue to enjoy the führer’s confidence and maintain his independence, he could secure the necessary resources for the navy. He attributed Hitler’s attitude toward him and the navy to his own unconditional obedience and loyalty and abstinence from any “political” activity. He regarded himself as the only one who could fulfill the navy’s ambitions and was convinced that he had skillfully created a position from which he could counter any interference. He also believed, egotistically, that he alone had succeeded in winning the respect of the National Socialist state and Hitler.
He expressed confidence in Hitler’s support to rebuild the fleet in the tradition of Tirpitz and the direction of the führer’s foreign policy—even accepting Hitler’s willingness to risk war with England in pursuit of German ambitions of continental hegemony, counter to his often expressed “taboo” against any possibility of conflict with England. 77
1 . Innere Unruhen, RWM, Feinde der Marine, II M 65/8.
2 . Raeder, ML, II, 107.
3 . Levetzow to Göring, 22 December 1930, Levetzow N 239/11; Levetzow to Donnersmarck, 6 October 1931, ibid.; Levetzow to Hitler, 5 October 1931, ibid.
4 . Hitler to Levetzow, 24 August 1931, Levetzow N 239/11; Levetzow to Hitler, 5 October 1931, ibid.
5 . Karl-Jesko von Puttkamer, Die unheimliche See, 11–12, for Hitler’s knowledge of the technical details of warships. Fritz Wiedemann, Hitler’s personal adjutant, 1934 to 1939, said that Hitler’s knowledge of the British fleet often embarrassed Raeder. Der Mann der Feldherr werden wollte, 79, 211.
6 . Hitler, Mein Kampf, 140, 247, 273–75; Hitler’s Secret Book (published in 1961), 125–26 and 154–55; Hitlers Zweites Buch, 102, 108, 110, 163, 169, 218.
8 . Völkischer Beobachter, 12 October 1928.
9 . Levetzow to Donnersmarck, 20 November 1931, Granier, Levetzow, 312.
10 . Reproduction of the Köln ’s guest book in Fritz Otto Busch, Das Buch von der Kriegsmarine (following 184).
11 . Paul Zieb, Logistik-Probleme in der Marine, 140. Dülffer sees determine Hitler’s intentions for the navy. Hitler und die Marine, 222.
12 . Völkischer Beobachter, 21 October 1932.
13 . Raeder to Levetzow, 23 October 1932, Levetzow N 239/35.
15 . Levetzow to Raeder, 26 October 1932, Levetzow N 239/35.
16 . Raeder to Levetzow, 7 January 1933, Levetzow Nachlass, General Admiral Raeder, Innenpolitisches, reel 49, Project No. 2.
24 . Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, 2 April 1933.
25 . Vogelsang, “Neue Dokumente zur Geschichte der Reichswehr,” VfZ, 2 (1954): 434–35 (General a. D. Liebmann’s notes). Raeder mistakenly dates this meeting as 2 February. ML, I, 280–81. Cf. the accounts by Otto Groos, Groos N 165/3, and Conrad Albrecht, RM 35 I/24, BAMA.
28 . Konzept Admiral Raeders für einen Vortrag beim Reichskanzler undatiert (Ende März 1933), Salewski, “Marineleitung,” 153–57. The date of this first meeting is not clear, although Raeder uses “February 1933” as the date of their first meeting. Raeder, ML, II, 108. Dülffer places the meeting as “probably” occurring between 16 March and 1 April 1933, Hitler und die Marine, 245.
29 . Konzept Admiral Raeders, “Marineleitun g, ” 153–57, and Dülffer, Hitler und die Marine, 245–47.
30 . Raeder, ML, I, 284.
31 . Kurt Fischer, ““Grossadmiral Dr. h.c. Erich Raeder,” Hitlers militärische Elite, 189.
35 . Rede am 23.4.1933, Hitler’s Wollen, 52. Cf. London Times, 23 May 1933.
40 . Hans Guderian, Panzer Leader, 85; Friedrich Hossbach, Zwischen Wehrmacht und Hitler, 1, 3.
41 . Rede des Oberbefehlshabers der Kriegsmarine anlässlich des Staatsaktes in Laboe am 30. 5. 1936, RM 8/58, BAMA. For the scale of this event, see the Völkischer Beobachter, 31 May/1 June 1936.
45 . Ansprache des Chef ML zum Abschluss der Gefechtsübungen der Flotte, September 1933, Salewski. Seekriegsleitung, I, 3.
50 . Ruge, In vier Marinen, 125, 134–35; IMT, XIV, 136.
61 . Eideserklärung Dekan Friedrich Ronneberger, 15 November 1950, Raeder N 391/5; Raeder, ML, II, 154.
62 . Rear Admiral Helmut Neuss contended that Raeder was loyal to Hitler but that, because of his religious views, he was “in no way” a National Socialist. Soldaten für Hitler, 154. Raeder devotes an entire chapter in his memoirs to his support for the military chaplains, ML, II, 135–48.
66 . Deutsch, Hitler and His Generals, 236–37. Speer, Erinnerungen, describes Raeder as distraught as he left Hitler.
67 . Raeder, ML, II, 120.
68 . Deutsch, Hitler and His Generals, 237–38.
77 . See Raeder’s vacillation between his assessment of British psychology and politics on one side and his passivity toward Hitler’s readiness to gamble (compare ML, II, 154–55, where Raeder notes the futility of war with England before 1945–1946, with 159, 172, where he notes the vulnerability of the British and the threat that even the small fleet posed to England. Weichold’s “Die Bedeutung Grossadmirals Raeder,” Wagner N 539/78.