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Erich Raeder

The International Military Tribunal trials at Nuremberg [Nuernberg] in 1946 charged the defendants with four crimes. Count One charged all of the defendants with being "leaders, organizers, instigators, or accomplices in the formation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit, or which involved the commission of, Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity." Count Two charged the defendants with crimes against peace by their participation "in the planning, preparation, initiation, and waging of wars of aggression." Count Three charged the defendants with war crimes. Count Four charged the defendants with crimes against humanity. Baeder was indicted on counts one, two, and three.

A chairborne officer until he was 34, Hamburg-born Erich Raeder got his break as navigation aide on the Kaiser's yacht. Raeder was a young officer, and not a very promising one, when he was assigned in 1910 to his first important post: navigating officer of the Imperial yacht Hohenzollern. It was a job that might have broken the spirit of an already proved officer. To the unproved Raeder, who had spent 16 years in such jobs as writing thoughtful screeds for the German naval journal, Marine Rundschau, it was a job that led on to destiny. In World War I Raeder, promoted to chief of staff in the Kaiser's brand-new cruiser squadrons, had a brief taste of glory in the battles of Doggerbank and Jutland (in which the British were powerfully mauled). As the German scouting force put out into the Skagerrak, leading the High Seas Fleet, heading into the greatest battle in modern naval history, Jutland, Vice Admiral Franz Hipper's chief of staff was Erich Raeder, in the four stripes of a captain.

But at war's end the barnacled fleet had to scuttle itself to avoid capture. Returning from Versailles. Raeder said: "Just wait 25 years. We'll be back." In half that time Raeder was building pocket battleships. In 1928 he became Chief of Naval Command and in 1935 Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (OmK); in 1939 Hitler made him Gross Admiral. He was a member of the Reich Defense Council. On 30 January 1943, Doenitz replaced him at his own request, and he became Admiral Inspector of the Navy, a nominal title.

In the 15 years he commanded it, the pint-sized (5 ft. 6 in.) martinet built and directed the German Navy; he accepted full responsibility until retirement in 1943. He admitted at Nuremberg that the navy violated the Versailles Treaty, insisting it was "a matter of honor for every man" to do so, and alleges that the violations were for the most part minor, and Germany built less than her allowable strength.

Raeder received the directive of 24 June 1937, from von Blomberg, requiring special preparations for war against Austria. He was one of the five leaders present at the Hossbach Conference of 5 November 1937. He claimrd at Nuremberg that Hitler merely wished by this conference to spur the army to faster rearmament, insisted he believed the questions of Austria and Czechoslovalria would be settled peacefully, as they were, and pointed to the new Naval treaty with England which had just been signed. He received no orders to speed construction of U-boats, indicating that Hitler mas not planning war.

Raeder received directives on "Fall Gmen" and the directives on "Fall Weiss" beginning with that of 3 April 1939; the latter directed the navy to support the army by intervention from the sea. He was also one of the few chief leaders present at the meeting of 23 May 1939. He attended the Obersalzburg briefing of 22 August 1939.

When the war began, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder* wrote: "As far as the Navy is concerned, obviously it is in no way adequately equipped for the great struggle with Great Britain . . . it has built up a well-trained, suitably organized submarine arm, of which at the moment about 26 boats are capable of operations in the Atlantic; the submarine arm is still much too weak, however, to have any decisive effect on the war. The surface forces, moreover, are so inferior in number and strength that they can do no more than show that they know how to die gallantly." Hitler told Raeder: "On land I am a hero, but at sea I am a coward." He consequently gave the admirals a freedom of action that the generals never had.

The conception of the invasion of Norway first arose in the mind of Raeder and not that of Hitler. Despite Hitler's desire, as shown by his directive of October 1939, to keep Scandinavia neutral, the Navy examined the advantages of naval bases there as early as October. Admiral Karls originally suggested to Raeder the desirable aspects of bases in Noray. A questionnaire, dated 3 October 1039, which sought comments on the desirability of such bases, was circulated within SKL. On 10 October, Raeder discussed the matter with Hitler ; his war diary entry for that day says Hitler intended to give the matter consideration. A few months later Hitler talked to Raeder, Quisling, Keitel, and Jodl; OIKTV began its planning and the Naval War Staff worked with OHTV staff officers. Raeder received Keitel's directive for Norway on 27 January 1940, and the subsequent directive of 1March, signed by Hitler.

Raeder defended his actions on the ground it was a move to forestall the British. The Tribunal at Nuremberg concluded that it was not necessary to discuss this defense, which Germany's invasion of Norway and Denmark was aggressive war. In a letter to the Navy, Raeder said :"The operations of the Navy in the occupation of Norway will for all time remain the great contribution of the Navy to this war."

Raeder received the directives, including the innumerable postponements, for the attack in the west. In a meeting of 18 March 1941 with Hitler he urged the occupation of all Greece. He claimed at Nuremberg that this was only after the British had landed and Hitler had ordered the attack, and pointrd out the navy had no interest in Greece. He received Hitler's directive on Yugoslavia.

Raeder endeavored to dissuade Hitler from embarking upon the invasion of the USSR. In September 1940 he urged on Hitler an aggressive Mediterranean policy as an alternative to an attack on Russia. On 14 November 1940, he urged the war against England "as our main enemy" and that submarine and naval air force construction be continued. He voiced "serious objections against the Russian campaign before the defeat of England, according to notes of the German naval war staff. He claimed his objections were based on the violation of the Non-Aggression Pact as well as strategy. But once the decision had been made, he gave permission 6 days before the invasion of the Soviet Union to attack Russian submarines in the Baltic Sea within a specified warning area and defends this action because these submarines were "snooping" on German activities. It is clear from this evidence that Raeder participated in the planning and waging of aggressive war.

Raeder was charged with war crimes on the high seas. The Athenia, an unarmed British passenger liner, was sunk on 3 September 1939, while outward bound to America. The Germans two months later charged that Mr. Churchill deliberately sank the Athenia to encourage American hostility to Germany. In fact, it was sunk by the German U-boat 30. Raeder claimed that an inexperienced U-boat commander sank it, in mistake for an armed merchant cruiser, that this was not known until the U-30 returned several weeks after the German denial and that Hitler then directed the Navy and Foreign Office to continue denying it. Raeder denied knowledge of the propaganda campaign attacking Mr. Churchill.

The most serious charge against Raeder was that he carried out unrestricted submarine warfare, including sinking of unarmed mer-chant ships, of neutrals, nonrescue and machine-gunning of survivors, contrary to the London Protocol of 1936. The Tribunal made the same finding on Raeder on this charge as it did as to Doenitz, , up until 30 January 1943, when Raeder retired.

The commando order of 18 October 1942, which expressly did not apply to naval warfare, mas transmitted by the Naval War Staff to the lower naval commanders with the direction it should be distributed orally by flotilla leaders and section commanders to their subordinates. Two coinnlandos were put to death by the Navy, and not by the SD, at Bordeaux on 10 December 1942. The comment of the Naval War Staff was that this was "in accordance with the Fuehrer's special order, but is nevertheless something new in international law, since the soldiers were in uniform." Raeder admited he passed the order down through the chain of comnland, and he did not object to Hitler.

The Tribunal fond that Raeder was guilty on counts one, two, and three. Said proud, glory-loving Raeder in a special plea to the Allied Control Council: "I prefer a soldierly death sentence to languishing in prison." In October 1955, after languishing in Berlin's Spandau jail for nine years, Erich Raeder, 79, and suffering from hardening of the arteries, was set free on a clemency order signed by the four Allied powers. Crippled by arthritis, he served nine years of a life sentence in Spandau, where he spent his time supervising the prison library and feuding with fellow prisoner Admiral Karl Doenitz, who replaced him in 1943 after a raging Hitler scuttled surface craft for U-boats. Admiral Erich Raeder died in November 1960 at the age of 84; of complications arising from a neurological disorder; in a Kiel mental hospital.

Raeder transformed Hitler's navy from an "ugly stepchild" of the regime to the sleek scourge of Allied lifelines. He shucked dignity, closed his eyes to principles, was alternately sycophant, stout leader, wheedling trimmer and belligerent hell-roarer. The method worked. The success of hit-and-run pocket battleships Deutschland and Graf Spee earned him honorary membership in the Nazi Party and a later place in the prisoners' dock at Nürnberg.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:55:28 ZULU