UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Reichsmarine (Navy) Rearmament

The military clauses of the Versailles Treaty in 1919 limited the German Navy to 15,000 men, including 1,500 officers. Six obsolete battleships, 6 light cruisers, 12 destroyers, and 12 torpedo boats were permitted the fleet, with 2 battleships, 2 cruisers, 4 destroyers, and 4 torpedo boats in reserve. The building of ships displacing over 10,000 tons was prohibited. A further restriction limited naval guns to a maximum of 280 mm (approximately 11 inches).

The new organization, created by the Defense Law of 23 March 1921, was called the Reichswehr (Reich Defense Force). Its two services were the Reichsheer (Army) and the Reichsmarine (Navy). The predominant part played by the land service gave many the impression that the Reichswehr and Army were identical, and the tiny Navy received little attention.

The Navy had more difficulty than the Army during this period in evading the treaty terms that reduced it to little more than a coastal patrol force.4 Since the Versailles Treaty contained no prohibition against replacing old vessels, the Navy began a limited building program as soon as the internal political situation of the immediate postwar period had settled. However, new naval construction in German yards had to adhere closely to the limitations set by the Allies, with representatives of the Allied control commissions inspecting German port areas and the naval budget.

The Naval Command (Marinelietung) found a serious obstacle in those provisions of the Versailles Treaty that prohibited submarines to the German naval service; the problem of retaining highly specialized construction and maintenance personnel and training crews for the German underseas fleet of a later day was not simple of solution. Only a few naval engineers and technicians managed to keep busy in the submarine construction field on contract for the Japanese Government in the immediate postwar period.

A start was made in reviving submarine building in 1922 when the Navy subsidized a Dutch shipbuilding firm in The Hague and staffed it with German submarine engineers. The purpose of the firm was to build U-boats on contract for foreign governments, thereby keeping German construction personnel employed and giving submarine engineers the opportunity to experiment with new designs and technical improvements. Similar arrangements were made with shipbuilding companies in Finland and Spain. The building of a German-controlled torpedo factory and testing center in Spain allowed German engineers to develop new types of torpedoes, including the electrically controlled torpedo.

The 250-ton submarines built and tested in Finland were to become the prototypes of the U-l through U-24, the 750-ton boat built in Spain and eventually sold to the Turkish Government was to become the prototype of the U-25 and U-26. In their experimental work, the German submarine engineers strove to simplify gear and equipment, in order to make easier assembly-line production of craft and the training of crews.

The financing of these undertakings was accomplished at first with naval funds diverted for the purpose. Eventually, with their building success abroad, many of the Navy's enterprises became self-supporting. In 1927 a scandal brought a number of these covert naval activities to light and made necessary their curtailment. However, the Allied control cor"1 missions had been withdrawn earlier the same year, and many of the illegal undertakings being carried on in foreign countries could be shifted back to the Reich. Long before the abrogation of the Versailles Treaty, assembly lines to build 6 U-boats at a time were constructed at Kiel, and the component parts for 12 submarines made and stored. (Thus the first of the new underseas fleet could make its appearance less than six months after Hitler's announcement of rearmament in 1935.)

In addition to its activities in submarine construction, the Reichsmarine also managed to hold its position in the field of fire control equipment. A trainload of range-finders and technical equipment had been shipped into hiding at Venlo, Holland, at the time of the Armistice in 1918, and brought back in small lots. Later the Navy purchased a Dutch firm manufacturing precision instruments in Germany, to carry out experimental work on fire control and similar equipment unimpeded by the Allied Commissions.

The Weimar Republic's attempts in the twenties to circumvent the Versailles restrictions on its armed forces produced clandestine operations which in their financing, cover devices, and hazards of exposure present a close parallel with intelligence operations. One such series of undercover research and development projects, carried out by a Captain Walther Lohmann of the German Naval Transportation Division, got out of hand and became a source of acute embarrassment to the Weimar Ministry of Defense. The affair was hushed up, and in more recent times has been virtually overlooked by historians.

Walter Lohmann, the son of a one-time director of the North German Lloyd shipping line, was given full charge in early 1923 of the disbursement of the Navy's "black" funds reserved for clandestine purposes. Initially, these funds included large sums--amounting in dollars to at least 25 million--obtained from the sale of warships and submarines scrapped in 1919 and 1920 at the order of the Allied Powers. Later, some two and a half million were added as the Navy's share of the so-called "Ruhr funds," monies voted by the Reichstag and used to strengthen the armed services above Treaty limit at the time of the French occupation of the Ruhr. Subsequently, smaller sums totaling about two and a quarter million were obtained or diverted from other sources.

Between 1923 and 1927 Lohmann financed nearly all of the clandestine and semi-clandestine projects of the Navy. Most of these were established with the initial concurrence of his superiors, and many required the closest cooperation with several divisions of the naval staff; but some were founded and supported solely on the captain's initiative without the knowledge of even the commander in chief of the Navy.

With subsidies from Lohmann, three German shipyards operated a highly successful submarine design bureau in The Netherlands which maintained contact with Navy headquarters through a dummy firm known as Mentor Bilanz. The "Dutch" bureau, Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw, designed a submarine which Lohmann and Captain Wilhelm Canaris (later to become the Abwehr chief of ambivalent loyalties) in 1926 arranged to have built at Cadiz in Spain. The purpose was to train German technicians and to develop a prototype medium-size submarine, which among other features had torpedo tubes designed to eliminate the large bubble of air that normally betrayed a submarine's position when a torpedo was fired.

Lohmann's downfall stemmed from his relations with the Phoebus Film Company in 1927. The fact that Lohmann's work violated the Versailles Treaty was completely missed by the press. The Cabinet announced the resignation of both Defense Minister Gessler and Navy commander Zenker, who, as Lohmann's superiors, had to accept responsibility for the scandal.

A new type of armored cruiser, popularly known as the "pocket battleship," was developed during the replacement building program. This warship displaced 10,000 tons and had 11-inch guns in its main batteries, in compliance with the treaty limitations. The keel for the first of this class was laid down in 1929 and three in all, the Deutschland (1931), Admiral Scheer (1933), and Graf Spee (not launched until 1934) were built.

Six light cruisers were also constructed or begun during this period, to replace the treaty cruisers. These were the Emden (1925), the Koenigsberg and Karlsruhe (1927), the Koeln (1928), the Leipzig (1929), and the Nuernburg (not launched until 1934). The Emden displaced 5,400 tons; the remaining five, 6,000 tons. All six cruisers had 5.9 inch guns in their main armament.

Two new battleships, the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, were planned. (Some sources refer to these ships as battle cruisers.) Treaty limitations in this case were ignored. The two ships of this class were to displace 26,000 tons and mount 11-inch guns.

By 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor, the Reichmarine had a fleet of three old battleships of the pre-World War I period, the Hannover (1905), Schleisien (1906), and Schleswig-Holstein (1906). Work was soon to commence on the two new battleships. Two of the armored cruisers had been launched and one of them, the Deutschland, was almost ready for sea. Five of the new light cruisers were already in service, and the sixth was under construction. All of the treaty cruisers had been removed from the active list. Twelve destroyers had been built during the preiod 1926-28 to replace worn-out treaty destroyers, and a number of torpedo boats and tenders had been rebuilt and reconditioned.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:55:30 ZULU