Repost: On Armistice Day, Remembering the German High Seas Fleet Mutiny of 1918

Soldiers' council of the Prinzregent Luitpold.

Soldiers’ council of the Prinzregent Luitpold.

In the US, today is Veteran’s Day, when we honor those who have served in the military.  It coincides with Armistice Day, the anniversary of the signing of the armistice which ended World War I, on the 11th hour of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918, when the guns finally fell silent after four years of bloody conflict. Today is a good time to recall the mutiny of the German High Seas Fleet, which played a significant role in finally ending the war. Here is a repost of a an article from a few years ago about the naval mutinies.

The mutinies at Wilhelmshaven on October 29th and at Kiel on November 3, triggered the German revolution and swept aside the monarchy within a few days. The naval mutinies led directly to the end of the German Empire and to the establishment of the Weimar Republic.

As summarized by the History Channel:  By the last week of October 1918, three of the Central Powers—Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire—were at least in talks with the Allies about reaching an armistice, while the fourth, Bulgaria, had already concluded one at the end of September. With the end of the war seemingly in sight, the German naval command—led by the Admiralty’s chief of staff, Reinhardt Scheer—decided to launch a last-ditch effort against the British in the North Sea in a desperate attempt to restore the German navy’s prestige. In the words of Reinhardt Scheer, chief of staff of the German Admiralty, “An honorable battle by the fleet—even if it should be a fight to the death—will sow the seed of a new German fleet of the future. There can be no future for a fleet fettered by a dishonorable peace.” Choosing not to inform the chancellor, Max von Baden, of its plans, the German Admiralty issued the order to leave port on October 28.

The sailors themselves, however, believing the attack to be a suicide mission, would have none of it. Though the order was given five times, each time they resisted. In total, 1,000 mutineers were arrested, leaving the Imperial Fleet immobilized. By October 30, the resistance had engulfed the German naval base at Kiel, where sailors and industrial workers alike took part in the rebellion; within a week, it had spread across the country, with revolts in Hamburg, Bremen and Lubeck on November 4 and 5 and in Munich two days later. This widespread discontent led Socialist members of the German Reichstag, or parliament, to declare the country a republic on November 9, followed swiftly by Kaiser Wilhelm’s abdication and finally, on November 11, by the end of the First World War.

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8 Responses to Repost: On Armistice Day, Remembering the German High Seas Fleet Mutiny of 1918

  1. As a student of maritime aspects of WW1 and a former instructor of Nautical Science which included Maritime Law one would question if the High Seas Fleet actually mutinied.
    Mutiny is defined as “refusing the orders of Rightful Authority”. Admiral Scheer’s order to the HSF was by its nature an illegitimate one and therefore illegal not being given under “Rightful Authority” thus need not be obeyed – rather risky in the German Imperial Navy.
    The Ratings actions could be better described as a “refusal to serve” and was not actually “mutiny” as defined by Maritime Law.
    Sadly of course the Weimar Republic led to the rise of National Socialism leading to WW2.

    Good Watch.

  2. Rick Spilman says:

    I have no doubt that the Admiral might not share your opinion of whether he issued a “rightful order.” The most conventional definition of mutiny is “an organized rebellion against a legally constituted authority…”

  3. One would agree particularly it being Admiral Scheer. However he did not inform the Kaiser’s Chancellor as required by German Imperial Law, all of which became mute with the Abdication of the Kaiser.
    In my own family my fathers uncles served in the Royal Navy in WW1 at Heligoland/Jutland and my uncles served in Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and Royal Army Gurgha Regiment in India and Burma in WW2 as well as some of my mother’s Irish family who as a result of birth were British Subjects also served in the National Fire Service. Complex politics which have not improved over time !!

    Good Watch

  4. Bob says:

    I think you mean ‘moot’.

  5. Indeed, thanks Bob “moot” it is – but perhaps “mute” as well given the violent times !!

  6. A few years back I read a book called “The Kaiser’s Koolies” written I believe in 1933. Unfortunately I don’t recall the author’s name. The main story was about the raiders disguised as merchant ships that roamed in seas in the first world war but the mutiny was covered as well. As they say: A good read.

  7. Rick Spilman says:

    Historians record the events as the “Wilhelmshaven mutiny” and the “Kiel mutiny.” I am happy to stick with their definitions.