October 21, 1918: Germany Ends Submarine Warfare While the German Navy Plots to Attack

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A sign of just how desperate the civilian German government a century ago was to bring the War to an end was the announcement of the end of submarine warfare and the recall of all its submarines back to port.  German insistence on unrestricted submarine warfare had helped bring the US into the War.  Now the new German government was taking this step to convince President Wilson  that they really wanted peace on his Fourteen Points.

 

However, while the civilian government was convinced that the War at Sea was lost, Admiral Carl Friedrich Heinrich Reinhard Scheer, Chief of Staff of the German navy was not, and he instructed Admiral Franz Ritter von Hipper, Commander of the High Seas Fleet, to prepare a plan by which the Fleet would stage what amounted to a “Kamikaze” attack on the overwhelmingly powerful British Grand Fleet.  Hipper prepared the order on October 24, 1918:

Commander of the High Seas Fleet

Op. 269/A I
SMS KAISER WILHELM II, [b] 24.10.1918

VERY SECRET
O. MATTER
O.-COMMAND No.19.[c]

A. Information about the enemy
It is to be supposed that most of the enemy forces are in Scottish east coast ports, with detachments in the Tyne, the Humber and the Channel.

B. Intentions
The enemy will be brought to battle under conditions favorable for us.

For this purpose, the concentrated High Seas forces[d] will advance by night into the Hoofden, and attack combat forces and mercantile traffic on the Flanders coast and in the Thames estuary. This strike should induce the enemy to advance immediately with detachments of his fleet[e] toward the line Hoofden/German Bight. Our intention is to engage these detachments on the evening of Day II of the operation, or to have them attacked by torpedo-boats during the night of Day II or III. In support of the main task the approach routes of the enemy from east Scottish ports to the sea area of Terschelling will be infested by mines and occupied by submarines.

C. Execution
i) Departure from the German Bight by day, out of sight of the Dutch coast;
ii) Route through the Hoofden so that the attack on the Flanders Coast and the Thames Estuary takes place at dawn on Day II;
iii) The Attack:

a) against the Flanders coast by the commander of the 2nd Torpedo-Boat Flotilla with Graudenz, Karlsruhe, Nürnberg and the 2nd Torpedo-Boat Flotilla.
b) against the Thames estuary by the 2nd Scouting Group with Königsberg, Köln, Dresden, Pillau and the 2nd Torpedo-Boat Half-Flotilla
Covering of a) by the fleet and b) by the C-in-C of the Scouting Forces;

iv) Return so as to reach the combat area favorable to us, near Terschelling, one or two hours before nightfall on Day II.
v) Protection of the return (Day II) by part of the 8th Flotilla
vi) Mine laying by the leader of 4th Scouting Group with 4th Scouting Group (supported by minelayers by Arkona[f] and Möwe[g]) and the 8th Flotilla, on the approaches of the enemy, in accord with plan No. I.
vii) Disposition of submarines on the enemy routes in accord with plan No. III
viii) Attack by torpedo-boats during the night of Day II to III, in case an encounter has already taken place, from near the Terschelling Light Vessel towards the Firth of Forth, in accordance with the orders of the commander of torpedo-boats. On the meeting of the torpedo-boats with the fleet in the morning of Day III, see the following order;
ix) Entrance into the German Bight by departure route or by routes 420, 500 or 750, depending on the situation;
x) Air reconnaissance: if possible.

 

 

Only an insurrection in the German fleet on October 30, followed by a mutiny of the Fleet at Kiel on November 3, 1918, prevented the High Seas Fleet from sailing and carrying out this aquatic gotterdammerung.  There was much irrationality in the German High Command as they faced the unthinkable fact of losing the War and this order amply demonstrates this fact.

 

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One Comment

  1. For what it is also worth, in terms of proponents of a lost cause for 1918 Germany, both Admirals Scheer and von Hipper were heroes to an Austrian corporal named Adolf Hitler for “fighting on” and for their “anti-defeatist” attitude at the end of the Great War—so much so that they were each chosen to be named for the first heavy cruisers of the nascent pre-WW2 Kriegsmarine resurgence, Both were fast heavily-armed cruisers with fairly large-bore armaments (the Scheer had 6 x 28cm/11″ guns, very large for a cruiser of the time) and bedeviled the British fleet from 1939 to just about the very end of hostilities in 1945 as surface raiders and convoy threats.

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