Admiral Erich Raeder was probably the most important figure in the creation and use of the Kriegsmarine, the German Navy of the Second World War, but he is often overshadowed by his successor Donitz, commander of the U-boat fleet, and the second and final head of state of Nazi Germany. As this full length biography demonstrates, that isn’t entirely fair. Raeder’s career stretched back into the First World War, and many of his firmest believes were developed under Tirpitz. He played a controversial role in the immediate post First World War period, before becoming head of the Navy in 1928. He had thus been in post for five years when Hitler came to power in 1933, and would remain in power for almost ten years. During that time he closely aligned the Navy with the Nazi regime, although his view of Germany’s strategic aims was very different to Hitler’s.
There are two themes intertwined in this book. The first focuses on the details of Raeder’s career - postings, active service and the details of his period in command of the navy. The second looks at his philosophy of naval power - what he thought the German navy should be trying to achieve, and how that impacted on its organisation and ship design. This is where the key difference between Raeder and the rest of the Nazi leadership emerges. Raeder inherited Tirpitz’s belief that Germany should be a global naval power, with a surface fleet to match, while Hitler was far more interested in land warfare, and in particular the clash with the Soviet Union. However as the book makes clear, Raeder’s fall from power was more influenced by practical operational problems - Hitler wanted his navy to win impressive victories, but at the same time ordered his commanders to avoid taking any real risks with the major warships. Raeder’s views on risk were more complex, but he does appear to have misjudged the impact on world opinion of events such as the brief career of the Bismarck, which he viewed as a valiant fight that enhanced the reputation of the German navy, but that was more widely seen as a clear-cut defeat for the Germans.
This is a more thoughtful biography than many, with its emphasis on Raeder’s beliefs and long-term plans for the Navy as well as the direct details of individual operations. It also provides an insight into just how close he was to the Nazi regime, despite determined post-war efforts to deny that.
1 - The Genesis of an Admiral
2 - Raeder and the Politics of the Naval Command, 1918-1920
3 - Rebuilding the Navy: Raeder and the Reichsmarine, 1920-1928
4 - Chief of the Republican Navy, 1928-1933
5 - Raeder, Hitler, and the Nazi Party, 1928-1939
6 - Between Raeder and Hitler: Fleet Building and Strategy in the Third Reich, 1933-1939
7 - Once Again, World War
8 - Dreaming in Continents, 1940-1942
9 - Raeder and German Surface Operations: Fall 1940-December 1942
10 - The End of the Raeder Era
11 - Defending the Navy, 1943-1960
Author: Keith W. Bird