The Imperial German Navy

 
     
 

This was a period of great expansion for the Imperial German Navy ("Kaiserliche Marine"). From the formation of the German Empire in 1871 to its fall in 1918 the German navy went from being a small Baltic and North Sea fleet to being the second largest in the World after the British Royal Navy. While most of the German navy was based in ports on the North coast of Germany, they also had a permanent East Asian fleet based at Tsingtao. The port of Tsingtao and the province of Kiaochow was governed by the imperial navy which also maintained the III. Seebataillon and land based naval artillery batteries to protect the port.

The Imperial German Navy was often called upon to support overseas land-based actions and take part in "gunboat diplomacy". Naval warships could provide artillery bombardments and landing parties of sailors to fight as infantry. These landing parties of armed sailors could number from a couple of dozen to a few hundred depending on the size of the ship's crew and the need on land. As such the Imperial navy fought in all of Germany's major colonial campaigns. Sometimes the threat of naval bombardment or the presence of armed sailors on land was enough to deter opposition. As well as warlike actions (such as those described below) the German navy was sometimes used to rescue or protect German civilians caught up in foreign wars and natural disasters.
Recommended External Links - Kaiserliche Marine , Marine Akademie , and Kreuzergeschwader Ostasien

The colonies also had their own non-military ships, separate from the imperial navy. These vessels came under the control of the colonial governors and were officered by Germans with locally recruited crews. They were not intended for military use although they were used to ferry supplies and troops in times of war and were occasionally armed for action.

Colonial and Overseas Onshore Actions of the Imperial German Navy

The Yos Rebellion - Cameroon 1884
The corvettes SMS Bismarck and SMS Olga provided artillery bombardment and landed 300 sailors to help put down the rebellion. The action was successful and the rebellion crushed. This was the first time the German navy had seen action in the colonies and they suffered only one fatality. They were soon to see more violent action.
Recommended External Link- Medal Net - Cameroon 1884  

The Battle of Vailele - Samoa 1888
About 150 sailors from
the corvette SMS Olga, and the gunboats SMS Eber and SMS Adler were landed near Apia to confront Samoan rebels under King Mataafa. In the ensuing fighting the Germans lost 16 dead and 39 wounded- almost 40% of their force.
Recommended External Link - Robert Louis Stevenson's Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa

The Abushiri Rebellion - German East Africa 1888-90
The frigate
SMS Leipzig, gunboat SMS Möwe, light cruiser SMS Schwalbe, the aviso SMS Pfeil and the corvettes SMS Sophie, SMS Carola and SMS Olga provided coastal blockade, artillery bombardment and landing parties to help put down the rebellion. They were successful in saving Bagamoyo (then the capital of the colony) from falling into rebel hands. In the initial stages of the rebellion they were the only armed German forces in East Africa. When the Wissmanntruppe arrived to crush the rebellion German sailors formed an armed detachment that fought alongside Wissmann's askaris.
Recommended External Link-
Medal Net - German East Africa 1888-89

The Abo Rebellion - Cameroon 1891
The gunboats SMS Habicht and SMS Hyäne bombarded rebel villages and landed armed sailors to help put down the rebellion. The action was successful and the rebellion crushed after naval landing parties and Polizeitruppe stormed the fortified rebel village of Miang.
Recommended External Link- Medal Net - Cameroon 1891

The Dahomey Slaves Rebellion - Cameroon 1893
The gunboat SMS Hyäne under Kapitänleutnant Reincke bombarded rebel villages and landed armed sailors to help put down the rebellion. The action was successful and after a struggle the rebellion was crushed.
Recommended External Link- Medal Net - Cameroon 1893

The Boxer Rebellion - China 1900
Ships and landing parties from the German navy played a major part in defeating the Boxer Rebellion. The first action was when sailors from the gunboat SMS Iltis were rushed to Tientsin to protect Europeans threatened by the Boxers. More sailors from other German ships followed to reinforce the city.

The protected cruisers SMS Hertha, SMS Hansa, SMS Kaiserin Augusta, and the light cruiser SMS Gefion provided artillery bombardment and about 500 sailors to support the International Relief Expedition under the British Admiral Seymour. The expedition failed to relieve Peking and was turned back after heavy fighting.

After bombardment from an allied fleet including the SMS Iltis, about 120 sailors from the SMS Hertha, Hansa and Gefion under the command of Kaptitän zur See Pohl, along with other allied sailors, took part in the successful storming of the Taku Forts. This action opened up a path for allied troops to reach Peking. The SMS Iltis suffered heavy casualties from Chinese artillery and was awarded the Pour-le-Merite (Germany's highest award for bravery) for her part in this action. This was the only occasion on which a ship rather than an individual was awarded the honour.
Recommended External Link- Taku Forts 1900

Sailors from these and other German ships also took part in the occupation of various Chinese cites in the latter stages of the rebellion. German gunboats were then deployed on the River Yangtze to patrol against further trouble and to keep the waterway open to allied troops if needed. On several occasions they were called to protect German civilians and interests (such as the student unrest in Hankow in 1905 during which the river gunboat SMS Vaterland put an armed landing party ashore). The light cruiser SMS Emden from the German East Asia Fleet, was also called upon in 1913 (along with British and Japanese ships) to shell a rebel Chinese fort on the Yangtze.

The Venezuelan Blockade 1902-03
Venuzuela reneged on debts owed to several foreign investors. As a result British, Italian ships and German ships (including the gunboat SMS Panther, the protected cruiser SMS Vineta,
the aviso SMS Falke, the light cruiser SMS Sperber, the frigate SMS Stosch, the corvette SMS Charlotte and the light cruiser SMS Gazelle) blockaded Venezuelan ports in December 1902. The fort of Puerto Cabello was bombarded and for a time occupied by a German landing party. Three Venezuelan ships were sunk and another, the Restaurador, was temporarily captured by the German navy. The crisis was ended in February 1903 when the Venezuelan government finally agreed to honour the debts.
Recommended External Link - BNET- The Venezuelan Crises of 1902

The Herero Rebellion - German South West Africa 1904-05
The
gunboat SMS Habicht was the nearest German ship to the colony when rebellion broke out. The sailors from SMS Habicht fought on land to support the Schutztruppe throughout the early part of the campaign in 1904 until they could be replaced by reinforcements from the Marine Expeditionskorps.
Recommended External Link - Article on Traditionsverband on SMS Habicht im Herero-Aufstand

The Maji-Maji Rebellion - German East Africa 1905-06
The light cruiser SMS Bussard, assisted the Schutztruppe by ferrying troops up and down the coast of German East Africa to the rebellious areas. Landing parties of sailors from the ship were also used to secure the ports. Later the light cruisers
SMS Thetis and SMS Seeadler were sent to German East Africa as reinforcements.
Recommended External Link - Article on Traditionsverband on SMS Bussard im Maji-Maji Aufstand

The Agadir Crisis- Morocco 1911
After the First Moroccan Crisis in 1905 in which Germany disputed French claims to Morocco, the European Powers settled in favour of French influence. The argument was rekindled in 1911 by Germany sending the gunboat SMS Panther to the port of Agadir (in what became known as the Agadir or Second Moroccan Crisis). War was averted only when the European Powers once again settled in favour of France (who took full control of Morocco the following year). Germany was placated with former French territory in the Congo added to German Cameroon.
Recommended External Link - Black's Academy

The Sokehs Rebellion - Ponape, German New Guinea 1910
The light cruisers SMS Emden,
SMS Comoran and SMS Nürnberg provided artillery bombardment and landed sailors to help put down the rebellion alongside the New Guinea Polizeitruppe. The action was successful and the rebellion crushed.
Recommended External Link -  See the Sokehs Rebellion section on Micronesia Over the Years

The Siege of Tsingtao 1914
The garrison of Tsingtao consisted of the III. Seebataillon and the naval Kiaochow Naval Artillery Batteries. Tsingtao was also home to the German East Asia fleet. The bulk of this fleet under Admiral Graf von Spee, escaped out to sea to attack allied shipping, while other smaller vessels (the
light cruiser SMS Cormoran, the gunboats
SMS Luchs, SMS Iltis, SMS Tiger and SMS Jaguar, the minesweeper Lauting, the river gunboat Taku, the torpedo boat S90 and the Austro-Hungarian protected cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth) bombarded the Japanese fleet and positions on land until the German position became hopeless. The S-90 then broke out through enemy lines firing torpedoes at Japanese ships along the way and ended up interned at Nanking in neutral China. The rest of the fleet scuttled their ships in Tsingtao harbour and fought on land with the naval Kiaochow Batteries until Tsingtao finally surrendered in November 1914.
Recommended External Link - Tsingtau Info

The SMS Emden's Voyage 1914-15
Under the command of Korvettenkapitän Karl von Müller, the light cruiser SMS Emden, set sail from Tsingtao at the outbreak of war to cause mayhem amongst entente shipping in the Indian Ocean and bombarding enemy ports (including Madras in British India) during the early months of the war. The allies put vast efforts into catching the SMS Emden (at one point having over 60 warships involved in the search) but she eluded them, capturing and sinking thousands of tons of Entente shipping along the way. In November 1914 she was finally cornered off Direction Island and sunk by the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney. But the voyage of the Emden's crew did not end there, while most of the crew were captured when the ship sank, a landing party that had been on Direction Island to destroy the radio mast evaded capture. They were now stranded but managed to make their way back to Germany on an epic journey, firstly across the Indian Ocean (in a captured three masted schooner, the Ayesha), then after landing on the Red Sea coastline they trekked across the desert fighting hostile Arab tribesmen along the way until picked up by Ottoman troops. They arrived in Istanbul to a hero's welcome in May 1915, travelling on to Germany from there. The surviving crew of the SMS Emden were uniquely honoured for their bravery by being allowed to add the suffix "-Emden" to their surnames. To this day some of their descendants still carry this additional name.
Recommended External Link - History Net page on the SMS Emden

The SMS Königsberg in German East Africa 1914-18
When the First World War broke out the light cruiser SMS Königsberg under
Fregattenkapitän Max Loof, was in the Indian Ocean off East Africa. After sinking several Entente vessels in the area it was trapped and sunk in the Rufiji Delta in July 1915. The crew and guns then joined the Schutztruppe forces on land, the crew being formed initially into the Schützenkompagnie Königsberg (later the crew were divided up amongst various Schutztruppe units), while the guns were mounted on improvised chassis and distributed across the colony (see Königsberg Guns Page). The crews of other smaller German vessels that found themselves stranded there, such as the survey ship SMS Möwe and the German/Danish re-supply ship "Kronberg" that evaded the entente blockade were also added to the Schutztruppe.
Recommended Internal Link - Königsberg Guns Page

The Battle of the Lakes - German East Africa 1914-16
Another form of naval warfare existed within German East Africa during the First World War- on the great lakes. The colony was bounded on several sides by lakes which formed the natural borders with neighbouring colonies. Lake Victoria in the North bordered British East Africa, Lake Tanganyika in the West bordered the Belgian Congo and Lake Nyassa (also known as Lake Malawi) in the South bordered British Rhodesia and Portuguese Mozambique. It became essential to the survival of German East Africa to maintain control of these lakes for the movement of troops. As such several old steamers were armed and manned by the crew from the SMS Möwe, the Schutztruppe and African recruits. Several victories were scored against British and Belgian ships and bases but by 1916 increasing entente pressure from all sides of the colony caused the Germans to retreat from the great lakes. These campaigns on the waterways of East Africa later formed the background to the film "The Africa Queen" starring Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn.
Recommended External Link - Tanganjikasee

SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau in the Black Sea - Ottoman Empire 1914-18
The battle cruiser
SMS Goeben and the light cruiser SMS Breslau were trapped in the Mediterranean Sea at the outbreak of the First World War. After bombarding the French bases at Bône and Philippeville in Algeria they handed themselves over to the Ottoman navy rather than surrender to the overwhelming power of the Entente navies in the Mediterranean. Once under the Ottoman flag they bombarded the Russian ports of Sevastopol and Odessa thus precipitating a Russian declaration of war on the Ottoman Empire thus bringing them into the war on the German side. During the war the two ships remained on patrol in the Black Sea while sailors from the ships also served as machine gunners on the Gallipoli front. Under the Ottoman flag the Goeben and Breslau were renamed the TCG Yavuz Sultan Selim (after Sultan Selim I) and Midilli (the Turkish name for the Aegean island of Lesbos) respectivly. The Midilli was sunk by a mine in 1918 but the Yavuz Sultan Selim remained in Turkish service until 1950 (being renamed TCG Yavuz in 1936). It was finally scrapped in 1973.
Recommended External Link - Wikipedia Page on the SMS Goeben

Naval Troops on the Western Front 1914-18
During the First World War various naval units, sailors regiments ("Matrosen" and "Werft" units), naval artillery and naval planes were deployed along with the marine infantry battalions ("Seebataillone") as the Flanders Naval Corps ("Marinekorps Flandern"). They held the far Northern edge of the Western Front- the Flanders coastline. The Marinekorps Flandern was involved in much heavy fighting including defending against the Zeebrugge Raid in April 1918. They continued to hold the Flanders coastline up until the armistice in November 1918. A smaller unit of Matrosen and naval pioneers served on the Somme front in 1916.
Recommended External Links - Kaiserliches Marinekorps and the discussion on the Marinekorps Flandern at the Axis History Forum

 
     
 

Please contact me here if you have more information or photos on this topic. 

Back to Main Menu for German Colonial Uniforms