The Kriegsmarine, the Navy of Germany under the Third Reich, was well underpowered and unprepared for World War II when the war began with Great Britain and France in August, 1939. The Treaty of Versailles following World War I had limited Germany to a meager coastal defense force and little more. Vessels such as battleships and submarines were strictly and completely forbidden.

The inter-war years brought widespread depression to Germany, and the rise of the political Nazi party. In 1921, the Reichsmarine (Imperial German Navy) was nothing more than a skeleton force capable of little to nothing. The Versailles treaty forced the WWI German Navy to scuttle all their ships where they stood upon surrender.

Jan 30, 1933 Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany by Paul von Hindenburg. By May 1935, the Führer reorganized the German Armed Forces into the Wehrmacht, and the Reichsmarine became the Kriegsmarine. The Kriegsmarine was still underequipped to take on any major naval power. The Oberkommando der Marine (OKM, Naval High Command) worked on plans on how best to build up the Navy. The two main ideas were to have a large U-Boat fleet and a sparse number of high seas surface ships for coastal defense, or to have a limited U-Boat fleet and a decent sized surface fleet. The OKM ended up siding with the latter of the two in January 1939, and the project became known as the Z-Plan. The Z-Plan called for the construction of:
This plan was begun as soon as possible, but it was never fully satisfied. Full construction numbers can be seen below. As one can see, focus ended up on the U-Boat after all and final surface ship production was less than ordered. The Großadmiral at the time, Erich Raeder, remarked that the forces were not sufficient to be taking on the combined Allied fleet, especially the British Royal Navy.
”The number and strength of our surface units is so small compared to the British fleet that they can only show how to die in honor - even when operating with full effort.”
-- Großadmiral Erich Raeder, September 3, 1939.

The Kriegsmarine was noted as the least politically oriented branch of the Wehrmacht, and out of all three Wehrmacht branches and the Waffen-SS, Kriegsmarine officers and sailors numbered least at the Nuremburg War Tribunals following the war. The same might be said for the Luftwaffe, if it were not for their association with the death camps.

The Kriegsmarine was a very formidable opponent for the Allied Navies, considering that the German Navy did not exist ten years earlier and the British had a decent Navy since 1587. Throughout the course of World War II, Kriegsmarine ships (mostly U-Boats) sunk 14,878,000 tons of Allied ship.

The Unterseebootwaffe was the U-Boat arm of the Kriegsmarine and was responsible for much of the damage inflicted in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean. The U-Boat arm was well known for it’s wolfpack tactics (rudeltaktik). Karl Dönitz was the influential Commander of the U-Boat arm until 1943.

The Kriegsmarine High Command, or Oberkommando der Marine, was headed by the Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (Commander in Chief of the Navy). General Erich Raeder held this post from 24 September 1928 until 30 January 1943. Before the 1935 formation of the Wehrmacht, Rader’s official title was Chef der Marineleitung. In 1943, Raeder was succeeded by Großadmiral Karl Dönitz. Dönitz served this position well until the last few days of the Reich, when Generaladmiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg filled the spot and Dönitz filled in for the fallen Führer.

The major types of ship the Kriegsmarine held in her order of battle were (numbers in parenthesis are final production numbers):

By the end of the war, over 1.5 million men had served in the Kriegsmarine. 138,000 of these men were KIA and about 105,000 MIA. The Kriegsmarine legacy ended with the unconditional German surrender to the Allies May 7, 1945.

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