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Nuremberg Trial Judgements: Erich Raeder

Raeder is indicted on Counts One, Two and Three. In 1928, he became Chief of Naval Command and in 1935 Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (OKM); in 1939 Hitler made him Gross-Admiral. He was a member of the Reich Defence Council. On 30th January, 1943, Doenitz replaced him at his own request. and he became Admiral Inspector of the Navy, a nominal title.

Crimes against Peace

In the 15 years he commanded it, Raeder built and directed the German Navy, he accepts full responsibility until retirement in 1943. He admits the Navy violated the Versailles Treaty, insisting it was "a matter of honour for every man" to do so, and alleges that the violations were for the most part minor, and Germany built less than her allowable strength. These violations, as well as those of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935, have already been discussed elsewhere in this Judgment.

Raeder received the directive of 24th June, 1937, from von Blomberg requiring special preparations for war against Austria. He was one of the five leaders present at the Hoszbach Conference of 5th November, 1937. He claims Hitler merely wished by this conference to spur the Army to faster rearmament, insists he believed the questions of Austria and Czechoslovakia would be settled peacefully, as they were, and points to the new naval treaty with England which had just been signed. He received no orders to speed construction of U-boats, indicating that Hitler was not planning war.

Raeder received directives on "Fall Gruen" and the directives on "Fall Weiss" beginning with that of 3rd April, 1939, the latter directed the Navy to support the Army by intervention from the sea. He was also one of the few chief leaders present at the meeting of 23rd May, 1939. He attended the Obersalzburg briefing of 22nd August, 1939.

The conception of the invasion of Norway first arose in the mind of Raeder and not that of Hitler. Despite Hitler's desire, as shown by his directive of October, 1939, to keep Scandinavia neutral, the Navy examined the advantages of naval bases there as early as October. Admiral Karls originally suggested to Raeder the desirable aspects of bases in Norway. A questionnaire, dated 3rd October, 1939, which sought comments on the desirability of such bases, was circulated within SKL. On 10th October, Raeder discussed the matter with Hitler; his War Diary entry for that day says Hitler intended to give the matter consideration. A few months after Hitler talked to Raeder, Quisling, Keitel and Jodl, OKW began its planning and the Naval War Staff worked with OKW staff officers. Raeder received Keitel's directive for Norway on 27th January, 1940. and the subsequent directive of 1st March, signed by Hitler.

Raeder defends his actions on the ground it was a move to forestall the British. It is not necessary again to discuss this defence, which the Tribunal have heretofore treated in some detail, concluding that Germany's invasion of Norway and Denmark was aggressive war. In a letter to the Navy Raeder said: " The operations of the Navy in the occupation of Norway will for all time remain the great contribution of the Navy to this war"

Raeder received the directives, including the innumerable postponements, for the attack in the West. In a meeting of 18th March, 1941, with Hitler, he urged the occupation of all Greece. He claims this was only after the British had landed and Hitler had ordered the attack, and points out the Navy had no interest in Greece. He received Hitler's directive on Yugoslavia.

Raeder endeavoured to dissuade Hitler from embarking upon the invasion of the U.S.S.R. In September, 1940, he urged on Hitler an aggressive Mediterranean policy as an alternative to an attack on Russia. On 14th November, 1940, he urged the war against England " as our main enemy " and that submarine and naval air force construction be continued. He voiced " serious objections against the Russian campaign before the defeat of England," according to notes of the German Naval War Staff. He claims his objections were based on the violation of the Non-Agression Pact as well as strategy. But once the decision had been made, he gave permission six days before the invasion of the Soviet Union to attack Russian submarines in the Baltic Sea within a specified warning area and defends this action because these submarines were " snooping " on German activities.

It is clear from this evidence that Raeder participated in the planning and waging of aggressive war.

War Crimes

Raeder is charged with war crimes on the high seas. The "Athenia," an unarmed British passenger liner, was sunk on 3rd September, 1939, while outward bound to America. The Germans two months later charged that Mr. Churchill deliberately sank the " Athenia" to encourage American hostility to Germany. In fact, it was sunk by the German U-boat 30. Raeder claims that an inexperienced U-boat commander sank it in mistake for an armed merchant cruiser, that this was not known until the U-30 returned several weeks after the German denial and that Hitler then directed the Navy and Foreign Office to continue denying it. Raeder denied knowledge of the propaganda campaign attacking Mr. Churchill.

The most serious charge against Raeder is that he carried out unrestricted submarine warfare, including sinking of unarmed merchant ships, of neutrals, non-rescue and machine-gunning of survivors, contrary to the London Protocol of 1936. The Tribunal makes the same finding on Raeder on this charge as it did as to Doenitz, which has already been announced, up until 30th January, 1943, when Raeder retired.

The Commando Order of the 18th October, 1942, which expressly did not apply to naval warfare, was transmitted by the Naval War Staff to the lower naval commanders with the direction it should be distributed orally by flotilla leaders and section commanders to their subordinates. Two commandos were put to death by the Navy, and not by the SD, at Bordeaux on the 10th December, 1942, the comment of the Naval War Staff was that this was " in accordance with the Fuehrer's special order, but is nevertheless something new in international law, since the soldiers were in uniform." Raeder admits he passed the order down through the chain of command, and he did not object to Hitler.


The Tribunal finds that Raeder is guilty on Counts One, Two, and Three.

Sources: The Avalon Project