Otto von Diederichs
Ernst Otto von Diederichs (born 7 September 1843 in Minden
Minden is a town of about 83,000 inhabitants in the north-east of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The town extends along both sides of the river Weser. It is the capital of the Kreis of Minden-Lübbecke, which is part of the region of Detmold. Minden is the historic political centre of the...

, Westphalia
Westphalia is a region in Germany, centred on the cities of Arnsberg, Bielefeld, Dortmund, Minden and Münster.Westphalia is roughly the region between the rivers Rhine and Weser, located north and south of the Ruhr River. No exact definition of borders can be given, because the name "Westphalia"...

, Kingdom of Prussia
Kingdom of Prussia
The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom from 1701 to 1918. Until the defeat of Germany in World War I, it comprised almost two-thirds of the area of the German Empire...

 (today in the German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 Federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia
North Rhine-Westphalia
North Rhine-Westphalia is the most populous state of Germany, with four of the country's ten largest cities. The state was formed in 1946 as a merger of the northern Rhineland and Westphalia, both formerly part of Prussia. Its capital is Düsseldorf. The state is currently run by a coalition of the...

) - died 8 March 1918 at Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden is a spa town in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. It is located on the western foothills of the Black Forest, on the banks of the Oos River, in the region of Karlsruhe...

, Germany) was an Admiral of the German Imperial Navy
Kaiserliche Marine
The Imperial German Navy was the German Navy created at the time of the formation of the German Empire. It existed between 1871 and 1919, growing out of the small Prussian Navy and Norddeutsche Bundesmarine, which primarily had the mission of coastal defense. Kaiser Wilhelm II greatly expanded...

, serving in the predecessor Prussian Navy
Prussian Navy
Throughout the centuries, Prussia’s military consistently concentrated on its land power, and never sought a similar power at sea. Yet historically there were always Prussian naval forces , beginning in the days when "Prussia" meant only the Margraviate of Brandenburg.- The Navy of Electoral...

 and the Navy of the North German Confederation
North German Confederation
The North German Confederation 1866–71, was a federation of 22 independent states of northern Germany. It was formed by a constitution accepted by the member states in 1867 and controlled military and foreign policy. It included the new Reichstag, a parliament elected by universal manhood...


Education, war and peace

Diederichs entered the Prussian naval officer candidate program along a circuitous route, with an incomplete secondary education, a short stint as a Prussian army cadet and service in the merchant marine. After Naval School
Naval Academy Mürwik
The Naval Academy at Mürwik is the main training establishment for all German Navy officers.It is located at Mürwik which is a part of Germany's most northern city, Flensburg. Built on a small hill directly by the coast, it overlooks the Flensburg Fjord...

 graduation at Kiel and Atlantic training voyages on the Prussian sail frigate SMS Niobe, he was commissioned Unterleutnant zur See [Lieutenant JG] in 1867. He served a brief tour aboard the royal yacht Grille. During the Franco-Prussian War
Franco-Prussian War
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and...

 of 1870-71 he commanded the coastal gunboat SMS Natter. Although a French fleet maneuvered in the North Sea where Natter was deployed, "the French battle plan had little impact on Diederichs' wartime service, which proved somewhat anticlimactic." After hostilities ended his ship was deactivated. From 1871 to 1874 he attended several terms at the post-graduate Naval War College, the German Imperial Naval Academy 1872-1918
German Imperial Naval Academy 1872-1918
The German Imperial Naval Academy at Kiel, Germany, was from 1872 until the end of the First World War the higher education institution of the German Imperial Navy, Kaiserliche Marine, where naval officers were prepared for problems in higher levels of command...

 (Marineakademie), with intermittent training cruises in a class with four future admirals. Based on his academic work at the academy, he was posted to the torpedo research command. After this staff position he requested, and then was assigned to sea duty as executive officer of the corvette SMS Luise for a "two-year tour on the East Asian station beginning in October 1878." With the return of the ship to Wilhelmshaven and deactivation in 1880, Diederichs' new orders assigned him as gunnery and torpedo instructor to the undergraduate Naval School
Naval Academy Mürwik
The Naval Academy at Mürwik is the main training establishment for all German Navy officers.It is located at Mürwik which is a part of Germany's most northern city, Flensburg. Built on a small hill directly by the coast, it overlooks the Flensburg Fjord...

 and the postgraduate Naval War College
German Imperial Naval Academy 1872-1918
The German Imperial Naval Academy at Kiel, Germany, was from 1872 until the end of the First World War the higher education institution of the German Imperial Navy, Kaiserliche Marine, where naval officers were prepared for problems in higher levels of command...

 (Marineakademie), both of which were at Kiel at the time. During his tenure at these schools, he participated in maneuvers and exercises and several study trips abroad.

With the conclusion of the academic year 1890, Captain Diederichs became director of the Imperial Shipyard at Kiel. In January 1892 he was promoted to Rear Admiral. He traveled to the United States in May 1893 to visit several shipyards and the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island. In 1895 he was appointed Chief of Staff for Admiral Eduard von Knorr
Eduard von Knorr
Ernst Wilhelm Eduard von Knorr was a German admiral of the Kaiserliche Marine who helped establish the German colonial empire.-Life:...

 at the Naval High Command
Oberkommando der Marine
The Oberkommando der Marine was Nazi Germany's Naval High Command and the highest administrative and command authority of the Kriegsmarine. It was officially formed from the Marineleitung of the Reichswehr on 11 January 1936. In 1937 it was combined with the newly formed Seekriegsleitung...

. Knorr was a difficult taskmaster (even Tirpitz had run afoul of him) and after being dismissed by Knorr, Diederichs contemplated retirement. His career was saved after Kaiser Wilhelm II recalled Rear Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz
Alfred von Tirpitz
Alfred von Tirpitz was a German Admiral, Secretary of State of the German Imperial Naval Office, the powerful administrative branch of the German Imperial Navy from 1897 until 1916. Prussia never had a major navy, nor did the other German states before the German Empire was formed in 1871...

 from East Asia to Berlin, an action that created a vacancy in 1897 for Diederichs to fill. He replaced Tirpitz as commanding officer of the East Asian Cruiser Division
German East Asia Squadron
The German East Asia Squadron was a German Navy cruiser squadron which operated mainly in the Pacific Ocean between the 1870s and 1914...

 – still without a base.

East Asia

The political will to acquire a base in the Far East had existed for some time. The new Chancellor Chlodwig von Hohenlohe
Prince Chlodwig zu Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst
Chlodwig Carl Viktor, Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst, Prince of Ratibor and Corvey , usually referred to as the Prince of Hohenlohe, was a German statesman, who served as Chancellor of Germany and Prime Minister of Prussia from 1894 to 1900...

 agreed in principle, despite reservations and a preference for "caution" and diplomatic rather than military solutions. Purchase or acquisition by other means, however, would fulfill that base requirement.

For details of the base acquisition and colonial period, see Jiaozhou Bay concession
Jiaozhou Bay concession
The Kiautschou Bay concession was a German colonial concession in Imperial China which existed from 1898 to 1914. It had an area of 552 km², it was located around Jiaozhou Bay on the southern coast of the Shandong Peninsula, which lay in the imperial province of Shandong in northern China.Jiaozhou...

German ships now controlled Kiautschou Bay. With the initially tenuous hold on the bay somewhat solidified by December 1897 with the arrival of additional ships of a second cruiser division, Diederichs, nevertheless, continually had to deal with multiple small crises involving the movements of Chinese forces with often aggressive intentions. The situation changed favorably on 26 January 1898, when the steamer Darmstadt disembarked the 1,200 Marines of 3rd Sea Battalion
The Seebatallione [sea battalions] were naval infantry troops or marines serving in the Prussian navy, the navy of the North German Confederation, the Imperial German Navy, the Wehrmacht, and briefly in the modern Federal German Navy, the Bundesmarine....

 to garrison the east Asian station.

The convention of Peking on 6 March 1898 granted a 99-year German concession for Kiautschou Bay. With the appointment of an imperial governor, Diederichs, now promoted to Vice Admiral, wrote that he "had fulfilled [his] purpose in the navy." After the summer activities of 1899 in the Philippines, when German interests diverted to the purchase of certain Spanish Pacific islands, Diederichs handed command of the East Asia fleet at Tsingtao on 14 April 1899 to Rear Admiral Prince Heinrich of Prussia
Prince Heinrich of Prussia
Prince Henry of Prussia was a younger brother of German Emperor William II and a Prince of Prussia...


Admiralty staff and retirement

During Diederichs' two year absence from Berlin, a major naval reorganization had taken place that propelled Alfred von Tirpitz "to the pinnacle of [German] naval authority." Into much internal strife, Diederichs stepped in as Chief of the Admiralty Staff
German Imperial Admiralty Staff
The German Imperial Admiralty Staff was a military institution established in 1899 under the direct authority and command of the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II for managing the German Imperial Navy...

 (Admiralstab). He discovered serious organizational discords with the Tirpitz administration that he could not overcome; he did not have Wilhelm II’s ear, he had few influential peers, his operational authority over ships at foreign stations was "undermined." He was again considering retirement as he concluded that the Kaiser no longer had confidence in his leadership of the admiralty staff, although he was promoted to full Admiral in January 1902. Tirpitz did not wait, he simply announced a Diederichs successor. With limited options in the matter, he transmitted his request for retirement on 9 August 1902.

Admiral Diederichs and his wife decided to retire to Baden-Baden where he designed a villa and had it constructed. He watched from that resort city the continuing naval arms race with Britain and the Great War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. He was honored at the Kiautschou colony by having a mountain named after him and a street in Tsingtao near the Gouverneurspalast
Jiaozhou Governor's Hall
Jiaozhou Governor's Hall is the former colonial government building during the German concession period at Qingdao, Shandong province of China...

, the seat of the colonial government.

He died on 8 March 1918, age 74, six months after the death of his wife, and is interred in a mausoleum at Baden-Baden's municipal cemetery.

Footnotes and references

  • Gottschall, Terrel D. By Order of the Kaiser. Otto von Diederichs and the Rise of the Imperial German Navy, 1865-1902. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. 2003. ISBN 1557503095
  • Schultz-Naumann, Joachim. Unter Kaisers Flagge, Deutschlands Schutzgebiete im Pazifik und in China einst und heute [Under the Kaiser’s Flag, Germany’s Protectorates in the Pacific and in China then and today]. Munich: Universitas Verlag. 1985. ISBN 380041094X
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