Wilhelmshaven mutiny
The Kiel mutiny was a major revolt by sailors of 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...

 High Seas Fleet
High Seas Fleet
The High Seas Fleet was the battle fleet of the German Empire and saw action during World War I. The formation was created in February 1907, when the Home Fleet was renamed as the High Seas Fleet. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz was the architect of the fleet; he envisioned a force powerful enough to...

 on 3 November 1918. The revolt triggered the German revolution
German Revolution
The German Revolution was the politically-driven civil conflict in Germany at the end of World War I, which resulted in the replacement of Germany's imperial government with a republic...

 which was to sweep aside the monarchy within a few days. It ultimately led to the end of the First World War and to the establishment of the Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...



By September 1918, Germany's military situation was hopeless. Kaiser
Kaiser is the German title meaning "Emperor", with Kaiserin being the female equivalent, "Empress". Like the Russian Czar it is directly derived from the Latin Emperors' title of Caesar, which in turn is derived from the personal name of a branch of the gens Julia, to which Gaius Julius Caesar,...

 Wilhelm II was advised to request the Entente Cordiale
Entente Cordiale
The Entente Cordiale was a series of agreements signed on 8 April 1904 between the United Kingdom and the French Republic. Beyond the immediate concerns of colonial expansion addressed by the agreement, the signing of the Entente Cordiale marked the end of almost a millennium of intermittent...

 for an immediate cease fire and put the government on a democratic footing, hoping for more favorable peace terms. On 3 October, the Kaiser appointed Prince Maximilian of Baden
Prince Maximilian of Baden
Maximilian of Baden was a German prince and politician...

 as the new Imperial Chancellor. In his cabinet the Social Democrats
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

 also took on responsibility. The most prominent and highest-ranking was Philipp Scheidemann
Philipp Scheidemann
Philipp Scheidemann was a German Social Democratic politician, who proclaimed the Republic on 9 November 1918, and who became the second Chancellor of the Weimar Republic....

 as undersecretary without portfolio.

The Wilhelmshaven mutiny

While the war-weary troops and the population disappointed by the Kaiser's government awaited the speedy end of the war, the Imperial Naval Command
The Seekriegsleitung or SKL was the high command of the Kaiserliche Marine and the Kriegsmarine of Germany during the World Wars.It led planning and execution of naval combat and directed the distribution of naval forces...

 in Kiel under Admiral Franz von Hipper
Franz von Hipper
Franz Ritter von Hipper was an admiral in the German Imperial Navy . Franz von Hipper joined the German Navy in 1881 as an officer cadet. He commanded several torpedo boat units and served as watch officer aboard several warships, as well as Kaiser Wilhelm II's yacht Hohenzollern...

, without authorization, planned to dispatch the fleet
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...

 for a last battle against the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 in the English Channel
English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...


The naval order of 24 October 1918 and the preparations to sail first triggered a mutiny
Mutiny is a conspiracy among members of a group of similarly situated individuals to openly oppose, change or overthrow an authority to which they are subject...

 among the affected sailors and then a general revolution
A revolution is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.Aristotle described two types of political revolution:...

 which was to sweep aside the monarchy within a few days. The mutinous sailors had no intention of being needlessly sacrificed in the last moment of the war. They were also convinced that the credibility of the new democratic government which was seeking peace would have been compromised by a simultaneous naval attack.

The sailors' revolt started on the Schillig Roads off Wilhelmshaven
Wilhelmshaven is a coastal town in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated on the western side of the Jade Bight, a bay of the North Sea.-History:...

, where the German fleet had anchored in expectation of a planned battle. During the night from 29 to 30 October 1918 some crews refused to obey orders. Sailors on board three ships from the Third Navy Squadron refused to lift anchor. Part of the crew on SMS Thüringen
SMS Thüringen
SMS Thüringen "SMS" stands for "Seiner Majestät Schiff" was the third vessel of the of battleships of the German Imperial Navy. Thüringens keel was laid in November 1908 at the AG Weser dockyard in Bremen. She was launched on 27 November 1909 and was commissioned into the fleet on 1 July 1911...

 and SMS Helgoland
SMS Helgoland
SMS Helgoland ,"SMS" stands for "Seiner Majestät Schiff" the lead ship of her class, was a dreadnought battleship of the German Imperial Navy. Helgolands design represented an incremental improvement over the preceding , including an increase in the bore diameter of the main guns, from 28 cm ...

, two battle ships from the First Navy Squadron, committed outright mutiny and sabotage. However, when a day later some torpedo boats pointed their cannons onto these ships, the mutineers gave up and were led away without any resistance. But the Naval Command had to drop its plans as it was felt that the crew's loyalty could no longer be relied upon. The Third Navy Squadron was ordered back to Kiel
Kiel is the capital and most populous city in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, with a population of 238,049 .Kiel is approximately north of Hamburg. Due to its geographic location in the north of Germany, the southeast of the Jutland peninsula, and the southwestern shore of the...


The sailors' revolt in Kiel

The squadron commander Vizeadmiral Hugo Kraft exercised a manoeuvre with his battleships in the Heligoland Bight
Heligoland Bight
The Heligoland Bight, also known as Helgoland Bight, is a bay which forms the southern part of the German Bight, itself a bay of the North Sea, located at the mouth of the Elbe river...

. When it "functioned perfectly (tadellos funktionierte)" he believed he was master of his crews again. While moving through the Kiel Canal
Kiel Canal
The Kiel Canal , known as the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal until 1948, is a long canal in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.The canal links the North Sea at Brunsbüttel to the Baltic Sea at Kiel-Holtenau. An average of is saved by using the Kiel Canal instead of going around the Jutland Peninsula....

 he had 47 sailors from the Markgraf
SMS Markgraf
SMS Markgraf"SMS" stands for "Seiner Majestät Schiff", or "His Majesty's Ship" was the third battleship of the four-ship . She served in the German Imperial Navy during World War I. The battleship was laid down in November 1911 and launched on 4 June 1913...

, who were seen as the ringleaders, imprisoned. In Holtenau (end of the canal in Kiel) they were brought to the Arrestanstalt (the military prison in Kiel) and to Fort Herwarth in the north of Kiel. The sailors and stokers were now pulling out all the stops to prevent the fleet from setting sail again and to achieve the release of their comrades. Some 250 met in the evening of 1 November in the Union House in Kiel. Delegations, sent to their officers requesting the mutineers' release, were not heard. The sailors were now looking for closer ties to the unions, the USPD and the SPD. Thereupon the Union House was closed by police, leading to an even larger joint open-air meeting on 2 November, at the large drill ground (Großer Exerzierplatz).
Led by the sailor Karl Artelt
Karl Artelt
Karl Artelt was a German revolutionary and a leader of the sailors' revolt in Kiel.- Birth and education :...

, who worked in the repair ship yard for torpedo boats in Kiel-Wik and by the mobilized shipyard worker Lothar Popp
Lothar Popp
Lothar Popp was a German revolutionary and a leader of the sailors' revolt in Kiel.- Education and party membership :...

, both USPD members, the sailors called for a large meeting the following day at the same place. This call was heeded by several thousand people on the afternoon of 3 November with workers' representatives also being present. The slogan "Frieden und Brot" (peace and bread) was raised showing that the sailors and workers demanded not only the release of the imprisoned but also the end of the war and the improvement of food provisions. Eventually the people supported Artelt's call to free the prisoners and they moved in the direction of the military prison.

Sublieutenant Steinhäuser, who had orders to stop the demonstrators, ordered his patrol to give warning shots and then to shoot directly into the demonstrators. There were seven people killed and 29 severely injured. Some demonstrators also opened fire. Steinhäuser was severely injured by rifle-butt blows and shots, but contrary to later statements, he was not killed. After this incident the demonstrators dispersed and the patrol withdrew.

Nevertheless the mass protest turned into a general revolt.

On the morning of 4 November groups of mutineers moved through the town. Sailors in a large barracks compound in a northern district of Kiel (Wik Garnison: Tirpitz Hafen) refused obedience: after a Division inspection of the commander, spontaneous demonstrations took place. Karl Artelt organized the first soldiers' council, and soon many more were set up. The governor of the navy station, Wilhelm Souchon
Wilhelm Souchon
Wilhelm Anton Souchon was a German and Ottoman admiral in World War I who commanded the Kaiserliche Marine's Mediterranean squadron in the early days of the war...

, had to negotiate. The imprisoned sailors and stokers were freed. Soldiers and workers brought public and military institutions under their control. When, against Souchon's promise, different troops advanced to quash the rebellion, they were intercepted by the mutineers and were either sent back or joined the sailors and workers. By the evening of 4 November, Kiel was firmly in the hands of approximately 40,000 rebellious sailors, soldiers and workers, as was Wilhelmshaven two days later.

On the same evening the SPD deputy Gustav Noske
Gustav Noske
Gustav Noske was a German politician of the Social Democratic Party of Germany . He served as the first Minister of Defence of Germany between 1919 and 1920.-Biography:...

 arrived in Kiel and was welcomed enthusiastically although he had orders from the new government and the SPD leadership to bring the rising under control. He had himself elected chairman of the soldiers' council and reinstated peace and order. Some days later he took over the governor's post, while Lothar Popp
Lothar Popp
Lothar Popp was a German revolutionary and a leader of the sailors' revolt in Kiel.- Education and party membership :...

 from the USPD became chairman of the overall soldiers council. During the coming weeks Noske actually managed to reduce the influence of the councils in Kiel, but he could not prevent the spreading of the revolution to all of Germany. The events had already spread far beyond the city limits.


Other seamen, soldiers and workers, in solidarity with the arrested, began electing worker and soldier councils modeled after the soviets of the Russian Revolution of 1917
Russian Revolution of 1917
The Russian Revolution is the collective term for a series of revolutions in Russia in 1917, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. The Tsar was deposed and replaced by a provisional government in the first revolution of February 1917...

, and took over military and civil powers in many cities. On November 7, the revolution had reached Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

, causing Ludwig III of Bavaria
Ludwig III of Bavaria
Ludwig III , was the last King of Bavaria, reigning from 1913 to 1918.-Early life:...

 to flee.


  • Dirk Dähnhardt: Revolution in Kiel. Der Übergang vom Kaiserreich zur Weimarer Republik. Karl Wachholtz Verlag, Neumünster, 1978, ISBN 3-529-02636-0
  • Wolfram Wette: Gustav Noske - eine politische Biographie. Droste Verlag, 1987, ISBN 3-7700-0728-X
  • Wolfram Wette: Gustav Noske und die Revolution in Kiel 1918. Boyens Buchverlag, Heide 2010, ISBN 978-3-8042-1322-7; published as special edition from the Gesellschaft für Kieler Stadtgeschichte, by Jürgen Jensen, Band 64

See also

  • German Revolution
    German Revolution
    The German Revolution was the politically-driven civil conflict in Germany at the end of World War I, which resulted in the replacement of Germany's imperial government with a republic...

  • Soldat fusillé pour l'exemple
  • Spithead and Nore mutinies
    Spithead and Nore mutinies
    The Spithead and Nore mutinies were two major mutinies by sailors of the Royal Navy in 1797. There were also discontent and minor incidents on ships in other locations in the same year. They were not violent insurrections, being more in the nature of strikes, demanding better pay and conditions...

  • Chilean naval mutiny of 1931
  • HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën (1909)#Mutiny in the Indies
  • Royal Indian Navy Mutiny
  • Kronstadt rebellion
    Kronstadt rebellion
    The Kronstadt rebellion was one of many major unsuccessful left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks in the aftermath of the Russian Civil War...

  • Invergordon Mutiny
    Invergordon Mutiny
    The Invergordon Mutiny was an industrial action by around 1,000 sailors in the British Atlantic Fleet, that took place on 15–16 September 1931...

  • Revolt of the Lash

External links

  • Homepage from Kiel Interview with Lothar Popp; contemporary witnesses; evaluations; detailed time-line with documents
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