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The Kriegsmarine and the Swastika


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One can't help noticing that the swastika emblem on the Kriegsmarine series of war badges is remarkably small (with perhaps the exception of the 2nd Pattern E-Boat) . In some cases, (i.e. the Minesweeper or Destroyer badges) it is barely discernable. Compare this with most (there are of course exceptions) Army and Luftwaffe badges, and even when reduced to a very small size, on photos of Army/Luft badges the Swastika is significantly larger and forms a much more significant portion of the award.

Hitler is on record as complaining "I have a National Socialist Airforce, a reactionary Army and a Christian Navy" Now the navy would have had its share of nazi fanatics too, but one can't help wondering if those responsible for the design of the war badges perhaps subconsciously reflected the antipathy of a large section of naval high command (including those responsible for authorising the badges) towards their political masters. ? Certainly a number of suggested designs for the U-Boat badge with a much larger and more prominent swastika were rejected.

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Hi Gordon, a very good point, I must admit that I've never really noticed the size of the swaz on Kriegsmarine badges before, I think you are right that the navy was, if anything the least political of all the TR armed forces and maybe this did have a subconcious effect on the designers. It may be that the navy was a "carryover " from the kaisers time with less indoctrination than the rebuilt army and airforce.

regards

Alex

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maybe because boats are so big the badges would look silly with an Inf assault sized eagle?

It must have been hard enough cramming in enough "boat detail"

My first thought too. But look at the huge amount of space above the boat in the E-Boat Badge compared with the Panzer badge. Plenty room for a bigger swas if they had wanted it that way.

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Guest Darrell

Who was the final say in badge design?

I know Donitz was a "Hitler's Boy" .. at least in the early(er) years so I doubt he would have gone against Der Fuhrer's wishes ...

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Actually, the navy badges are more aesthetically pleasing and better proportioned than the army badges or the Luftwaffe ground badges. Best of all, design-wise, are the mobile Luftwaffe flying badges making their far more realistic eagles the design itself.

The army badges are much "clunkier."

So maybe the army was more insecure than the navy about their perceived allegiance.... :catjava:

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Hello,

I think it may sound nice that " A Christian Navy " would have a small swastika on KM badges, but I believe artistic proportions and a sense of balance is more true . If you where to put a huge swastika found on many LW badges and place it in the eagle's talons it would crowd out the image of the boat used on that particular badge. One of my favorite KM badge is the auxillary cruiser award , try putting a larger swaz on that and the entire viking ship's sail would be nothing more than a swastika ! I think the designer's had more interest in the details in the boat depicted such as the viking ship with globe , a destroyer , S-boat , U-boat battle ship etc. In my humble opinion the KM badges have more realistic balance than the other branch's awards .

Best Regards,

Joe

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I believe artistic proportions and a sense of balance is more true . If you where to put a huge swastika found on many LW badges and place it in the eagle's talons it would crowd out the image of the boat used on that particular badge.

Best Regards,

Joe

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I think recent studies, such as Keith Bird's biography of Raeder and Grier's "Hitler and Donitz and the Baltic Sea", convincingly prove that the ideological relationship between the KM and NS was quite close and much of what was written in the autobiographies of those two Admirals must be taken with a great deal of wariness. Their wartime speeches, trial statements after the war, and other documents prove the opposite of what they were saying much later.

Salewski's book "Die Deutsche Seekriegslitung" and in other published works in the 70s are even more damning of the KM (published 1970-1975).

I have also studied numerous British interrogation reports of captured U-boat crewmembers. Most, up to 1943 anyway, show extreme loyalty to NS especially by the officers and complete confidence they would win the war. The crews reaction depended on the indoctrination by the Captain for the most part, but after 1943, most enlisted men seemed happy to be prisoners and not at the bottom and were very talkative, especially about the defects of their officers, not seen in the pre-43 reports for the most part. So, to see a British statement "This Captain was one of the most arrogant Nazis we have interrogated" was not unusual in 1940, however, the British were quite expert at getting them to talk by merely the threat of poor living condition for the U-boat crew. No whips and electric leads needed.

Something else that is typical of most militaries but navies in particular. They will come together to protect their leaders. Has to do with the loyalty to a Captain, no matter how bad he might be, and it just becomes ingrained with that service. No criticisim of Donitz was typical in postwar German Navy accounts even from U-boat commanders, although they knew something was wrong even if Donitz did not. Nothing is said about his political convictions. Also, both Admirals survived the war, something that did not happen with the top LW and Herr leadership. It was then much easier for surviving Herr generals to complain about Hitler strategies since Hitler was dead, but in the case of the KM, both Admirals were still around and hard to blame Hitler for the U-boat war, Bismarck and Scharnhorst sorties, the wasted end to Tirpitz and Baltic naval campaigns and how they influenced Hitler's ground war decisions in the Baltic states.

So there is a lot of protection in the writings post war of KM officers when it comes to Donitz and Raeder and NS in my opinion.

I think the badges, as stated above, were strictly based on artistic proportionality and had nothing to do with any feeling within the KM that the symbol itself was to be minimized because they were not political when they really were based on most recent studies. The huge number of U-boat members that came out of the Marine Hitler Youth is another reason for this I think. There was a very good reason that surface sailors and merchant marine sailors were not used in the U-boat arm. Helps not to know what that torpedo is doing to the ship you just attacked. Just look at the uniforms and see how many are wearing a High Seas or Destroyer Badge and a U-boat badge. Not many.

There was a reason for Donitz's appointment by Hitler as his replacement afterall. I do not think Hitler took this last decision very lightly and if you study the actions of the KM Naval Police at the end of war, you will see that their brutality, with the complete backing of Donitz, was amazing and in some eyes, worse than the more well known SS units hanging deserters at the end of the war. Donitz hung 3 sailor deserters (who took off on 5 May) on 10 May while he was still "Reich President". Well, the war was over as he well knew and he personally made sure the executions had taken place. He certainly did not dissolve the Nazi Party thru 23 May while President.

Therefore, I see no political way of connecting any lack of NS resolve within the KM as much as it would be nice to see, but the documents just do not back this up. Therefore, the badges just ended up looking like they did since they looked better that way.

Did not want to make a lecture of this, but I do think the KM gets off lightly compared to the other fighting branches when they really were all in that war together, as would make perfect sense at the time.

John

Edited by John Robinson
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to see a British statement "This Captain was one of the most arrogant Nazis we have interrogated" was not unusual in 1940

British and US interrogators generally labelled anyone who refused to give more than the normal ?name, rank and number? as an ?arrogant Nazi? but even they occasionally attested to be astonished by the anti-Nazi attitudes of captured U-Boat personnel.

Something else that is typical of most militaries but navies in particular. They will come together to protect their leaders. Has to do with the loyalty to a Captain, no matter how bad he might be, and it just becomes ingrained with that service. No criticisim of Donitz was typical in postwar German Navy accounts even from U-boat commanders, although they knew something was wrong even if Donitz did not. Nothing is said about his political convictions. Also, both Admirals survived the war, something that did not happen with the top LW and Herr leadership. It was then much easier for surviving Herr generals to complain about Hitler strategies since Hitler was dead, but in the case of the KM, both Admirals were still around and hard to blame Hitler for the U-boat war, Bismarck and Scharnhorst sorties, the wasted end to Tirpitz and Baltic naval campaigns and how they influenced Hitler's ground war decisions in the Baltic states.

So there is a lot of protection in the writings post war of KM officers when it comes to Donitz and Raeder and NS in my opinion.

I'd take the postwar writings of any former senior military personality with a pinch of salt.

No one can doubt that there were committed Nazis within the Kriegsmarine, but the huge difference between the public utterings of the naval leadership (driven in part by the need to be seen as 100% loyal and not ever wishing to revisit the disintegration of discipline and order which came with the sailor?s councils etc after the 1918 mutiny) and their actual actions, paint an entirely different picture.

D?nitz was certainly personally loyal to Hitler as his commander-in-chief, but refusing to allow National Socialist Leadership Officers (N.S.F.O.s) on his U-Boats, willingly accepting the re-instatement of officers from Jewish families who had been dismissed because of the race laws and actively interceding to protect naval personnel who had spoken out against the regime are hardly the actions of some rabid Nazi. There are several examples of U-Boat officers recorded as being virulently anti-Nazi.The problems came, as with Oskar Kusch, when an anti-Nazi commander fell foul of an ambitious pro-Nazi IWO who had been a Nazi Party District Leader before the war and that discord threatened the morale of the boat. The IWO?s connections gave him the ?clout? to ensure action was taken against Kusch.

I think the badges, as stated above, were strictly based on artistic proportionality and had nothing to do with any feeling within the KM that the symbol itself was to be minimized because they were not political when they really were based on most recent studies.

Perhaps the design of KM War Badges was based on pure aesthetics. If so, I am pleased that the designers felt it was aesthetically correct for KM war badges to have a much smaller swastika than used on most badges for the other services.

The huge number of U-boat members that came out of the Marine Hitler Youth is another reason for this I think. There was a very good reason that surface sailors and merchant marine sailors were not used in the U-boat arm. Helps not to know what that torpedo is doing to the ship you just attacked. Just look at the uniforms and see how many are wearing a High Seas or Destroyer Badge and a U-boat badge. Not many.

Utterly astonishing statement, and 100% incorrect.

The Kriegsmarine had been actively recruiting Merchant Navy personnel since well before the outbreak of war. As early as 1932 Raeder was literally begging merchant shipping lines to release personnel for service in the navy. Many of them served on U-Boats including aces such as Prien and Bleichrodt to name but two.

One look through the vast collection of photos at the U-Boot Archiv will show huge numbers of photos with badges being worn from former service in surface ships.

Did not want to make a lecture of this, but I do think the KM gets off lightly compared to the other fighting branches when they really were all in that war together, as would make perfect sense at the time.

I think the fact that the KM got off ?lightly? has more to do with the fact that in general it fought a ?clean? war, far cleaner than any other part of the Wehrmacht and indeed cleaner than some of the allies.

However, this is straying way off topic and into the realms of politics, which has no place on GMIC. Anyone who wants hard factual data on all aspests of the background of KM personnel, in particular the U-Boats, including social, educational, professional and political should read "Neither Sharks nor Wolves" by Timothy P Mulligan.

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[british and US interrogators generally labelled anyone who refused to give more than the normal "name, rank and number" as an "arrogant Nazi" but even they occasionally attested "to be astonished by the anti-Nazi attitudes of captured U-Boat personnel.]

Quite true as reflected in the reports, especially after mid-1943. I also was trying to compliment the seemingly excellent interrogation process employed by the British as applied to these crews and their officers. It is also true that in early reports, the anger is there on the part of the British towards the U-boat officers, and based on shipping losses to that period of time, understandable. If anything, I think the British interrogators must have been carefully selected for this job as I am amazed as it what is contained therein.

[i'd take the postwar writings of any former senior military personality with a pinch of salt. No one can doubt that there were committed Nazis within the Kriegsmarine, but the huge difference between the public utterings of the naval leadership (driven in part by the need to be seen as 100% loyal and not ever wishing to revisit the disintegration of discipline and order which came with the sailor?s councils etc after the 1918 mutiny) and their actual actions, paint an entirely different picture.]

Again, true and you can't underestimate the effect of the 1918 mutiny on KM thinking during WWII, especially on Donitz.

Also, I stand corrected on prior surface experience, however, I thought I read that statistic but can't find it now. It was somewhere. Your data is probably better than mine, and certainly, I do not want to depend on only one reference for this detail. I will keep looking, but as I said, it was in a reference, but as in any study, you certainly should not go on just one. I would also like to clarify that the main reason a man goes to sea in war is for a sense of adventure that sailor life seems to extend to those that have never done it, duty sake, your ship and shipmates, and the Navy. I was referring to the top level decision makers, for the most part, that would have had final approval of a badge design.

[i think the fact that the KM got off "lightly" has more to do with the fact that in general it fought a "clean" war, far cleaner than any other part of the Wehrmacht and indeed cleaner than some of the allies.]

Again, I would agree, and probably why the US Admirals came to the defense of Donitz at his trial at least in regards to the U-boat war. There was never any post-war accusation, but one, U-852, that any U-boat acted in any way out of the ordinary in comparison with say, US boats, in relation to their conduct during the war. I can assure you this is quite true from my friends that were US submarine Skippers and carrier pilots in the Pacific in WWII.

[However, this is straying way off topic and into the realms of politics, which has no place on GMIC. Anyone who wants hard factual data on all aspests of the background of KM personnel, in particular the U-Boats, including social, educational, professional and political should read "Neither Sharks nor Wolves" by Timothy P Mulligan.]

Excellent book, but well worth another read and I intend to pull it out and do just that.

John

Edited by John Robinson
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  • 2 months later...

I have often wondered about that. I believe the small size of the swastica was intentional. Case in point, the absence of the swastica on navy officer brocade belts and the external of officer swords.

Years ago, I bought a mini of the km destroyer badge from Bill Shea. It was posted on his site "without swastica". In fact it was there but so small it was barely discernable even with a 10x loop.

Terrence

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  • 1 month later...

One can't help noticing that the swastika emblem on the Kriegsmarine series of war badges is remarkably small (with perhaps the exception of the 2nd Pattern E-Boat) . In some cases, (i.e. the Minesweeper or Destroyer badges) it is barely discernable. Compare this with most (there are of course exceptions) Army and Luftwaffe badges, and even when reduced to a very small size, on photos of Army/Luft badges the Swastika is significantly larger and forms a much more significant portion of the award.

Hitler is on record as complaining "I have a National Socialist Airforce, a reactionary Army and a Christian Navy" Now the navy would have had its share of nazi fanatics too, but one can't help wondering if those responsible for the design of the war badges perhaps subconsciously reflected the antipathy of a large section of naval high command (including those responsible for authorising the badges) towards their political masters. ? Certainly a number of suggested designs for the U-Boat badge with a much larger and more prominent swastika were rejected.

I never gave the size of the swastika much thought....i.e. assumed it was nothing more than a design/balance consideration. I have however, always been intrigued by the fact that the eagles on the badges of the Kriegsmarine are facing to their right. I am no expert in heraldry, but I believe that right facing attitude is termed "dexter" (as opposed to "sinister" ....to the left). I believe "dexter" points or leads more toward the "honorable" than the sinister.

The customs and rules of heraldry are complex, subtle, and like most things, regional variations exist. I certainly have no way of knowing how much consideration to such things was given while designing/approving these badges.....but my hunch is that those responsible were not ignorant of this custom, and it was done with purpose.

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I never gave the size of the swastika much thought....i.e. assumed it was nothing more than a design/balance consideration. I have however, always been intrigued by the fact that the eagles on the badges of the Kriegsmarine are facing to their right. I am no expert in heraldry, but I believe that right facing attitude is termed "dexter" (as opposed to "sinister" ....to the left). I believe "dexter" points or leads more toward the "honorable" than the sinister.

The customs and rules of heraldry are complex, subtle, and like most things, regional variations exist. I certainly have no way of knowing how much consideration to such things was given while designing/approving these badges.....but my hunch is that those responsible were not ignorant of this custom, and it was done with purpose.

Greg,

I was focussed on the size of the swastika, and never even took notice of this, but you are absolutely correct. Amazing how you can miss something for all these years which looks so obvious when it is pointed out.

As you say, we may never know the reasons, but like you I can't imagine such things happened by "accident"

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Quite true in that eagles should be facing to the left as you are observing the eagle. In other words, to the eagle's right. All US medals have the eagle facing to its right and if you study the heraldry of the US Presidential Seal, in 1945 somebody figured out the eagle was facing the wrong way--to its left so they switched it to its present form. Actually, that was the original direction, but one President, Hayes, for some unknown reason had the eagle looking to the sinister side, so all President Truman did was to get it back to the correct position. In that case, the sinister claws had arrows (copied from Holland) and the right hand claws had an olive branch so Truman got the eagle to face the olive branch, not the arrows. It was simply a mistake on the part of somebody on a redesign which was corrected.

All of this (both the US and Presidential seals) were a copy of the United Low Countries lion:

"The bundle of arrows in the eagle's sinister claw has an interesting precedent: the arms adopted by the United Provinces or United Low Countries after their break from the Spanish crown in the 16th century feature a lion holding seven arrows in its paw, for the seven provinces. The United Provinces provided a precedent for the United States, sharing the feature that they earned their independence through a war, but did so as several distinct provinces headed by a representative assembly, and adopted a non-monarchical form of government after independence; these features were unique in European history."

I think the KM just knew which way the eagle was supposed to face and designed the badges according to heraldic tradition. Of course, some Herr/LW eagles also go to the same direction (paratrooper), but most do not.

I am surprised, now that you pointed it out, and I also did not notice this fact, that all eagles were not facing to their right but, they do not.

Very interesting, but I do not think it has much to do with the Herr/LW badges being sinister in intent, they were just designed without heraldic tradition in mind which is very surprising based on historic Germanic eagles.

John

Edited by John Robinson
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I think the KM just knew which way the eagle was supposed to face and designed the badges according to heraldic tradition. Of course, some Herr/LW eagles also go to the same direction (paratrooper), but most do not.

I am surprised, now that you pointed it out, and I also did not notice this fact, that all eagles were not facing to their right but, they do not.

Very interesting, but I do not think it has much to do with the Herr/LW badges being sinister in intent, they were just designed without heraldic tradition in mind which is very surprising based on historic Germanic eagles.

John

Good point, but the strange thing is when you consider designers who produced designs for both Army and Navy. Naval badges uniquely all faced "dexter", yet if Peekhaus who designed several navy badges did so because of the knowledge that this was heraldically correct, why then did he design the Panzer Assault Badge and Flak Badge for the army, with the eagle faced "sinister".

I agree with your last point - it would be reading too much into it to suggest the design was to show sinister "intent". Its not even necessaily down to the design. He only produces the design, someone else has to approve it. Peekhaus may well have produced his designs for the Panzer and Flak badges with the eagle facing the same way as his naval badges and been told to change it. Why, we'll probably never know.

It is worth bearing in mind though that during the 3rd Reich, such small differences often did have a specific significance. ( i.e. "diplomatic" service eagles identical in style to "government officials" but with the heads facing in opposite directions)

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  • 10 months later...

This was a very interesting posting, Something I had never thought about.

Thank you everyone.

I would love to learn more about that quote and the date and circumstances when it was uttered.

Very interesting..

Regards,

2dresq

BTW: A very nice collection

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Especially when one considers that breast eagles face the same direction for all services and all cap eagles as well.... EXCEPT...... the Kriegsmarine pith helmet eagle, which faces dexter. I believe it was all done with intent. Someone knows something. Clearly the designers did.

Terrence

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Curious also that the Destroyer seems to be the only KM badge with a 'closed-winged' eagle.

I attributed that to its being the first of the navy badges and copied from the looks of the Heer bagdes. Something that was changed fwith intent for some reason.

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Curious also that the Destroyer seems to be the only KM badge with a 'closed-winged' eagle.

The Coastal Artilley badge also features a closed winged eagle.It was one of the last badges to be instituted also.

Cheers,Martin.

Edited by mwestley
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I attributed that to its being the first of the navy badges and copied from the looks of the Heer bagdes. Something that was changed fwith intent for some reason.

Actually the U-Boat War Badge was first (October 1939) and has the spread winged eagle. The Destroyer was the second to be instituted , (in June 1940.)

Its also worth noting that the use of a small national emblem could not just have been one designers predeliction. as there were four different designers involved with KM War badges, Paul Casberg, Otto Placzek, Adolf Bock and Wilhelm Ernst Peekhaus.

Seems unlikely that all four would independently just decide that KM badges would look better with a small eagle/swas. More likely that they knew this to be the preference of Grossadmiral Raeder, the man who would ultimately have to give approval to their design proposals.

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