Ludwig von Reuter

Last updated

Ludwig von Reuter
Born(1869-02-09)9 February 1869
Guben, Prussia
Died18 December 1943(1943-12-18) (aged 74)
Potsdam, Germany
AllegianceFlag of the German Empire.svg  German Empire
BranchWar Ensign of Germany 1903-1918.svg  Imperial German Navy
Service years1885–1920
Commands held

Hans Hermann Ludwig von Reuter (9 February 1869 – 18 December 1943) was a German admiral who commanded the High Seas Fleet when it was interned at Scapa Flow at the end of World War I. On 21 June 1919 he ordered the scuttling of the German fleet in Scapa Flow to prevent the British from seizing the ships.

High Seas Fleet Naval battle during WWI

The High Seas Fleet (Hochseeflotte) was the battle fleet of the German Imperial Navy and saw action during the First World War. The formation was created in February 1907, when the Home Fleet (Heimatflotte) was renamed as the High Seas Fleet. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz was the architect of the fleet; he envisioned a force powerful enough to challenge the Royal Navy's predominance. Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German Emperor, championed the fleet as the instrument by which he would seize overseas possessions and make Germany a global power. By concentrating a powerful battle fleet in the North Sea while the Royal Navy was required to disperse its forces around the British Empire, Tirpitz believed Germany could achieve a balance of force that could seriously damage British naval hegemony. This was the heart of Tirpitz's "Risk Theory," which held that Britain would not challenge Germany if the latter's fleet posed such a significant threat to its own.

Scapa Flow bay

Scapa Flow is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, sheltered by the islands of Mainland, Graemsay, Burray, South Ronaldsay and Hoy. Its sheltered waters have been used by ships since prehistory and it has played an important role in travel, trade and conflict throughout the centuries – especially during both World Wars.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.



Reuter was born in Guben into a Prussian military family. His father, a colonel in the army, was killed in the Franco-Prussian War. In 1885, he became a cadet in the Imperial German Navy at the instigation of his mother. As a midshipman at the age of 17, he was promoted to Unterleutnant zur See in 1888. By 1910, he was a Kapitän zur See , commanding the heavy cruiser SMS Yorck. [1]

Guben Place in Brandenburg, Germany

Guben is a town on the Lusatian Neisse river in the state of Brandenburg, Germany. Located in the Spree-Neiße district, Guben has a population of 20,049. Along with Frankfurt (Oder) and Görlitz, Guben is a divided city on the border between Germany and Poland, having been separated into Guben and Gubin in 1945 by the Oder–Neisse line.

Prussia state in Central Europe between 1525–1947

Prussia was a historically prominent German state that originated in 1525 with a duchy centred on the region of Prussia on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea. It was de facto dissolved by an emergency decree transferring powers of the Prussian government to German Chancellor Franz von Papen in 1932 and de jure by an Allied decree in 1947. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organised and effective army. Prussia, with its capital in Königsberg and from 1701 in Berlin, decisively shaped the history of Germany.

Franco-Prussian War significant conflict pitting the Second French Empire against the Kingdom of Prussia and its allies

The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the War of 1870, was a conflict between the Second French Empire and later the Third French Republic, and the German states of the North German Confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia. Lasting from 19 July 1870 to 28 January 1871, the conflict was caused by Prussian ambitions to extend German unification and French fears of the shift in the European balance of power that would result if the Prussians succeeded. Some historians argue that the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck deliberately provoked the French into declaring war on Prussia in order to draw the independent southern German states—Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt—into an alliance with the North German Confederation dominated by Prussia, while others contend that Bismarck did not plan anything and merely exploited the circumstances as they unfolded. None, however, dispute the fact that Bismarck must have recognized the potential for new German alliances, given the situation as a whole.

World War I

Two months after the outbreak of World War I, he was made captain of the battlecruiser SMS Derfflinger, which he also commanded during the Battle of Dogger Bank. In September 1915, he became Commodore and commanding officer of the Second Scouting Group of five light cruisers (SMS Stuttgart, SMS Hamburg, SMS München, SMS Stettin, SMS Frauenlob), leading the group during the Battle of Jutland. Promoted to Konteradmiral in November 1916, he was placed in command of the Fourth Reconnaissance Group, a fleet of six light cruisers including his flagship SMS Königsberg. He commanded the group during the mine sweeping operation that led to the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight in November 1917. Faced with a surprise attack by a numerically superior force of British ships, he successfully withdrew his group under fire to the protection of the battleships SMS Kaiser and SMS Kaiserin. [1] Reuter was appointed Commander, Reconnaissance Forces and I Scouting Group in August 1918, succeeding Franz von Hipper.

Battlecruiser Large capital warship

The battlecruiser, or battle cruiser, was a type of capital ship of the first half of the 20th century. They were similar in displacement, armament and cost to battleships, but differed slightly in form and balance of attributes. Battlecruisers typically carried slightly thinner armour and a lighter main gun battery than contemporary battleships, installed on a longer hull with much higher engine power in order to attain faster speeds. The first battlecruisers were designed in the United Kingdom in the first decade of the century, as a development of the armoured cruiser, at the same time as the dreadnought succeeded the pre-dreadnought battleship. The goal of the design was to outrun any ship with similar armament, and chase down any ship with lesser armament; they were intended to hunt down slower, older armoured cruisers and destroy them with heavy gunfire while avoiding combat with the more powerful but slower battleships. However, as more and more battlecruisers were built, they were increasingly used alongside the better-protected battleships.

SMS <i>Derfflinger</i> battlecruiser

SMS Derfflinger was a battlecruiser of the German Kaiserliche Marine built just before the outbreak of World War I. She was the lead vessel of her class of three ships; her sister ships were Lützow and Hindenburg. The Derfflinger-class battlecruisers were larger and featured significant improvements over the previous German battlecruisers, in terms of armament, armor protection, and cruising range. The ship was named after Field Marshal Georg von Derfflinger who fought in the Thirty Years' War.

Battle of Dogger Bank (1915) Naval battle fought in the North Sea on 24 January 1915

The Battle of Dogger Bank was a naval engagement on 24 January 1915, near the Dogger Bank in the North Sea, during the First World War, between squadrons of the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet.

Scuttling of the German fleet

After the armistice that ended World War I, Konteradmiral von Reuter was requested to take command of the fleet that was to be interned at Scapa Flow until its final disposition would be decided at Versailles. Admiral Franz von Hipper, commander-in-chief of the High Seas Fleet, had refused to lead his ships into internment. He thus protested against the seizing of the fleet by Britain and its relocation to a British war harbour instead of a neutral location, as had been agreed initially. [1]

Konteradmiral, abbreviated KAdm or KADM, is the second lowest naval flag officer rank in the German Navy. It is equivalent to Generalmajor in the Heer and Luftwaffe or to Admiralstabsarzt and Generalstabsarzt in the Zentraler Sanitätsdienst der Bundeswehr.

Treaty of Versailles one of the treaties that ended the First World War

The Treaty of Versailles was the most important of the peace treaties that brought World War I to an end. The Treaty ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919 in Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which had directly led to World War I. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I signed separate treaties. Although the armistice, signed on 11 November 1918, ended the actual fighting, it took six months of Allied negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on 21 October 1919.

As the final deadline neared for the German delegation to sign the Treaty of Versailles, Reuter anticipated that his ships would be handed over to the victorious Allies. To prevent this, he ordered all 74 ships scuttled on 21 June 1919, using an unusual flag signal previously agreed upon. Unknown to the British, all ships had long ago been prepared for this action. Within five hours, 10 battleships, five battlecruisers, four light cruisers, and 32 torpedo boats sank in Scapa Flow. The battleship SMS Baden, the four light cruisers SMS Emden, SMS Nürnberg, SMS Frankfurt and SMS Bremse and 14 torpedo boats were beached when British watch personnel were able to intervene in time and tow them to shallow water. Only four destroyers remained afloat. Nine Germans were killed in scuffles either aboard some of the ships (including Walter Schumann, the captain of SMS Markgraf) or some of their lifeboats – the last German war deaths of World War I. [2]

SMS <i>Baden</i> super-dreadnought battleship

SMS Baden was a Bayern-class dreadnought battleship of the German Imperial Navy built during World War I. Launched in October 1915 and completed in March 1917, she was the last battleship completed for use in the war; two of her sisters—Sachsen and Württemberg—were incomplete when the war ended. The ship mounted eight 38-centimeter (15 in) guns in four twin turrets, displaced 32,200 metric tons at full combat load, and had a top speed of 21 knots. Along with her sister Bayern, Baden was the largest and most powerfully armed battleship built by the Imperial Navy.

SMS <i>Nürnberg</i> (1916) 1916 Königsberg-class cruiser

SMS Nürnberg was a Königsberg-class light cruiser built during World War I by Germany for the Imperial Navy. She had three sisters: Königsberg, Karlsruhe, and Emden. The ship was named after the previous light cruiser Nürnberg, which had been sunk at the Battle of the Falkland Islands. The new cruiser was laid down in 1915 at the AG Weser shipyard in Bremen, launched in April 1916, and commissioned into the High Seas Fleet in February 1917. Armed with eight 15 cm SK L/45 guns, the ship had a top speed of 27.5 kn.

SMS <i>Frankfurt</i> ship

SMS Frankfurt was a light cruiser of the Wiesbaden class built by the German Kaiserliche Marine. She had one sister ship, SMS Wiesbaden; the ships were very similar to the previous Karlsruhe-class cruisers. The ship was laid down in 1913, launched in March 1915, and completed by August 1915. Armed with eight 15 cm SK L/45 guns, Frankfurt had a top speed of 27.5 knots and displaced 6,601 t at full load.

Reuter was vilified in Britain and made a prisoner of war, along with the other 1,773 officers and men of the fleet's remaining rump crews. In Germany he was celebrated as a hero who had protected the honor of the navy. [3] While most of the imprisoned Germans were soon returned to Germany, Reuter was among several who remained imprisoned in Britain. He was eventually released and finally returned to Germany in late January 1920. [4]

Later life

Five months after his return from Britain, Reuter was requested to hand in his resignation from the Navy. The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to drastically reduce the size of its navy leaving Reuter without a suitable command, given his rank and age. Moving to Potsdam, he eventually became a state councillor. He also wrote a book on the scuttling of the High Fleet, Scapa Flow: Grave of the German Fleet. On 29 August 1939, he was made full admiral to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Tannenberg. Reuter died in Potsdam of a heart attack on 18 December 1943. [4]


  1. 1 2 3 Van der Vat, 1982, pp. 109–111.
  2. Massie, 2003, p. 787.
  3. Van der Vat, 1982, pp. 180–185.
  4. 1 2 Van der Vat, 1982, pp. 194–195.

Related Research Articles

SMS <i>Kaiser</i> (1911) Kaiser class battleship

SMS Kaiser was the lead ship of the Kaiser class of battleships of the Imperial German Navy. Kaiser was built by the Imperial Dockyard at Kiel, launched on 22 March 1911 and commissioned on 1 August 1912. The ship was equipped with ten 30.5-centimeter (12.0 in) guns in five twin turrets, and had a top speed of 23.4 knots. Kaiser was assigned to the III Squadron of the High Seas Fleet for the majority of World War I.

SMS <i>König</i> battleship

SMS König was the first of four König-class dreadnought battleships of the Imperial German Navy during World War I. König was named in honor of King William II of Württemberg. Laid down in October 1911, the ship was launched on 1 March 1913. Final construction on König was completed shortly after the outbreak of World War I; she was commissioned into the High Seas Fleet on 9 August 1914.

SMS <i>Hindenburg</i> battlecruiser of the German Kaiserliche Marine

SMS Hindenburg was a battlecruiser of the German Kaiserliche Marine, the third ship of the Derfflinger class, built to a slightly modified design. She carried the same battery of eight 30.5 cm (12.0 in) guns, but in improved turrets that allowed them to fire further. The ship was also slightly larger and faster than her two sister ships. She was named in honor of Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, the victor of the Battle of Tannenberg and the Battle of the Masurian Lakes, as well as Supreme Commander of the German armies from 1916. The ship was the last capital ship of any type built for the German navy during World War I.

SMS <i>Moltke</i> cruiser

SMS Moltke  was the lead ship of the Moltke-class battlecruisers of the German Imperial Navy, named after the 19th-century German Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke. Commissioned on 30 September 1911, the ship was the second battlecruiser commissioned into the Imperial Navy.

SMS <i>Von der Tann</i> battlecruiser

SMS Von der Tann  was the first battlecruiser built for the German Kaiserliche Marine, as well as Germany's first major turbine-powered warship. At the time of her construction, Von der Tann was the fastest dreadnought-type warship afloat, capable of reaching speeds in excess of 27 knots. She was designed in response to the British Invincible class. While the German design had slightly lighter guns—28 cm (11 in), compared to the 30.5 cm (12 in) Mark X mounted on the British ships—Von der Tann was faster and significantly better-armored. She set the precedent of German battlecruisers carrying much heavier armor than their British equivalents, albeit at the cost of smaller guns.

SMS <i>Kronprinz</i> First World War German battleship scuttled in Scapa Flow

SMS Kronprinz was the last battleship of the four-ship König class of the German Imperial Navy. The battleship was laid down in November 1911 and launched on 21 February 1914. She was formally commissioned into the Imperial Navy on 8 November 1914, just over 4 months after the start of World War I. The name Kronprinz refers to Crown Prince Wilhelm, and in June 1918, the ship was renamed Kronprinz Wilhelm in his honor. The battleship was armed with ten 30.5-centimeter (12.0 in) guns in five twin turrets and could steam at a top speed of 21 knots.

SMS <i>Cöln</i> (1916) Cöln-class cruiser

SMS Cöln was a light cruiser in the German Kaiserliche Marine, the second to bear this name, after her predecessor SMS Cöln had been lost in the Battle of Heligoland Bight. Cöln, first of her class, was launched on 5 October 1916 at Blohm & Voss in Hamburg and completed over a year later in January 1918. She and her sister Dresden were the last two light cruisers built by the Kaiserliche Marine; eight of her sisters were scrapped before they could be completed. The ships were an incremental improvement over the preceding Königsberg-class cruisers.

SMS <i>Rheinland</i> Nassau-class battleship

SMS Rheinland was one of four Nassau-class battleships, the first dreadnoughts built for the German Imperial Navy. Rheinland mounted twelve 28 cm (11 in) main guns in six twin turrets in an unusual hexagonal arrangement. The navy built Rheinland and her sister ships in response to the revolutionary British HMS Dreadnought, which had been launched in 1906. Rheinland was laid down in June 1907, launched the following year in October, and commissioned in April 1910.

Raid on Yarmouth

The Raid on Yarmouth, which took place on 3 November 1914, was an attack by the Imperial German Navy on the British North Sea port and town of Great Yarmouth. Little damage was done to the town since shells only landed on the beach, after German ships laying mines offshore were interrupted by British destroyers. HMS D5, a submarine, was sunk by a German mine as it attempted to leave harbour and attack the German ships. A German armoured cruiser was sunk after striking two German mines outside its home port.

Scuttling of the German fleet at Scapa Flow attempted scuttling of the captured German fleet in 1919

The scuttling of the German fleet took place at the Royal Navy's base at Scapa Flow, in Scotland, after the First World War. The High Seas Fleet was interned there under the terms of the Armistice whilst negotiations took place over the fate of the ships. Fearing that all of the ships would be seized and divided amongst the allied powers Admiral Ludwig von Reuter decided to scuttle the fleet.

Franz von Hipper German Imperial Navy admiral

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 SMY Hohenzollern. Hipper commanded several cruisers in the reconnaissance forces before being appointed commander of the I Scouting Group in October 1913. He held this position until 1918, when he succeeded Admiral Reinhard Scheer as commander of the High Seas Fleet.

SMS <i>Friedrich der Grosse</i> (1911) Kaiser-class battleship

SMS Friedrich der Grosse was the second vessel of the Kaiser class of battleships of the German Imperial Navy. Friedrich der Grosse's keel was laid on 26 January 1910 at the AG Vulcan dockyard in Hamburg, her hull was launched on 10 June 1911, and she was commissioned into the fleet on 15 October 1912. The ship was equipped with ten 30.5-centimeter (12.0 in) guns in five twin turrets, and had a top speed of 23.4 knots. Friedrich der Grosse was assigned to the III Squadron of the High Seas Fleet for the majority of World War I, and served as fleet flagship from her commissioning until 1917.

SMS <i>König Albert</i> Kaiser class battleship

SMS König Albert was the fourth vessel of the Kaiser class of battleships of the Imperial German Navy. König Albert's keel was laid on 17 July 1910 at the Schichau-Werke dockyard in Danzig. She was launched on 27 April 1912 and was commissioned into the fleet on 31 July 1913. The ship was equipped with ten 30.5-centimeter (12.0 in) guns in five twin turrets, and had a top speed of 22.1 knots. König Albert was assigned to the III Battle Squadron and later the IV Battle Squadron of the High Seas Fleet for the majority of her career, including World War I.