Paul von Hintze

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Paul von Hintze Paul von Hintze 1915.jpg
Paul von Hintze

Paul von Hintze (13 February 1864, in Schwedt/Oder – 19 August 1941, in Meran) was a German naval officer, diplomat, and politician who served as Foreign Minister of Germany in the last stages of World War I, from July to October 1918.



Paul Hintze was born in 1864 in the little town of Schwedt approximately eighty miles northeast of Berlin. The Hintze family was part of the hardworking German middle class of the Prussian country towns. Schwedt only had ten thousand inhabitants but because the city is located on the Oder River it benefited from trade. Paul's father owned a tobacco plant, making cigars of the raw tobacco he imported. He also had a seat in the City Council. The Hintze family was one of the best regarded and wealthiest in town. Paul attended the humanistic Gymnasium (high school) and graduated with a baccalaureate in 1882. Rather than serving the mandatory year in the military, he joined the navy as an eighteen-year-old. Paul struck his superiors as very smart and very tough. After basic training on the school ship Prinz Adalbert, Hintze sailed the seven seas for the next twelve years, in which he saw the coasts of Africa, the Middle East, North and South America. In 1894 the navy lieutenant (Kapitänleutnant) studied at the Naval Academy at Mürwik, a school for which very few officers had the honor of admission.

Schwedt Place in Brandenburg, Germany

Schwedt is a town in northeastern Brandenburg, Germany. With the official status of a Große kreisangehörige Stadt, it is the largest town of the Uckermark district, located near the Oder River close to the border with Poland.

Among the many that trained and studied at the Naval Academy in Kiel there were several graduates worth mentioning for this story: Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz (then Captain Tirpitz) graduated in 1865, von Hintze (then without noble title) in 1896. Karl Boy-Ed, eight years von Hintze's junior, joined the class of 1894. After serving in active duty in the Far East, Boy-Ed became German Naval Attaché in Washington in 1912 and worked for then Ambassador von Hintze in his partial responsibility for Mexico. Franz von Rintelen (although he never had a noble title), the son of a well-known Berlin banker, graduated in 1905. Rintelen was to become a notorious German sabotage agent in the United States in World War I. All three worked for Grand Admiral von Tirpitz who became the loudest voice clamoring for unrestricted submarine warfare in the Great War. After Paul Hintze completed his studies at the Naval Academy in 1896, he joined the Naval Command in Berlin.

Alfred von Tirpitz German Admiral and Secretary of State of the German Imperial Naval Office

Alfred Peter Friedrich von Tirpitz was a German Grand 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. Tirpitz took the modest Imperial Navy and, starting in the 1890s, turned it into a world-class force that could threaten the Royal Navy. His navy, however, was not strong enough to confront the British successfully in the First World War; the one great engagement at sea, the Battle of Jutland, ended in a draw with both sides claiming victory. Tirpitz turned to submarine warfare, which antagonised the United States. He was dismissed in 1916 and never regained power.

Karl Boy-Ed World War I German spy

Karl Boy-Ed was the naval attaché to the German embassy in Washington during World War I.

Franz von Rintelen German spy

Captain Franz Dagobert Johannes von Rintelen was a German Naval Intelligence officer in the United States during World War I.

Military service

In 1898, Rear Admiral Tirpitz commissioned navy captain Hintze to join the East Asian battle group as a "Flaggleutnant," the liaison officer to the German Imperial Naval High Command. In this capacity Hintze faced an outraged Admiral George Dewey when the German navy obstructed Dewey's efforts to subdue the Spanish in the Philippines in the Spanish–American War. German ships had operated so close to the U.S. navy that Dewey had to employ searchlights, which gave away the American positions to the Spanish. Dewey also had declared a blockade and accordingly expected any naval vessel to allow search parties to board. Naturally the proud German navy rejected this infringement on international law. Hintze never commented on his confrontation with Dewey, which must have been so heated that news stories about it could be found twenty years later. According to newspapers, Dewey told the German naval officer "if he [German Admiral Otto von Diederichs] wants a fight he can have it now." [1] Cooler heads prevailed. Rather than shooting out their differences, the German fleet found a way to compromise with the Americans and eventually left the Philippine theater. Ambassador Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff commented on the affair in his 1920 memoirs. According to the ambassador, the underlying cause of the aggression was that Germany tried to "acquire" the Philippine islands after the U.S. had declared it did not want to hold on to them in the long term. "[A] misunderstanding had occurred, as a result of which the Berlin Foreign Office had acted in perfect good faith. In the public mind in the United States, however, the feeling still rankled that Germany had wished to make a demonstration against their Government." [2] It was unfortunate that Hintze had to find himself in the middle of this "misunderstanding."

German Imperial Naval High Command 1889-1899 German naval command

The German Imperial Naval High Command was an office of the German Empire which existed from 1 April 1889 until 14 March 1899 to command the German Imperial Navy. A similarly named office existed in the Prussian Navy and the Kriegsmarine of Nazi Germany.

George Dewey US Navy admiral

George Dewey was Admiral of the Navy, the only person in United States history to have attained the rank. He is best known for his victory at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish–American War.

Spanish–American War Conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States

The Spanish–American War was an armed conflict between Spain and the United States in 1898. Hostilities began in the aftermath of the internal explosion of USS Maine in Havana harbor in Cuba, leading to U.S. intervention in the Cuban War of Independence. The war led to emergence of U.S. predominance in the Caribbean region, and resulted in U.S. acquisition of Spain's Pacific possessions. That led to U.S. involvement in the Philippine Revolution and ultimately in the Philippine–American War.

Diplomatic Assignment to St. Petersburg

In 1903, the navy dispatched their thirty-nine-year-old and experienced naval captain Hintze to the German embassy in Saint Petersburg. "His social suaveness...his empathy for the idiosyncrasies of other people made him quickly establish friendly relationships." [3] He had been a popular commander at sea. As the new naval attaché to St. Petersburg Hintze occupied a critical position in the embassy: Emperor Wilhelm II became extraordinarily interested in reports from Tirpitz’ protégé. Hintze's assessment of Russian politics and the quality of his intelligence soon caused the Kaiser to use Hintze for most sensitive missions between the German government and the Russian Czar. Never trusting of the Foreign Office, the Emperor preferred communication with his cousin "Nikki" to go through naval attaché Hintze. In 1905, Hintze joined the two emperors in a summit meeting in the Swedish city of Bjoerko. A year later Hintze received the title "Flügeladjutant." This promotion, in a roundabout way, made him the direct representative of the German Emperor in Russia, a position that in many ways was more powerful than that of the ambassador. Hintze's close relationship with the two emperors and the circumvention of the Foreign Office by the Kaiser made him a long-term target of career diplomats in the Reich. In 1908, Wilhelm II made Hintze into a nobleman with the title of Baron that could be inherited. As such, the middle class tobacco merchants of Schwedt became nobility. Von Hintze also received the promotion to rear admiral that year.

Saint Petersburg Federal city in Northwestern Federal Okrug, Russia

Saint Petersburg is Russia's second-largest city after Moscow, with 5 million inhabitants in 2012, part of the Saint Petersburg agglomeration with a population of 6.2 million (2015). An important Russian port on the Baltic Sea, it has a status of a federal subject.

Ambassador in Mexico

As the German ambassador to Mexico, Karl Buenz, left his post as the result of an illness, Emperor Wilhelm II was on the outlook for a fitting successor. The situation in Mexico had become critical as the result of the Mexican Revolution that had broken out in 1910. The choice fell on von Hintze, especially because of his military background. The new ambassador was dispatched not only to represent Germany to the new revolutionary government of Francisco León de la Barra, but also to provide important intelligence about the revolution. Von Hintze arrived in Veracruz on April 25, 1911. [4] Members of von Hintze's clandestine network of agents in Mexico included Consul Otto Kueck, Felix A. Sommerfeld, and Carl Heynen. Sanctioned by the German government, von Hintze promoted German arms sales to Mexico. [5] Many of the sales the German government contracted at that time with the Mexican government did not arrive in Mexico until Victoriano Huerta was dictator, prompting historians to allege German support for the dictator. [6] He also relentlessly pursued the murderers of four German citizens in the city of Covadonga. [7] As a result of von Hintze's efforts, the German government was the only one to receive payments for its murdered citizens from the revolutionary Mexican government. Von Hintze's efforts resulted in a restitution of 400,000 German Marks (about $95,000 at the time, $2 million in today's value) to Germany in June 1912. [8] The perpetrators were tried and executed in the presence of the German ambassador in March 1913 (by then the Huerta government ruled Mexico). [9] Von Hintze's relationship with the government of Francisco I. Madero was a productive one. Through his agent Felix Sommerfeld, who became Madero's secret service chief, the German ambassador kept up with political developments in the capital and the fight against uprisings along the Mexican–American border, most notably the revolt of Bernardo Reyes in the fall of 1911 and the uprising of Pascual Orozco in the spring of 1912.

Mexican Revolution major nationwide armed struggle in Mexico between 1910 and 1920

The Mexican Revolution, also known as the Mexican Civil War, was a major armed struggle, lasting roughly from 1910 to 1920, that radically transformed Mexican culture and government. Although recent research has focused on local and regional aspects of the Revolution, it was a genuinely national revolution. Its outbreak in 1910 resulted from the failure of the 35-year-long regime of Porfirio Díaz to find a managed solution to the presidential succession. This meant there was a political crisis among competing elites and the opportunity for agrarian insurrection. Wealthy landowner Francisco I. Madero challenged Díaz in the 1910 presidential election, and following the rigged results, revolted under the Plan of San Luis Potosí. Armed conflict ousted Díaz from power; a new election was held in 1911, bringing Madero to the presidency.

Francisco León de la Barra President of Mexico

Francisco León de la Barra y Quijano was a Mexican political figure and diplomat who served as 32nd President of Mexico from May 25 to November 6, 1911.

Otto Kueck (1878–1915) was a German businessman, agent, and diplomat in Chihuahua City, Mexico. He was the German consul of the city between 1908 and 1914, when Pancho Villa expelled him because of his support of Victoriano Huerta. He not only served in the German diplomatic corps but also was a German secret service agent and recruiter. The best known German spies who worked for him were Felix A. Sommerfeld and Horst von der Goltz. Kueck was succeeded by Ernst Goeldner and died in March 1915 in Los Angeles as a result of a heart attack.

In February 1913, however, the political unrest reached the capital of Mexico. In the Decena Tragica General Victoriano Huerta unseated President Madero and had him murdered. The German ambassador kept apprised of developments through his contacts with the other diplomats in the capital and through Felix Sommerfeld who stayed at the German embassy for most of the uprising. [10] Von Hintze knew that a coup was about to happen. Rather than waiting for the military to make its move, the ambassador proposed for Madero to install Huerta as a successor, while he and his administration would retreat to safety. He pitched the idea first to Foreign Minister Pedro Lascuráin. Madero initially agreed but then relented. The coup happened and Madero was arrested. Von Hintze negotiated with American Ambassador Wilson as well as General Victoriano Huerta to secure the release and safe conduct of Madero and his family. [11] He did not succeed. Despite General Huerta's assurances Madero and Pino Suárez were murdered.

Von Hintze returned to Germany for most of 1913 to recuperate from a flame up of amoebic dysentery. [12] When he returned to Mexico in September 1913, President Huerta was waging a civil war against the revolutionary forces under the leadership of Venustiano Carranza. Von Hintze bluntly assessed the quality of the understaffed federal officer corps describing President Huerta as so desperate that he "...promotes waiters, accountants and such from one day to the next to lieutenants and captains -lawyers to generals...The Mexican army has plenty of generals...these are for the most part the type of people which are called ‘funeral generals’ in Russia, since their only activity is to parade in uniform for funeral processions – for has to expect worse losses than Alviles Canon, Torreón and Durango, since now the generals who so-far remained in their salons are sent into the battlefield." [13] Von Hintze correctly reported to Germany in the beginning of 1914 that Huerta was finished. Generals Pancho Villa and Alvaro Obregon were dealing Huerta one military blow after another in the field. The final nail in Huerta's coffin was the United States occupation of Veracruz on April 21, 1914. Von Hintze's role in the causes of the intervention is under dispute. The facts are that the German HAPAG ship SS Ypiranga (Ypiranga incident) had large amounts of arms and ammunition on board destined for the Huerta regime. American forces sought to prevent these weapons to land and occupied the harbor of Veracruz as a result. Ambassador von Hintze officially requisitioned the Ypiranga to serve the German navy as an auxiliary cruiser to carry German refugees. [14] Whether the objective was to carry refugees in case of a war between the United States and Mexico or to force the delivery of the weapons to the Huerta regime, which is what actually happened, is unclear. [15]

In July 1914, General Huerta gave up his fight against the Constitutionalists in the Mexican Revolution. On 20 July 1914 he departed from Puerto Mexico (now Coatzacoalcos) on the German cruiser SMS Dresden (1907), dutifully supplied by Ambassador von Hintze. [16]

Service in the World War

In July 1914, not only Huerta left Mexico. Ambassador von Hintze received his wartime assignment to China (1914–1915). He built up the German naval intelligence organization in the Far East and provided supplies for the German East Asia Squadron under Admiral Maximilian von Spee. After his China assignment von Hintze served in Norway between 1915 and 1918. Despite his lack of political experience, von Hintze was appointed Foreign Minister on July 9, 1918, following the resignation of his predecessor, Richard von Kühlmann, who had fallen afoul of the military High Command, led by Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and General Erich Ludendorff, who effectively governed the country. During his time in the foreign ministry, Hintze pushed the Kaiser towards liberalization of the government and was involved in the discussions which led to the decision to seek an armistice at the end of September. After the resignation of the government of Chancellor Georg von Hertling on October 3, Hintze was replaced as Foreign Minister by Wilhelm Solf.

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  1. The New York Times, "Liberals Resent Coup on Hintze," July 12, 1918.
  2. Johann Heinrich Count von Bernstorff, My Three Years in America, Skeffington and Son, London, Great Britain, unknown date, approximately 1940, p. 13.
  3. Johannes Huertner, Editor, Paul von Hintze: Marineoffizier, Diplomat, Staatssekretär, Dokumente einer Karriere zwischen Militär und Politik, 1903–1918, Harald Boldt Verlag, München, Germany, 1998, p. 31.
  4. Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, M-B 12, German Diplomatic Papers, Box 7, Rohmberg to Salado Alvarez, May 25, 1911.
  5. National Archives, RG 242 Captured German Documents, T-149, Roll 378, von Hintze to von Bethmann Hollweg, February 6, 1912.
  6. National Archives, RG 242 Captured German Documents, T-149, Roll 378, Guillermo Bach to von Hintze, December 15, 1913, "Lieferung der im Juni 1912 geschlossenen Vertrag. ... Mangels an Barmitteln noch nicht hat erfüllen können ..."
  7. David G. LaFrance, "Germany, Revolutionary Nationalism, and the Downfall of Francisco I. Madero: The Covadonga Killings," Mexican Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter 1986), p. 59.
  8. David G. LaFrance, "Germany, Revolutionary Nationalism, and the Downfall of Francisco I. Madero: The Covadonga Killings," Mexican Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter 1986), p. 70.
  9. David G. LaFrance, "Germany, Revolutionary Nationalism, and the Downfall of Francisco I. Madero: The Covadonga Killings," Mexican Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter 1986), p. 78.
  10. Auswaertiges Amt, Politisches Archiv Berlin, Mexiko V, Paket 33, "F.A. Sommerfeldt [sic], Agent stayed 7 days and nights as guest of the Imperial Legation during the 'bombardements'"
  11. Friedrich Katz, The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1981, p. 109
  12. United States Senate, Investigation of Mexican affairs, Subcommittee of the Committee of Foreign Relations, Government Printing Office, 1920, Testimony of Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, p. 2264, in a letter to Ambassador Wilson dated March 8, 1913 Hintze himself described his affliction as „intestinal hemorrhage."
  13. National Archives, RG 242 Captured German Documents, T149, Roll 378, Hintze to Bethmann Hollweg, October 27, 1913.
  14. Auswaertiges Amt, Politisches Archiv Berlin, Mexiko V, Paket 33, Hintze to Auswärtiges Amt, April 18, 1914.
  15. for the historical debate see Hispanic Historical Review, Vol. L, No. 3, August 1970, "The Arms of the Ypiranga," by Michael C. Meyer, pp. 543-556; The Americas, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jul., 1973), "The Arms of the Ypiranga: The German Side," by Thomas Baecker, pp. 1-17; von Feilitzsch, In Plain Sight: Felix A. Sommerfeld, Spymaster in Mexico, 1908 to 1914, chapter 20 "Sommerfeld and the arms of the SS Ypiranga."
  16. Logbook of British ship HMS Bristol


Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Radolf von Kardorff
German Ambassador to Mexico
Succeeded by
Heinrich von Eckardt
Preceded by
Emil Krebs
as Chargé d'Affaires
German Minister to China
Relations severed owing
to China's declaration of war
Preceded by
Gustav Michahelles
German Ambassador to Norway
Succeeded by
Gerhard von Mutius
Political offices
Preceded by
Richard von Kühlmann
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
July–October 1918
Succeeded by
Wilhelm Solf