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Reinhard Scheer (30 September 1863 ‚Äď 26 November 1928) was an Admiral in the Germanmarker Imperial Navy. He was in command of the Kaiserliche Marine High Seas Fleet at the Battle of Jutlandmarker, one of the largest naval battles in history.

Scheer was born in Obernkirchenmarker, Hesse. He was of average height with piercing eyes, a black moustache and sometimes goatee beard, hair cut short. He came from a middle class background, as did several other successful German officers at that time. In 1899, he married Emillie Mohr, who was murdered 9 October 1920 by an intruder in their home at Weimarmarker. They had a daughter, Marianne, born 1902. A strict disciplinarian, Scheer was popularly known in the Navy as the ‚ÄúMan in the Iron Mask‚ÄĚ due to his severe appearance.

As a young Lieutenant he received the nickname 'Bobschiess' on account of his likeness to his own terrier, which he encouraged to bite his friends. Nonetheless he was described as cheerful, quick witted, without pretensions and admired by his colleagues. He was happy to talk to junior officers, but always expected tasks to be carried out rapidly and meticulously. Then he might, maddeningly, abandon careful plans and do something entirely unexpected. Like Tirpitz, he believed that German ships were better designed than British equivalents, and that an all-out submarine offensive was necessary as the only means for the smaller German fleet to take on the larger British Grand Fleet. It was his view that the High seas fleet should take on an active, offensive role, attempting to goad the British into unwise reaction.

Naval career

Reinhard Scheer entered the navy on 22 April 1879 aged 15 as a cadet. His first sea assignment was aboard the sail-frigate SMS Niobe. After commissioning as Leutnant zur See he saw service on armored frigates, corvettes and cruisers. Between sea tours he was posted ashore for four years studying torpedo ordnance and establishing himself as a torpedo expert. This was followed by service on the light cruiser SMS Sophie as torpedo officer. He returned to shore duty as an instructor at the torpedo research command at Kiel.

Scheer attracted the attention of Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz who placed him in command of the naval office torpedo section where he wrote the manual on torpedo use by destroyers. In 1903 he became chief of the central division of the Navy Office with the assignment to work up modifications and options to navy appropriations for fleet expansion. He was respected as an authority on naval financial issues within the ministry and the fleet. Scheer was promoted to Kapitän zur See [captain] in 1905 and took command of the battleship SMS Elsass in 1907. On 1 December 1909 he became chief of staff to the commanding officer of the High Seas Fleet, Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff, under whom Scheer had served on the cruiser SMS Prinzess Wilhelm. In 1910 he was promoted to Rear Admiral.

In 1911 he became chief of the general naval department, again working for Tirpitz. In January 1913 he was placed in command of the 2nd battle squadron of six pre-dreadnought battleships. In December 1914 he was moved to the 3rd battle squadron containing modern König and Kaiser class dreadnought battleships.

Command of the High Seas fleet

Vice Admiral Scheer became Commander in chief of the High Seas Fleet in January 1916 when Hugo von Pohl became too ill to continue in that role. On 30 May 1916, he led the fleet into the Battle of Jutland. Although not defeating the British Royal Navy, he successfully evaded the destruction of his fleet by the numerically superior Royal Navy, his ships inflicting heavy losses upon the British. Scheer was offered a knighthood for his leadership at Jutland by German Kaiser Wilhelm II, but he turned down that offer (his subordinate at Jutland, Bavarian-born Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper who led the battlecruisers, did not turn down such an offer from his king, Ludwig III of Bavaria, and eventually became Franz Ritter von Hipper). After Jutland, Scheer did not believe anymore that the British could be defeated by the High Seas Fleet in battle, and became a strong advocate of the submarine warfare against Britain.

Chief of Naval Staff

Scheer replaced Admiral von Holtzendorff as chief of the naval staff on 11 August 1918 when the latter became ill with heart disease and Admiral Hipper replaced Scheer as commander of the High Seas Fleet. Despite the steadily deteriorating situation for Germany, especially following United States entry into the war, Scheer called for a crash program to build 450 new submarines. The Kaiser’s order on 20 October 1918 to end the sinking of allied shipping evolved into attempted negotiations with the Allies by the recently appointed chancellor Prince Maximilian of Baden and prompted Scheer to comment, "... the navy does not need an armistice." On 21 October, Scheer ordered the submarines to return to base and prepare to take part in actions with the High Seas Fleet.

Scheer and the naval staff envisioned one last cataclysmic undertaking to attack the British Grand Fleet. As at Jutland, the plan was to lure British ships forward, but now the submarine fleet would be lying in ambush, while irrespective of the odds the German fleet would engage the enemy rather than retreat from superior forces. The objective was to inflict damage on the British Navy before an armistice would call for a cessation of hostilities. These plans were concealed from the chancellor and the Kaiser, although the chancellor later stated that he would have approved it. The attack was to take place on 30 October 1918 with the German battle cruiser squadron raiding the Thames and the High Seas Fleet bombarding Flanders. The two would then combine forces in anticipation of the Grand Fleet’s appearance. It was warily calculated that a significant success against the British fleet might positively affect peace negotiations.

News of the reckless plan spread through the fleet and resulted in open rebelliousness. Hipper was forced to abandon the plan as the Wilhelmshaven mutiny spread and contributed to the November revolution in Germany.

Post-war

Scheer's funeral at Weimar, November 1928
In 1920, Scheer's memoirs, Germany's High Seas Fleet in the World War was published in English.

In 1928, the admiral had accepted an invitation to visit his adversary at the Battle of Jutland, Admiral John Jellicoe in England, but just prior to his trip he died at Marktredwitzmarker. He is buried in the municipal cemetery at Weimar. His tombstone reads: [Here rests Admiral Reinhard Scheer] ‚ÄĒ with the dates of his life, his flag in metal applique and the single word (the German name for the Battle of Jutland).

The heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer was named after Reinhard Scheer and christened by his daughter Marianne. The ship was ordered and funded by the Reichsmarine of the Weimar Republicmarker and launched in 1933.

Table showing rank and dates of promotions

Cadet

Rank Date of promotion
April 1879
Sea Cadet June 1880
Leutnant zur See November 1882
Oberleutnant zur See December 1885,
Kapitänleutnant. April 1893
Korvettenkapitän April 1900,
Fregattenkapitän January 1904
Kapitän zur See March 1905
Konteradmiral January 1910
Vizeadmiral December 1913
Admiral June 1916
Retired December 1918


Footnotes

  1. Massie, Castles of Steel, p. 553
  2. Massie, p. 554-555, citing Weizsäcker, p. 30
  3. Massie, p. 554
  4. Massie, p. 555
  5. Massie, p. 772, citing Herwig, p.240
  6. Massie, p. 773-774
  7. Massie, p. 775-776


Bibliography and references




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