4/11/1918 The Red Flag flies over Kiel #1918Live

German sailors in Kiel were engaged in acts of mutiny but now, after exchanging gunfire with officers yesterday, they are now engaged in revolution. The sailors are demanding the overthrow of the German monarchy, an immediate end to the war and radical reform of the German constitution, including votes for women and universal adult suffrage. Souchon, the naval commander at Kiel, is unable to control the situation. The city’s garrison is largely siding with the sailors, leaving Souchon with no force to suppress the revolt. Port workers too are joining the revolutionary sailors, who now are preparing to send agitators to other bases to encourage them to join the revolution.

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Revolutionary sailors (Wikipedia: Kieler Matrosenaufstand)
[picture shows sailors from later in the month, in Berlin rather than Kiel]

3/11/1918 The Kiel mutiny escalates and unrest spreads across Germany, but the Kaiser again declines to abdicate #1918Live

The sailors of Germany’s fleet are in a rebellious mood. A recent mutiny prevented the fleet’s commanders from sending them off to die in a doomed battle with the British, but the mutiny’s ringleaders have been placed under arrest. In Kiel the sailors have been demonstrating to demand the release of their comrades. The naval garrison here is commanded by Souchon, who in 1914 managed to bring Turkey into the war on Germany’s side. Now though he is struggling to maintain order. Troops stationed in Kiel are proving unreliable, with soldiers openly sympathising with the sailors.

Today the sailors decide that they have had enough of demonstrating. Breaking into army barracks, they seize arms, with the soldiers offering no resistance. Then they free the mutineers from their captivity. It is only at this point that blood is shed, when a brief firefight breaks out between the sailors and a group of officers; seven men are killed, a few dozen injured. But the bloodshed emboldens the sailors. To each other and to Kiel’s soldiers and workers they begin to talk of revolution and the overthrow of German authoritarianism.

Unrest is spreading across Germany generally, with strikes and demonstrations becoming more political in their demands. Demands for the removal of the Kaiser are increasingly heard, but Wilhelm is determined to hold onto his throne. He announces that if necessary he will lead his army against the malcontents, declaring that he has no intention of abdicating “on account of a few hundred Jews or a thousand workers”.

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Sailors and their sympathisers demonstrate in Kiel (’56 Packard Man — Steamship Sunday 1918: German Sailors Mutiny)

Karl Arteit, a radical leader of the sailors (Homepage Klaus and Renate Kuhl: Sailors’ revolt in Kiel)

1/11/1918 Sailors mutiny in Kiel, unrest spreads across Germany, but the Kaiser will not abandon Germany in its hour of need

Mutinous sailors forced the commanders of Germany’s fleet to call off their suicidal plan for an advance into the English Channel. In an effort to restore discipline, the naval authorities have arrested ringleaders of the mutinies and sent the most unruly ships to separate ports. However the dispersal of the rebellious ships has served only to spread discontent to previously reliable squadrons. Sailors based in Kiel now start refusing orders and demanding the release of their arrested comrades. They also start to fraternise with dockworkers and soldiers garrisoned in the town, who prove receptive to the sailors’ rebellious message. Souchon, the recently appointed naval governor of Kiel, finds himself unable to contain the unruliness.

Unrest is in fact spreading across Germany, with striking workers demanding an immediate end to the war. People are also calling for the overthrow of the Kaiser and the establishment of a republic. Wilhelm Drews, Prussia’s interior minister, travels to the army headquarters at Spa to bravely tell the Kaiser that calls for him to go are growing. The Kaiser is furious, telling Drews that he cannot abdicate, because if he were to do so the army would disintegrate and Germany descend into chaos. The Kaiser will not abandon Germany in its hour of need.

Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia (Color by Klimbim)

29/10/1918 Mutiny breaks out in the German fleet #1918Live

President Wilson has stated that the Allies will not negotiate with an authoritarian Germany. To placate him the Germans have sacked Ludendorff and rewritten their constitution to sideline the Kaiser and transform Germany into a parliamentary democracy. Although Prince Max has been struck down by influenza, the Chancellor’s indisposition has not paralysed the German government. A note has been despatched to Wilson drawing attention to the constitutional changes and asking if now at last substantive negotiations for an armistice can begin.

But not everyone in Germany wants an immediate end to the war. Ludendorff’s dismissal has neutered resistance within the army, but the leaders of Germany’s navy do not an armistice before they have had a last crack at the British fleet. Hipper, the fleet commander, and Scheer, the naval chief of staff, have made secret plans for the fleet to sail out and attack enemy shipping in the Channel. This will inevitably bring out the British fleet, leading to a final showdown between the two great navies. Of course, the German fleet is now much smaller than the British, so the battle will end with its destruction and the loss of thousands of lives, but honour of the German navy will have been restored.

Preparations for this death ride are proceeding in secret but rumours begin to spread among the German fleet’s sailors. They are less keen on this suicidal mission. When word spreads through the fleet that tomorrow they will embark on their death ride, sailors on three of the battleships declare that they will not obey orders. Insubordination spreads, obliging the naval commanders to call off the mission. In an effort to contain the sailors’ unrest, they now order the dispersal of the ships with the most unruly crews to different bases. The ringleaders of the mutiny are also placed under arrest by loyal sailors.

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The Helgoland, one of the ships on which the crew mutinied (The Local: The sailors who brought down the German Empire)