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 World War 1 at Sea



The Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class (Eisernes Kreuz 1 and 2 Klasse) was awarded to all ranks for gallantry, while the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (Grosskreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes or Grosskreuz) was only awarded to the Kaiser and four generals in World War 1.

The Pour le Mérite, a Prussian order, was only granted to officers and then for leadership and success in operations (ships sunk by U-boats, aircraft shot down) rather than for specific acts of gallantry as with the British Victoria Cross and American Medal of Honor. It was discontinued with the fall of the Kaiser.

When he came to power, instead of re-instituting the “Blue Max”, Hitler introduced the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross because the former was only awarded to officers. The Pour le Mérite also included and continues to include a Civil Class. 

Pour le Mérite awards in World War I totalled 687, with 533 granted to the Army, 80 to Aviation, 49 to the Navy, 20 to Foreign recipients and 5 other. The Naval awards were made as follows: 1 in 1914, 3 + 1 Oakleaves in 1915, 10 in 1916, 16+ 2 aviation in 1917, 19 + 3 aviation in 1918


German Ranks

("Jane's Fighting Ships 1914")

Gross Admiral - Admiral of the Fleet

Admiral - Admiral

Vizeadmiral - Vice Admiral

Kontreadmiral - Rear Admiral

Kommodore - Commodore

Kapitän zur See/Fregatten-Kapitän - Captain

Korvetten-Kapitän - Commander

Kapitän-Leutnant - Senior Lieutenant

Oberleutnant zur See - Junior Lieutenant

Leutnant zur See - Sub Lieutenant






Awarded 24 October - KaptLt. Otto WEDDIGEN, U-boat Commander, U.9 (above (GW)) and U.29. Sank HM Armoured Cruisers Aboukir, Hogue, Cressy on 22 September 1914 in U.9. His second command, U.29 was lost 18 March 1915 in Pentland Firth, rammed by HM Battleship Dreadnought. Weddingen sank 4 merchant ships of 12,934grt and 4 warships of 43,350 tons (+ub)






Awarded 5 June - KaptLt. Otto HERSING, U-boat Commander, U.21. Sank HM Cruiser Pathfinder (2,940t) in North Sea in 1914, HM Battleships Triumph (11,985t), Majestic (14,820t), and French auxiliary cruiser Carthage (5,275t) off Gallipoli in 1915, and French cruiser Amiral Charner (4,681t) off Syria in 1916. Sinkings listed by are 37 merchant ships of 95,220grt and 3 warships of 19,675 tons (but 5 warships of 39,701t are listed above) all in U.21. Died 1960 (+cn/ub)



10 August - Gross Admiral Alfred von TIRPITZ, “founder” of the modern German Navy, Head of the Reichsmarinearmt (Secretary of State, Imperial Naval Office) from 1897 to March 1916 (+gw/nh) (left (LC))




23 August - Admiral Guido von USEDOM, a commander of naval forces in Turkey. Commanded a “Sonderkommando” initially of around 400 naval artillerymen and mine specialists to improve the Dardanelles defences, later received the title Inspector-General of Coastal Fortifications and Minefields. Received Pour le Merité on 5 April 1902, and awarded Oakleaves in August 1915. (+nh)



20 October - Admiral Ludwig von SCHRÖDER, commander Marinekorps Flanders. Responsible for naval forces (submarines, destroyers, torpedo boats etc) operating from, and the defences of the occupied Belgian coast (Ostend, Zeebrugge etc), one of the most heavily fortified areas of the war. Reported directly to the Kaiser. Awarded Oakleaves on 23 December 1917. (+nh)






Awarded 7 March - Korv. Kapt. Nikolas Burggraf & Count of DOHNA SCHLODIEN, commander auxiliary cruiser/commerce raider Möwe. First sortie between 29 December 1915 and 4 March 1916 resulted in the sinking of 15 British & Allied ships of 57,520grt (or 14 ships of 49,739grt) plus HM Battleship King Edward VII and 1 or 2 merchant ships by mines laid by Möwe. A second cruise from 22 November 1916 to 22 March 1917 led to the sinking of 25 British & Allied ships of 125,265grt(or 25 ships of 123,265grt) (+cn/kp/nh/rn)



29 March - KaptLt. Otto STEINBRINCK, U-boat Commander, U.6 (above - sister boat U.14 (GW)), UB.10. UB.18, UC.65 and UB.57. Sank HM Submarine E.22 (667t) in 1916 and HM Armoured Cruiser Ariadne (11,000t) in 1917. Sinkings listed by are 204 merchant ships of 240,319grt and 1 warship of 11,000 tons (but two warships are listed above. kt – 210,000grt in 24 patrols). Died 1947. (kt/ub)




5 June - Vizeadmiral Franz von HIPPER, commander of the High Seas Fleet Scouting Forces (battlecruisers and light cruisers - above, probably battlecruiser SMS Von der Tann astern of possibly SMS Blucher (GW)). Took part in raids on English coast and Battle of Dogger Bank in 1915, and commanded The Battlecruiser Force (1st and 2nd Scouting Groups) at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Promoted Admiral and assumed command of the High Seas Fleet in August 1918. Died 1932 (+gw/nh/wp) (left (GW))



5 June - Admiral Reinhard SCHEER, commanded 2nd Battle Squadron from 1913, 3rd Battle Squadron from December 1914, and appointed Commander in Chief, High Seas Fleet in January 1916. In command at the Battle of Jutland. Awarded Oakleaves on 1 February 1918 and appointed head of the Navy - the new Seekriegsleitung or SKL (Naval Warfare Command) in August 1918. Died 1928 (+nh/wp) (left (LC))



5 June - Kapitän zu See Adolf von TROTHA, Chief of Staff, High Seas Fleet from January 1916, later Rear Admiral. Died 1940. (+nh/wp) (left (GW))





1 August - Gross Admiral Prince HEINRICH of Prussia. Kaiser’s brother and commander-in-chief, Baltic Naval Forces (Oberbefehlshaber der Ostseestreitkräfte or OdO) from July 1914 to 1917. Awarded Oakleaves on 24 January 1918. Sometime referred to as Prince Henry (+fw/nh/wp)



12 August - KaptLt. Walter FORSTMANN, U-boat Commander, U.12 and U.39. Sank HM Gunboat Niger (810t) in the Dover Straits in 1914. Sinkings listed by are 155 merchant ships of 423,363grt, mainly in the Mediterranean by U.39, and the one warship above (kt – 380,000grt in 16 patrols). He was the second highest scoring U-boat commander after de la Perière. Died 1973. (+cn/kt/ub)



11 October - KaptLt. Lothar von ARNAULD DE LA PERIÈRE, U-boat Commander, U.35 and U.139. Sinkings listed by are 195 merchant ships of 466,518grt and 2 warships of 2,500 tons, mainly in the Mediterranean (kt – 400,000grt in 10 patrols). He was the highest scoring U-boat ace. Killed in air crash in 1941. (+kt/ub) (left (WP))





29 October - Vizeadmiral Wilhelm SOUCHON, as Rear Admiral, commander of Germany’s Mediterranean forces (Mittlemeerdivision) in 1914 – battlecruiser Goeben (above - sister ship SMS Moltke (MQ)) and light cruiser Breslau, and escaped to Turkish waters. The ships were transferred to the Turks and Souchen was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Turkish Navy. Subsequently commanded 4th Battle Squadron, High Seas Fleet from September 1917, and appointed CinC Baltic Naval Station (as Admiral) in August 1918. Died 1946. (+fw/nh)



26 December - KaptLt. Max VALENTINER, U-boat Commander, U.38 and U.157. Sinkings listed by are 147 merchant ships of 313,019grt, plus 1 prize of 1,441grt, and 1 warship of 120 tons (kt - 300,000grt in 17 patrols). Died 1949. (+kt/ub) (left (WP))







Awarded 9 January - KaptLt. Hans WALTHER, U-boat Commander, U.17 and U.52. Sank HM Light Cruiser Nottingham (5,440t) and French battleship Suffren (12,728t) in 1916, and HM Submarine C.34 (290t) in 1917. Sinkings listed by are 41 merchant ships of 90,772grt, plus two prizes of 4,956grt, and 2 warships (plus C.34) of 18,150 tons. (+cn/ub)



22 March - Admiral Henning von HOLTZENDORFF. Appointed Chief of the Naval Staff (Admiralsstab) in September 1915. Awarded Oakleaves on 1 February 1918. Died 1919 (+fw/gw/nh) (left - back to camera, with Adm von Tirpitz (LC))




30 July - KaptLt. Walther SCHWIEGER, U-boat Commander, U.14, U.20 and U.88. Sinkings listed by are 47 merchant ships of 177,537grt, including liner RMS Lusitania in 1915 (kt – 190,000grt in 12 patrols). Died 5 September 1917 in U.88 in the North Sea, presumably mined. (+kt/ub)



11 August - OberLt. Heino von HEIMBURG, U-boat Commander, UB.14, UB.15, UC.22, UB.68 and U.35. Sinkings listed by are 16 merchant ships of 30,738grt and 2 warships of 659 tons. However, he is also quoted as having sunk 62,000BRT of shipping including HM Submarine E.20 (670t) and British transport Royal Edward (11,117grt) in 1915. He also accounted for Italian cruiser Amalfi (9,830t) and submarine Medusa (250t), again in 1915. Died 1945. (+cn/ub)



20 August - OberLt. Reinhold SALTZWEDEL, U-boat Commander, UB.10, UC.10, UC.11, UC.21, UC.71 and UB.81. Sinkings listed by are 113 merchant ships of 172,959grt (kt – 150,000grt in 12 patrols). Died 2 December 1917 when UB.81 was mined in the English Channel. (+kt/ub)



20 August - FregKapt. Peter STRASSER, Naval Airship Commander, took parts in raids on England, appointed Commander of Naval Airships (Führer der Luftschiffe of FdL) in November 1916 with rank of Admiral 2nd-class. Died August 1918 (5th, 6th and 8th quoted) when Zeppelin L.70 was shot down off the Norfolk coast by the RAF. (+wp) (left - (WP))




27 October - KorvKapt. Karl BARTENBACH, commander, Flanders U-boat Flotilla (Führer der U-bootflottille Flandern) under Adm von Schröder, based at Bruges, Belgium. (+nh/ub)



31 October - Vizeadmiral Paul BEHNCKE, commander 3rd Battle Squadron, High Seas Fleet from January 1916. In command at Battle of Jutland in 1916 and in operations against Russian Navy in Gulf of Riga October 1917. Relinquished command approximately October 1918, followed by less than a month as Head of the Reichsmarinearmt (Secretary of State, Imperial Naval Office) (+nh)



31 October - Vizeadmiral Erhardt SCHMIDT, commander 4th Battle Squadron, High Seas Fleet from July 1914, then 1st Battle Squadron from August 1915 to January 1918. Took part in Battle of Jutland in 1916, and Naval Commander in operations against Russian Navy in Gulf of Riga October 1917 (+nh)



31 October - Kapitän zu See Magnus von LEVETZOW, Chief of Operations, High Seas Fleet at time of October 1917 operations in Gulf of Riga, later Chief of Staff to Admiral Scheer when he became head of the Navy in August 1918. (+nh)



6 November - KaptLt. Hans ADAM, U-boat Commander, U.23 (above - sister-boat U.20 (MQ)) and U.82. Sinkings listed by are 29 merchant ships of 83,937grt. Died 1948. (+ub)



12 November - KaptLt. Robert MORAHT, U-boat Commander, U.64. Sinkings listed by are 45 merchant ships of 129,569grt and 1 warship of 18,300 tons – French battleship Danton in March 1917 (kt – 130,000grt in 9 patrols). U.64 sunk 17 June 1918 and Moraht taken prisoner. Died 1956. (+kt/ub)



4 December - FregKapt. Hugo von ROSENBERG, in command of “Rosenberg Flotilla”, an anti-submarine flotilla of torpedo boats and trawlers during October 1917 operations in Gulf of Riga. (+nh)



11 December - OberLt. Friedrich CHRISTIANSEN, Naval flying commander, Zeebrugge Air Station (21 victories). (above - Albatross D fighter, introduced in 1915 (GW))



20 December - KaptLt. Hans ROSE, U-boat Commander, U.53. Sinkings listed by are 80 merchant ships of 219,134grt and 1 warship of 1,050 tons – US Destroyer Jacob Jones (kt - 210,000grt in 12 patrols). Died 1969. (+cn/kt/ub)



20 December - KaptLt. Otto WÜNSCHE, U-boat Commander, U.25, U.70, U.97 and U.126. Sinkings listed by are 75 merchant ships of 150,155grt (kt - 160,000grt in 12 patrols). Died 1919.



23 December - OberLt. Hans HOWALDT, U-boat Commander, UC.4, UB.40 and UB.107. Sinkings listed by are 64 merchant ships of 96,466grt (also quotes 65 ships of 130,000BRT) . Died 1970. (+ub)



29 December - KorvKapt. Waldemar KOPHAMEL, U-boat Commander, U.35, U.151 and U.140. Sinkings listed by are 53 merchant ships of 154,533grt, 1 warship of 298 tons and 1 auxiliary of 1,862grt (kt – 190,000grt in 10 patrols). (+kt/ub)






Awarded 9 January - Admiral Eduard von CAPELLE, succeeded Adm von Tirpitz as Head of the Reichsmarinearmt (Secretary of State, Imperial Naval Office) from March 1916 to October 1918 (+nh) (left (PM))




30 January - KaptLt. Max VIEBEG, U-boat Commander, UC.10, UB.20, UB.32, UC.65 and UB.80. Sinkings listed by are 49 merchant ships of 79,529grt (or 169,656BRT) and 2 prizes of 1,260grt. Died 1961. (+ub)



24 February - FregKapt. Karl August NERGER, commander auxiliary cruiser/commerce raider Wolf. Sailed 30 November 1916 for Indian & Pacific Oceans, captured 14 British & Allied ships of 38,391grt, and laid mines which sank 13 more ships off South Africa, India, Ceylon/Sri Lanka, New Zealand & Australia. Returned to Germany on 19 February 1918 after an almost 15 month cruise (+cn/kp/nh)  (left (PM))



25 Febuary - KaptLt. Hans von MELLENTHIN, U-boat Commander, UB.43, UB.49 and U.120. Sinkings listed by are 58 merchant ships of 161,725grt (kt – 170,000grt in 11 patrols). (+kt/ub)



3 March - OberLt. Wolfgang STEINBAUER, U-boat Commander, UB.47 and UB.48. Sinkings listed by are 49 merchant ships of 170,432grt (or 170,000BRT) and 1 warship of 11,100 tons - French battleship Gaulois in 1916, also damaged 1 warship of 18,400 tons (kt – 140,000grt in 10 patrols). Died 1978. (+cn/kt/ub)



5 March - KorvKapt. Oskar HEINECKE, commander Torpedo Boat Flotillas, including 5th at Battle of Jutland in 1916 and 2nd in the December 1917 attack on the British Scandinavian convoys. (+nh)



5 March - KaptLt. Erwin WASSNER, U-boat Commander, UC.3, UB.38, UC.69, UB.117 and UB.59. Sinkings listed by are 89 merchant ships of 137,650grt (or 86 ships of 150,000BRT). Died 1937. (+ub)



18 March 1918 - KaptLt. Otto SCHULTZE, U-boat Commander, U.63. Sinkings listed by are 56 merchant ships of 134,078grt (or 175,000BRT, kt – 130,000grt in 6 patrols) and 1 warship of 5,250 tons – HM Light Cruiser Falmouth in 1916. (+kt/ub)



19 March - FregKapt. Karl von MÜLLER, commander, old light cruiser Emden. Serving with East Asiatic Cruiser Squadron in Pacific at outbreak of war. Detached on 14 August 1914 by Adm von Spee for independent commerce raiding in the Indian Ocean and sank 15 ships of 66,023grt, an old Russian cruiser and a French destroyer. Badly damaged by light cruiser HMAS Sydney on 9 November 1914 off Cocos (Keeling) Islands in NE Indian Ocean and run aground (above (GW)), taken prisoner (+cn/kp) (left (GW))



24 March - Admiral Georg von MÜLLER, Chief of Imperial Naval Cabinet throughout the war. (+gw)




30 March - KaptLt. Ralph WENNIGER, U-boat Commander, UB.11, UB.17, UC.17 and UB.55. Sinkings listed by are 96 merchant ships of 99,186grt. UB.55 mined and sunk 22 April 1918 in Dover Straits and Wenniger taken prisoner. Died March 1945 in Italy. (+ub)



9 April - KaptLt. Horst Freiherr Treusch von BUTTLAR-BRANDENFELS, Naval Airship Commander from 1914, including LZ.31/L.6, LZ.41/L.11, LZ.62/L.30, LZ.58/LC.88/L.25, LZ.80/L.35 and LZ.99/L.54. Took part in patrols over North Sea and attacks on England.(+ls) (above - L.31, flying over dreadnought SMS Ostfriesland (MQ))



24 April - OberLt. Johannes LOHS, U-boat Commander, UC.75 and UB.57. Sinkings listed by are 76 merchant ships of 147,075grt and 1 warship of 1,250 tons. Died 14 August 1918 when UB.57 was probably mined off the Belgian coast. (+ub)



24 April - KaptLt. Carl-Seigfried Ritter von GEORG, U-boat Commander, U.57 and U.101. Sinkings listed by are 76 merchant ships of 118,965grt and 1 warship of 1,250 tons (or 200,187BRT and one British light cruiser – not identified). Died 1957. (+cn/ub) (above - earlier U-boats, U.19-U.22 at Kiel in 1914 (GW))  (left (PM))



24 April - KorvKapt. Gustav SIESS, U-boat Commander, U.73, U.33 and U.65. Sinkings listed by are 17 merchant ships of 96,742grt (or 154,061BRT) and 2 warships of 15,250 tons. (+ub)



31 May - Kapitän zu See Andreas MICHELSEN, Commodore Torpedo Boats from July 1915 including command of Battle Fleet Torpedo Boats at Battle of Jutland, then Chief of U-boats (Befehlshaber der U-boote) from June 1917 to November 1918 (+gw/nh)



4 July - KaptLt. Wilhelm MARSCHALL, U-boat Commander, UC.74 and UB.105. Sinkings listed by are 41 merchant ships of 118,038grt (or 42 ships of 142,000BRT) and 1 warship of 1,290 tons. (+ub)



5 August - Leutnant Gotthard SACHSENBERG, Naval Flying Commander, 1st Marine Jagdgeschwader (31 victories).



18 August - KaptLt. Paul HUNDIUS, U-boat Commander, UB.16, UC.47 and UB.103. Sinkings listed by are 68 merchant ships of 94,319grt and 3 warships of 2,387 tons (or 67 ships of 95,280BRT and one naval vessel of 890 tons). Died 16 September 1918 when UB.103 was depth charged and sunk in the English Channel. (+ub)



18 August - KaptLt. Wilhelm WERNER, U-boat Commander, UB.9, UB.7 and U.55. Sinkings listed by are 60 merchant ships of 126,695grt (or 206,000BRT, kt – 130,000grt in 10 patrols). Died May 1945. (+kt/ub)



2 September - Leutnant Theo OSTERKAMP, Naval Flying Commander, 2nd Marine Field Jagdstaffel (32 victories).



3 October - KaptLt. Kurt HARTWIG, U-boat Commander, U.32 and U.63. Sinkings listed by are 48 merchant ships of 151,120grt (or 190,000BRT, kt – 130,000grt in 10 patrols) and 1 warship of 14,000 tons – HM Battleship Cornwallis off Malta in 1917. (+cn/kt/ub)




The initial list of awards was provided by Kurt von Tiedemann from his site "Ordern Pour le Merité".


Further information has been obtained from (in brackets after each entry):

Bennett, Geoffrey, "Naval Battles of the First World War", Pan, 1974 (nb)

"Conway's All The World's Fighting Ships 1906-1921", Conway, 1985 (cn)

Corbett, Julian S, and Henry Newbolt", History of the Great War: Naval Operations", 5 vols, 1923-31 (rn)

Gray, Edwin, "The Killing Time: the U-boat War 1914-18", 1972 (kt)

Halpern, Paul G, "A Naval History of World War 1", UCL, 1994 (nh)

Walter, John, "Kaiser's Pirates, The: German Surface Raiders in World War One", 1994 (kp)




"First World War" (fw)

"Luftschiff Zeppelin" (ls)

"" (ub)

"Wikipedia" (wp)

"World War 1 Document Archive, Maritime War " (gw)


Photographs are courtesy of the following sites and contributors to whom I am indebted:

Michael Pocock of Maritime Quest (MQ)

Kurt von Tiedemann of Ordern Pour le Merité (PM)
United States Library of Congress (LC)

Wikipedia (Fair Use Rationale: The images are taken during World War I, Copyright is difficult to establish) (WP)

World War 1 Document Archive, Maritime War (GW)

Click all photographs for enlargements




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revised 26/8/11