Evaluations of the Sailors' Revolt in Kiel 1918
(translations K. Kuhl)

Lothar Popp and Karl Artelt (leaders of the marines' mutiny in Kiel):

"So the victory over militarism was achieved. But the historic task of the proletarians was not nearly completed. .... another world has to be erected. A world without hatred and envy, without exploitation and enslavement, a world of peace, of freedom and justice. It is the historical task of the proletariat to construct this world. The freedom fight of the working class is the last class struggle of history it will leave behind no oppressed classes any more."
Lothar Popp unter Mitarbeit von Karl Artelt: "Ursprung und Entwicklung der November-Revolution 1918.", Sonderveröffentlichung 15 der Gesellschaft für Kieler Stadtgeschichte, Kiel, 1983

Schleswig-Holsteinische Volkszeitung, 5.11.1918:

"The fleet under the red flag
Victory for freedom
Today the red flag of freedom streams over the German fleet! November 5th of 1918 will always be a memorable day of German history.
Finally the people are completely free. Finally the people have gained a complete victory!"
Schleswig-Holsteinische Volkszeitung, Organ der (M)SPD, Kiel, 5.11.1918

Gustav Noske (Reichswehrminister 1919-1920):

" ... under what possible conditions the mutiny in Kiel, which I personally condemned in strongest terms, could be put to an end. That political reforms, ... would be fulfilled, would go without saying. About an amnesty the Government would be reasonable."
" ... the behaviour of the victors [had] shown, how justified the war policy of the majority social democrats was, ... As long as ... the enemies refused an honest peace, we reminded our people to dedicate all strength, to avert defeat and a dictatory peace. "
Gustav Noske: "Von Kiel bis Kapp", Verlag für Politik und Wirtschaft, Berlin, 1920, S. 23, 57

Robert A. C. Parker (Historian, Oxford); England and the German Revolution of 1918:

England needed some time to decide how to treat Germany after the revolution of 1918. In March 1919 the Primeminister Lloyd George (Liberal) tended to support the new government by a "reasonable treatment" allowing a restoration of prosperity. Then he hoped Germany would be a force for peace. But when the House of Commons discussed the level of reparations in April 1919, the conservatives managed to commit Lloyd George to a stricter treatment. Their convincing argument focussed on the support of WWI by Ebert, Scheidemann and Noske, who now formed the new government, as they did not show any changes in their political convictions. This was clearly proofed by Ebert addressing the returning troops in Berlin. Also Noske's confrontation of the radical left was exaggerated in order to convince the alliies that there would be (a non-existing) immanent danger of bolshevism in Germany. Similarly the pretension of a food shortage was brought up in order to get softer peace conditions.
Robert, A., C., Parker: "England and the German Revolution of 1918". In: Michael Salewski (Hrsg.): "Die Deutschen und die Revolution. 17 Vorträge für die Remke-Gesellschaft - Vereinigung für Geschichte im öffentlichen Leben (The Germans an the revolution. 17 lectures for the Remke-Gesellschaft - association for history in public life.)." Göttigen 1984, pp. 379-389.

Karl Dietrich Erdmann (history professor in Kiel):

"... parlamentary democracy and council dictatorship ... exclude one another logically."
"... the revolutionary government of the socialdemocrats ... had no success ... to establish it's own army."
"... because of the missing martial mentality of the socialdemocratic masses the majority socialdemocrats (had to cooperate) (with) ... conservative powers from the civil service and the officers."
Karl Dietrich Erdmann: "Rätestaat oder Parlamentarische Demokratiel", Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Kieler Stadtgeschichte, Band 68 Heft 9/10, 1983

Wolfram Wette (military historic research office, Freiburg im Breisgau):

"What he [Noske, K.Kuhl] however did not bring about and possibly because of his political basic position was not able and did not want to bring about, was the exemplary test of a future oriented republic reform programm. Such an experiment would have been quite possible in Kiel - in any way in the military-political area. Attempts regarding persons and structures were there. Noske didn't foster and didn't utilize them, but suffocated them before they could develop."
Wolfram Wette: "Als bei der Torpedo-Division der erste Soldatenrat gebildet wurde", Frankfurter Rundschau, 12.12.1988

"... the Kiel signal ... did not point in the direction of a council state according to the bolschewistic example. Instead it stood ... for the demand for the fastes possible ending of the war. Secondly it pointed - starting with the "Kieler 14 Punkten (14 items of Kiel)" - ... in the direction of a liberal, social and democratic political system, in which especially the militarism ... should have no more space any more."
Wolfram Wette: "Die Novemberrevolution - Kiel 1918", in Fleischhauer und Turowski: "Kieler Erinnerungsorte", Boyens, 2006

Michael Salewski (Historian from Kiel):

... allegations from the own side, from those who turned away disappointed and founded a Spartakusbund, hurted and could not be healed - just because of this the SPD failed later in critical moments of Weimar's history again and again: deeply influency by the trauma of allegedly bad compromises with the "class enemy", the party preferred to remain in opposition. This is why the others were able to govern. The others were the increasingly insecure bourgeois Cabinets, were the increasingly authoritarian, presiding cabinets ...
From a lecture by Prof. Michael Salewski on 4 November 1998 in the Kiel Council Hall on the History of the German Revolutions.

Dirk Dähnhardt (presented a Ph.D. thesis on this subject in 1978):

"Kiel gave the signal for the German revolution 1918/19. In Kiel came about a mutiny with revolutionary character and with a beyond Kiel pointing revolutionary tendency. November 1918 was thus Kiel's most important contribution to German history."
"The revolutionary character is documented in the spreading of the mutiny of marines on to the workers and in the formation of a soldiers' and workers' council. The revolutionary tendency is shown by the fact, that the "14 Kieler Punkte" served as an example for a large number of local soldiers' and workers' councils."
Dirk Dähnhardt: "Revolution in Kiel", Karl Wachholtz Verlag, Neumünster, 1978
Dirk Dähnhardt in "Festschrift für Jürgen Jensen - ... wird die fernste Zukunft danken", Karl Wachholtz Verlag, Neumünster, 2004

Triggering pulse of the revolution was the Wilhelmshaven mutiny, of a revolution in the true sense we can speak only after the central power was overthrown in Berlin. Kiel was the link between these two fixed points. Here, the conflict extended to the workers, from here, the impulse to spread the unrest given. It seems therefore justified, to define the events in Kiel as an uprising with a revolutionary character and a tendency pointng beyond Kiel. This is underlined by the fact that in many garrison towns in Germany, the 14 points were accepted and that the equal representation of the workers' council became model for many other councils up to the Council of People's Representatives in Berlin.
Dirk Dähnhardt: "Revolution in Kiel – Fragezeichen oder Ausrufungszeichen (question- or exclamation-mark)?", Rede auf der Tagung: Verfassung der Weimarer Republik, ca. 1989 (aus dem Nachlass Dirk Dähnhardts)

Commentary Klaus Kuhl:

After the pilote was dropped, the political and military leadership of Germany started a huge fleetbuilding programme reaching for the hegemony in measureless overestimation of the own situation. This however based on an outlived inner system: bourgeoisie and workers had no say in important political matters. At the end of WWI among others von Trotha developed the plan to sink the fleet in a last battle against England. He justified this by writing, that out of this "death fight... a new German future fleet will ascend". Noske, who polemicised against those, who hoped to come to terms with the allied forces, kept Trotha chief of the admiralty. But there were other officers: Lieutenant Commander Paul Reymann from the German Naval High Command had opposed the plan. So Trotha could eventually foster the new reach out for the hegemony.
Nowadays we know, that all that hate and revenge feelings could only have been overcome by huge common efforts of the European people aiming at forgiveness and reconciliation. Responsible persons of all social levels learned to think differently and after the second world war they eventually began to collaboratively construct a peaceful Europe embracing all people, groups and regions. This was and is the most important legacy of the uncountable dead, crippled and traumatised of two world wars.
Full commentary >>

Hans-Rudolf Boehmer (Viceadmiral rtd., German navy inspector 1995-1998):

"Imagine the imperial navy officers, mainly being of bourgeois origin, had recollected the liberal, national disposition of their fathers from 1848 and had put themselves at the forefront of the sailors' mutiny in Kiel - an Admiral had proclaimed the republic and carried away the German bourgeoisie - maybe German history had by that time starting from Kiel taken a more fortunate course. But exactly this is unimaginable, because with the foundation of the Empire Bismarck had once and for all dishearten the German bourgeoisie, or as Graf von Krockow puts it in his biography about his peer Bismarck: 'It was not until Bismarck that he had stolen the nation, so to say as a thief of format, from the encampement of civil liberty and carried it over to the conservative adverse encampement.' Since the foundation of the Empire national attitude has been equalled to Kaisertreue (loyalty for the Emperor). Thus Kiel's most important contribution to German history, the outbreak of the 1918 revolution will be viewed here at the Niemannsweg [street in the former officers' town quarter in Kiel, KK] until today as an embarrasment rather than as a necessary decisive turning point of German history."
Hans-Rudolf Boehmer: "Kiel und die Marine", lecture at the RC-Kiel, May 2005, from a copy of the manuscript provided by Norbert Gansel

Dr. Dieter Hartwig (FKpt a. D., navy historian):

"Whoever minds at all about the November events in Kiel 1918, loves to view his or her town as the cradle of the second German revolution. This is wrong in a double sense - the origin of it all was in Wilhelmshaven, and in Kiel there was no revolution, … structures were not to be revolved and indeed were not revolved, elites were not removed!
The sailors [had] no revolution in mind …; and also with the workers … the goal revolution is not visible. One has to know one's own mind, to make a revolution and not just a mutiny. One needs to know the goals, not only the starting point. And in Wilhelmshaven as well as in Kiel and for most people in Berlin one was "only" against something/someone/the, this Kaiser, but wasn't sure what/who to put in his place.“
From: Dieter Hartwig: "November 1918 in Kiel - Ereignisse, Folgen, Reminiszenzen", lecture at the German navy museum, Wilhelmshaven, 13.12.2007, and an Email to Klaus Kuhl, 4.1.2008

Dirk Dähnhardt on the incidents in February 1919 (Spartakists' mutiny):

"Thus the February incidents in Kiel show that the conflicts within the workers [...] allowed these conservative groupings to re-gain influence and recapture those positions of power they lost in November 1918."
Dirk Dähnhardt: "Revolution in Kiel", Karl Wachholtz Verlag, Neumünster 1978, S 157.

Statement of Kaiser Wilhelm II. concerning a comparable issue to the "last battle of the high seas fleet"

Kaiser Wilhelm II on his abdication (retrospective 1922)
" There has been much talk about my having abandoned the army and gone to neutral foreign parts. Some say the Emperor should have gone to some regiment at the front, and, together with it, hurled himself upon the enemy, seeking death in one last attack. That, however, would not only have rendered impossible the armistice, so ardently desired by the nation, and concerning which the commission sent from Berlin to General Foch was already negotiating, but it would have also meant the useless sacrifice of the lives of many soldiers—of some of the very best and most faithful, in fact."
Wilhelm II, The Kaiser's Memoirs. English translation by Thomas R.Ybarra. New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1922, pp. 285-91. English translation edited by GHDI staff. See >>


You may publish your own evaluation or comments in our web log: >>

Last updated 23 Feb. 2018

  • Interview with one of the leaders: Lothar Popp >>
  • CV L. Popp >>
  • Recollections of the other leader: Karl Artelt >>
  • CV K. Artelt >>
  • Additional temporary witnesses >>
  • Films about the revolt >>
  • Evaluations >>
  • Timeline >>
  • Virtual sightseeing tour >>
  • Commentary >>