Henning von Holtzendorff
Henning von Holtzendorff.jpg
Admiral von Holtzendorff in 1918
Birth nameHenning Rudolf Adolf Karl
von Holtzendorff
Born9 January 1853 (1853-01-09)
Berlin, Prussia
Died7 June 1919 (1919-06-08) (aged 66)
Uckermark district,
Weimar Republic
Allegiance Prussia
 North German Confederation
 German Empire
Service/branch North German Federal Navy
 Imperial German Navy
Years of service1869–1913
UnitWest Africa Squadron
East Asia Squadron
Baltic Sea Naval Station
Commands heldImperial Shipyard Danzig
I Battle Squadron
High Seas Fleet
Imperial Admiralty Staff
Battles/warsFranco-Prussian War
Boxer Rebellion
World War I
AwardsOrder of the Black Eagle
Pour le Mérite with oak leaves
Other workMember of the House of Lords

Henning Rudolf Adolf Karl von Holtzendorff (January 9, 1853 – June 7, 1919) was a German admiral during World War I, who became famous for his December 1916 memo about unrestricted submarine warfare against the United Kingdom. He was a recipient of Order of the Black Eagle and the Pour le Mérite with oak leaves and was one of just six Grand Admirals of the Imperial German Navy.


Holtzendorff was born into a noble family in Berlin on January 9, 1853. He joined the navy in 1869, served in the Franco-Prussian War and afterwards as a staff officer in the West Africa Squadron. Promoted to captain in 1897; he was present during the Boxer Rebellion as commander of a cruiser in the East Asia Squadron. He served as chief of staff at the Baltic Sea Naval Station and was director of the Imperial Shipyard at Danzig, before becoming a Vice Admiral in 1904.[1] Two years later he was appointed commander of the I Battle Squadron. By 1909 he commanded the High Seas Fleet, becoming a full Admiral in the next year.[2] In 1913 he was forced into retirement due to his opposition of rapid German naval expansion in competition with the British Royal Navy.[3] In the same year he became a member of the Prussian House of Lords.[1]

Vice Admiral von Holtzendorff in 1906

In 1915, after World War I broke out, he was recalled to duty to serve as head of the Imperial Admiralty Staff. During his retirement Holtzendorff converted into a strong proponent of unrestricted submarine warfare. He published a memo in December 1916 that was presented to Kaiser Wilhelm II and approved at the Pless conference in January 1917. The belief that unrestricted submarine warfare would starve Britain and bring about its demise was predicted, with the statement that the United Kingdom will be forced to sue for peace within six months. He also stated that the risk of American intervention could be taken and ignored.[4] His policy succeeded in disturbing both the Royal and the Merchant Navy with Allied shipping losses over 6 million GRT in 1917. His submarines became less successful when convoys were introduced, the US joined the war, and Britain was not compelled to surrender.[3] He did not believe the US would be able to join the war, and thought his submarines would back up his belief.

Holtzendorff was promoted to the rank of Großadmiral on July 31, 1918; the sixth and final appointment to that rank in the Imperial Navy. He was retired again after quarrels about war aims with the Oberste Heeresleitung (Supreme Army Command) in August 1918 and replaced by Admiral Reinhard Scheer.[3][5] He was the husband of Margarethe Zitelmann and adoptive father to her widowed sister-in-law's two daughters.[6] Admiral Holtzendorff died in the Uckermark district on June 7, 1919.[3]

Decorations and awards


  1. ^ a b Acta Borussica: Die Protokolle des Preußischen Staatsministeriums 1817–1934/38, (in German). 10. Berlin: Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. 1999. p. 395.
  2. ^ Tucker, Spencer C. (2013). The European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 347. ISBN 1135506949.
  3. ^ a b c d Tucker, Spencer C. (2014). World War I: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection. ABC-CLIO. pp. 767–768. ISBN 1851099654.
  4. ^ Admiral von Holtzendorff to Field Marshal von Hindenburg; Memo about unrestricted submarine warfare; December 22, 1916
  5. ^ Grossman, Mark (2007). World Military Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary. Infobase Publishing. p. 312. ISBN 0816074771.
  6. ^ Eberhardt, Muriel (2005). "Überlebenskünsterinnen - Hermione von Preuschen". Zeitschrift für Museum und Bildung (in German) (63): 16.

Further reading

  • Dirk Steffen, "The Holtzendorff Memorandum of 22 December 1916 and Germany's Declaration of Unrestricted U-boat Warfare." Journal of Military History 68.1 (2004): 215-224. excerpt

External links

  • The Holtzendorff Memo (English translation) with notes
  • Acta Borussica Volume 10 Online (in German)
Military offices
Preceded by
Prinz Albert Wilhelm Heinrich von Preußen
Commander-in-Chief of the High Seas Fleet
Succeeded by
Friedrich von Ingenohl
Preceded by
Gustav Bachmann
Chief of the Admiralty Staff
Succeeded by
Reinhard Scheer