Mutiny on a German Vessel; the SMS Prinzregent Luitpold
When some 400 sailors from the German vessel, the Prinzregent Luitpold mutinied against the war, it was the worst thing for the Germans. It was August 2, 1917, 100 years ago.
They’d lost key positions to allied forces in the Great War. The war was dragging on, getting expensive, and a mutiny wasn’t helping at all. In fact, the mutiny of the Prinzregent Luitpold would not only end badly for many of those men, it would spawn other revolutionaries in the German army.
Had the German authority not reacted the way they did to the Prinzregent Luitpold mutiny, those sailors could have unraveled the Central Powers as early as 1917. This would have saved the United States so many lives and so much money.
As it turned out, those sailors started a fire in the hearts of the German forces. The Germans authorities were unable to squash the eventual internal revolution…
By August 1917, the Great War had been raging for over three years. In Ypres, Belgium, the place history records as the Ypres Salient, fighting dragged through three years of trench warfare.
Troops from both sides endlessly fired bullets from their respective trenches. They would advance forward a few trenches, then retreat. The only result seemed the slow decay of both sides’ morale as they gained and lost ground.
Both felt the mounting exhaustion, but by August of 1917, the British had taken some new positions in the Ypres Salient. It was a tense moment for the Germans.
Then, the Prinzregent Luitpold docked in Wilhelmshaven, a German port on the North Sea.
The SMS Prinzregent Luitpold
She was the last Kaiser class battleships in the Imperial German Navy, launched in February 1912. The Kaiser class battleships were dreadnought vessels, steel-armored ships designed to take on the best that the British had to offer.
Despite her fortitude, she wasn’t enough to assuage the fears of the men aboard in August 1917.
In the German fleet, the Germans had to ration food. That “food” was not very tasty in the first place. This, combined with the decaying morale, caused the men to protest in the only way they could. They refused to eat.
When their ship came to shore, they walked.
Docked in the port, some 400 men marched off the Prinzregent Luitpold into town. There, they declared their opposition to the war, stating their unwillingness to fight.
Army officials organized a group of officers to hear their grievances. They were able to abate the protesters, convincing the men to return to the boat, but there were consequences for some of them.
The officers identified around 75 of the men as organizers. They imprisoned those men instead of sending them back to work. After military trials, some went to jail, the rest stood in front of the firing squad.
It was brutal, but if the Germans hadn’t stopped the idea of future mutinies in their tracks, they believed it could have been disastrous for them. They were right.
The mutiny in Wilhelmshaven was a sign of more to come, firing squads or not.
Word of the revolt leaked out. The threat of the firing squad only worked for awhile.
In another port, one year and three months later, on November 4, 1918, some 3,000 German sailors and laborers rose up against the German authority.
This time they took over ships, buildings, and organized in the fashion of the Russian revolutionaries.
By November 11, the Central Powers asked the Allies for an armistice. The war was effectively over.