Lt. Canaris Returns from Spain
Wilhelm Canaris (1887-1945), pictured in the late 1920′s. He would later head German Military Intelligence (Abwehr) under the Nazis, until arrested and executed for his role in the July 20 plot against Hitler.
October 1 1916, Cartagena–The German East Asia Squadron, once based out of Tsingtao, had long since been scattered and sunk. The bulk of it had been lost at the Battle of the Falkland Islands, with only a few survivors captured by the British. The Königsberg had been scuttled in the Rufiji Delta, with its guns and sailors now aiding Lettow-Vorbeck’s campaign in the southern third of German East Africa. The last survivor, the Dresden, was scuttled on Robinson Crusoe Island and its crew interned by the Chilean government in March 1915. One of her officers, Lt. Wilhelm Canaris, a fluent Spanish-speaker, was able to escape from internment in August, making his way over the Andes to Argentina by boat and horse. The German embassy in Buenos Aires was able to get him a fake Chilean passport and passage to Rotterdam, and was able to make it back to Germany by October despite an unexpected stop in Plymouth.
This escapade captured the attention of German naval intelligence, who recruited him for service in Spain. He helped to organize supply of German U-boats in the Western Mediterranean, and reported on Allied shipping targets. He attempted to return to Germany via Switzerland in February 1916, but was prevented from doing so by Italian police and was forced to return to Spain (his escape aided by the fact that Italy and Germany were not officially at war at the time).
The submarine campaign in the Mediterranean was immensely successful; on October 1, the Kaiser congratulated his submariners for sinking over a million tons of shipping there. However, by this time, Canaris’ usefulness in Spain was growing limited, as the British had become aware of Canaris’ role. On the night of October 1, Canaris and another intelligence agent left the port of Cartagena in a sailing vessel, then transferred to U-35 (whose cruise in July and August had singlehandedly accounted for 9% of the German haul of Allied shipping in the Mediterranean).
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