World War I: Admiral Franz von Hipper

Admiral Franz von Hipper during World War I
Admiral Franz von Hipper. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Franz von Hipper - Early Life & Career:

Born in Weilheim in Oberbayern, Bavaria on September 13, 1863, Franz Hipper was the son of shopkeeper Anton Hipper and his wife Anna. Losing his father at age three, Hipper commenced his education in 1868 at school in Munich before moving to a gymnasium five years later. Completing his education in 1879, he entered the military as a volunteer officer. Later in the year, Hipper elected to pursue a career in the Kaiserliche Marine and traveled to Kiel.

Passing the required exams, he began his training. Made a probationary sea cadet on April 12, 1881, Hipper spent the summer on the frigate SMS Niobe. Returning to the Naval Cadet School in September, he graduated in March 1882. After attending gunnery school, Hipper commenced training at sea with time aboard the training ship SMS Friedrich Carl and a world cruise aboard SMS Leipzig.

Franz von Hipper - Young Officer:

Returning to Kiel in October 1884, Hipper spent the winter attending the Naval Officer School before being appointed to oversee the training of recruits in the First Naval Battalion. The following fall, he passed through the Executive Officer School. After spending a year with a coastal artillery unit, Hipper received an appointment at sea as an officer aboard Friedrich Carl. Over the next three years, he moved through several ships including the armored frigate SMS Friedrich der Grosse.

Hipper returned to the ship in October 1891 after completing the Torpedo Officer Course aboard SMS Blücher. After additional assignments afloat and ashore, he became senior watch officer aboard the new battleship SMS Wörth in 1894. Serving under Prince Heinrich, Hipper was promoted to senior lieutenant and awarded the Bavarian National Defense Service Medal the following year.

In September 1895, he took command of the Second Torpedo-boat Reserve Division.

Franz von Hipper - Rising Star:

Ordered to SMS Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm in October 1898, Hipper remained on board for nearly a year before landing a choice assignment aboard the royal yacht SMY Hohenzollern. In this role, he attended Queen Victoria's funeral in 1901 and received a number of ceremonial decorations. Promoted to lieutenant commander on June 16, 1901, Hipper assumed command of the Second Torpedo Unit the following year and flew his flag from the new cruiser SMS Niobe. Made a commander on April 5, 1905, he attended the Cruiser and Battleship Gunnery Schools in early 1906. Briefly taking command of the cruiser SMS Leipzig in April, Hipper then shifted to the new cruiser SMS Friedrich Carl in September. Turning his vessel into a crack ship, Friedrich Carl won the Kaiser's Prize for best shooting in the fleet in 1907.

Promoted to captain on April 6, 1907, Hipper was dubbed an "Imperial Captain" by Kaiser Wilhelm II. In March 1908, he assumed command of the new cruiser SMS Gneisenau and oversaw its shakedown cruise and training of the crew prior to its departure to join the German East Asia Squadron in China.

Leaving the ship later in the year, Hipper returned to Kiel and spent three years overseeing the training of torpedo boat crews. Returning to sea in October 1911, he became captain of the cruiser SMS Yorck four months before being appointed chief of staff to Rear Admiral Gustav von Bachmann, the Deputy Flag Officer, Reconnaissance Forces. On January 27, 1912, following von Bachmann's promotion to command of the High Seas Fleet's scouting forces, Hipper was promoted to rear admiral and made deputy commander.

Franz von Hipper - World War I Begins:

When Bachmann departed for the Baltic in 1913, Hipper assumed command of I Scouting Group on October 1. Containing the High Sea Fleet's battlecruisers, this force possessed a mix of power and speed. Hipper was in this post when World War I began in August 1914.

On the 28th of that month, he sortied with part of his force to support German vessels during the Battle of Heligoland Bight but arrived too late to take part in the action. In early November, Hipper was directed by High Seas Fleet commander Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl to take three battlecruisers, a cruiser, and four light cruisers to bombard Great Yarmouth. Attacking on November 3, he shelled the port before withdrawing back to the German base in the Jade Estuary.

Franz von Hipper - Battling the Royal Navy:

Due to the success of the operation, a second attack was planned for early December with the bulk of the High Seas Fleet sailing in support. Striking Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby on December 16, Hipper's squadron, which had been augmented by the new battlecruiser Derfflinger, bombarded the three towns and inflicted numerous civilian casualties earning the admiral the sobriquet "baby killer." Having broken the German naval codes, the Royal Navy dispatched Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty with four battlecruisers and six battleships to intercept Hipper on his return voyage to Germany. Though Beatty's ships arrived in position to trap the enemy, signaling errors prevented the plan from being executed and Hipper was able to escape.

In January 1915, Ingenohl directed Hipper to take his force to clear British vessels from the area around Dogger Bank. Alerted to German intentions by signals intelligence, Beatty again attempted to destroy Hipper's ships. In the Battle of Dogger Bank on January 24, the two sides engaged in a running battle as the German commander attempted to escape back to base.

In the fighting, Hipper saw Blücher sunk and his flagship, SMS Seydlitz severely damaged. Blame for the defeat fell to Ingenohl rather than Hipper and he was replaced by Admiral Hugo von Pohl the following month. Falling ill, Pohl in turn was replaced by Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer in January 1916. Two months later, Hipper, suffering from exhaustion, requested sick leave. This was granted and he remained away from his command until May 12.

Franz von Hipper - Battle of Jutland:

At the end of the month, Scheer sortied with bulk of the High Seas Fleet in the hope of luring out and destroying part of the British Grand Fleet. Aware of Scheer's intentions via radio intercepts, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe sailed south from Scapa Flow with the Grand Fleet while Beatty's battlecruisers, augmented by four battleships, steamed in advance. On May 31, Hipper and Beatty's forces met in the opening phases of the Battle of Jutland. Turning southeast to lure British battlecruiser towards the guns of the High Seas Fleet, Hipper engaged in a running battle. In the fighting, his command sank the battlecruisers HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary. Spotting the danger posed by Scheer's approaching battleships, Beatty reversed course. In the fighting, the British inflicted severe damage on Hipper's ships but failed to score any kills. As the battle continued, the German battlecruisers sank HMS Invincible.

As the main fleets engaged, critical damage to his flagship, SMS Lützow, forced Hipper to transfer his flag to the battlecruiser Moltke.

Attempting to maintain his force's station for the remainder of the battle, Hipper saw his badly damaged battlecruisers compelled to limp back to Germany after Scheer was able to evade the enemy during the night. For his performance at Jutland he was awarded the Pour le Mérite on June 5. With his squadron crippled, Hipper received command of large detachment of the High Seas Fleet following the battle. Over the next two years, the High Seas Fleet remained largely inactive as it lacked the numbers to challenge the British. When Scheer ascended to become Chief of the Naval Staff on August 12, 1918, Hipper took command of the fleet.

Franz von Hipper - Later Career:

With German forces on the Western Front reeling, Scheer and Hipper planned a final effort for the High Seas Fleet in October 1918. After mounting attacks on the Thames Estuary and Flanders, the fleet would engage the Grand Fleet. As ships were concentrating at Wilhelmshaven hundreds of sailors began to desert. This was followed by several mutinies beginning on October 29. With the fleet in open revolt, Scheer and Hipper had no choice but to cancel the operation. Going ashore on November 9, he watched as the fleet departed for internment at Scapa Flow later that month. With the end of the war, Hipper asked to be placed on the inactive list on December 2 before retiring eleven days later.

After evading German revolutionaries in 1919, Hipper retired to a quiet life in Altona, Germany. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he elected not to write a memoir of the war and later died on May 25, 1932. Cremated, Hipper's remains were buried in Weilheim in Oberbayern. The Nazi-era Kriegsmarine later named a cruiser Admiral Hipper in his honor.

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