|Died||9 Apr 1945|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseWilhelm Franz Canaris was born in Aplerbeck, near Dortmund, in Westphalia, Germany. Part-Greek, he considered himself a distant relative of Greek naval officer Constantine Kanaris of the 19th Century, but genealogical evidence had never been found linking the two admirals. In 1905, he joined the German Imperial Navy. He served aboard the cruiser Dresden as her intelligence officer during WW1. In 1915, when the ship was disabled by the British Royal Navy and scuttled, he escaped capture and returned to Germany after a three-month journey. He served the remainder of WW1 as a successful submarine commander in the Mediterranean. During the inter-war years, he joined the para-military Freikorps organization as he remained in the Reichsmarine. In the early 1930s, he became the executive officer of the cruiser Berlin, then the commander of the battleship Schlesien, while resuming doing intelligence work.
ww2dbaseOn 1 Jan 1935, Canaris' experience in the intelligence field led him to the appointment as the head of Abwehr, Germany's military intelligence agency with a promotion to the rank of rear admiral later that year. Immediately, he set out to establish a spy network in Spain for German interests; he was the main person behind the decision for German to side with Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. While a supporter of Adolf Hitler during his rise, viewing him as staunch leader against communism, by 1938 he had realized the true face of Hitler and began to work against the Nazi state. He sabotaged the process to absorb Czechoslovakia into German borders, and convinced Franco from forming formal alliances with Germany. In the year leading up to the start of the European War, he started to maintain contact with British intelligence agency MI6. He also began to take on a leadership role among a group of German officers who shared similar unfavorable views on Hitler.
ww2dbaseWitnessing the atrocities committed by the Germans, Canaris protested. In regards to the use of forced labor, he said that
ww2dbaseSeeing little results from his protests, Canaris slowly stepped up his work against the Nazi regime while still maintaining his front as a loyal subject. In Jan 1940, he was promoted to the rank of a full admiral, but by this time he was a leadership figure of a group of anti-Nazi military officers who shared similar goals against Hitler. Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler began to place suspicion on Canaris, but no concrete evidence was found. Between 1942 and 1944, Canaris frequently traveled away from Berlin; historians deducted that he was likely meeting with British agents when he visited Spain and France. Meanwhile, he gave token training to a large number of people, including hundreds of Jews, so that he could send them outside Germany as spies; many of them simply disappeared after leaving the country. It was said that Canaris used this route to help many people escape Nazi persecution. Heydrich, who continued to suspect Canaris and at many occasions tested Canaris' loyalty, was said to be assassinated by MI6 to protect Canaris.
ww2dbaseIn 1943, Canaris met Otto Skorzeny for the first time. Skorzeny observed:
ww2dbaseIn Feb 1944, Himmler convinced Hitler to relief Canaris from his command. Without Canaris, the Abwehr soon merged into the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). He was placed under house arrest as evidences linking him to other conspirators were found, but both Hitler and Himmler had their reasons to keep him alive for a while. Hitler wished to use him to find the identities of even more conspirators, while Himmler might had wished to use Canaris to establish communications with the British when it became necessary for Himmler to defect. On 9 Apr 1945, he was executed by strangulation at Flossenbürg concentration camp. At the time of his execution, Canaris was decorated with the Iron Cross First and Second Class, the Silver German Cross, the Cross of Honor and the Wehrmacht's Twelve and Twenty-Five Year Long-Service Ribbons.
William Manchester, The Arms of Krupp
Otto Skorzeny, Skorzeny's Special Missions
Last Major Revision: Dec 2006
Wilhelm Canaris Timeline
|1 Jan 1887||Wilhelm Canaris was born.|
|1 Jan 1935||Admiral Canaris was appointed head of the German Abwehr (Military Intelligence Department).|
|23 Jul 1944||The German Gestapo arrested the head of German Abwehr Wilhelm Canaris.|
|6 Apr 1945||Adolf Hitler read Wilhelm Canaris' diary in which Hitler he learned of Canaris' involvement in anti-Nazi activities.|
|7 Apr 1945||Wilhelm Canaris was sentenced to death by a special SS tribunal.|
|9 Apr 1945||Wilhelm Canaris was executed by hanging by piano wire at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Flossenbürg, southern Germany.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945