For nine years, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris ed Adolf Hitler’s military intelligence service, the Abwehr. He is one of the Third Reich’s most intriguing personalities. Many people regard him as a traitor who leaked German attack plans to the enemy, resulting in the deaths of German soldiers. Others consider him a leader who did everything he could to avoid a war that he predicted would end in Germany’s annihilation. But did you know what his role was in recruiting Spain back then?
Canaris was also a key figure in keeping Spain out of World War II, determining that entering the conflict would be a mistake after studying the state of Spain’s land, sea, and air forces. Canaris advised Spanish leader Francisco Franco that Spain’s entry into the war would be terrible for everyone concerned, given the state of Spanish armaments.
Wilhelm Canaris’ Early Years
Canaris was born at Aplerbeck in Dortmund, Germany, to a harmonious, upper-class family. He showed a gift for languages early in his life and read a great deal as a child.
In 1898 Canaris passed the acceptance examination for the Steinbart-Real High School Duisburg. Immediately after graduating from high school, Canaris enrolled as a naval cadet on April 1, 1905. Canaris was the only student in his class with ambitions to be a career officer.
Canaris served aboard the Imperial Navy training ship SMS Stein and cruiser SMS Bremen. He was promoted to midshipman in 1906 and swore an oath of allegiance to the Kaiser in the autumn of 1907. Canaris protected German interests in the Central and South American region.
He was promoted to captain after completing a sea-mines course and took command of SMS Dresden in 1911. Canaris was involved in setting up networks of informers in Brazil and Argentina for the German naval intelligence service. (Source: Wears War)
The Beginning of the Second World War
The German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, severely troubled Canaris. The Abwehr was compelled to participate in the roundups of Polish intellectuals, Catholic priests, Jews, and other suspected state enemies.
Canaris was distraught by the executions of many of these Poles. Canaris has returned from Poland profoundly broken after seeing the repercussions of our cruel conduct of the war, German envoy Ulrich von Hassell wrote in his notebook after seeing him return from Poland.
By the time World War II began, the Abwehr had built connections with numerous elements of the British elite. It had access to top-secret British technology and was fully informed about British efforts to secure US support.
The Abwehr, on the other hand, was not always committed to German interests. Canaris and Oster, for example, dispatched an agent to Rome to inform the British that Germany planned to invade Belgium and Holland on or shortly after May 10, 1940. Despite this warning, the German Wehrmacht destroyed the Allies quickly.
Canaris was also instrumental in keeping Spain out of World Conflict II, concluding that entering the war would be imprudent after analyzing much material on the state of Spain’s land, sea, and air forces. Given the status of Spanish weapons, Canaris warned Spanish leader Francisco Franco that Spain’s entrance into the war would be disastrous for everyone involved.
Hitler was unhappy with Franco’s decision to remain neutral in the war when he asked him to join by January 10, 1941. Hitler was unaware that Canaris was plotting behind his back.
Hitler scorned Canaris’ opinion. Canaris and his staff were horrified by stories of inhumanities committed by the German Wehrmacht during its advance into the Soviet Union beginning in late summer 1941. (Source: Wears War)