„Erleben – Lernen – Weitergeben“ Friedrich Ruge (1894-1985)

Jörg Hillmann (ed.), „Erleben – Lernen – Weitergeben“ Friedrich Ruge (1894-1985), Kleine Schriftenreihe zur Militär- und Marinegeschichte, 2005. 568 pp., illustrations, glossary, appendices.

Reviewed by Sebastian Bruns
University of Kiel

Who was Friedrich Ruge? “The first Inspekteur der Marine after World War II,” some may say, “and someone who passed away some 25 years ago.” The answer, obviously, is much more complex. Dr. Jörg Hillmann, Captain in the German Navy and currently based in Bruxelles , Belgium , underscores the significance of this man by showing that his work and his motto “Experience – Learning – Sharing”, is still very much relevant today. From Ruge’s strong lifelong relationship to the United States (in particular with Admiral Arleigh Burke, U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations from 1955-1961, whom he met during his first official visit to the U.S. in 1956), to issues of defense, maritime thinking, and conscription in the German Armed Forces, many issues are still highly relevant for today’s armed forces and society, whether German, European, or North American.

Hillmann achieves this objective not by writing a single dedicated essay or book, but by assembling and commenting on a selection of Ruge’s own papers, speeches, letters, essays and autobiographic recollections, with a handful of other contributors filling in here and there. The essays range from 1912, detailing Ruge’s pre-naval experience in his own words, to the obituaries upon his death in 1985. All of these contributions are prefaced by a brief write-up by Hillmann detailing the circumstances under which the various texts were published. The defining moment of Ruge’s professional life was and continued to be “No more 1919’s” – he served in World War I and witnessed the end of the Imperial German Fleet at Scapa Flow – instead of a more plausible “No more 1945’s.” Some of Ruge’s positions might draw explicit criticism from today’s readers, such as contemporary papers on the navy of the Third Reich, leadership issues in World War II, or naval tradition (i.e. the role of the Admirals Dönitz and Raeder who were still imprisoned at the time when the post-war German Navy took shape ). In some instances, Ruge withdrew from some of his ideologically charged positions in later publications.

Two essays introduce to the anthology. The editor himself details Ruge’s career development in the ever-changing currents of German politics in an essay under the heading “Friedrich Ruge – Naval Officer and Professor.” It becomes evident that Ruge’s life was shaped by extraordinary events and was, by no means, linear.

Quite possibly, even though Ruge grew up in a non-democratic environment, he was able to master the later challenges of the Bundesmarine by strictly emphasizing jointness and international cooperation. The selected articles in the book call attention to the personality development of a man who served in four navies (the title of Ruge’s autobiography).

Despite the radical changes that shaped history in the early 20th century especially in Central Europe, and thus Ruge’s own career, Hillmann is able to point out some overarching issues of concern for Ruge. The very close personal and working relationship to the United States since the 1920’s, his pledge for an Atlantic framing of German foreign and security policy, for character development and education of sailors and naval officers, and the question of tradition in naval forces are recurring topics for Friedrich Ruge. Moreover, some light is shed on Ruge’s family and their relationship to the profession of the father. Consequently, Hillmann provides information on Ruge’s oldest daughter, whom he shared a crucial bond with: Ingeborg Eggert engages in the question of researching her own father as well as her relationship to him, setting the stage for the topical anthology.

Hillmann has published widely on subjects such as the Battle of Jutland in World War I and the World War II admirals Dönitz and Raeder. He was fortunate enough to obtain a large variety of papers detailing Ruge’s broad experience (some of which have never been published) on diverse topics such as the end of World War I (1918), torpedo and minesweeping boats in the Reichsmarine of the 1930’s, and the foundation and consolidation of the Bundeswehr after World War II (1956). Ruge’s later years in the highest Bundesmarine positions and publications after his retirement are also covered extensively. The tremendous variety of topics covered is nothing short of overwhelming. Nevertheless, it remains an enlightening reading for anyone interested in different aspects of maritime strategy, naval tactics, the career progression of a naval officer in rough and challenging times, and the foundation of the Bundesmarine, “a Navy with limited tasks, but with an unlimited horizon.” Keeping a written record of his experiences had been of central importance for Friedrich Ruge, and thankfully, Hillmann’s anthology allows us delve into this trove of personal papers and publications. Ruge’s professional writing should serve as a model for today’s officers, as has been pointed out, among others, by one of Ruge’s successors, Lutz Feldt (Inspekteur der Marine from 2003-2006 and author of a short preface to this book).

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