‘Altmark’ (‘The Altmark Incident’)
A Sea Drama of Epic Proportions: The Altmark, Graf Spee & Cossack.
Original drawing, depicted on the cover of the magazine Simplicissimus, 10 March 1940, 45th Volume, book 10.
By Erich Schilling, one of Germany’s greatest cartoonists who produced around 1500 cartoons from 1905 to 1945.
Schilling committed suicide on April 30, 1945 (same day as Hitler), shortly before the American troops captured his hometown Gauting (near Munich).
A Sea Drama of Epic Proportions: The Altmark, Graf Spee & Cossack
The Altmark, Graf Spee and Cossack were three ships linked by fate. They all played a significant role in the Altmark drama, but none of the ships survived the war. The Graf Spee was scuttled just outside the harbour of Montevideo, on December 17, 1939. The Cossack was on escort duty in the Atlantic when she was struck by a torpedo from a German submarine and went to the bottom in October 1941. The Altmark blew up on November 30, 1942 in the harbour of Yokohama.
Cover of Simplicissimus, 10 March 1940, 45th Volume, book 10.
The Altmark Incident
In February 1940, the German tanker, Altmark, was returning to Germany with 299 British merchant sailors on board. These were prisoners of war who had been picked up from ships sunk by the battleship Admiral Graf Spee. On its way from the southern Atlantic to Germany, Altmark passed through Norwegian waters. International law did not ban the transfer of prisoners of war through neutral waters. After being intercepted by the destroyer HMS Cossack, the Altmark sought refuge in the Jøssingfjord, but the HMS Cossack followed her in the next day. The Altmark’s Norwegian naval escorts blocked initial attempts to board the ship, and aimed their torpedo tubes at the Cossack. The HMS Cossack then asked the admiralty for instructions, and received the following orders directly from the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill:
‘Unless Norwegian torpedo-boat undertakes to convoy Altmark to Bergen with a joint Anglo-Norwegian guard on board, and a joint escort, you should board Altmark, liberate the prisoners, and take possession of the ship pending further instructions. If Norwegian torpedo-boat interferes, you should warn her to stand off. If she fires upon you, you should not reply unless attack is serious, in which case you should defend yourself, using no more force than is necessary, and ceasing fire when she desists. Suggest to Norwegian destroyer that honour is served by submitting to superior force.’
The British government made no particular objection to the fact of a prison ship traversing neutral waters. In their view the Altmark had gone hundreds of miles out of its way to make the long run through Norwegian waters to Germany, constituting a clear abuse of Norway’s neutrality, and a breach of international law. Moreover, the Norwegian government had not permitted the Germans to transport prisoners through Norwegian waters (the Altmark having falsely claimed to be carrying none).
The Norwegian forces refused to take part in a joint escort, reiterating that their earlier searches of Altmark had found nothing. In the ensuing action, Altmark ran aground. The British then boarded her on 16 February, and – after some hand-to-hand fighting with bayonets – overwhelmed the ship’s crew and liberated the prisoners. Seven German sailors were killed and eleven wounded; six seriously. The German dead were buried in Sogndal Cemetery above Jøsingfjord. HMS Cossack left the Jøssingfjord just after midnight on 17 February. The Norwegian escorts protested, but did not intervene. The official explanation later given by the Norwegian government was that, according to international treaty, a neutral country was not obliged to resist a vastly superior force.
The Norwegians were angered that their neutrality had been infringed, but they did not want to be dragged into a European war. Nonetheless, the Altmark incident sowed doubts about Norwegian neutrality among the Allies, as well as in Germany. Both sides had contingency plans for military action against Norway, primarily to control the traffic of Swedish iron ore, on which the German armaments industry depended in the early stages of the war. The Altmark incident convinced Adolf Hitler that the Allies would not respect Norwegian neutrality. Hitler, who on 14 December 1939 had decided on the invasion of Norway, ordered intensified planning on 19 February 1940 for attacks on Norway and Denmark, which eventually took place on 9 April 1940 under the code name Operation Weserübung.
Left: German dead are brought ashore for burial after the incident.
Right: The Altmark in the Jossingfjord.
Left: 18 June 1942, Reichsminister for Norway Josef Terboven visiting the place near the spot where the boarding took place. (When the Nazis occupied Norway, they erected a sign there.)
Right: the sign was double sided; one side is in the possession of a Norwegian museum, and the other side is owned by the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth.
German War Art in the Pentagon
‘Very good, outstanding and brilliant in conception…’
House of Representatives, Committee on Armed Services, Investigation Subcommittee, Washington, D.C. , September 23, 1981
At September 23, 1981, the House of Representatives discussed the transfer to Germany of 6.337 pieces of war art that were seized from the German Government by the United States Army in March 1947. Below some remarkable quotes from the discussion.
George William Whitehurst (Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, journalist, professor) about the 6.337 pieces of German war art:
‘They are similar to the military works of art hanging on our own committee and subcommittee rooms. Part of the German collection is on display in the Pentagon…. This is war art, showing the life of German military personnel under the best and the worst conditions, as indeed soldiers, sailors, and airmen of all nations experienced it… ‘Asked by the Chairman about the value of the art: ‘Some of it is very, very good. The large canvas in my office is an outstanding work of art’.
Marylou Gjernes, Army Art Curator, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Department of the Army:
‘..The Air Force similarly favors retention of German war art integral to its museum operations at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and a small exhibit of paintings that they have in the Pentagon.’…. ‘Some of the paintings and drawings are brilliant in conception and execution. They show by their artistry, color and mood, the spirit of combat, and the desolation, destruction and tragedy of war. There are illustrations of the despair and boredom of the troops…They are a testament to the sensitivity of the artist regardless of nationality. The collection ..is utilized in ongoing exhibition programs and displays to provide a unique view of World War II that supplements and supports the written history of the conflict..’
Extreme scarce work of art
Art works considered as overt propaganda were massively destroyed
In accordance with the Potsdam Agreement of August 1945, the Allied Control Council laws and military government regulations, all collections of works of art related or dedicated to the perpetuation of German militarism or Nazism, were destroyed. Thousands of paintings were considered of ‘no value’ and burned. Around 8,722 artworks were shipped to military deposits in the U.S. In 1986 the largest part was returned to Germany, with the exception of 200 paintings which were considered as overt propaganda: depictions of German Soldiers, war sceneries, swastika’s and portraits of Nazi leaders.
|– condition||: II|
|– size||: paper: 40,5 x 33,5 cm. drawing: 32 x 29 cm|
|– signed||: monogram, right on top|
|– type||: mixed techniques on paper|
Erich Schilling, ‘Zeitgemässe Umwandlung’ (‘New modern inhouse decaration‘). The text below reads: ‘Erich Schilling, 1927, Bauhaus Mobiliar‘.
Left: original drawing sold by a German auction house in 2019. Size 50 x 37 cm (‘Kohle und Tuschfeder auf Papier‘).
Right: ‘Zeitgemässe Umwandlung’ by Schilling, depicted in Simplissimus, 1930, Nr. 35, page 419. The text below the depiction reads: ‘Taille, Busen, Schleppenkleider – der Geschmack der achtziger Jahre kehrt wieder. Ich klebe jetzt Renaissance-Ornamente an meine Bauhausmöbel!‘ (‘Close-fitting, Breasts, dresses with trains, – the taste of the 1880s comes back. I have attached Renaissance-ornaments to my Bauhaus-furniture’.)
Left: Erich Schilling, ‘Der Mörder’ (‘The Murderer’). Depicted on the cover of Simplicissimus, 24 March 1943. The text below reads: ‘Ich versteh’ nicht was Mann gegen mich hat – ich will doch nur den Frieden nach Europa bringen!’ (‘I don’t understand what they have against me – I only want to bring peace to Europe!’).
Right: Erich Schilling, ‘Französische Propaganda’ (‘French Propaganda’). Depicted in Simplicissimus, 26 February 1923. The text below reads: ‘Was die rohe Gewalt nicht fertig bekommt, muss die Lüge vollenden’ (‘What cannot be managed by brute force, has to be achieved by lies’).
Left: Erich Schilling, ‘Mars und Mord’ (‘Mars and Murder’). Depicted in Simplicissimus, 5 May 1943. The text below reads: ‘Mars: Pfui Teufel! Immer wieder diese Luftangriffe auf Frauen und Kinder, damit will ich nichts zu tun haben!’ (‘Mars: ‘Disgusting Devil! Over and over this bombing of women and children; I don’t want to be involved in this’).
Right: Erich Schilling, ‘Versaille Friede – Deutscher Bürgerkrieg’ (‘Peace of Versailles – German Civil War’). Depicted in Simplicissimus, 2 August 1922. The text below reads: ‘Merkwürdig, es kommt nur Blut statt Gold’ (‘Strange, there only comes blood instead of gold’).
Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) Germany accepted responsibility for the damages caused in the war and was obliged to pay war reparations to the various Allies, principally France. The total sum of reparations demanded from Germany – around 226 billion gold marks (USD 859 billion in 2017) – was decided by an Inter-Allied Reparations Commission. In 1921, the amount was reduced to 132 billion. Even with the reduction, the debt was huge. As some of the payments were in industrial raw materials. German factories were unable to function and the German economy suffered, further damaging the country’s ability to pay.
Left: Erich Schilling, ‘Churchills Silvesterkatzenjammer’ (‘Churchill’s Hangover at New Year’s Eve). Depicted in Simplicissimus, 1 January 1942. The text below reads: ‘Goddam, wie ist mir mein Lügen- und Illusionspunsch schlecht bekommen!!’ (‘Damn, my Lies-and-Illusion punch has really made me feel sick!!’.
Right: Erich Schilling, ‘Wunder der Technik’ (‘Miracle of Technology’). Depicted in Simplicissimus, 24 April 1917. The text below reads: ‘Den genialsten Köpfen Amerikas ist es gelungen, ein Riesenwolkenkratzermaul zu konstruieren, die Mittelmächte ausspeit’ or ‘America’s geniuses have construed a giant skyscraper-head that spews out unlimited resources for usage against middle-countries’ (the American entry into World War I came at 6 April 1917). Displayed at the exhibition ‘Zeichner der Jugend und des Simplicissimus. Glanz und Elend um 1900 im Spiegel der Karikatur’, 2015, Kunkel Fine Art, Munich. Again depicted in the ‘Handelsblatt’, 24 April 2015.
Left: Erich Schilling, ‘Die Genfer Fesselkünstler’ (‘The Chain-artists from Geneva’). Depicted on the cover of Simplicissimus, 24 July 1932. The text below reads: ‘Solange der Mars schläft, haben wir ihn in unseren Paragraphenschlingen ganz sicher gefesselt!’ (‘As long as Mars is sleeping, we have him safely tied in our Paragraph-strings’). Depicted in ‘Münchner Künstlerköpfe’, 1937, with the comment: ‘…the Chain-artists from Geneva are trying to keep the mighty War on the ground with their paragraphs of paper’.
Right: Erich Schilling, ‘Der Musiker und sein Instrument’ (‘The Musician and his Instrument’). Depicted on the cover of Simplicissimus, 1 March 1944. The text below reads: ‘Es liegt nur am richtigen Griff – und schon kommen die von mir gewünschten Töne!’ (‘It’s just a matter of the right grip – then the tones which I like to hear come by themselves’).
Left: Erich Schilling, ‘Invasionsbeginn – Eine Miljarde Börsengewinn’ (‘Beginning of the Invasion – Billions of Profit at the Exchange’). Depicted in Simplicissimus, 28 June 1944. The text below reads: ‘Ihr seid nicht umsonst gefallen!’ (‘You did not die for nothing’).
Right: Erich Schilling, ‘Lügengeschwader der Komintern’ (‘Lies Squadron of the Comintern’. Depicted in Simplicissimus, 27 June 1937. The text below reads: ‘Nachdem undere Bombengeschwader nicht die erhoffte Wirkung gehabt haben, greifen wir wieder auf unser altbewärtes Kampfmittel zrück!’ (‘Since our bomber squadrons were unsuccessful, we fall back upon our traditional weapons’).
The Communist International, abbreviated as Comintern and also known as the Third International (1919–1943), was an international communist organization that advocated for world communism. The International intended to fight ‘by all available means, including armed force, for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transition stage to the complete abolition of the State.’ The Comintern had seven World Congresses between 1919 and 1935.
L’occupation de la Ruhr: ‘Nom d’un chien, la bête a des piquants’
Left: Erich Schilling, ‘Die Besetzung des Ruhrgebietes’ (‘The occupation of the Ruhr Valley’). Depicted in Simplicissimus, 11 May 1921. The text below reads: ‘Verdammt, das Biest hat Stacheln!’ (‘Damn, the beast has spines!’, in French: ‘Nom d’un chien, la bête a des piquants’).
The Occupation of the Ruhr was a period of military occupation of the Ruhr Valley – the industrial heart of Germany – by France and Belgium between 1923 and 1925. It was in response to the Weimar Republic’s failure to continue its reparation payments in the aftermath of World War I. The occupation was greeted by a government-led campaign of passive resistance. There was also violent active resistance in the form of sabotage and assassination attempts, mostly driven by radical right-wing nationalist groups, some of which were supported by the Reichswehr. A famous ‘Ruhr fighter’ was the former WWI officer and Freikorps fighter Albert Leo Schlageter. Schlageter, celebrated as a martyr by nationalists, was sentenced by a French military court to death and shot on 26 May 1923.
Right: Erich Schilling, ‘Pythia Stalin’ (‘Stalin the Python’). Depicted in Simplicissimus, 10 March 1943. The text below reads: ‘Wird Englands Grösse und Macht erhalten? Ja, eine Macht werd sie erhalten!’ (‘Will England keep its Force and Power?’ Well, she will certainly keep one Power!’).
Left: Erich Schilling, ‘Marianne und ihr Hass’ (‘Marianne – France – and her Hate’).
Depicted in Simplicissimus, 28 July 1935, and in ‘Münchner Künstler Köpfe’, 1937.
The text below reads: ‘Sonderbar – trotz aller Betriebsamkeit gegen Deutschland bin ich nicht so erfolgreich, um glücklich zu sein. Mon Dieu, sollte mein langjähriger Berater doch nicht der richtige sein?’ (‘Strange, in spite of all my fuss against Germany, I did not have any success. My God, is my long-standing advisor perhaps not the right one?’).Right: Erich Schilling, ‘Wohltätigkeit’ (‘Charity’). Depicted in Simplicissimus, 1 September 1920. In possession of the Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge. The text below reads: ‘Zum besten unterernährter Kinder findet im Seebad Zoppot ein großes Schlagsahne-Preiswettessen statt’ (‘To benefit undernourished children a whipped-cream-eating contest takes place in the seaside resort of Sopot’).
The cartoon refers to the city of Sopot: following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Sopot became a part of the Free City of Danzig (and thus under League of Nations protection and put into a binding customs union with Poland). The economy of the town soon recovered whereas Germany was in a disastrous, catastrophic state with famine and a suffering population.
Left: Erich Schilling, ‘Die neue Freiheitsstatue’ (‘The new Statue of Liberty’). Depicted in Simplicissimus, 2 April 1941. The text below reads: ‘Roosevelt, der Hüter der Demokratischen Ideale’ (‘Roosevelt, the Guard of the Democratic Ideals’).
Right: ‘Wallstreet’. Depicted in Simplicissimus, 20 September 1922. The text below reads: ‘Das steinerne Herz der Welt’ (‘The Stone-Heart of the World’).
Left: Erich Schilling, ‘Machts des Feuers’ (‘Power of Fire)’. In 1938 Schilling was represented at the ‘Grosse Münchener Strassenbauausstellung’; in a prominent place in the hall of the Deutsches Museum hung his work ‘Machts des Feuers’. Described in ‘Deutsche Bauzeichnung’, 21 September 1938. Depicted in ‘Satire als Zeitdokument: der Zeichner Erich Schilling 1885 – 1945’, 1995.
Right: Erich Schilling, fresco created in 1938 on the facade of the military barrack from the mountain troupers (Gebirksjägerkaserne) in Isarwinkel, depicted in ‘Der Bauberater’, 1940, 10. Jahrgang, Folge 3 (architect: Bruno Bichler).
Left: around 1940 Schilling created for the entrance hall of the army hospital in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Lazarettstrasse 2) the fresco ‘Die gesunden Menschen’ (‘Healthy People’). Width: 5 meters.
Right: fresco by Schilling in the main starecase of the same hospital: ‘Ruhende Soldat von zwei Frauen geplegt’ (‘Nurses caring for wounded soldier’). Depicted in ‘Der Baumeister. Monatshefte für Baukultur und Praxis’, XXXIX. Jahrgang 1941.
Erich Schilling, monumental lead glass windows for the town hall of Ingolstadt, 1938.
In 1938 Schilling was commissioned to create 5 monumental lead glass windows for the town hall of Ingolstadt, ‘in memory of the restoration of Germany’s military sovereignty (‘Wehrhoheit’) on 10 march 1935′. Depicted in ‘Satire als Zeitdokument: der Zeichner Erich Schilling 1885 – 1945’, 1995. Below details of one of the five windows.
Erich Schilling, ‘die Vier Jahreszeiten’ (‘The Four Season’). Four huge wall paintings created by Schiling in 1936 for the Kurhaus in Baden-Baden.
Left: Erich Schilling, monumental fresco displayed at the exhibition ‘Die Strasse’, 1934, Munich; this work, depicted on postcards, was also published in ‘Die Autobahn 7, 1934’.
Right: in 1935 Schilling painted together with Bruno Goldschmitt the work ‘Eröffnung der ersten deutschen Eisenbahn, Strecke Nürnberg-Fürth, 7 December 1835’. This work, depicting the first railway opened in Germany, was specially created for the exhibition ‘Reichsbahn-Ausstellung Nürnberg 1935, 100 Jahre Deutsche Eisenbahnen’; it was also depicted on postcards and is currently hanging in the dining room of the ‘Verkehrsmuseum Nürnberg’.
Left: Erich Schilling, ‘Miss Britannia beim Weltheater (‘Miss Britannia and the World Theatre’). Depicted in Simplicissimus, 10 May 1944. This cartoon from May 1944 does sound a prophetic note, whilst expressing the German propaganda of the time that. Whatever the outcome of the war, Britain would be the real loser, as she would lose her status as a world power and be overshadowed by her two imperialistic allies. ‘Miß Britannia beim Weltheater’ centres on an old, wrinkled, hook-nosed actress in front of her dressing room mirror who says wistfully: ‘Wie schnell das doch geht! Vor ein paar Jahren habe ich doch noch die Haubtrolle gespielt, und jetzt spiele ich nur noch die Komische Alte!’ (‘Time passes by so fast! A few years ago I was still playing the Leading Role, but now I only play a comic Old Woman!’).
Right: Erich Schilling, his last cartoon – before his suicide – in Simplicissimus: ‘Mariannes Befreier’ (‘The Liberators of France’). Depicted in Simplicissimus, 13 September 1944. The text below reads: ‘Ich verstehe nicht Jonny, warum sie so schreit, wie wollen sie doch nur befreien!’ (‘I don’t understand, Johnny, why she is crying, we only want to liberate her!’).
Erich Schilling, around 1935.
Erich Schilling, one of Germany’s greatest cartoonists
Erich Schilling (1885–1945), born in Suhl, was the son of a rifle manufacturer. He studied in Thuringia as an engraver at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Gmünd from 1899–1902. In 1903 he went to the School of Art in Berlin, in which city he lived until 1918. Schilling had a disabled leg, and did not have to go into military service. In 1905 Schilling – illustrator, painter and cartoonist – published his first cartoons in the Social Democratic magazine Der wahre Jacob. He began drawing for the magazine Simplicissimus in 1907, where he would become one of the era’s most important political cartoonists. Until 1944 Schilling would publish 1459 cartoons in Simplicissimus. In 1918 he moved to Starnberg, near Munich, and acquired 25% of the shares of the company which issued Simplicissimus. In the next decade he was, together with Karl Arnold, one of the most prominent cartoonists and was famous for his social criticism in a typical 20s style. Favourite themes of Schiling were the Folk, the Workman, Soldier, Farmer and nationalistic motives like the occupation by the French of the Ruhr Valley. In 1923/24 he created some works for the interior of the steamer Columbus’; also for the steamer ‘Patria’ of the Hamburg-America line.
Although Schilling was a staunch critic of the Nazis during the Weimar Republic, from 1933 he became one of the regime’s most loyal propagandists. Whereas some of Germany’s cartoonists such as Thomas Heine and Walter Trier left the country, Schilling became a fervent support of the new regime.
Schilling displayed a monumental fresco at the exhibition ‘Die Strasse’, 1934, Munich; this work, depicted on postcards, was published in ‘Die Autobahn 7, 1934’. In 1938 he was represented at the ‘Grosse Münchener Strassenbauausstellung’; in a prominent place in the hall of the Deutsches Museum hung his work ‘Machts des Feuers’ (‘Power of Fire)’, described in ‘Deutsche Bauzeichnung’, 21 September 1938). In 1935 he painted together with Bruno Goldschmitt the work ‘Eröffnung der ersten deutschen Eisenbahn, Strecke Nürnberg-Fürth, 7 December 1835’. This work, depicting the first railway opened in Germany, was specially created for the exhibition ‘Reichsbahn-Ausstellung Nürnberg 1935, 100 Jahre Deutsche Eisenbahnen’; it was also depicted on postcards and is currently hanging in the dining room of the ‘Verkehrsmuseum Nürnberg’. A year later in 1936, Schilling took part in the Anti-Soviet-exhibition ‘Grosse antibolschewistische Schau’ in the ‘Deutschen Museum’ in Munich. In the same year he created ‘die Vier Jahreszeiten’ (‘The Four Season’), four huge wall paintings for the Kurhaus in Baden-Baden. In 1938 he was commissioned to create 5 monumental lead glass windows for the town hall of Ingolstadt, in memory of the restoration of Germany’s military sovereignty (Wehrhoheit) on 10 march 1935. Around 1940 he created for the army hospital in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Lazarettstrasse 2) two monumental frescos: ‘Die gesunden Menschen’ (‘Healthy People’), 5 meters wide, for the entrance room, and ‘Ruhende Soldat von zwei Frauen geplegt’ (‘Nurses caring for wounded soldier’) for the main starecase of the same hospital. Another fresco by Schilling, created in 1938 on the facade of the military barrack from the mountain troupers (Gebirksjägerkaserne) in Isarwinkel, was depicted in ‘Der Bauberater’ in 1940.
Erich Schilling committed suicide on April 30, 1945 (same day as Hitler), shortly before the American troops captured his hometown Gauting (near Munich). In his farewell letter he wrote: ‘Ein Weiterleben in dem so furchtbar zusammengebrochen und vernichteten Deutschland wäre für mich seelisch unerträglisch, ich scheide darum aus diesem Leben..’ Schilling was a mystery to many people: none of his collegues who worked with him in the years 1918- to 1944 really knew the reserved and closed man.
The Staatlichen Graphischen Sammlung in Munich, the German Historical Museum in Berlin and the Goethe National Museum in Weimar are in the possession of works by Schilling. Schilling’s works were displayed at the following exhibitions: ‘Ausstellung Zeichner des Simplicissimus’, 1977, Karl-und-Faber-Kunst- und Literaturantiquariat, Munich; ‘Aufbruch in die Moderne – Die Kunst des Simplicissimus und der Jugend’, 2008, Albert-König-Museum, Unterlus; ‘Vom Duell zum Duett’, 2013, Tomi Ungerer Museum, Strasbourg; ‘Zeichner der Jugend und des Simplicissimus. Glanz und Elend um 1900 im Spiegel der Karikatur’, 2015, Gallery Kunkle Fine Arts, Munich; ‘30 Jahre deutsche Comic-Geschichte’, 2014; ‘Mariannne und Germania’, Studiengalerie der PH Ludwigsburg, 2016, Internationale Comic-Salon, Erlangen and ‘FingerZeiger – Politik, Frauen, Kunst, Lebensart: Karikaturen aus 150 Jahren’, 2017, Stadtmuseum Bruneck.