Helmuth von Ruckteschell : biography

22 March 1890 - 24 June 1948
The charge was that he continued to fire after she had surrendered.
The defence maintained that the surrender signal was not seen; also that there was confusion on the bridge of Michel whether the ship was using a radio.


The trial was held in Hamburg between 5 and 21 May 1946. Ruckteschell chose as his defence counsel Dr. Otto Zippel, who had earlier represented Karl-Heinz Moehle. Zippel tried to define the limitations of international law, called Vizeadmiral Bernhard Rogge as an expert witness, and questioned the testimony of the British sailors. In closing, he asserted that "the law has recognized that in matters of sea even clever people are more liable to commit an error than in other walks of life".

The British military court convicted Ruckteschell on three of the four charges - Charges 1, 2, and 3 were upheld, while Charge 4 was rejected - and sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment. Three years were later remitted from his sentence on 30 August 1947.

The trial raised serious concerns about further war crimes trials involving naval affairs, since only one junior naval officer had sat as a judge during the trial, and army officers could not be expected to have a good knowledge of naval warfare; Zippel opined during the appeal that "a court composed of experienced sea officers would have arrived at a different judgment in the case". Royal Navy officers acknowledged that there was a real chance of a miscarriage of justice and the naval authorities actually discouraged further naval-related war crimes trials due to the difficulty of finding suitable naval officers to take part in them, and Ruckteschell's trial was the last held under the Royal Warrant on behalf of the Royal Navy.

Raider career

Ruckteschell was one of the more successful raider captains. The measure of a commerce raiders success is both the tonnage destroyed and the time spent at large. Ruckteschell accounted for 152,727 Tons GRT (second only to Ernst-Felix Krüder of Pinguin ) and stayed at large for 538 days, (second only to Bernhard Rogge of Atlantis ); however, this was over two voyages. Out of 13 voyages by 10 raiders, Michel and Widder claimed 15 ships of 94,363 tons, and 10 ships of 58,464 tons respectively (4th and 6th highest), and stayed at large for 358, and 180 days respectively ( 4th and 9th longest).


He died in the Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel prison on 24 June 1948, shortly after hearing that he was to be released due to his deteriorating heart condition.


World War II

Von Ruckteschell was recalled to duty in the Kriegsmarine in 1939 and placed in command of an auxiliary minelayer. When he took command of the and sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean on 6 May 1940, he commenced a cruise (finally ending on 31 October 1940) that would sink or capture a total of ten vessels. When Widder returned to Brest, Ruckteschell refused the Naval Command's order to take the ship to Hamburg, because he estimated the transfer through British controlled waters to be too risky. After returning to Germany, he took command of the commerce raider on its first cruise (9 March 1942 to 1 March 1943), in which fifteen ships were sunk or captured. Von Ruckteschell was then relieved at his own request for health reasons.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine