Wilhelm Canaris

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World War I

Wilhelm Franz Canaris (1 January 1887 – 9 April 1945) was a German admiral, head of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944 and member of the German Resistance.


Early life and World War I

Canaris was born in Aplerbeck (now a part of Dortmund) in Westphalia, the son of wealthy industrialist Carl Canaris and his wife Auguste (née Popp). Until 1938 Canaris believed that his family was related to the Greek admiral, freedom fighter and politician Constantine Kanaris, which influenced his decision to join the navy. While on a visit to Corfu he was given a portrait of the Greek hero, which he always kept in his office. In 1938, however, research showed that his family was of North Italian descent, originally called Canarisi, and had lived in Germany since the 17th century.[1] His grandfather had converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism.

In 1905, aged seventeen, Canaris joined the German Imperial Navy and by the outbreak of World War I was serving on board the SMS Dresden as intelligence officer. This cruiser was the only ship that managed to evade the British Fleet for a prolonged period during the Battle of the Falkland Islands in December 1914, largely due to his excellent deception tactics. Whilst anchored in Cumberland Bay, Robinson Crusoe Island, the Dresden was trapped and forced to scuttle after fighting a battle there with British. Most of the crew became prisoners in Chile in March 1915, but Canaris escaped in August 1915, using his fluency in Spanish; with the aid of some German merchants he returned to Germany in October 1917 via, among other countries, Great Britain.

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