Admiral Wilhelm Canaris: Intelligence Chief and Resistor

The enigmatic figure of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, Germany’s military intelligence service, stands at the center of a complex web of espionage and resistance during the tumultuous years of World War II. His role in the transmission of Hitler’s speech about the Poles and the Armenians to “The Times” of London is a testament to the multifaceted nature of his activities—both as a gatherer of intelligence and a key figure in the military opposition to Hitler.

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, born on January 1, 1887, in Aplerbeck, Westphalia, Germany, rose to become the chief of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence organization, from 1935 to 1944. Initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, Canaris’s views evolved following the invasion of Poland in 1939. He became increasingly disillusioned with Hitler’s leadership and policies, leading him to engage in acts of both passive and active resistance during the war.

The Abwehr and Its Role in World War II

The Abwehr, established as the intelligence service for the Reichswehr and later the Wehrmacht, played a crucial role in Germany’s military operations. However, under Canaris’s leadership, it also became a hub for anti-Nazi activities. Canaris used his position to facilitate acts of sabotage and provided support to the resistance, all while maintaining the facade of loyalty to the regime.

The Transmission of a Fateful Speech

One of the most notable instances of Canaris’s covert resistance was the transmission of Hitler’s speech, delivered at Obersalzberg on August 22, 1939, to “The Times” of London. In this speech, Hitler referenced the annihilation of the Armenians, using it as a chilling justification for his plans against Poland and other nations. The speech was a clear indication of the genocidal intentions that would later manifest in the Holocaust.

The Legacy of Canaris’s Resistance

Canaris’s actions, including the transmission of the speech, were part of a broader pattern of resistance within the German military. This opposition culminated in the July 20, 1944, assassination attempt on Hitler, known as Operation Valkyrie. Although Canaris was not directly involved in the plot, his resistance activities eventually led to his arrest and execution in 1945, just before the war’s end.


The story of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris is one of courage and complexity. His dual role as the head of military intelligence and a resistor against the Nazi regime illustrates the internal conflicts that existed within Germany during World War II. The transmission of Hitler’s speech to “The Times” is a poignant example of how Canaris used his position to inform the world of the dangers posed by the Nazi regime, even at great personal risk.

This article aims to shed light on the intricate and often hidden narratives of resistance within the Third Reich, highlighting the moral dilemmas faced by individuals like Canaris who chose to act against tyranny from within the system. As history looks back on these acts of bravery, it is essential to remember the complexities of war and the power of individual agency in the face of overwhelming adversity.

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