The Arms of Krupp

The Rise and Fall of the Industrial Dynasty That Armed Germany at War


By William Manchester

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The Krupp family were the premier German arms manufacturers from the middle of the 19th century until the end of World War II, producing artillery pieces and submarines that set the standard for effectiveness. This book relates the history of this influential company.


Alfried Krupp
Portrait © by Arnold Newman

The Krupp Dynasty: A Chronology

1587 Arrival of Arndt Krupp in Essen.
1599 The Black Death: a windfall for Arndt.
1618–48 Thirty Years War: Anton Krupp produces 1,000 gun barrels a year.
1811 Friedrich Krupp founds the family cast steel factory.
1812 Friedrich digs trenches for Napoleon.
Birth of Alfred Krupp.
1816 Krupp bayonets to Berlin.
1826 Death of Friedrich.
1838 Alfred spies in England.
1836–42 Alfred produces hollow-forged muskets.
1847 Prussia receives Alfred’s first steel cannon.
1851 Alfred’s debut at London’s Crystal Palace Exhibition.
1855 Krupp steel smashes floor of Paris Exhibition.
1866 Prussia invades Austria with Krupp cannon.
1870 Sedan: Krupp guns defeat Napoleon III.
1871 First Krupp bombardment of Paris.
1878 “Bombardment of the Nations.”
1886 Birth of Bertha Krupp.
1887 Death of Alfred Krupp.
Fritz Krupp’s Royal Tour.
1900 Fritz builds the Kaiser a navy.
1901 Plans for U-1 drawn.
1902 Fritz’s suicide.
1906 Marriage of Bertha and Gustav Krupp.
1907 Birth of Alfried Krupp; joy in the Reich.
1909 Construction of Big Bertha.
1914 Big Berthas crush Belgium.
1916 Verdun: a Krupp masterpiece.
Jutland: Krupp vs. Krupp.
Gustav and Ludendorff confer.
1918 Gustav shells Paris.
Kaiser says farewell in Essen.
1919 Gustav named a war criminal.
Allies Dismantle the factory.
1920 Workers rise, seize Essen.
Gustav begins secret rearmament.
1923 French occupy the castle.
Bloody Saturday at the office.
1925 Von Seeckt inspects the shops.
1926 Allied commission leaves Essen.
Design of 1940 tanks completed.
1928 “Black Production” begins.
1929 Firing tests held for the navy.
1930 Hitler pays a visit.
1931 Alfried joins the SS.
1931–32 New weapons demonstrated to the army.
1933 Krupp finances Hitler.
Gustav appointed Führer of industry.
1935 Hitler proclaims “military sovereignty.”
1936 Krupp subs threaten France during Rhineland crisis.
1938 Krupp rewarded after Austrian putsch.
Alfried, back from Spain, rises swiftly.
1939 Gustav’s first stroke.
Alfried writes his first annual report.
1940 Claus killed in action.
Alfried shells England across the Channel.
1942 Alfried appointed chief director.
1943 January: first real RAF raid on Essen.
Battle of the Kursk salient: a Krupp disaster.
Lex Krupp: Hitler honors Alfried.
1944 Krupp gases a Rothschild at Auschwitz.
Arrest of Barbara Krupp.
Capture of Harald by Russians.
Alfried rules 100,000 slave laborers.
1945 Eckberg killed in action.
Americans capture Ruhr and seize Alfried.
Internment of Bertha and Gustav.
Eviction of Barbara and the baron.
1946 Second dismantling of the factories.
1948 War Crimes Tribunal convicts Alfried at Nuremberg.
1950 Death of Gustav.
1951 John J. McCloy releases Alfried.
1953 Alfried again rules the Ruhr.
1955 Release of Harald.
1957 Death of Bertha.
1963 Alfried becomes the most powerful industrialist in the Common Market.
1967 Krupp completes Germany’s first nuclear plant.
Collapse of the firm’s finances.
Arndt II opts for a carefree life.
Death of Alfried, last of the Krupps.
1968 Dissolution of die Firma.


Alfried Krupp Portrait by Arnold Newman frontispiece

The Stammhaus

Study in the Stammhaus

Alfred Krupp

The Cannon King’s handwriting

Steam hammer Fritz

Krupp Bessemer converters, the first in the Ruhr

Villa Hügel

Main staircase in Villa Hügel

Bertha Eichhoff Krupp

Margarethe von Ende Krupp

Friedrich Alfred Krupp

Bertha Krupp with two-year-old Alfried

Gustav Krupp with the Kaiser and other guests at the Krupp centenary, 1912 264–265

Rehearsing for the centennial tournament: Bertha, Alfried and Gustav Krupp

Kaiser Wilhelm II with Gustav Krupp

The Gusstahlfabrik in 1912 276–277

Big Bertha


Blühnbach, the Krupp castle in the Austrian Alps

Krupp gunworks early in the century

Walzwerk I (Rolling Mill I) in 1920

The Krupp family in 1931 and in 1940

Hitler on his fiftieth birthday, with Alfried

Birthday present for the Führer

Hitler and Mussolini visit the Krupps 386–387

Alfried Krupp’s wartime head-quarters in Paris

Memorial to Dechenschule concentration camp dead

The Krupp Hauptverwaltungsgebäude (administration building): a modern view; view from the air; and after World War II bombardment 472–473

Essen prewar synagogue, now a showplace for Krupp products

Memorial to the Jewish dead of Essen

Essen tunnel where Krupp slaves hid in air raids

Father Come

Elizabeth Roth

Buschmannshof, Krupp’s concentration camp for children

Arrest of Alfried Krupp in 1945

Nuremberg: Alfried Krupp and his aides in the dock

Postwar dismantling of Krupp’s 15,000-ton press

Alfried and Vera Krupp

British and American ambassadors with Alfried Krupp, Berthold Beitz, and Count Ahlefeldt-Lauruiz

Alfried Krupp at Kiel

Alfried’s brother Harald returns from Russian prison

Chancellor Adenauer with Bertha Krupp and her son Berthold

Ludwig Erhard with Alfried Krupp

Emperor Haile Selassie greeted by Bertha and Alfried Krupp

King Paul and Queen Frederika of Greece with Bertha and Alfried Krupp

Sir Alhaji Ahmadu Bello at Hügelschloss with Alfried Krupp

President Modibo Keita of Mali and his wife arrive at Hügelschloss

Two views of Alfried Krupp’s atomic pile at Jülich

Berthold Beitz

Barbara Krupp von Wilmowsky and Baron Tilo von Wilmowsky with their nephew Alfried Krupp

Krupp iron and steel works at Rheinhausen

Krupp block-long excavator and loading unit

Alfried’s brothers Harald and Berthold

Alfried Krupp’s son Arndt: at Hanover; with his mother; and at carnival balls

Krupp’s Mechanische Werkstatt at the time of Alfried’s death

Günter Vogelsang, who became general director of Fried. Krupp A.G. in 1968

Hermann Abs, chairman of the board of the new Krupp corporation

The author at Villa Hügel and at Krupp’s Friedrich-Alfred Hütte in Rheinhausen



The Walled City

THE first Krupp came out of the woods. He was named Arndt, and nothing is really known about his antecedents. Family researchers suggest that he was descended from Dutchmen called Kroppen, or Krop, who had lived on the lower Rhine during the previous century. At Gendringen references to such a family appear in 1485, 1522, and 1566, but any link between them and Arndt is sheer speculation. He could just as easily have sprung, order pad in hand, from the hot loins of a dragon. All we can be sure of is that in January 1587 he wrote his name in Essen’s Register of Merchants, and even this must be qualified, for his handwriting was dreadful. The signature may be variously read as Krupp, Krupe, Kripp, or Kripe. Indeed, his fellow townsmen deciphered it in each of those ways until well into the seventeenth century, when his descendants settled on the present form.1

All this is unsatisfactory. Yet we needn’t leave Arndt’s background a complete void. While no documents can be cited, it is possible to make a few educated guesses. Barring the marvelous, he was a man of means. Only in folklore did ragged boys enter medieval towns and rise to become burghers clothed in gold. In practice the poor had almost no way of improving their station. Not only did society discourage such mobility; the typical peasant hadn’t the necessary skills anyhow—he was an unlettered clod with a vocabulary of perhaps six hundred German words.2 Messy as Arndt’s calligraphy is, it marks him as a person of some consequence. Besides, he couldn’t have joined the Merchant’s Guild unless he had arrived with some of the gauds of affluence. It wasn’t allowed.

Again, while the record indicates nothing beyond a faceless blob, it is safe to hazard something about the first Krupp’s physiognomy. Almost certainly he lacked the gauntness of later Krupps. Arndt was a sixteenth-century German merchant, and we know quite a lot about the customs of that class. They were above all dedicated gluttons. Girth was proof of prosperity; the man who could outeat his neighbors was admired everywhere. One performer devoured thirty eggs, a pound of cheese, and a large quantity of bread at a single sitting. He then fell dead, and became a national hero. Seven-hour meals were not uncommon; it has been estimated that the well-to-do spent half their waking hours either masticating or defecating. In these circumstances only an abnormal metabolic rate could prevent a rich man from becoming obese.

Thus, in our imagination, Arndt makes his debut with elephantine tread. It is the late 1500’s. The Essen of Charlemagne’s day has changed mightily. In the tenth century it became a city. Since then, as a member of the Hanseatic League, it has acquired a population of five thousand, which sounds tiny but really makes it one of Europe’s largest, tightest urban concentrations. The Hansa has been declining for some time now. Its key city of Lübeck is exhausted from a long war with Sweden (1563–1570), Dutch ports are expanding, and the Atlantic has been opened to trade, which can thus bypass the German rivers. Still, Essen remains prosperous. Seen from afar, its profile is an exuberant Brueghel dream. Above its castellated walls—thirty feet high and nearly as thick—towers and spires hang needlelike against the sky, and beneath them lie the gabled roofs of the great merchant’s homes, five stories high and built of heavy beams filled in with lath, mortar, and terra-cotta.

Scrutinized more closely, however, Essen was less attractive. Every foot of space inside was valuable. Apart from the market square there was little breathing room. Today, four hundred years later, the square still stands in the center of Essen, and near it are the hoary walls of the town hall, the eleven-hundred-year-old cathedral, and the ancient Marktkirche. It is difficult to recapture the spirit of the age in which they were erected—there are so many department stores, so much plate glass—yet the sixty blocks within the oval-shaped old city remain cramped and bewildering. In Arndt’s time it was much worse. Houses leaned drunkenly against one another; upper stories jutted out, each above the other, darkening the Hogarthian alleys below. Livestock roamed the unpaved lanes, appalling fires swept the community from time to time. Despite the wall, wolves managed to penetrate the town; there was a bounty on them. Night was a time of fear. Curfew horns blew at dusk. Thereafter no one left his hearth if he could help it, for footpads lurked outside—chains, hung across intersections to discourage them, were ineffective—and timid burghers listened anxiously for the clank of the watchman’s iron-shod staff and his mournful call, “Pray for the dead!”

They might have done more than pray. Wolves and thieves were certainly nuisances, but no one saw the greater evil, the utter absence of sanitation. None perceived the civic menace in the practice of dumping sewage from the nearest window, or thought it dangerous that the city’s Jewish moneylenders should be mobbed every Good Friday and left to fester the rest of the year in a squalid angle of the wall. Rich families alleviated the stench of human waste with rose leaves and lavender and turned to other matters. The inevitable happened. Disease broke out again and again. Epidemics were attributed to sin, cures to a return of piety, and the cycle recurred without benefit to anyone. Arndt Krupp became an exception. It was his genius that he saw a way to exploit an epidemic. Twelve years after he had settled in a building facing on Essen’s Salt Market the bubonic plague struck. Midsummer plague was the most horrid of medieval nightmares, and Essen’s visitation was particularly ghastly. Stricken houses were quarantined, the healthy people inside left to rot with the ill. Delirious men, finding the mark of the disease upon them, waylaid and raped women in their final convulsions. At night dead-carts creaked down lanes piled high with corpses; outside the wall half-witted drunks rolled the naked bodies into mass graves. Then municipal employees quit. The city reeked with mingled odors of vomit, urine, and feces. In many quarters there was no one left to complain; according to a chronicle of the time, entire streets were like cemeteries “in their sad desertion” (in ihrer betrübenden Einsamkeit). As the pestilence grew, panic swept Essen. Men sold their property for what it would bring and went off on a final binge. Arndt, betting he would survive and winning, bought extensive “gardens and pastures” (Gärten und Trifte) outside the city gates, acquiring parcels of land which would still be part of the family empire nearly four centuries later.3

To credit him with foresight would be absurd. Invoked from the mists of centuries, the first Krupp merely emerges as a shrewd chandler with a keen eye for the main chance. Although he joined the Guild of Smiths later in life, there is no sign that he had any thought of establishing an industrial dynasty. If he had, he would have moved in other directions. For years strip miners had been shipping boatloads of fuel coal down the Rhine to the Low Countries. Arndt ignored the omen. Similarly, he failed to join those who were diverting waterpower in the hills south of the Ruhr River to drive hammers and bellows, converting the iron ore there into wrought iron. Bellows were now large enough to melt the ore for casting, as bronze had always been cast, and in the shops of Solingen fourteen miles below Düsseldorf swordsmiths were tempering and polishing the blades of German knights.

Arndt had nothing to do with this. He wasn’t an armorer. He was a trader. In retrospect we see him before his Salzmarkt house, waddling out in his loose robe and broad-brimmed, hard felt hat to greet the morning Rathaus bells and nod to cronies on the square: the watchman, the town clerk, the hangman. He is dressed in linen and felt, and as a leader of the community he sometimes changes his clothes. His neighbors know him as an active Lutheran, which may be why he immigrated here; although Essen is nominally ruled by the abbess of the convent, which has become a Benedictine nunnery, she suffers the presence of Protestants. Equally important (and equally rare) she smiles on trade. As a merchant Arndt is a member of a growing but controversial class. Most ecclesiastics are wary of creeping materialism. One of them complains that men seem interested only in carnal love and gain; another frets that “nowadays, alas, men honor a rich boor before poor lords without right; a man is wretched without possessions, whatever his knowledge or his deeds.”4

Arndt has possessions. He may even be a boor. Yet in thinking of him as a businessman we must remember that he is not our type of businessman. The payroll he meets is tiny. In fact, he may need no outside help at all; almost immediately after his arrival here he married one Gertrud von der Gathen, who swiftly produced four bright children. They have grown up learning to mind the store, for although his trade (primarily in cattle, wine and schnapps), has made Arndt one of the city’s wealthiest men, he has no separate shop; all dealing is done, and all books are kept, either on the ground floor of his home or on the street just outside. He is, in short, a typical medieval entrepreneur. In communities of small stores and fledgling industries, the mercantile masters form a tight oligarchy. They own the streets, they run the fairs, they see to it that the wall is mended and that Jewry knows its place. Even the public officials are appointed by them—and usually they choose their own relatives. The ruling clique is virtually a closed corporation, and we can only attribute Arndt’s speedy acceptance into its highest councils to his extraordinary piece of luck with the plague.

This is not merely a picture of Essen in 1600; it is Essen for the better part of the next two hundred years, until the eruption of political and economic revolutions in the late eighteenth century. Today the twentieth century has become so plastic that we find it difficult to realize how immobile civilization in central Europe once was. It was almost untouched by the cultural tides of its time. Elsewhere the Age of Reason dawned and illumined man’s horizons. Here there were only vague rumors in the dark. The long centuries stretched on and on, silent, inert, cold-drawn, rigid. Princes died, bands of mercenaries marched and countermarched; but society, and especially mercantile society, remained stagnant. Disciplined, imperturbable, hostile to change, jealous of its privileges, the trading class bred generation after generation, each precisely like its predecessor. Individual fortunes rose and fell, but the range of success or failure was sharply limited. Not even a national calamity could shake the established order much.

The Thirty Years War was a national calamity. Between 1618 and 1648 Germany served as a bloody doormat for five foreign armies—Danes, Swedes, Spaniards, Frenchmen, Bohemians. Villages were obliterated by the hundreds, and anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of the population perished. In many devastated tracts people survived only through cannibalism; mothers devoured their babies, starving mobs cut warm corpses from gallows and tore them apart with their teeth. Essen, as the natural crossroads of the Hellweg, the Westphalian plain, lay in the midst of this horror. Moreover, the war was a religious war, and the reigning abbess, Maria Klara von Spaur, abandoning tolerance for counterreformation, denounced the city to the Spaniards as heretical. That the Krupps should have endured those years is remarkable enough. What is singular is that they seem to have been almost untouched by the tragedy. Arndt did expire in 1624—after prudently investing in a headstone from the public “stone quarry” (Steinkuhle)—but his time had come anyhow. The year before, his son Georg had died with his young wife; the city archives attribute their deaths to an epidemic. Georg’s sisters Katharina and Margarethe lived through the butchery and raised children of their own. It is of passing interest that Katharina, in marrying Alexander Huyssen, allied the Krupps with another future family of Schlotbarone. She lived to be eighty-eight, surviving her husband by a half-century, and accumulated an independent fortune in real estate.5

Most interesting of all, however, was the career of Arndt’s other son. Anton Krupp is one member of his generation who is not a cipher. Though fragmentary, the chronicles suggest a man of ingenuity and even of pugnacity—on one occasion he was fined heavily* “for beating Dr. Hasselmann in the street” (weil er Dr. Hasselmann auf der Strasse geschlagen hat). In 1612 he married Gertrud Krösen. The elder Krösen was one of Essen’s twenty-four gunsmiths. Anton adopted his father-in-law’s trade, and during the war he sold a thousand barrels a year. We know nothing of their caliber or quality; we can’t even be sure who his clients were. In 1641 he was described in a town council minute as “our highly honored patriot lord, the nobly born Herr Anthon [sic] Krupp” (unsern hochgeehrten Herrn Patriot, den Markischen Ritterbürtigen Herrn Anthon Krupp), which indicates that he had prospered. Conceivably those profits could have come from the family store, but the source and size of Anton’s income is unimportant; he is significant because he was the first member of the dynasty to deal in arms and because he entered the field so early. After him came a long hiatus. The next military transaction would not be entered in the family books until the Napoleonic era. Nevertheless, there it is: a Krupp was selling cannon in the Ruhr nearly three centuries before Verdun, three and a quarter centuries before Stalingrad. Like a flash of gunfire on a distant horizon, the event is ominous. A flash may only register a gun. But it leaves the gunner with a range.6

At mid-century the Peace of Westphalia ended the Teuton agony. France, faithfully following Richelieu’s design, became the dominant power in Europe—one of a string of Gallic triumphs which the Germans would never forget. For the present, however, the tribal grudge was left to fester. The great need was to rebuild, to regain strength. In Essen the family which would later play such a spectacular role in the national revenge reopened the Salzmarkt shop and broadened its markets. Presently the city was booming again. The last alien troops departed, paid out of pocket by the mercantile oligarchy. A new abbess presided over the nunnery. And in the Rathaus a youthful clerk named Matthias Krupp took office.

Matthias was Georg’s son. Orphaned at the age of two, he was characterized by that implacable conservatism frequently found in men who have been reared in times of widespread disorder, and with him the Krupps enter their dull period. Now in the third Essen generation, they have become local patricians. Stolid and solvent, they are entrenched members of the establishment, the very proper Esseners. There is no more untidy confusion about the family name. It is writ large and clear, in bold black cursive script. Plague no longer afflicts Krupps, and nobody loses his temper and beats up Dr. Hasselmann in the street.

As true Brahmins, they become men of property. The compulsion to collect deeds is not a new trait with them. Arndt and Katharina have been conspicuous examples of it. But now it becomes a mania. Beginning with Matthias—who buys the precious fields east of the wall which will later be the heart of the dynasty’s great gun factory—each Krupp succumbs in turn to the yearning for more Lebensraum. In the end they owned just about everything worth having; by the sixth generation a flattering chronicler was describing them as “Essen’s uncrowned kings” (Essens ungekrönte Könige).7

Very likely the writer of this was himself a Krupp, for among other things the family controlled city hall. That was another trend established by Matthias. At the time of his death in 1673 he left three sons. The eldest, Georg Dietrich, was only sixteen, but the family was so powerful that the office of town clerk was kept vacant until he had reached his majority. Georg Dietrich wielded the secretarius seals for sixty-four years, and when he


On Sale
Oct 31, 2017
Page Count
992 pages

William Manchester

About the Author

William Manchester was a hugely successful popular historian and biographer whose books include The Last Lion, Volumes 1 and 2, Goodbye Darkness, A World Lit Only by Fire, The Glory and the Dream, The Arms of Krupp, American Caesar, The Death of the President, and assorted works of journalism.

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