22.04.1902: Fähnrich zur See
29.09.1904: Leutnant zur See
30.03.1906: Oberleutnant zur See
01.01.1928: Kapitän zur See
Saalwächter entered the Kaiserliche Marine as a Seekadett on 10 April 1901, and was trained on SMS Moltke and Hertha. Saalwächter then served with Bordkommando units, first with the 2. Matrosen-Division, then on Hessen with the 2. Werft-Division. Until 1908, he served with the 2. Torpedo-Division as adjutant to the I. Abteilung. Saalwächter also served on Gneisenau.
Saalwächter served on Hannover in 1910 and later on Westfalen as Flaggleutnant to Vice Admiral Hugo von Pohl, commander of the I. Marine-Geschwader then he joined the admiralty in Berlin and remained in the admiralty until 1915, with his last position there being head of the signal section in the operations department.
On 1 April 1915, Saalwächter became Flaggleutnant on Friedrich der Grosse, the flagship of the High Seas Fleet. In February 1916 he transferred to the U-boat service. After graduating from submarine school, he commanded U-25, U-46, and U-94 from September 1916 to March 1918.
In 1920, Saalwächter served on Braunschweig as an admiralty officer. After a leave of absence, Saalwächter joined the Marineleitung in the Personnel Department on 17 May 1920. From 15 October 1923 till 31 March 1925 he served as 1. Asto in the staff of the Commander of Naval Forces. On 24 September 1926 he took command of the light cruiser Amazone, and, a year later, of the battleship Schlesien. On 2 October 1933 Saalwächter was named inspector for naval instruction. During the following five years he had a strong influence on the development of the young officer corps. Saalwächter was named Commanding Admiral of Naval Station North Sea at Wilhelmshaven, one of the highest positions in the Kriegsmarine at the time, on 28 October 1938.
On 2 March 1939, Saalwächter sent a report to the Naval High Command in which he openly discussed the acquisition of bases in Norway. The report stressed both the dangers to Germany of British dominance in Norwegian waters and the favourable change in the geo-strategic position that a German occupation of Norway would bring about.
With the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Saalwächter received command of Marine-Gruppenkommando West and was responsible for operations in the North Sea, which led to disputes between himself and the fleet commanders, Vice Admirals Hermann Boehm, Wilhelm Marschall, and Günther Lütjens.
Along with Admiral Rolf Carls, Saalwächter had tactical command of Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Norway. Beginning of summer 1940, Saalwächter led German surface operations in the North Atlantic and the English Channel. In 1940, he directed E-Boat forces against British shipping during the Kanalkampf phase of the Battle of Britain in support of the Luftwaffe. Later, he oversaw naval movements such as Operation Cerberus in February 1942. On 20 September of that year, he was replaced as head of Navy Group West by Marschall, who was himself replaced by Theodor Krancke in April 1944. Saalwächter resigned from active service on 30 November 1942.
Saalwächter was imprisoned by the Soviet Union on 21 June 1945. He was convicted by a Soviet military tribunal of war crimes on 17 October and executed by firing squad in Moscow on 6 December. In 1994, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Saalwächter was formally exonerated by a Russian court.
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