After 9 November the
government had ordered the newly created People's Navy Division (Volksmarinedivision)
from Kiel to Berlin for its protection and stationed it in the Royal
Stables (Marstall) of the Berlin Stadtschloss (Imperial City Residence).
The Division was considered absolutely loyal and had indeed refused to
participate in the coup attempt of 6 December. The sailors even deposed
their commander because they saw him involved in the affair. It was this
loyalty that now gave them the reputation of being in favour of the
Spartacists. Ebert demanded their disbanding and withdrawal from the
Residence and Otto Wels, as of 9 November commander of Berlin and in line
with Ebert, refused the sailors' pay.
The dispute escalated on 23 December. After having been put off for days
the sailors occupied the Imperial Chancellery, cut the phone lines, put
the Council of People's Representatives under house arrest and captured
Otto Wels. The sailors did not exploit the situation to eliminate the
Ebert government, as could have been expected from Spartakist
revolutionaries. Instead, they still insisted on only their pay.
Nevertheless, Ebert, who via secret phone line was in touch with the
Supreme Command in Kassel, gave orders to attack the Residence with troops
loyal to the government on the morning of 24 December. The sailors
repelled the attack under their commander Heinrich Dorrenbach, losing
about 30 men and civilians in the fight. The government troops had to
withdraw from the centre of Berlin. They themselves were now disbanded and
integrated into the newly formed Freikorps. To make up for the loss of
face they temporarily occupied the editor's offices of the "Red Flag".
But military power in Berlin once more was in the hands of the People's
Navy Division. Again, the sailors did not take advantage of the situation.
On one side this shows that the sailors were not Spartacists, on the other
that the revolution had no guidance. Even if Liebknecht had been the
revolutionary leader like Lenin, to which legend later made him, the
sailors as well as the Councils would not have accepted him as such. So
the only result of the Christmas Crisis, which the Spartacists named
"Ebert's Bloody Christmas", was that the Revolutionary Stewards
called for a demonstration on Christmas Day and that the USPD left the
government in protest on 29 December. They could not have done Ebert a
bigger favour since he had let them participate only under the pressure of
the revolutionary events. Within a few days the military defeat of the
Ebert government had turned into a political victory.