Wilhelm Anton Souchon, born on June 2, 1864, in Leipzig, Saxony, hailed from a family with Huguenot ancestry. He commenced his naval career in 1881 when he entered the Imperial German Naval Academy. Following his graduation, he served aboard the corvette Leipzig during its involvement in the coastal colonisation of German South-West Africa in 1884. By 1884, with the rank of Kapitän, Souchon had advanced to command a training ship specializing in mine laying techniques.
Between 1884 and 1903, Souchon progressed through various positions both at sea and in staff roles, steadily rising in rank in a navy that was continually expanding. In 1904, he assumed the role of chief of staff for a cruiser squadron stationed in East Asia. During this period, he undertook diplomatic and liaison assignments in Japan, China, and the Dutch East Indies.
Returning to Europe, Souchon assumed senior staff responsibilities at the Office of the Imperial Navy in Berlin. After serving as chief of staff for the Baltic naval squadron, he attained the rank of Konteradmiral in April 1911 and Rear Admiral of the High Sea Fleet just six months later.
In July 1914, as hostilities flared between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdom of Serbia, Rear Admiral Souchon, concerned about potential entrapment in the Adriatic Sea if other nations joined the conflict, led his two ships, the battlecruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau, into the western Mediterranean.
When the First World War commenced on August 4, 1914, Souchon initiated an attack on the French-Algerian ports of Bône and Philippeville, after which he decided to make a bold move for Istanbul, successfully accomplishing this with the inadvertent assistance of British errors. On August 10, 1914, his small squadron reached the Dardanelles, and following two days of negotiations, he was permitted to bring his ships into Istanbul officially, where they were transferred to the Ottoman Navy. Souchon assumed the role of Commander-in-chief of the Ottoman Navy and held this position until September 1917.
Like other German commanders serving alongside the Turks, such as Otto Liman von Sanders and Baron von der Goltz, Souchon had the responsibility of safeguarding German national interests while assisting the Ottoman Empire. However, Souchon had more operational freedom than Liman von Sanders, who openly promoted German interests and aroused suspicion within the Young Turk administration, notably from Enver Pasha. It was Enver Pasha who authorized early offensive Turkish actions in the Black Sea. On October 29, 1914, Souchon received orders to launch an attack on the Russian port of Odessa, which subsequently led to a conflict with the Entente Powers.
Souchon, who held a low opinion of the quality of Ottoman ships and crews, was dissatisfied in his role. His consistent appeals for submarine support to challenge Russian dominance in the Black Sea went largely unheeded. Finally, in September 1917, he returned to Germany and was appointed to lead the prestigious Fourth Battleship Squadron within the High Seas Fleet. Unfortunately, his wartime career ended on a somber note when, as Governor of the Kiel naval base, he witnessed the mutiny of the German navy during the path to revolution.
In 1919, Souchon retired from a navy that no longer existed. During his later years, he avoided involvement in politics or in the reformation of the German Navy under the Nazi regime. Admiral Souchon passed away in Bremen on January 13, 1946.