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Karl Dönitz

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Karl Dönitz
Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1976-127-06A, Karl Dönitz - crop.jpg
Dönitz as Grand Admiral in 1943
President of the German Reich
In office
30 April 1945 – 23 May 1945
Preceded byAdolf Hitler
(as Führer)
Succeeded byTheodor Heuss
(1949; President of West Germany)
Wilhelm Pieck
(1949; President of East Germany)
Richard von Weizsäcker
(1990; President of United Germany)
Supreme Commander of the Navy
In office
30 January 1943 – 1 May 1945
DeputyEberhard Godt
Preceded byErich Raeder
Succeeded byHans-Georg von Friedeburg
Minister of War
In office
30 April 1945 – 23 May 1945
ChancellorJoseph Goebbels
Preceded byWilhelm Keitel (as Chief OKW)
Personal details
Born(1891-09-16)16 September 1891
Grünau, Brandenburg, Prussia, German Empire
Died24 December 1980(1980-12-24) (aged 89)
Aumühle, Schleswig-Holstein, West Germany
Political partyNazi Party
(1944–1945; as honorary member)[1][Note 1]
Ingeborg Weber (m. 1916)
CabinetGoebbels cabinet
Flensburg Government
Military service
Nickname(s)Der Löwe (The Lion)[2]
Onkel Karl[2]
Years of service
  • 1910–1918
  • 1920–1945
RankGrand admiral
AwardsKnight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
^1 Formally titled "Leading Minister" or "Chief Minister" (Leitender Minister).

Karl Dönitz (sometimes spelled Doenitz German: [ˈdøːnɪts] (About this soundlisten); 16 September 1891 – 24 December 1980) was a German admiral during the Nazi era who briefly succeeded Adolf Hitler as the German head of state in 1945. As Supreme Commander of the Navy since 1943, he played a major role in the naval history of World War II. He was convicted of war crimes following the war.

He began his career in the Imperial German Navy before World War I. In 1918, he was commanding UB-68 when she was sunk by British forces. Dönitz was taken prisoner. While in a prisoner of war camp, he formulated what he later called Rudeltaktik[3] ("pack tactic", commonly called "wolfpack"). At the start of World War II, he was the senior submarine officer in the Kriegsmarine. In January 1943, Dönitz achieved the rank of Großadmiral (grand admiral) and replaced Grand Admiral Erich Raeder as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy.

On 30 April 1945, after the death of Adolf Hitler and in accordance with Hitler's last will and testament, Dönitz was named Hitler's successor as head of state, with the title of President of Germany and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. On 7 May 1945, he ordered Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations Staff of the OKW, to sign the German instruments of surrender in Reims, France.[4] Dönitz remained as head of the Flensburg Government, as it became known, until it was dissolved by the Allied powers on 23 May.

Dönitz was a dedicated Nazi and supporter of Hitler and he held anti-Semitic beliefs. Following the war, Dönitz was indicted as a major war criminal at the Nuremberg Trials on three counts: conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; planning, initiating, and waging wars of aggression; and crimes against the laws of war. He was found not guilty of committing crimes against humanity, but guilty of committing crimes against peace and war crimes against the laws of war. He was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment; after his release, he lived in a village near Hamburg until his death in 1980. For nearly seven decades, Dönitz was the only head of state to be convicted by an international tribunal until the conviction of Liberia's Charles Taylor in April 2012.

Early life and career[edit]

Oberleutnant zur See Karl Dönitz as Watch Officer of U-39

Dönitz was born in Grünau near Berlin, Germany, to Anna Beyer and Emil Dönitz, an engineer, in 1891. Karl had an older brother. In 1910, Dönitz enlisted in the Kaiserliche Marine ("Imperial Navy").[5]

On 27 September 1913, Dönitz was commissioned as a Leutnant zur See (acting sub-lieutenant). When World War I began, he served on the light cruiser SMS Breslau in the Mediterranean Sea.[5] In August 1914, the Breslau and the battlecruiser SMS Goeben were sold to the Ottoman Navy; the ships were renamed the Midilli and the Yavuz Sultan Selim, respectively. They began operating out of Constantinople, under Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, engaging Russian forces in the Black Sea.[6] On 22 March 1916, Dönitz was promoted to Oberleutnant zur See. When the Midilli put into dock for repairs, he was temporarily assigned as airfield commander at the Dardanelles. From there, he requested a transfer to the submarine forces, which became effective in October 1916. He served as watch officer on U-39, and from February 1917 onward as commander of UC-25. On 2 July 1918, he became commander of UB-68, operating in the Mediterranean.[7] On 4 October, after suffering technical difficulties, Dönitz was forced to surface and scuttled his boat. He was captured by the British and remained a prisoner of war until 1919, in 1920 he returned to Germany.[8]

On 27 May 1916, Dönitz married a nurse named Ingeborg Weber (1894–1962), the daughter of German general Erich Weber (1860–1933). They had three children whom they raised as Protestant Christians: daughter Ursula (1917–1990) and sons Klaus (1920–1944) and Peter (1922–1943).[9] Both of Dönitz's sons were killed during the Second World War.[10] Peter was killed on 19 May 1943 when U-954 was sunk in the North Atlantic with all hands. After his death Klaus was forbidden to have any combat role and was allowed to leave the military to begin studying to become a naval doctor. He returned to sea and was killed on 13 May 1944; he had persuaded his friends to let him go on the torpedo boat S-141 for a raid on Selsey on his 24th birthday. The boat was sunk by the French destroyer La Combattante.[9]

Interwar period[edit]

He continued his naval career in the naval arm of the Weimar Republic's armed forces. On 10 January 1921, he became a Kapitänleutnant (lieutenant) in the new German navy (Vorläufige Reichsmarine). Dönitz commanded torpedo boats, becoming a Korvettenkapitän (lieutenant-commander) on 1 November 1928. On 1 September 1933, he became a Fregattenkapitän (commander) and, in 1934, was put in command of the cruiser Emden, the ship on which cadets and midshipmen took a year-long world cruise as training.[8]

In 1935, the Reichsmarine was renamed Kriegsmarine by the Nazis. Germany was prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles from having submarines. On 1 September 1935, he was promoted to Kapitän zur See (naval captain). The Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935 allowed submarines and he was placed in command of the U-boat flotilla Weddigen, which comprised three boats; U-7; U-8 and; U-9.[8]

German doctrine at the time, based on the work of American Admiral Alfred Mahan and shared by all major navies, called for submarines to be integrated with surface fleets and employed against enemy warships. By November 1937, Dönitz became convinced that a major campaign against merchant shipping was practicable and began pressing for converting the German fleet almost entirely to U-boats. He advocated guerre de course, pointing out that destroying Britain's fleet of oil tankers would starve the Royal Navy of the fuel to run its ships, which would be just as effective as sinking them. He argued a German fleet of 300 of the newer Type VII U-boats could knock Britain out of the war. [11]

Dönitz revived the World War I idea of grouping several submarines together into a "wolfpack" to overwhelm a merchant convoy's defensive escorts. Implementation of wolfpacks had been difficult in World War I owing to the limitations of available radios. In the interwar years, Germany had developed ultrahigh frequency transmitters, which it was hoped would make their radio communication unjammable, while the Enigma cipher machine was believed to have made communications secure. Dönitz also adopted and claimed credit for Wilhelm Marschall's 1922 idea of attacking convoys using surfaced or shallow-submergence night attacks. This tactic had the added advantage that a submarine on the surface was undetectable by sonar. [12]

As a junior officer Dönitz was not in a position to confront Raeder openly, however, he disagreed with Raeder's opinion that surface ships should be given priority in the Kriegsmarine. Dönitz became infuriated with Raeder and as a result Raeder postponed or delayed U-boat production, only one U-boat was launched in 1937 and six in 1938.[13] Raeder viewed U-boats as merely an adjunct to the surface fleet, however, Dönitz believed they could win the war for Germany.[14] On 28 January 1939, Dönitz was promoted to commodore and Commander of Submarines. On 26 April 1939 Hitler repudiated the German-Anglo Naval Agreement, which had limited the German navy to 35% of the tonnage of the Royal Navy.[15]

World War II[edit]

In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany, and World War II began. Commodore Dönitz, who became Rear Admiral the next month, thought 300 U-boats would be necessary. However, he had 57 boats; of those, 27 were capable of reaching the Atlantic ocean from their bases. A building program was started but the numbers did not rise until the autumn of 1941.[16]

Dönitz's operations had mixed success; the aircraft carrier HMS Courageous and battleship Royal Oak were sunk, battleships HMS Nelson damaged and Barham sunk at a cost of some U-boats, diminishing the small quantity available even further. Mines were also employed.

Commander of the submarine fleet[edit]

Dönitz observing the arrival of U-94 at St. Nazaire in June 1941

On 1 October 1939, Dönitz became a Konteradmiral (rear admiral) and "Commander of the Submarines" (Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote, BdU); on 1 September the following year, he was made a Vizeadmiral (vice admiral). From 3 September 1939 to 28 February 1940 the U-boats sank 199 ships.[17] Dönitz was deeply involved in the daily operations of his boats, often contacting them up to 70 times a day with questions about as their position, fuel supply, and other "minutiae". This incessant questioning compromised his ciphers by giving the Allies more messages to work with. Furthermore, replies from the boats enabled the Allies to use direction finding (HF/DF, called "Huff-Duff") to locate a U-boat using its radio, track it and attack it (often with aircraft able to sink it with impunity).

Germany's defeat of Norway gave the U-boats new bases much nearer to their main area of operations off the Western Approaches. The U-boats operated in groups or 'wolf packs' which were coordinated by radio from land. Between July 1940 and May 1941, even though the number of U-boats never rose to more than 10 simultaneously at sea, they sunk a significant tonnage per U-boat.[16]

With the fall of France, Germany acquired U-boat bases at Lorient, Brest, St Nazaire, and La Pallice/La Rochelle. This extended the range of Type VIIs.[18] A headquarter was established near Lorient, with a communication centre at the Château de Pignerolle at Saint-Barthélemy-d'Anjou. [19] Dönitz concentrated groups of U-boats against the convoys and had them attack on the surface at night.[16] Merchant shipping losses were increased by a number of factors; by German warships in the north and central Atlantic; by the attacks of German long-range bombers; by German air attacks against British harbors. In addition the Germans were helped by Italian submarines which in early 1941 actually surpassed the number of German U-boats.[20]

Dönitz and his Italian counterpart Admiral Angelo Parona in 1941

Following Hitler's declaration of war on the United States on 11 December 1941, Dönitz implemented Operation Drumbeat (Unternehmen Paukenschlag). [Note 2][21] From January to July 1942 Dönitz was able to attack un-escorted ships off the United States East Coast and in the Caribbean Sea. U-boats sank more ships and tonnage than at any other time in the war. A convoy system was introduced to protect the shipping and Dönitz shifted his U-boats back to the North Atlantic.[22]

On 7 May 1941, the Royal Navy captured the German Arctic meteorological vessel München and took its Enigma machine intact, this allowed the Royal Navy to decode U-boat radio in June 1941. The capture on 28 June of another weather ship, Lauenburg, enabled British decryption operations to read radio traffic in July 1941. Beginning in August 1941, Bletchley Park operatives could decrypt signals between Dönitz and his U-boats at sea without any restriction.[20] On 1 February 1942, the Germans had introduced the M4 cipher machine, which secured communications until it was cracked in December 1942. Even so the U-boats achieved their best success against the convoys in March 1943, due to an increase in U-boat numbers, and the protection of the shipping lines was in jeopardy. Due to the cracked M4 and the use of radar, the allies began to send air and surface reinforcements to convoys under threat. The shipping lines were secured, which came as a great surprise to Dönitz.[22]

His opposition to the larger Type IX was not unique; Admiral Thomas C. Hart, commander of the United States Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines at the outbreak of the Pacific War, unsuccessfully opposed fleet boats like the Gato and Balao classes as "too luxurious".[23][page needed]

Commander-in-chief and Grand Admiral[edit]

From left to right: Kluge, Himmler, Dönitz (with his grand admiral's baton) and Keitel at Hans Hube's funeral, 1944

On 30 January 1943, Dönitz replaced Erich Raeder as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy (Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine) and Großadmiral (grand admiral) of the Naval High Command (Oberkommando der Marine).[24] His deputy, Eberhard Godt, took over the operational command of the U-boat force.[25] Dönitz was able to convince Hitler not to pay off all of the remaining ships of the surface fleet. However, the Kriegsmarine continued to lose what few capital ships it had. In September, the battleship Tirpitz was put out of action for months by a British midget submarine, and was sunk a year later by RAF bombers at anchor in Norway. In December, he ordered the battleship Scharnhorst (under Konteradmiral Erich Bey) to attack Soviet-bound convoys, after reconsidering her success in the early years of the war with sister ship Gneisenau, but she was sunk in the resulting encounter with superior British forces led by the battleship HMS Duke of York. When the Soviets regained the shore of the Baltic in August 1944, the German navy became deeply committed to supply and evacuation. [26]

During 1943, the war in the Atlantic turned against the Germans, but Dönitz continued to push for increased U-boat construction and believed that further technological developments would tip the war once more in Germany's favour, briefing the Führer to that effect.[27] These efforts ended in failure, as the new Type XXI U-boats were crippled by mechanical problems. At the end of the war, the German submarine fleet still mainly comprised obsolete Type VII and IX U-boats which were no longer effective.[28] The Schnorchel (snorkel) and Type XXI boats appeared late in the war because of Dönitz's personal indifference, at times even hostility, to new technology he perceived as disruptive to the production process. [29]

President of Germany[edit]

Adolf Hitler meets with Dönitz in the Führerbunker (1945)

In the final days of the war, after Hitler had taken refuge in the Führerbunker beneath the Reich Chancellery garden in Berlin, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring was considered the obvious successor to Hitler, followed by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Göring, however, infuriated Hitler by radioing him in Berlin asking for permission to assume leadership of the Reich. Himmler also tried to seize power by entering into negotiations with Count Bernadotte. On 28 April 1945, the BBC reported Himmler had offered surrender to the western Allies and that the offer had been declined.[30]

From mid-April 1945, Dönitz and elements of what remained of the Reich government moved into the buildings of the Stadtheide Barracks in Plön. In his last will and testament, dated 29 April 1945, Hitler named Dönitz his successor as Staatsoberhaupt (Head of State), with the titles of Reichspräsident (President) and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The same document named Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels as Head of Government with the title of Reichskanzler (Chancellor). Furthermore, Hitler declared both Göring and Himmler traitors and expelled them from the party.[31]

On 1 May, the day after Hitler's own suicide, Goebbels committed suicide.[32] Dönitz thus became the sole representative of the crumbling German Reich. He appointed Finance Minister Count Ludwig Schwerin von Krosigk as "Leading Minister" (Krosigk had declined to accept the title of Chancellor), and they attempted to form a government.

On 1 May, Dönitz announced that Hitler had fallen and had appointed him as his successor. On 2 May, the new government of the Reich fled to Flensburg-Mürwik before the approaching British troops. That night, Dönitz made a nationwide radio address in which he announced Hitler's death and said the war would continue in the East "to save Germany from destruction by the advancing Bolshevik enemy". However, Dönitz knew that Germany's position was untenable and the Wehrmacht was no longer capable of offering meaningful resistance. During his brief period in office, he devoted most of his effort to ensuring the loyalty of the German armed forces and trying to ensure German troops would surrender to the British or Americans and not the Soviets. He feared vengeful Soviet reprisals, and hoped to strike a deal with the Western Allies.[33] In the end, Dönitz's tactics were moderately successful, enabling about 1.8 million German soldiers to escape Soviet capture.[34] His authority was effectively limited to a narrow band of territory running from the Austrian border through Berlin to the Danish border, and even that had been cut in two by the American advance to join with Soviet forces at Torgau on the Elbe.

Flensburg government[edit]

Karl Dönitz (centre, in long, dark coat) followed by Albert Speer (bareheaded) and Alfred Jodl (on Speer's right) during the arrest of the Flensburg government by British troops

On 4 May, Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, representing Dönitz, surrendered all German forces in the Netherlands, Denmark, and northwestern Germany under Dönitz's command to Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery at Lüneburg Heath just southeast of Hamburg, signalling the end of World War II in northwestern Europe.

A day later, Dönitz sent Friedeburg to US General Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters in Rheims, France, to negotiate a surrender to the Allies. The Chief of Staff of OKW, Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Alfred Jodl, arrived a day later. Dönitz had instructed them to draw out the negotiations for as long as possible so that German troops and refugees could surrender to the Western powers, but when Eisenhower let it be known he would not tolerate their stalling, Dönitz authorised Jodl to sign the instrument of unconditional surrender at 1:30 on the morning of 7 May. Just over an hour later, Jodl signed the documents. The surrender documents included the phrase, "All forces under German control to cease active operations at 23:01 hours Central European Time on 8 May 1945." At Stalin's insistence, on 8 May, shortly before midnight, (Generalfeldmarschall) Wilhelm Keitel repeated the signing in Berlin at Marshal Georgiy Zhukov's headquarters, with General Carl Spaatz of the USAAF present as Eisenhower's representative. At the time specified, World War II in Europe ended.

On 23 May, the Dönitz government was dissolved when Dönitz was arrested by an RAF Regiment task force.[35][36] The Großadmiral's Kriegsmarine flag, which was removed from his headquarters, can be seen at the RAF Regiment Heritage Centre at RAF Honington. Generaloberst Jodl, Reichsminister Speer and other members were also handed over to troops of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry at Flensburg. His ceremonial baton, awarded to him by Hitler, can be seen in the regimental museum of the KSLI in Shrewsbury Castle.

Nazism and antisemitism[edit]

Dönitz was a dedicated Nazi and a passionate supporter of Hitler,[37] something he tried to obscure after the war.[38] Raeder described him as "a picture-book Nazi and confirmed anti-Semite".[39] Several naval officers described him as "closely tied to Hitler and Nazi ideology."[38] On one occasion, he spoke of Hitler's humanity.[38] Another event, in which he spoke to Hitler Youth in what was defined as an "inappropriate way," earned him the nickname of "Hitler Youth Dönitz."[38] He refused to help Albert Speer stop the scorched earth policy dictated by Hitler[38] and is also noted to have declared, "In comparison to Hitler we are all pipsqueaks. Anyone who believes he can do better than the Führer is stupid."[38]

Dönitz contributed to the spread of Nazism within the Kriegsmarine. He insisted that officers share his political views and, as head of the Kriegsmarine, formally joined the Nazi Party in 1944. He was awarded the Golden Party Badge for his loyalty to the party later that year. Dönitz's influence over naval officers contributed to none joining the attempts to kill Hitler.[37]

Dönitz was an antisemite who believed that Germany needed to fight "world Jewry".[37] Several anti-Semitic statements by Dönitz are known.[38] When Sweden closed its international waters to Germany, he blamed this action on their fear and dependence on "international Jewish capital."[38] In August 1944, he declared, "I would rather eat dirt than see my grandchildren grow up in the filthy, poisonous atmosphere of Jewry."[38]

On German Heroes' Day (12 March) of 1944, Dönitz declared that, without Adolf Hitler, Germany would be beset by "the poison of Jewry," and the country destroyed for lack of the "uncompromising ideology" of National Socialism.[Note 3] At the Nuremberg trials, Dönitz claimed the statement about the "poison of Jewry" was regarding "the endurance, the power to endure, of the people, as it was composed, could be better preserved than if there were Jewish elements in the nation." Initially he claimed, "I could imagine that it would be very difficult for the population in the towns to hold out under the strain of heavy bombing attacks if such an influence were allowed to work."

Author Eric Zillmer argues that, from an ideological standpoint, Dönitz was anti-Marxist and antisemitic.[40]

After the war Dönitz tried to hide his knowledge of the Holocaust. He was present at the October 1943 Posen Conference where Himmler described the mass murder of Jews with the intent of making the audience complicit in this crime.[37] Later, during the Nuremberg trials, Dönitz claimed to know nothing about the extermination of Jews and declared that nobody among "my men thought about violence against Jews".[Note 3] Dönitz also falsely told Leon Goldensohn, an American psychiatrist at Nuremberg, "I never had any idea of the goings-on as far as Jews were concerned. Hitler said each man should take care of his business and mine was U-boats and the Navy."[41]

Nuremberg war crimes trials[edit]

Dönitz's detention report, 1945

Following the war, Dönitz was held as a prisoner of war by the Allies. He was indicted as a major war criminal at the Nuremberg Trials on three counts. One: conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Two: planning, initiating, and waging wars of aggression. Three: crimes against the laws of war. Dönitz was found not guilty on count one of the indictment, but guilty on counts two and three.[42]

For nearly seven decades, Dönitz was the only head of state to be convicted by an international tribunal until the conviction of Liberia's Charles Taylor in April 2012.[43] During the trial, army psychologist Gustave Gilbert was allowed to examine Nazi leaders on trial for war crimes. Among other tests, a German version of the Wechsler–Bellevue IQ test was administered. Dönitz and Hermann Göring scored 138, which made them equally the third-highest among the Nazi leaders tested.[44]

At the trial, Dönitz was charged with waging unrestricted submarine warfare against neutral shipping, permitting Hitler's Commando Order of 18 October 1942 to remain in full force when he became commander-in-chief of the Navy, and to that extent responsibility for that crime. His defence was that the order excluded men captured in naval warfare, and that the order had not been acted upon by any men under his command. Added to that was his knowledge of 12,000 involuntary foreign workers working in the shipyards, and doing nothing to stop it.[45]

In 1945, Hitler asked Dönitz whether the Geneva Convention should be denounced. Hitler's motives were twofold. The first was that reprisals could be taken against Western Allied prisoners of war; second, it would deter German forces from surrendering to the Western Allies, as was happening on the Eastern Front where the convention was in abeyance. Instead of arguing the conventions should never be denounced, Dönitz suggested it was not expedient to do so, so the court found against him on this issue; but as the convention was not denounced by Germany, and British prisoners in camps under Dönitz's jurisdiction were treated strictly according to the Convention, the Court considered these mitigating circumstances.[42]

Among the war-crimes charges, Dönitz was accused of waging unrestricted submarine warfare for issuing War Order No. 154 in 1939, and another similar order after the Laconia incident in 1942, not to rescue survivors from ships attacked by submarine. By issuing these two orders, he was found guilty of causing Germany to be in breach of the Second London Naval Treaty of 1936.[42] However, as evidence of similar conduct by the Allies was presented at his trial, and with the help of his lawyer, Otto Kranzbühler, his sentence was not assessed on the grounds of this breach of international law.[42]

On the specific war crimes charge of ordering unrestricted submarine warfare, Dönitz was found "[not] guilty for his conduct of submarine warfare against British armed merchant ships", because they were often armed and equipped with radios which they used to notify the admiralty of attack.[42] As stated by the judges: "Dönitz is charged with waging unrestricted submarine warfare contrary to the Naval Protocol of 1936 to which Germany acceded, and which reaffirmed the rules of submarine warfare laid down in the London Naval Agreement of 1930 ... The order of Dönitz to sink neutral ships without warning when found within these zones was, therefore, in the opinion of the Tribunal, violation of the Protocol ... The orders, then, prove Dönitz is guilty of a violation of the Protocol ... The sentence of Dönitz is not assessed on the ground of his breaches of the international law of submarine warfare."[42][46]

His sentence on unrestricted submarine warfare was not assessed, because of similar actions by the Allies. In particular, the British Admiralty, on 8 May 1940, had ordered all vessels in the Skagerrak sunk on sight, and Admiral Chester Nimitz, wartime commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Fleet, stated the US Navy had waged unrestricted submarine warfare in the Pacific from the day the US officially entered the war. Thus, Dönitz was found guilty of waging unrestricted submarine warfare against unarmed neutral shipping by ordering all ships in designated areas in international waters to be sunk without warning. No additional prison time was added to his sentence for this crime.[42]

Dönitz was imprisoned for 10 years in Spandau Prison in what was then West Berlin.[47] During his period in prison he was unrepentant, and maintained that he had done nothing wrong. He also rejected Speer's attempts to persuade him to end his devotion to Hitler and accept responsibility for the wrongs the German Government had committed.[37] Over 100 senior Allied officers also sent letters to Dönitz conveying their disappointment over the fairness and verdict of his trial.[48]

Later years[edit]

Dönitz was released on 1 October 1956 and retired to the small village of Aumühle in Schleswig-Holstein in northern West Germany. There, he worked on two books. His memoirs, Zehn Jahre, Zwanzig Tage (Memoirs: Ten Years and Twenty Days), were released in Germany in 1958 and became available in an English translation the following year. This book recounted Dönitz's experiences as U-boat commander (10 years) and President of Germany (20 days). In it, Dönitz explains the Nazi regime as a product of its time, but argues he was not a politician and thus not morally responsible for many of the regime's crimes. He likewise criticizes dictatorship as a fundamentally flawed form of government and blames it for many of the Nazi era's failings.[49] Historian Alan P. Rems has written that his memoirs are unconvincing and "unimpeded by a meaningful Nuremberg verdict, Dönitz fashioned a legend that could be embraced by the most unregenerate Nazis as well as credulous Allied officers who accepted his sanitized version of history and showered Dönitz with letters of support as a wronged brother-in-arms".[37]

Dönitz's second book, Mein wechselvolles Leben (My Ever-Changing Life) is less known, perhaps because it deals with the events of his life before 1934. This book was first published in 1968, and a new edition was released in 1998 with the revised title Mein soldatisches Leben (My Martial Life).[50] In 1973, he appeared in the Thames Television production The World at War, in one of his few television appearances.

Dönitz was unrepentant regarding his role in World War II, saying that he had acted at all times out of duty to his nation.[51][52] He lived out the rest of his life in relative obscurity in Aumühle, occasionally corresponding with collectors of German naval history, and died there of a heart attack on 24 December 1980. As the last German officer with the rank of Großadmiral (grand admiral), he was honoured by many former servicemen and foreign naval officers who came to pay their respects at his funeral on 6 January 1981. He was buried in Waldfriedhof Cemetery in Aumühle without military honours, and service members were not allowed to wear uniforms to the funeral.[53] Also in attendance were over 100 holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.[54]

Summary of career[edit]


Kaiserliche Marine
1 April 1910: Seekadett (Officer Cadet)[55]
15 April 1911: Fähnrich zur See (Midshipman)[55]
27 September 1913: Leutnant zur See (Acting Sub-Lieutenant)[55]
22 March 1916: Oberleutnant zur See (Sub-Lieutenant)[55]
10 January 1921: Kapitänleutnant (Lieutenant), with date of rank on 1 January 1921[56]
1 November 1928: Korvettenkapitän (Corvette Captain – Lieutenant Commander)[56]
1 October 1933: Fregattenkapitän (Frigate Captain – Commander)[57]
1 October 1935: Kapitän zur See (Captain at Sea – Captain)[57]
28 January 1939: Kommodore (Commodore)[57]
1 October 1939: Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral)[57]
1 September 1940: Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral)[57]
14 March 1942: Admiral (Admiral)[57]
30 January 1943: Großadmiral (Grand Admiral)[57]

Decorations and awards[edit]

This article incorporates information from the equivalent articles on the Italian Wikipedia and the German Wikipedia.

See also[edit]


Informational notes

  1. ^ Dönitz, speaking in 1946: "On 30 January 1944 I received from the Führer, as a decoration, the Golden Party Badge; and I assume that I thereby became an honorary member of the Party." The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. Archived 12 June 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Commonly known as Drumbeat, it has connotations of "tattoo" or "thunderbolt" in German.
  3. ^ a b "What would have become of our country today, if the Fuehrer had not united us under National Socialism? Divided along party lines, beset with the spreading poison of Jewry and vulnerable to it, because we lacked the defense of our present uncompromising ideology, we would have long since succumbed under the burden of this war and delivered ourselves to the enemy who would have mercilessly destroyed us." The Avalon Project at Yale Law School Archived 23 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine


  1. ^ Grier 2007, p. 256, Footnote 8, Chapter 10.
  2. ^ a b Haarr 2012, p. 493.
  3. ^ Dönitz, Karl. Memoirs.
  4. ^ Hamilton 1996, pp. 285, 286.
  5. ^ a b Zabecki 2014, p. 354.
  6. ^ Theodor Kraus, Karl Doenitz, Die Kreuzerfahrten der Goeben uns Breslau, Ullstein, Berlin, 1933
  7. ^ Helgason, Guðmundur. "WWI U-boats: UB 68". German and Austrian U-boats of World War I - Kaiserliche Marine - Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  8. ^ a b c Williamson 2007, p. 10.
  9. ^ a b "Dönitz, Karl -".
  10. ^ Miller 2000, p. 145.
  11. ^ Dönitz 1997, p. 43.
  12. ^ Otto Kretschmer preferred to fight surfaced for exactly that reason. Robertson, Terrence. The Golden Horseshoes. (London, Pan, 1957).
  13. ^ Dimbleby 2015, p. 15.
  14. ^ Dimbleby 2015, p. 23.
  15. ^ Dimbleby 2015, p. 22.
  16. ^ a b c Tucker 2005, p. 142.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Cremer, Peter. U-Boat Commander: A Periscope View of the Battle of the Atlantic. 1984. ISBN 0-87021-969-3.
  • Davidson, Eugene. The Trial of the Germans: Account of the Twenty-two Defendants Before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. 1997. ISBN 0-8262-1139-9
  • Hadley, Michael L. U-Boats Against Canada: German Submarines in Canadian Waters. McGill-Queen's University Press: 1985. ISBN 0-7735-0801-5.
  • Macintyre, Donald. U-boat Killer. 1999. ISBN 0-304-35235-7
  • Thompson, H.K. & Henry Strutz. Doenitz at Nuremberg, a reappraisal: War crimes and the military professional. Amber Pub. Corp. 1976.
  • Herwig, Holger H. Innovation ignored: The Submarine problem in Murray, Williamson and Millet Allan R. ed. "Military Innovation in the Interwar Period". Cambridge University Press 1998
  • Failure to Learn: American Anti-submarine Warfare in 1942 in Cohen, Eliot A. and Gooch, John. Military Misfortunes Vintage Books 1991
  • Re-birth of the U-boat
  • O'Keefe, David "One Day In August – The Untold Story Behind Canada's Tragedy At Dieppe", Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2013, ISBN 978-0-345-80769-4, 471 pgs
  • Turner, Barry (2016). Karl Doenitz and the Last Days of the Third Reich. London: Icon Books. ISBN 978-1-7857-805-47.

External links[edit]