Karl Dönitz (sometimes spelled Doenitz German: [ˈdøːnɪts] (listen); 16 September 1891 – 24 December 1980) was a German admiral who played a major role in the naval history of World War II. Dönitz briefly succeeded Adolf Hitler as the head of state of Nazi Germany.
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 ("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. Dönitz remained as head of the Flensburg Government, as it became known, until it was dissolved by the Allied powers on 23 May.
Despite his postwar claims, Dönitz was seen as supportive of Nazism during the war, and he is known to have made a number of anti-Semitic statements. Following the war, Dönitz was indicted as a major war criminal at the Nuremberg Trials on three counts: (1) conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; (2) planning, initiating, and waging wars of aggression; and (3) crimes against the laws of war. He was found not guilty on count (1) of the indictment, but guilty on counts (2) and (3). 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.
Dönitz as Grand Admiral in 1943
|President of the German Reich|
30 April 1945 – 5 June 1945 (de jure)
|Preceded by||Adolf Hitler|
|Supreme Commander of the Kriegsmarine|
30 January 1943 – 1 May 1945
|Preceded by||Erich Raeder|
|Succeeded by||Hans-Georg von Friedeburg|
|Minister of War|
30 April 1945 – 23 May 1945
|Preceded by||Wilhelm Keitel (as Chief OKW)|
|Born||16 September 1891|
Grünau, Berlin, Province of Brandenburg, German Empire
|Died||24 December 1980 (aged 89)|
Aumühle, Schleswig-Holstein, West Germany
|Political party||National Socialist German Workers' Party|
(1944–1945; as honorary member)[Note 1]
Schwerin von Krosigk Cabinet
|Nickname(s)||Der Löwe (The Lion)|
|Years of service|
|^1 Formally titled "Leading Minister" or "Chief Minister" (Leitender Minister).|
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").
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. 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. 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. On 4 October, after suffering technical difficulties, this boat was sunk by the British and Dönitz was imprisoned on Malta. He realized convoys introduced in 1917 had stopped the U-boats from becoming a decisive factor. However, he had learned that convoys could be attacked successfully at night by several U-boats.
The war ended in 1918, but Dönitz remained in a British camp near Sheffield as a prisoner of war until returning to Germany in July 1920.
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.
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). Now under the Anglo-German Naval Agreement they were allowed small submarines. He was placed in command of the first U-boat flotilla Weddigen, which included U-7, U-8 and U-9. The British believed that the submarine was no longer a menace because, when submerged, they could be located by the echos from sound pulses: ASDIC or sonar. Many in Germany felt the same. However, Dönitz proposed to attack convoys at night with packs of U-boats — operating on the surface, where they were faster than merchantmen, — and firing torpedoes at 600 yd (550 m). 
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. 
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. 
At the time, many – including Admiral Raeder, – felt that such talk marked Dönitz as a weakling. Dönitz was alone among senior naval officers, including some former submariners, in believing in a new submarine war on trade. Dönitz and Raeder argued that constantly over-funding priorities within the Navy, while at the same time competing for funds with Hitler's friends, such as Hermann Göring, who received greater attention at this time.
Since the surface strength of the Kriegsmarine was much less than that of the British Royal Navy, Raeder believed any war with Britain in the near future would doom its fleet to uselessness, once remarking that all the Germans could hope to do was to die valiantly. Raeder based his hopes on war's being delayed until the Kriegsmarine's extensive "Z Plan", which would have expanded Germany's surface fleet to where it could effectively contend with the Royal Navy, was implemented. The "Z Plan", however, was not scheduled to be completed until 1945. 
Dönitz, in contrast, began intensely training his crews in the new tactics. The marked inferiority of the German surface fleet left submarine warfare as Germany's primary naval option once war broke out.
In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany, and World War II began. The Kriegsmarine was unprepared, not expecting war before 1945. The Z Plan was tailored for this assumption, calling for a balanced fleet with a greatly increased number of surface capital ships, including several aircraft carriers. It was suspended and U-boat construction given priority. When the war began, Dönitz had 46 U-boats ready for action but only 22 oceangoing Type VIIs. He made do with what he had, while being harassed by Raeder and with Hitler calling on him to dedicate boats to military actions against the British fleet directly. These 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.
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.  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).
The major German naval operation of the war was the invasion of Norway in April 1940. U-boats launched four attacks on a battleship, fourteen on a cruiser, ten on a destroyer, and ten on transports, but owing to misses or to torpedoes that failed to explode, only one transport was sunk.  Dönitz visited his U-boats to assure the crews that they soon would have effective weapons and sent them to sea as mine-layers while torpedoes were improved.
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. A headquarter was established near Lorient, with a communication centre at the Château de Pignerolle at Saint-Barthélemy-d'Anjou.  Dönitz was convinced U-boats could defeat the British.  To locate convoys, he would deploy a patrol line of eight U-boats with extending 120 miles. A U-boat that spotted a convoy would report to Dönitz, who would select a location at which the wolfpack would assemble and attack surfaced on a moonless night, where they were faster than their prey, escort sonar could not detect them, and British radar could not distinguish a U-boat from the water surface. 
By 1941, construction of new Type VIIs had improved to the point where operations were having a real effect on the British wartime economy. Although production of merchant ships shot up in response, improved torpedoes, better U-boats, and much better operational planning led to increasing numbers of "kills". On 7 January 1941, Hitler provided the long range aerial reconnaissance Dönitz had begged for. Following Hitler's declaration of war on the United States on 11 December 1941, Dönitz implemented Operation Drumbeat (Unternehmen Paukenschlag). [Note 2] It targeted shipping along the East Coast of the United States. Initially with only five U-boats (all the larger Type IX), it had dramatic and far-reaching results. The US Navy was entirely unprepared for antisubmarine warfare despite having had two years of British experience to draw from, and committed every imaginable mistake. Shipping losses, which had appeared to be coming under control as the Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy gradually adapted to the new challenge, skyrocketed. In April 1942 the Germans deployed their first Type XIV U-boat (Milchkuh - milk cow) to resupply U-boats at sea, extending their patrol durations and improving effectiveness. 
On at least two occasions, Allied success against U-boat operations led Dönitz to investigate the possibility Enigma had been compromised. Among reasons considered were espionage and Allied interception and decoding of German naval communications (the naval version of the Enigma cipher machine). Both investigations into communications security concluded espionage was more likely, or else Allied successes had been accidental. Nevertheless, Dönitz ordered his U-boat fleet to use an improved version of the Enigma machine (one with four rotors, which was more secure than the three-rotor version it replaced), the M4, for communications within the fleet, on 1 February 1942. The Kriegsmarine was the only branch to use this improved version; the rest of the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) continued to use three-rotor machines. The new system was named "Triton" (called "Shark" by the Allies). For a time, this change caused considerable difficulty for Allied codebreakers; it took 10 months before Shark traffic could be read (see also Ultra codebreaking and Cryptanalysis of the Enigma). However, the data for U-boats and merchantmen sunk shows reading the German codes gave the Allies little help. The introduction of microwave radar in early 1942, which enabled the allies to detect even periscopes, increased the number of U-boats sunk and reduced the number of Allied ships sunk. In response, U-boats were provided with French-made detectors for the microwave pulses, known as METOX. 
By the end of 1942, the production of Type VII U-boats had increased to the point where Dönitz was finally able to conduct mass attacks by groups of submarines, a tactic he called Rudel (group or pack) and became known as "wolfpack" in English. Allied shipping losses shot up tremendously, and serious concern existed for a while about the state of British fuel supplies.
During 1943, the war in the Atlantic turned against the Germans, but Dönitz continued to push for increased U-boat construction and entertained the notion that further technological developments would tip the war once more in Germany's favour, briefing the Führer to that effect. At the end of the war, the German submarine fleet was by far the most advanced in the world, and late-war examples such as the Type XXI U-boat served as models for Soviet and American construction after the war. 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,  a charge Dönitz would surely have disputed. 
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".
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). His deputy, Eberhard Godt, took over the operational command of the U-boat force. 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 Russians regained the shore of the Baltic in August 1944, the German navy became deeply committed to supply and evacuation.  The introduction of the snorkel in June 1944, substantially reduced U-boat losses in the Atlantic. 
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.
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.
Rather than designate one person to succeed him as Führer, Hitler reverted to the old arrangement in the Weimar Constitution. He believed the leaders of the air force (Luftwaffe) and SS (Schutzstaffel) had betrayed him. As far as Hitler was concerned, since the Kriegsmarine had been too small to affect the war in a major way, its commander, Dönitz, became the only possible successor more or less by default.
On 1 May, the day after Hitler's own suicide, Goebbels committed suicide. 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. In the end, Dönitz's tactics were moderately successful, enabling about 1.8 million German soldiers to escape Soviet capture. 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.
Dönitz's headquarters were located in the Naval Academy in Mürwik, a suburb of Flensburg near the Danish border. Accordingly, his administration was referred to as the Flensburg government. The following is Dönitz's description of his new government:
These considerations (the bare survival of the German people), which all pointed to the need for the creation of some sort of central government, took shape and form when I was joined by Graf Schwerin-Krosigk. In addition to discharging his duties as Foreign Minister and Minister of Finance, he formed the temporary government we needed and presided over the activities of its cabinet. Though restricted in his choice to men in northern Germany, he nonetheless succeeded in forming a workmanlike cabinet of experts.
The picture of the military situation as a whole showed clearly that the war was lost. As there was also no possibility of effecting any improvement in Germany's overall position by political means, the only conclusion to which I, as head of state, could come was that the war must be brought to an end as quickly as possible in order to prevent further bloodshed.
Late on 1 May, Himmler attempted to make a place for himself in the Flensburg government. The following is Dönitz's description of his showdown with Himmler:
At about midnight he arrived, accompanied by six armed SS officers, and was received by my aide-de-camp, Walter Luedde-Neurath. I offered Himmler a chair and sat down at my desk, on which lay, hidden by some papers, a pistol with the safety catch off. I had never done anything of this sort in my life before, but I did not know what the outcome of this meeting might be.
I handed Himmler the telegram containing my appointment. "Please read this," I said. I watched him closely. As he read, an expression of astonishment, indeed of consternation, spread over his face. All hope seemed to collapse within him. He went very pale. Finally he stood up and bowed. "Allow me," he said, "to become the second man in your state." I replied that was out of the question and that there was no way I could make any use of his services.
Thus advised, he left me at about one o'clock in the morning. The showdown had taken place without force, and I felt relieved.
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 under the command of Squadron Leader Mark Hobden. 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.
Despite his postwar claims, Dönitz was seen as supportive of Nazism during the war. Several naval officers described him as "closely tied to Hitler and Nazi ideology." On one occasion, he spoke of Hitler's humanity. 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." He refused to help Albert Speer stop the scorched earth policy dictated by Hitler 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."
Several anti-Semitic statements by Dönitz are known. When Sweden closed its international waters to Germany, he blamed this action on their fear and dependence on "international Jewish capital." In August 1944, he declared, "I would rather eat dirt than see my grandchildren grow up in the filthy, poisonous atmosphere of Jewry."
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 National Socialism which, as Dönitz declared, met an uncompromising ideology with defiance.[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. 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 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." Dönitz also told Goldensohn of his support for Admiral Bernhard Rogge, who had one Jewish grandparent, when the Nazis began to persecute him.
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.
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. 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.
Dönitz disputed the propriety of his trial at Nuremberg, commenting on count two: "At Nuremberg I was found guilty because among other things I 'during the course of the war had had one hundred and twenty conferences with Hitler on questions concerning the Navy'. How in heaven's name could a commander-in-chief of a service responsible directly to the Head of the State, have fulfilled his duties in any other way?" Over 100 senior Allied officers also sent letters to Dönitz conveying their disappointment over the fairness and verdict of his trial. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.[Note 4] 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."
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. Dönitz was imprisoned for 10 years in Spandau Prison in what was then West Berlin.
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.
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). 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. 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. Also in attendance were over 100 holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.
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).
In 1937, Karl Dönitz's daughter Ursula married U-boat commander Günther Hessler.
Both of Dönitz's sons were killed during the Second World War. The younger, Peter, was killed on 19 May 1943, when U-954 was sunk in the North Atlantic with all hands. After this loss, the elder son, Klaus, was allowed to leave combat duty and began studying to be a naval doctor. Klaus was killed on 13 May 1944 while taking part in an action contrary to standing orders prohibiting his involvement in any combat role. He 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 and Klaus died, though six others were rescued.
|1 April 1910:||Seekadett (Officer Cadet)|
|15 April 1911:||Fähnrich zur See (Midshipman)|
|27 September 1913:||Leutnant zur See (Acting Sub-Lieutenant)|
|22 March 1916:||Oberleutnant zur See (Sub-Lieutenant)|
|10 January 1921:||Kapitänleutnant (Lieutenant), with date of rank on 1 January 1921|
|1 November 1928:||Korvettenkapitän (Corvette Captain – Lieutenant Commander)|
|1 October 1933:||Fregattenkapitän (Frigate Captain – Commander)|
|1 October 1935:||Kapitän zur See (Captain at Sea – Captain)|
|28 January 1939:||Kommodore (Commodore)|
|1 October 1939:||Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral)|
|1 September 1940:||Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral)|
|14 March 1942:||Admiral (Admiral)|
|30 January 1943:||Großadmiral (Grand Admiral)|
Karl Dönitz has been portrayed in film, television, theatre productions and other media:
| Supreme Commander of the Kriegsmarine
Hans-Georg von Friedeburg
| President of Germany
Hein ter Poorten
| Cover of Time magazine
2 February 1942
Robert A. Lovett
| Cover of Time magazine
10 May 1943
Harold L. George
Events in the year 1945 in Germany.
Many events took place in 1945, including the change of the geographical map of Germany.1st U-boat Flotilla
The 1st U-boat flotilla (German 1. Unterseebootsflottille) also known as the Weddigen flotilla, was the first operational U-boat unit in Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine (navy). Founded on 27 September 1935 under the command of Fregattenkapitän Karl Dönitz, it was named in honor of Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen. Weddigen, a U-boat commander during World War I, died on 18 March 1915 after his submarine U-29 was rammed by the British battleship HMS Dreadnought in the North Sea.The flotilla at first only consisted of U-9, a Type IIB boat commissioned on 21 August 1935. Later, boats U-1 to U-12 were included in the flotilla, but U-1 to U-6 were only used as training boats and were attached to the U-boat training school in Neustadt. Originally based in Kiel from September 1935-May 1941, it was moved to Brest, France in June 1941. In September 1944, the flotilla was disbanded and its remaining boats were distributed to other flotillas.Befehlshaber der U-Boote
The Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (BdU) was the supreme commander of the Kriegsmarine's U-boat Arm (Ubootwaffe) during World War II. The term also referred to the Command HQ of the U-boat arm.The title was established on 17 October 1939, when Karl Dönitz was promoted to rear admiral (Konteradmiral). His previous title had been U-boat leader (Führer der Unterseeboote), a position he had held from January 1936.On 31 January 1943 Dönitz was promoted to grand admiral (Großadmiral) and became supreme commander (Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine) of the entire Kriegsmarine, replacing Erich Raeder. He retained the title, but was replaced as operational commander at BdU by his chief of staff Eberhard Godt.Godt's successor was Admiral Hans Georg von Friedeburg, who held the position at the end of the war.
Department Chief2nd Admiral of the U-boatsCommanding Admiral of the U-boatsChief of Staff of the Commanding Admiral of the U-boatsFritz-Julius Lemp
Fritz-Julius Lemp (19 February 1913 – 9 May 1941) was a captain in the Kriegsmarine during World War II and commander of U-28, U-30 and U-110. He sank the British passenger liner SS Athenia in September 1939, in violation of the Hague conventions. Germany’s responsibility for the sinking was suppressed by Admiral Karl Dönitz and the Nazi propaganda. Lemp died on 9 May 1941 when the U-boat he commanded was captured.Führer der Unterseeboote
The post of Führer der Unterseeboote (FdU) ("Type Commander, Submarines") was the senior commanding officer of the submarine service in the Kaiserliche Marine of World War I and the Kriegsmarine of World War II, and the title of several senior commands during the war. From January 1936 and until 17 October 1939, Karl Dönitz served in this position. Thereupon Dönitz was named Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (BdU) ("Commander of the U-boats"), and two subordinate FdU posts were established, FdU West ("FdU West") and FdU Ost ("FdU East").German submarine U-794
U-794 was a Type XVIIA U-boat of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine during the Second World War. She was one of a small number of U-boats fitted with Hellmuth Walter's high test peroxide propulsion system, which offered a combination of air-independent propulsion and high submerged speeds. She spent the war as a trials vessel and was scuttled on 5 May 1945 in Gelting Bay.
U-794 was built by Friedrich Krupp Germaniawerft, Kiel. The keel was laid down on 1 February 1943, the boat was launched on 7 October. She was commissioned on 14 November. The Feldpost Number was M 52 496.
U-794 did not undertake any combat patrols and was instead assigned as a trials boat at first to the 5th U-boat Flotilla, followed by the 8th U-boat Flotilla, before returning to the 5th flotilla for the rest of the war. In late March 1944, Admiral Karl Dönitz and four other admirals took part in a trial of U-794. Although they were enthusiastic, the boat, designed for high underwater speed (over 20 m.p.h.) was difficult to manoeuvre, and the keel to beam ratio was too high.Goebbels cabinet
The Josef Goebbels Cabinet was named by Adolf Hitler in his political testament of 30 April 1945. To replace himself, Hitler named Admiral Karl Dönitz as Reichspräsident. The cabinet was shortlived, and was followed on 2 May 1945 by the Flensburg Government. This was caused when Josef Goebbels took his own life on 1 May and Martin Bormann did likewise the following day.Laconia Order
The Laconia Order (German: Laconia-Befehl) was issued by Großadmiral Karl Dönitz during World War II as a result of the Laconia incident, forbidding the rescue of Allied survivors.
Prior to this incident, vessels of the Kriegsmarine customarily picked up survivors of sunk Allied vessels. In September 1942, off the coast of West Africa in the Atlantic Ocean, the German vessels—among them U-156, U-506, and U-507—attempting to rescue survivors of the ocean liner RMS Laconia were indiscriminately attacked by American aircraft, despite having informed the Allies of the rescued Allied soldiers on board—along with many women and children—beforehand.
The order was as follows:
All efforts to save survivors of sunken ships, such as the fishing out of swimming men and putting them on board lifeboats, the righting of overturned lifeboats, or the handing over of food and water, must stop. Rescue contradicts the most basic demands of the war: the destruction of hostile ships and their crews.
The orders concerning the bringing-in of captains and chief engineers stay in effect.
Survivors are to be saved only if their statements are important for the boat.
Be harsh. Remember that the enemy has no regard for women and children when bombing German cities!
This order, along with War Order No. 154 of 1939, were introduced by the prosecution at the postwar Nuremberg trial of Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz at which Dönitz was indicted for "war crimes", including the issuance of the Laconia Order:The prosecution has introduced much evidence surrounding two orders of Dönitz, War Order No. 154, issued in 1939, and the so-called Laconia Order of 1942. The defense argues that these orders and the evidence supporting them do not show such a policy and introduced much evidence to the contrary. The Tribunal is of the opinion that the evidence does not establish with the certainty required that Dönitz deliberately ordered the killing of shipwrecked survivors. The orders were undoubtedly ambiguous and deserve the strongest censure.
The evidence further shows that the rescue provisions were not carried out and that the defendant ordered that they should not be carried out. The argument of the defence is that the security of the submarine is, as the first rule of the sea, paramount to rescue and that the development of aircraft made rescue impossible. This may be so, but the Protocol is explicit. If the commander cannot rescue, then under its terms he cannot sink a merchant vessel and should allow it to pass harmless before his periscope. The orders, then, prove Dönitz is guilty of a violation of the Protocol.
In view of all the facts proved and in particular of an order of the British Admiralty announced on 8 May 1940, according to which all vessels should be sunk at sight in the Skagerrak, and the answers to interrogatories by Admiral Chester Nimitz stating unrestricted submarine warfare was carried on in the Pacific Ocean by the United States from the first day of the Pacific War, the sentence of Dönitz is not assessed on the ground of his breaches of the international law of submarine warfare.Last will and testament of Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler signed his last will and testament in the Berlin Führerbunker on 29 April 1945, the day before he committed suicide with his wife Eva (nee) Braun.
The will was a short document stating that they had chosen death over capitulation, and that they were to be cremated; it named Martin Bormann as executor. The testament was in two parts. In the first, he denied charges of warmongering, expressed his thanks to Germany’s loyal citizens, and appealed to them to continue the struggle. In the second, he declared Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring to be traitors, and set out his plan for a new government under Karl Dönitz. Hitler’s secretary Traudl Junge recalled that he was reading from notes as he dictated the testament, and it is believed that Joseph Goebbels had helped him to write it.List of presidents of Germany
A number of presidential offices have existed in Germany since the collapse of the German Empire in 1918.
The Weimar Constitution of August 1919 created the office of President of Germany (German: Reichspräsident). Upon the death of Paul von Hindenburg in August 1934 the office was left vacant, with Adolf Hitler becoming head of state as Führer und Reichskanzler. In April–May 1945, Karl Dönitz briefly became President upon the suicide of Hitler (in accordance with last will and testament of Hitler).
The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany of May 1949 created the office of President of the Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundespräsident). From German reunification in 1990, the President has been the head of state for all of Germany.
The East German constitution of October 1949 created the office of President of the German Democratic Republic (German: Präsident der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, DDR). Upon the death of Wilhelm Pieck in 1960, the office of Präsident der DDR was abolished and replaced by a collective head of state, the Staatsrat ("State Council"). The Staatsrat was abolished by a constitutional amendment of the Volkskammer ("People's Chamber") on 5 April 1990. From then until the GDR joined the Federal Republic on 3 October 1990, the president of the Volkskammer also served as the GDR head of state.Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk
Johann Ludwig "Lutz" Graf Schwerin von Krosigk (Born Johann Ludwig von Krosigk; 22 August 1887 – 4 March 1977) was a German senior government official who served as Minister of Finance of Germany from 1932 to 1945 and de facto Chancellor of Germany in May 1945.
A non-partisan conservative, he was appointed to the post by Franz von Papen in 1932. At the request of President Paul von Hindenburg, he continued in that office under Kurt von Schleicher and Adolf Hitler. He and his ministry were involved in the persecution of German and European Jews, including by stealing their property, and laundering money. During May 1945, after the suicides of Hitler and his designated successor Joseph Goebbels, he also served as "Leading Minister" of the short-lived Flensburg government of President Karl Dönitz. Schwerin von Krosigk also held the essentially nominal offices of Foreign Minister and Finance Minister in the provisional government that controlled only a small, progressively shrinking portion of Germany, due to the rapid advance of the Allied forces who finally dissolved it and arrested its members.
Besides Adolf Hitler himself, Schwerin von Krosigk and Wilhelm Frick were the only members of the Third Reich's cabinet to serve continuously from Hitler's appointment as Chancellor until his death. By receiving the golden National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) Badge from Adolf Hitler, given for honour on 30 January 1937, he became a member of the NSDAP (membership number: 3,805,231). He also joined the Academy of German Law in 1937.
At the 1949 Ministries Trial, he was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to 10 years in jail; his sentence was commuted in 1951. He later worked as an author and publicist.Naval Front Clasp
The Naval Front Clasp (German: Marine-Frontspange) was a World War II German military decoration awarded to officers and men of the Kriegsmarine in recognition of long, front line service for all naval units, except the submarine service, which had their own clasp to award. This bronze clasp was awarded for service or valor above that of the basic war badge. The award was instituted on 19 November 1944 by Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz.Operation Hannibal
Operation Hannibal was a German naval operation involving the evacuation by sea of German troops and civilians from Courland, East Prussia, and the Polish Corridor from mid-January to May 1945 as the Red Army advanced during the East Prussian and East Pomeranian Offensives and subsidiary operations.
The Soviet East Prussian Offensive by the Red Army's 3rd Belarusian Front under General Ivan Chernyakhovsky commenced on January 13, 1945 and, with Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front, subsequently cut off East Prussia between January 23 and February 10, 1945. German Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz ordered General Admiral Oskar Kummetz, as Naval High Commander, Baltic, and Rear Admiral Konrad Engelhardt, head of the Kriegsmarine's shipping department, to plan and execute the Rettungsaktion (evacuation operation). Dönitz radioed a message to Gdynia in occupied Poland on January 23, 1945, to begin evacuations to ports outside of the Soviet area of operations. The operation was codenamed Hannibal. Dönitz stated in his post-war memoirs that his aim had been to evacuate as many people as possible away from the Soviets.Right up until his suicide, Adolf Hitler insisted that the war go on. The flood of military personnel and German civilians eventually turned the operation into one of the largest evacuations by sea in history. Over a period of 15 weeks, somewhere between 494 and 1,080 merchant vessels of all types, including fishing boats and other craft, and utilizing Germany's largest remaining naval units, carried between 800,000 and 900,000 German civilians and 350,000 soldiers across the Baltic Sea to Germany and German-occupied Denmark. This was more than three times the number of people evacuated in the nine-day operation at Dunkirk.President of Germany (1919–1945)
The Reichspräsident was the German head of state under the Weimar constitution, which was officially in force from 1919 to 1945. In English he was usually simply referred to as the President of Germany. The German title Reichspräsident literally means President of the Reich, the term Reich referring to the federal nation state established in 1871.
The Weimar constitution created a semi-presidential system in which power was divided between the president, a cabinet and a parliament. The Reichspräsident was directly elected under universal adult suffrage for a seven-year term. It was intended that the president would rule in conjunction with the Reichstag (legislature) and that his emergency powers would be exercised only in extraordinary circumstances, but the political instability of the Weimar period, and a paralysing factionalism in the legislature, meant that the president came to occupy a position of considerable power (not unlike that of the German Emperor he replaced), capable of legislating by decree and appointing and dismissing governments at will.
In 1934, after the death of President Hindenburg, Adolf Hitler, already Chancellor, assumed the Presidency, but did not usually use the title of President – ostensibly out of respect for Hindenburg – and preferred to rule as Führer und Reichskanzler ("Leader and Reich Chancellor"), highlighting the positions he already held in party and government. In his last will in April 1945, Hitler named Joseph Goebbels his successor as Chancellor but named Karl Dönitz as Reichspräsident, thus reviving the individual office for a short while until the German surrender.
The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany established the office of Federal President (Bundespräsident), which is, however, a chiefly ceremonial post largely devoid of political power.SMS Hertha
SMS Hertha was a protected cruiser of the Victoria Louise class, built for the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) in the 1890s. Hertha was laid down at the AG Vulcan shipyard in 1895, launched in April 1897, and commissioned into the Navy in July 1898. The ship was armed with a battery of two 21 cm guns and eight 15 cm guns and had a top speed of 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph).
Hertha served abroad in the German East Asia Squadron for the first six years of her career; she served briefly as the Squadron flagship in 1900. She contributed a landing party to the force that captured the Taku Forts during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. After returning to Germany in 1905, she was modernized and used as a training ship in 1908, following the completion of the refit. She conducted a series of training cruises, and several notable officers served aboard the ship as cadets, including Karl Dönitz and Ernst Lindemann. At the outbreak of World War I, Hertha was mobilized into the 5th Scouting Group, but served in front-line duty only briefly. She was used as a barracks ship after 1915, and ultimately sold for scrapping in 1920.SM UB-68
SM UB-68 was a German Type UB III submarine or U-boat in the German Imperial Navy (German: Kaiserliche Marine) during World War I. The U-boat was ordered on 20 May 1916. She was commissioned into the German Imperial Navy on 5 October 1917 as SM UB-68. The submarine conducted five patrols and sank five ships during the war. Under the command of Karl Dönitz, on 4 October 1918 UB-68 encountered technical problems and had to surface where she was sunk by gunfire at 33°56′N 16°20′E. There was one dead and thirty-three survivors. Other sources name the British warships involved in the sinking of UB-68 as HMS Snapdragon and HMS Cradosin, and claim four crew members died in the event.SM UC-25
SM UC-25 was a German Type UC II minelaying submarine or U-boat in the German Imperial Navy (German: Kaiserliche Marine) during World War I. The U-boat was ordered on 29 August 1915 and was launched on 10 June 1916. She was commissioned into the German Imperial Navy on 28 June 1916 as SM UC-25. In 13 patrols UC-25 was credited with sinking 21 ships, either by torpedo or by mines laid. March–September 1918 she was commanded by Karl Dönitz, later Grand admiral. UC-25 was scuttled at Pola on 28 October 1918 on the surrender of Austria-Hungary.Spandau Prison
Spandau Prison was located in the borough of Spandau in western Berlin. It was constructed in 1876 and demolished in August 1987 after the death of its last prisoner, Rudolf Hess who had died from a suspected suicide aged 93, to prevent it from becoming a neo-Nazi shrine. The site was later rebuilt as a shopping centre for the British forces stationed in Germany.Victory in Europe Day
Victory in Europe Day, generally known as VE Day (Great Britain) or V-E Day (North America), is a day celebrating the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender of its armed forces on the 8 May 1945.
On 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader, committed suicide during the Battle of Berlin. Germany's surrender, therefore, was authorised by his successor, Reichspräsident Karl Dönitz. The administration headed by Dönitz was known as the Flensburg Government. The act of military surrender was first signed at 02:41 on 7 May in SHAEF HQ at Reims, and a slightly modified document was signed on 8 May in Berlin.
Most European countries celebrate the end of World War II on 8 May. Russia, Belarus, and Serbia celebrate on 9 May, as did several former Soviet bloc countries until after the fall of Communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union. Israel marks VE Day on 9 May as well as a result of the large number of immigrants from the former Soviet bloc, although it is not a public holiday. The term VE Day existed as early as September 1944, in anticipation of victory.