Karl Doenitz

Karl Doenitz

Karl Doenitz was born in Berlin-Grenau on 16th September, 1891. He enlisted as a sea cadet in 1910 and after naval training was commissioned as an officer in the German Navy in 1913.

During the First World War Doenitz served on a cruiser in the Mediterranean before being transferred to submarines in October 1916. He was captured on 4th October 1918 and remained a prisoner of war until July 1919.

Doenitz remained in the German Navy and in 1935 was put in charge of the new U-Boats being developed. However he clashed with Hermann Goering who was unwilling to supply the necessary capital to spend on the navy. Doenitz said that he needed 1,000 submarines to win any future war with Britain but by 1939 he had only 57.

At the beginning of the war the German Navy was equipped with the 750-ton Type VII U-boat. These proved too small for Atlantic operations and larger long-range types were later introduced. Doenitz developed the idea of fighting in wolf packs. Between 1940 and 1943 U-boats took a heavy toll of Allied shipping in the Atlantic, Arctic and the Mediterranean.

In January, 1943 Adolf Hitler sacked Erich Raeder and appointed Doenitz as Commander in chief of the German Navy.

The Allies gradually began to introduce successful anti-submarine strategies. This included the convoy system, long-range aircraft patrols, improved antisubmarine detectors and depth charges. By May 1943 German U-Boats were forced to withdraw from the Atlantic.

Doenitz gave permission for a radically improved U-boat to be built in 1944. Working closely with Albert Speer, the Minister of Armaments, Germany were producing 42 of these all-electric boats a month by 1945. However, they were too late to make an impact on the outcome of the Second World War.

Adolf Hitler selected Doenitz to become head of state after his suicide on 30th April, 1945. After forming a new government he negotiated Germany's surrender on 8th May.

At the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial Doenitz was found guilty of war crimes and was sentenced to ten years in prison. After his release in October, 1956, he wrote his autobiography, Memoirs: Ten Years and Twenty Days (1959).

Karl Doenitz died on 24th December, 1980.

Primary Sources

(1) In his memoirs Karl Doenitz explained why he supported Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

In the elections held on September 14, 1930, the Nazis emerged as the second strongest party in the Reichstag. After it came the Communists with 4.5 million votes and 76 seats in the Reichstag. Then in the elections in July and November 1932 the Nazis became the strongest party, and the Communists retained third place with 89 seats in July and 100 seats in November.

That the Communist Party had not become the strongest party during the past few years had been due solely to the emergence of the National Socialists; but for them the Communists would probably have seized power by means of a bloody revolution.

(2) Karl Doenitz, Memoirs: Ten Years and Twenty Days (1959)

Subsequent developments in Germany, particularly after the occupation of Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939, began to arouse my misgivings, I felt that there was a very real danger of war with Britain.

During the last few months before the outbreak of war I began to doubt whether our political leaders correctly appreciated the British mentality; I could only hope that Hitler would in no circumstances allow us to become involved in a war with the Western Powers.

It was with a feeling of extreme scepticism that I heard the news of the allegedly unavoidable attack on Poland and, though I was not in the least surprised by it, the declaration of war by Britain and France was a bitter blow.

(3) Karl Doenitz, order issued (17th September, 1942)

No attempt of any kind must be made at rescuing members of ships sunk, and this includes picking up persons in the water and putting them in lifeboats, righting capsized lifeboats, and handing over food and water. Rescue runs counter to the most primitive demands of warfare for the destruction of enemy ships and crews.

Be hard, remember that the enemy has no regard for women and children when he bombs German cities.

(4) The Manchester Guardian (1st February, 1943)

The replacement of Admiral Raeder, Commandet-in-Chief of the German Navy, by the U-boat expert Admiral Donitz (announced on Saturday) is regarded in Sweden as a substantiation of recent signs that Hitler is pinning ail his hopes on winning the war by U-boats. Stockholm reports

say that it was known there that Hitler had virtually stopped all major naval building in order to build submarines. It is said that the rate is almost one a day.

Raeder, who "has been appointed Admiral-Inspector" is being relieved of his daily work in the leadership of the Navy" at his own request"

Donitz has been chief of the U-boat fleet. He is reputed to be "the greatest submarine expert" in Germany, and is the inventor of the "wolf-pack" system.

According to the German radio Admiral Donitz, in an address to the German Naval Staff when his flag was hoisted over the German Admiralty, said: "The entire German Navy will henceforth be put into the service of inexorable fight to the finish."

In an order of the day, announced on Saturday, Donitz said he will continue to Command the U-boats, personally.

The dismissal of Admiral Raeder will add to Germany's despair, for he was a man who was trusted, says Reuter. The Navy - least Nazified of the German forces - will deplore, his departure. Raeder put the Navy before the party and as far as possible kept It efficient and self-respecting. He Is replaced by a more ardent Nazi.

(5) Karl Doenitz, speech (11th April, 1945)

Only the Fuehrer has for years realized with what danger Bolshevism threatens Europe. Perhaps even this year, Europe will realize that Adolf Hitler is the only statesman of stature in Europe. Europe's blindness will one day come to a sudden end and thereby bring Germany's psychological help and political possibilities arising therefrom.