Where Are They Now? German U-Boat Commander Karl Doenitz Part 1

About the German U-Boat commander Karl Doenitz, history and biography of the Nazi germany sailor.

Headline--1942: KARL DOENITZ

At the Peak: 1942. That year, as vice-admiral and commander of the German U-boat fleet, he was responsible for torpedoing 6,266,000 tons of Allied shipping to the bottom of the Atlantic. From the start of his swashbuckling career as the sea warrior extraordinaire of the 20th century, Karl Doenitz was pitted against formidable odds, facing both the greater numbers of the enemy and the political machinery of the Third Reich. Ironically, the zenith of his career was reached as Nazi Germany was blown to gravel by the pincer action of the Allied advance into the heart of Hitler's empire, Doenitz succeeded Hitler as Fuhrer, but his reign lasted little more than a week.

He was born in 1891, and joined the German Navy as a very young man. During W.W. I his crew was interned in Turkey, at what was then Constantinople, after a historic sea battle involving the German warships Breslau and Goeben. Restless amid the sultry Turkish shore life, young Doenitz requested transfer to the submarine service after his release. He had his way, was promoted to 1st lieutenant and given command of the U-25. Later, as skipper of the dreaded U-63, he was captured in a skirmish off the island of Malta when he was forced to surface. That was in 1918, and he spent the last months of the war in a British prison camp.

Karl Doenitz's acquaintance with Grand Admiral Erich Raeder in the postwar years was to etch his name indelibly in history. It was Raeder who convinced him of the efficacy of remaining a naval man, despite the Versailles Treaty's stricture that Germany was to have no Navy. As the Nazis ascended to frightful power in Europe, Doenitz worked secretly, under the protection of Hermann Goring, Otto Schniewind, and others in the Hitler inner circle, to reconstruct an invincible German Navy. Distrustful of the combat punch of surface vessels, Doenitz foresaw victory in the coming war at sea by shrewd submarine action. Despite the Versailles Treaty and peacetime RAF air espionage, Doenitz--overseeing every aspect, from fabrication to undersea field test--managed to create a brand-new Navy. In 1937, in fact, when Doenitz was commander of the 1st Submarine Flotilla, he put to sea as the sole passenger of the U-37. Snooping around the British coast near Portland, Doenitz was again forced to surface by British depth charges. He was allowed to return to Berlin after some apologetic bowing and scraping.

The German Navy entered the next war with a fleet of U-boats trained in the now-famous, "wolf-pack" tactics (Rudelsystem) and shielded from the highly boasted British ASDIC (Anti-Submarine Defense Investigation Committee) sonic detection--all due to Karl Doenitz, then flag officer of U-boats. By then he had set up a liaison system between subs and planes. Up until improved Allied technology was put in use around 1944, the Nazis were practically undisputed masters of the high seas.

Unfortunately for Doenitz, he grew more unpopular at home as he advanced in rank and military power. Joseph Goebbels disliked him from the beginning for his friendship with Pastor Martin Niemoller, once a U-boat commander, but by then merely a jailed clergyman. Doenitz fell out of favor with Grand Admiral Raeder for complaining that the Gestapo was harassing submarine personnel. Doenitz had always been accused of being too democratic in the Navy, of promoting a friendly esprit between officers and sailors to prevent mutiny. Nonetheless he rose to the rank of grand admiral in 1943, and was headquartered in Kiel with a portrait over his desk of Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, 1st advocate of total U-boat action in W.W. I. By the end of hostilities in 1945, Doenitz had sunk 15 million Allied tons.

Before Hitler's death, he named Doenitz to succeed him. But the Third Reich fell within days, and Doenitz was tried and convicted with other Nazi war criminals at Nuremburg. He served 10 years in Spandau Prison.

And Today: The German Embassy reports that Karl Doenitz lives on quite a small pension in a tiny house in the vicinity of Hamburg. He is 84 years old and so enfeebled that he is unable to receive visitors.

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