Karl Dönitz (German: [ˈkaɐ̯l ˈdøːnɪts] ( listen); September 16th, 1891 – December 24th, 1980) was a German admiral who played a major role in the naval history of World War II.
He began his career in the Imperial German Navy before World War I. In 1918, while he was in command of UB-68, the submarine was sunk by British forces and 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 April 30th, 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. At the Nuremberg trials, he was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment; after his release, he lived quietly in a village near Hamburg until his death from a heart attack on December 24th, 1980.
Dönitz's relationship to Jews and Nazism
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 (March 12th) 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.
- Author Eric Zillmer argues that, from an ideological standpoint, Dönitz was anti-Marxist and anti-Semitic. Later, during the Nuremberg trials, Dönitz claimed to know nothing about the extermination of Jews and declared that nobody among "[his] men" thought about violence against Jews.
In popular culture
Karl Dönitz has been portrayed by these actors in film, television, and theatre productions:
- Gert Hänsch in the 1976 Czechoslovak film Osvobození Prahy
- Richard Bebb in the 1973 British television production The Death of Adolf Hitler
- Raymond Cloutier in the 2000 Canadian/U.S. TV production Nuremberg
- Peter Rühring in the 2005 German TV miniseries Speer und Er
- David Mitchell in the 2006 British TV sketch comedy That Mitchell and Webb Look
- Simeon Victorov in the 2006 British television docudrama Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial
- Thomas Kretschmann in the 2011 Anglo-German TV production, The Sinking of the Laconia
- Philip Rham in the 2013 U.S. TV PBS production Nazi Mega Weapons episode 2
- Karl Dönitz is a figure in Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon"
Summary of career
|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 rank age dated 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)|
Decorations and awards
- This article incorporates information from the equivalent articles on the Italian Wikipedia and the German Wikipedia.
- Iron Cross (1914)
- 2nd class (7 September 1914)
- 1st class (5 May 1916)
- General Honor Decoration (Allgemeines Ehrenzeichen) (7 June 1913)
- Friedrich Cross, 1st class (Duchy of Anhalt, 17 January 1916)
- Ottoman War Medal ("Gallipoli Star", "Iron Crescent") (7 November 1916)
- Order of the Medjidie, 4th class (13 March 1917)
- Knight of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords (10 June 1918)
- Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918 (30 January 1935)
- Sudetenland Medal (20 December 1939)
- Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939)
- 2nd class (18 September 1939)
- 1st class (20 December 1939)
- Military Order of Savoy
- Knight (20 April 1940)
- Commander's Cross (7 November 1941)
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
- Knight's Cross on 21 April 1940 as Konteradmiral and Befehlshaber der U-Boote (B.d.U.)
- 223rd Oak Leaves on 6 April 1943 as Großadmiral and Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine and Befehlshaber der U-Boote
- Golden Party Badge of the National Socialist German Workers Party
- Special U-boat War Badge with Swastika and laurel branches with diamonds
- Order of Michael the Brave, 1st class (Romania)
- Order of Medjidié, 1st class (Ottoman Empire)
- Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht, twice (14 March 1942 and 5 May 1945)
- Order of Michael the Brave, 2nd and 3rd class (Romania, 7 April 1943)
- Order of the Rising Sun, First Class (Japan, 11 September 1943)
- Order of Naval Merit in white (Spain, 10 June 1940)