Karl Dönitz was one of the more influential men in the course of the European theater of World War II and an outstanding naval officer. Karl Dönitz was born in the town of Grunau, near Berlin on the 16th of September, 1891 to an engineer.

After graduating his schooling, Karl joined the Imperial German Navy, and after going through his training as a Seekadett, achieved the rank of Fähnrich zur See (an officer in the Imperial Navy). Dönitz got his first taste of sea life aboard the training vessel Herta and went out for duty aboard the light cruiser Breslau. In 1912, he was sent to the Mediterranean aboard his cruiser, where, under observation briefly by the British ship King Edward II she anchored and participated in the beginning part of World War I under Turkish flag, where Leutnant zur See Dönitz continued to serve aboard.

October 1, 1916 Dönitz transferred to the Unterseebootwaffe (or the U-Boat service). He served aboard U-39 as a Watch Officer under the command of Kapitänleutnant Forstmann, and also gained experience as a commander in training. In February 1918, now Oberleutnant zur See Dönitz was given command of UC-25. The boat he now commanded was able to carry 15 mines for laying, and 5 torpedoes. While laying mines off the coast of Palermo, he attacked the British workshop ship Cyclops in port at Augusta. He also sank one other ship before running out of torpedoes and returning to home base. Dönitz was honored with a Turkish decoration, the Knight's Cross of the House Order of Hohenzollern. He then followed up by taking UC-25 on a second mission laying mines off of Corfu, and sinking three ships east of Italy.

He received a new boat upon return, UB-68, which was an attack submarine. He took his crew through the destroyer screen of a convoy to attack the supply ships, of which he managed to down one. The sub had an accident while trying to attack the second, and almost plunged to the depths. Dönitz acted quickly and ordered to blow the tanks, apply hard, port rudder and to stop the engines. The sub rose back to the surface, but only to be sunk by the British destroyer Snapdragon. All but six men escaped and were taken prisoner by the British.

Dönitz became a Prisoner of War until July 1919. In between World War I and II, Dönitz remained in the service of the Reichsmarine, and was captain of torpedo boat T 157. Later in 1921 he received the rank of Kapitänleutnant. Following three years commanding the T 157, Dönitz was put on the staff of Chief of Naval Station Baltic, and shortly thereafter temporarily transferred to Kiel as an officer in charge of organizational service manuals - a rather boring post. He was again transferred, this time as a navigation officer to the Nymphe, the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief of the Baltic Naval Forces, Vizeadmiral von Loewenfeld.

October 1, 1928, Dönitz was allowed to take command of the 4th Torpedo Boat Flotilla, which unfortunately only had four vessels in its armada. Earlier that year, Dönitz was granted the rate of Korvettenkapitän. Because of his very skillful and efficient leadership of this unit, he was appointed as the First Admiralty Staff Officer and Director of the Admiralty Department North Sea with the Naval High Command in Kiel; he subsequently received the rank of Fregattekapitän in March 1933. Moving quickly up the chart in the following year he was given command of the cruiser Emden, on which aspiring cadets trained for a year to become naval officers for a year at sea.

After returning to home port in Wilhelmshaven in July 1935, Generaladmiral Raeder promptly ordered Dönitz to build up the U-Boat forces under the newly redesignated Kriegsmarine, as part of the new Third Reich. Dönitz went about his U-Boat duties initially taking command of the first Flotilla,but moving up to Führer der Unterseeboote (FdU, "Leader of the U-Boats"), and receiving the rank of Kapitän zur See.

Dönitz excelled at his command of the U-Boat forces. The wolfpack tactics, named rudeltaktik in German (group tactics), were of his design. Dönitz thought that sending individual U-Boats against escorted convoys would not be very effective, and therefore decided that organized groups of multiple U-Boats would fair better -- and he was right. The wolfpacks would sneak up on a convoy and attack from multiple directions, confusing the escorts as to where to counterattack.

January 21, 1943, the Führer appointed our friend Dönitz as the Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine and Großadmiral, replacing Admiral Raeder and remained in this capacity until near the war’s end in 1945. In the chaotic events that occurred during the last days of the German Third Reich, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in the Reich Chancellery, April 30, 1945. Hitler had instructed that Karl Dönitz was to succeed him as the second and last Führer of the Third Reich. Dönitz served in this capacity without being able to do much, and surrendered to the invading British and Americans on May 23, 1945.

After the war’s end, the Allies held the Nuremberg trials in which German officers and officials accused of war crimes could be tried before an “international” military tribunal. Karl Dönitz was among the names of the accused. However, most intelligent people are able to understand that Dönitz did not truly belong on the list. Yes, the Nazi state committed many war crimes which cannot be denied, but the U-Boat forces and the Kriegsmarine in general fought a hard, but fair, battle. There were no war crimes on the high seas. The Großadmiral was not charged with any crimes against humanity, but he was charged with conspiracy against peace, crimes against peace, and crimes against martial law. The military tribunal trying Dönitz was not fair, but respectful, especially in that they always referred to him with his rank as Großadmiral.

United States Admiral Chester Nimitz testified about the unrestricted submarine warfare carried out against Japan in the Pacific Theater at Dönitz’s trial, and so he was acquitted of any charges of unlawful warfare and conspiracy against peace. The Allies still needed a way to convict Dönitz and so they found an obscure law Hitler had passed during his rule. They condemned Dönitz for not ordering this law to be reversed, which stated that captured commando soldiers would be shot. The Allies did not take into effect that this law was never used and no commando was ever caught or shot (and certainly none by Naval men). Therefore, Großadmiral Karl Dönitz was convicted of crimes against martial law, and was sentenced to ten years solitary confinement for crimes he did not commit. In an ironic twist, the sentence embarrassed the Allies, and hundreds of Allied officers, Generals, and Admirals (many U.S.) wrote letters to Dönitz conveying their disappointment and concern for the Großadmiral, in a show of opposition.

Dönitz served 11 years and 6 months in British prisons, most of it in Berlin-Spandau Prison. He was finally freed October 1, 1956 when he moved to the small German town of Aumühle. There he lived out the remainder of his life. He authored three books in this time, Mein Wechselvolles Leben (My Ever Changing Life), Die U-Bootswaffe (The U-Boat Force), and Zehn Jahre, Zwanzig Tage (Ten Years, Twenty Days). The Großadmiral Karl Dönitz passed away in his home on December 24, 1980. The funeral was held a little over a week later, on January 6, 1981. Thousands of Kriegsmarine and Wehrmacht personnel, as well as Bundsmarine officers, came to his funeral ceremonies. He was buried in Waldfriedhof Cemetery in Aumühle, where his grave still resides today. He will always be remembered in history as a strong and noble naval officer.

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