Grossadmiral Karl Doenitz had served in U-boats during World War I and remained in the German Navy after his release from a British POW camp. When Germany began to rebuild their U-boat fleet, Doenitz was chosen to organize the new U-boat service, and became Chief of U-boat Forces.

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When war broke out, in 1939, he was promoted to Rear Admiral, but had far fewer U-boats than were required by the war plans (which did not expect a war to start before 1942). In spite of this, U-boats were highly successful, scoring one coup after another. These early successes brought Doenitz an increasing share of German Navy resources and faster expansion of U-boat forces. Unfortunately, Hermann Goering refused to allocate resources from the German Luftwaffe to assist Doenitz in the hunting of convoys. Such assistance would have greatly increased the success of the U-boats during the Battle of the Atlantic.

During 1941 and 1942 Doenitz's U-boats nearly won the war for Germany, sinking a large percentage of the allied ships carrying essential supplies to Britain and the Soviet Union. This success was partly due to faulty anti-U-boat strategy that the Allies were slow to abandon. However, it was mostly the result of Doenitz’s imaginative coordination of reconnaissance aircraft, supply vessels (milch cows) and multiple-U-boat wolf-packs, all of which allowed his U-boats to strike where they were most effective and least expected.

Doenitz was appointed to Commander in Chief of the Navy in January 1943. However, this personal triumph nearly coincided with the beginning of the end for his U-boats, in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Allies had built large numbers of destroyer escorts, corvettes and anti-U-boat patrol bombers needed to guard their convoys. They had found the correct tactics to counter the wolf packs and had become proficient through many months of practical experience. New Allied weapons, like RADAR or the escort carrier, more than matched new German innovations like the Schnorkel. But most important, they were building new cargo ships faster than the U-boats could sink them, and if that was true, there was no way the U-boats could win, because their objective in the Battle of the Atlantic wasn't to sink ships, it was to starve Britain! At one point during 1941, Briton was only weeks away from what some termed "total starvation" due to the lack of supplies reaching their country. Winston Churchill was quoted to have said "The only thing that ever frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril".

The above brief biography does not begin to capture the full story of this great man of history.  Suggested readings on the life of Karl Doenitz include:

 

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In April 1945 Doenitz became Head of State and proceeded to formalize the surrender of Germany. After the surrender, Doenitz was tried for War Crimes at Nuremberg and was sentenced to ten years for "Planning Aggressive War", "Conspiracy to Wage Aggressive War" and "Crimes Against Peace", among other false allegations. It should be noted that Admiral Chester Nimitz of the United States Navy testified on Doenitz’s behalf during the Nuremberg Trials.  See more about Doenitz and the Nuremberg trials by clicking here.
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