Karl Dönitz

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Karl Dönitz

Großadmiral Karl Dönitz,
later Reichspräsident of Germany

In office
30 April 1945 – 23 May 1945
Chancellor Joseph Goebbels
Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk (Leading Minister)
Preceded by Adolf Hitler
(as Führer)
Paul von Hindenburg
(in title)
Succeeded by Theodor Heuss
(as Bundespräsident)

Born 16 September 1891(1891-09-16)
Grünau by Berlin, German Empire
Died 24 December 1980 (aged 89)
Aumühle, West Germany
Nationality German
Political party National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) (1944–1945)[1]
Spouse(s) Ingeborg Weber
Military service
Nickname(s) Der Löwe (The Lion)
Allegiance German Empire German Empire
Germany Weimar Republic
 National Socialist Germany
Service/branch  Kaiserliche Marine
Years of service 1910–1945
Rank Großadmiral shoulder board.jpg Großadmiral
Commands SM UC-25 (February–September 1918)
SM UB-68 (September–October 1918)
Torpedo Boats (1920s)
Emden (1934–1935)
1st U-boat Flotilla (1935–1936)
FdU (1936–1939)
BdU (1939–1943)
OBdM (1943–1945)
Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht (April–May 1945)
Battles/wars World War I

World War II
Battle of the Atlantic

Awards Iron Cross (1914)
Iron Cross (Clasps 1939)
Special U-boat War Badge (1939) with diamonds
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves

Karl Dönitz (originally Carl; 16 September 1891 – 24 December 1980) was a German naval officer of the Kaiserliche Marine, the Reichsmarine and the Kriegsmarine, finally Großadmiral (Grand Admiral) in WW II as well as Reichspräsident of Germany.


From left to right: Mussolini, Dönitz and Hitler
Großadmiral Dönitz.jpg

At age 19 Dönitz enlisted in the German Navy and by 1913 was a commissioned officer. In World War I Dönitz severed on a battleship in the Mediterranean until he was transferred to Unterseeboote in 1916. He was captured in 1918 and held as a POW until July 1919.

Throughout the 1920's and into the 1930's Dönitz remained in the Navy, until 1935 when he was assigned the position of designing new U-Boats. During the design period, Dönitz had many dis-agreements with Hermann Goering about the funding. Dönitz remarked:

"We need 1,000 submarines to win any future war with Britain"

But by 1939 he had only 57. At the early stages of the war, the German Navy was only equipped with 750-ton Type VII U-boat, which was insuffient for Atlantic crossings and operations, so he developed and introduced the idea of fighting in "Wolf Packs". Between 1941 and 1943 the Wolf Packs were sinking a vast amount of Allied goods and supplies. January 1943 saw Hitler sacking Erich Raeder as Chief of the German navy and replaced him with Dönitz. By May of 1943, the Allies had developed more sophisticated means to help curb the Wolf Packs domination in the Atlantic, by means of long distance aircraft patrols, better sonar systems and improved depth charges.

In 1944, Dönitz had gave permission for a new electric U-Boat to be developed and by working closely with Albert Speer they had managed to produce 45 of these new boats a month by 1945. However this what not enough to aid them or make an impact by wars end. With the death of Hitler on 30 April 1945 Dönitz was to become head of State and surrendered Germany to Allied forces.

After the occupation of Flensburg on 5 May 1945 by British troops, they granted the German government members freedom of movement – within the scope of their area of ​​responsibility – and the Wehrmacht area and the Mürwik special area (Sonderbereich Mürwik) were not regularly occupied by military forces until 22 May 1945. The German government continued to meet regularly for cabinet meetings until 22 May. Every day, promptly at 10 a.m., the last Reich President Dönitz opened the cabinet meetings. On 23 May 1945, the government members were arrested in violation of international law by the British.

After the war

At the Nuremberg Trials, Dönitz was charged and convicted of war crimes and received a 10 year prison sentence. After his release in late 1956 he wrote his first book, a autobiography entitled "Memoirs: Ten Years and Twenty Days". His second book followed in 1968,entitled "My Ever-Changing Life" it was mainly directed at the years before 1935 and is a rare book.


Dönitz died of a heart attack on 24 December 1980. He was the last German officer of the ranking Grand Admiral and the last president of the Reich.


Karl was the son of Karl Emil Dönitz (ᛉ 21 October 1857 in Zerbst), an engineer, and his wife Wilhelmine Emilia Anna, née Beyer (ᛉ 22 October 1862 in Crossen an der Oder). Karl had an older brother.


On 27 May 1916, Oberleutnant zur See Dönitz married the nurse named Ingeborg Ilse Metha Wilhelmine Weber (b. 10 December 1893; d. 2 May 1962), the daughter of German general Erich Paul Weber (1860–1933). They had three children whom they raised as Protestant Christians: daughter Ursula (1917–1990) and sons Klaus (1920–1944) and Peter (1922–1943). Both of Dönitz's sons died in battle during the Second World War. Leutnant zur See Peter Dönitz fell on 19 May 1943 when U-954 was sunk in the North Atlantic with all hands. Oberleutnant zur See Klaus Dönitz fell on 13 May 1944 on Schnellboot „S 141“. Ursula was maried to Knight's Cross holder Günter Hessler.


Rear Admiral Gerhard Wagner (1898–1987) and General Kinzel (right) at the arrest of the Dönitz government (Regierung Dönitz) on 23 May 1945
  • 1 April 1910: Seekadett (Cadet at See)
  • 15 April 1911: Fähnrich zur See (Officer Cadet – Midshipman)
  • 27 September 1913: Leutnant zur See (2nd Lieutenant at Sea)
  • 22 March 1916: Oberleutnant zur See (1st Lieutenant at Sea)
  • 10 January 1921: Kapitänleutnant (Lieutenant Captain) with effect from 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)

Awards and decorations

  • Prussian General Honor Decoration (Allgemeines Ehrenzeichen) in Silver (7 June 1913)
  • Iron Cross (1914)
    • 2nd class (7 September 1914)
    • 1st class (5 May 1916)
  • Liakat Medal with Sabers on 7 November 1914
  • Friedrich Cross of the Duchy of Anhalt, 1st class (17 January 1916)
  • Ottoman War Medal (7 November 1916) (Ottoman Empire)
  • Order of the Medjidie, 4th class with swords (13 March 1917) (Ottoman Empire)
  • Military Merit Cross (Austria-Hungary), 3rd Class with War Decoration on 24 December 1917
  • Knight of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords (10 June 1918)
  • U-boat War Badge 1918 Version on 4 October 1918
  • Order of the Sword, Knight 1st Class on 12 April 1930
  • Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918 with Swords (30 January 1935)
  • Wehrmacht Long Service Award, 4th to 1st Class
  • Hungarian Order of Merit, Commander's Cross (20 August 1938)
  • Sudetenland Medal (Medaille zur Erinnerung an den 1. Oktober 1938) on 20 December 1939


  • Repetition Clasp 1939 to the Iron Cross 1914, 2nd and 1st Class
    • 2nd class (18 September 1939)
    • 1st class (20 December 1939)
  • Order of the Medjidie, 1st class (Ottoman Empire)
  • Military Order of Savoy Knight Cross (20 April 1940) (Kingdom of Italy)
  • Military Order of Savoy Commander's Cross (7 November 1941) (Kingdom of Italy)
  • Order of Naval Merit in white, Grand Corss (10 June 1940) (Spanish State)
  • Order of Michael the Brave, 2nd and 3rd class (7 April 1943) (Kingdom of Romania)
  • Order of Michael the Brave, 1st class (Kingdom of Romania)
  • Order of the Rising Sun, First Class (11 September 1943) (Empire of Japan)
  • Golden Party Badge of the National Socialist German Workers Party (1943)
  • Special U-boat War Badge (1939) with diamonds
  • 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

See also

Further reading

External link


  1. Howard D. Grier (2007): Hitler, Dönitz, and the Baltic Sea. The Third Reich's last hope. Naval Institute Press, ISBN 1591143454, p. 256 Footnote 8, Chapter 10.