Dönitz as Grand Admiral in 1943
|President of the German Reich|
30 April 1945 – 23 May 1945
|Preceded by||Adolf Hitler|
|Supreme Commander of the Kriegsmarine|
30 January 1943 – 1 May 1945
|Preceded by||Erich Raeder|
|Succeeded by||Hans-Georg von Friedeburg|
|Born||16 September 1891|
Grünau, Berlin, Province of Brandenburg, German Empire
|Died||24 December 1980 (aged 89)|
Aumühle, Schleswig-Holstein, West Germany
|Political party||National Socialist German Workers' Party|
(1944–1945; as honorary member)[Note 1]
Schwerin von Krosigk Cabinet
|Nickname(s)||Der Löwe (The Lion)|
|Years of service|
|^1 Formally titled "Leading Minister" or "Chief Minister" (Leitender Minister).|
Karl Dönitz (sometimes spelled Doenitz German: [ˈdøːnɪts] (listen); 16 September 1891 – 24 December 1980) was a German admiral who played a major role in the naval history of World War II. Dönitz briefly succeeded Adolf Hitler as the head of state of Nazi Germany.
He began his career in the Imperial German Navy before World War I. In 1918, he was commanding UB-68 when she was sunk by British forces. 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 30 April 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.
Despite his postwar claims, Dönitz was seen as supportive of Nazism during the war, and he is known to have made a number of anti-Semitic statements. Following the war, Dönitz was indicted as a major war criminal at the Nuremberg Trials on three counts: (1) conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; (2) planning, initiating, and waging wars of aggression; and (3) crimes against the laws of war. He was found not guilty on count (1) of the indictment, but guilty on counts (2) and (3). He was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment; after his release, he lived in a village near Hamburg until his death in 1980. For nearly seven decades, Dönitz was the only head of state to be convicted by an international tribunal until the conviction of Liberia's Charles Taylor in April 2012.
Dönitz was born in Grünau near Berlin, Germany, to Anna Beyer and Emil Dönitz, an engineer, in 1891. Karl had an older brother. In 1910, Dönitz enlisted in the Kaiserliche Marine ("Imperial Navy").
On 27 September 1913, Dönitz was commissioned as a Leutnant zur See (acting sub-lieutenant). When World War I began, he served on the light cruiser SMS Breslau in the Merranean Sea. In August 1914, the Breslau and the battlecruiser SMS Goeben were sold to the Ottoman navy; the ships were renamed the Midilli and the Yavuz Sultan Selim, respectively. They began operating out of Constantinople, under Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, engaging Russian forces in the Black Sea. On 22 March 1916, Dönitz was promoted to Oberleutnant zur See. When the Midilli put into dock for repairs, he was temporarily assigned as airfield commander at the Dardanelles. From there, he requested a transfer to the submarine forces, which became effective in October 1916. He served as watch officer on U-39, and from February 1917 onward as commander of UC-25. On 2 July 1918, he became commander of UB-68, operating in the Merranean. On 4 October, after suffering technical difficulties, this boat was sunk by the British and Dönitz was imprisoned on Malta. He realized convoys introduced in 1917 had stopped the U-boats from becoming a decisive factor. However, he had learned that convoys could be attacked successfully at night by several U-boats.
The war ended in 1918, but Dönitz remained in a British camp near Sheffield as a prisoner of war until returning to Germany in July 1920.
He continued his naval career in the naval arm of the Weimar Republic's armed forces. On 10 January 1921, he became a Kapitänleutnant (lieutenant) in the new German navy (Vorläufige Reichsmarine). Dönitz commanded torpedo boats, becoming a Korvettenkapitän (lieutenant-commander) on 1 November 1928. On 1 September 1933, he became a Fregattenkapitän (commander) and, in 1934, was put in command of the cruiser Emden, the ship on which cadets and midshipmen took a year-long world cruise as training.
In 1935, the Reichsmarine was renamed Kriegsmarine by the Nazis. Germany was prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles from having submarines. On 1 September 1935, he was promoted to Kapitän zur See (naval captain). Now under the Anglo-German Naval Agreement they were allowed small submarines. He was placed in command of the first U-boat flotilla Weddigen, which included U-7, U-8 and U-9. The British believed that the submarine was no longer a menace because when submerged they could be located by the echos from sound pulses: ASDIC or sonar. Many in Germany felt the same. However, Dönitz proposed to attack convoys at night with packs of U-boats — operating on the surface, where they were faster than merchantmen — and firing torpedoes at 600 yd (550 m). 
German doctrine at the time, based on the work of American Admiral Alfred Mahan and shared by all major navies, called for submarines to be integrated with surface fleets and employed against enemy warships. By November 1937, Dönitz became convinced a major campaign against merchant shipping was practicable and began pressing for converting the German fleet almost entirely to U-boats. He advocated guerre de course, pointing out destroying Britain's fleet of oil tankers would starve the Royal Navy of the fuel to run its ships, which would be just as effective as sinking them. He argued a German fleet of 300 of the newer Type VII U-boats could knock Britain out of the war. 
Dönitz revived the World War I idea of grouping several submarines together into a "wolfpack" to overwhelm a merchant convoy's defensive escorts. Implementation of wolfpacks had been difficult in World War I owing to the limitations of available radios. In the interwar years, Germany had developed ultrahigh frequency transmitters which it was hoped would make their radio communication unjammable, while the Enigma cipher machine was believed to have made communications secure. Dönitz also adopted and claimed cr for Wilhelm Marschall's 1922 idea of attacking convoys using surfaced or shallow-submergence night attacks. This tactic had the added advantage that a submarine on the surface was undetectable by sonar. 
At the time, many – including Admiral Raeder – felt such talk marked Dönitz as a weakling. Dönitz was alone among senior naval officers, including some former submariners, in believing in a new submarine war on trade. Dönitz and Raeder argued constantly over funding priorities within the Navy, while at the same time competing for funds with Hitler's friends, such as Hermann Göring, who received greater attention at this time.
Since the surface strength of the Kriegsmarine was much less than that of the British Royal Navy, Raeder believed any war with Britain in the near future would doom its fleet to uselessness, once remarking that all the Germans could hope to do was to die valiantly.  Raeder based his hopes on war's being delayed until the Kriegsmarine's extensive "Z Plan", which would have expanded Germany's surface fleet to where it could effectively contend with the Royal Navy, was implemented. The "Z Plan", however, was not scheduled to be completed until 1945. 
Dönitz, in contrast, began intensely training his crews in the new tactics. The marked inferiority of the German surface fleet left submarine warfare as Germany's primary naval option once war broke out.
In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany, and World War II began. The Kriegsmarine was unprepared, not expecting war before 1945. The Z Plan was tailored for this assumption, calling for a balanced fleet with a greatly increased number of surface capital ships, including several aircraft carriers. It was suspended and U-boat construction given priority. When the war began Dönitz had 46 U-boats ready for action and only 22 oceangoing Type VIIs. He made do with what he had, while being harassed by Raeder and with Hitler calling on him to dedicate boats to military actions against the British fleet directly. These operations had mixed success; the aircraft carrier HMS Courageous and battleship Royal Oak were sunk, battleships HMS Nelson damaged and Barham sunk at a cost of some U-boats, diminishing the small quantity available even further. Mines were also employed.
On 1 October 1939, Dönitz became a Konteradmiral (rear admiral) and "Commander of the Submarines" (Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote, BdU); on 1 September the following year, he was made a Vizeadmiral (vice admiral). From 3 September 1939 to 28 February 1940 the U-boats sank 199 ships.  Dönitz was deeply involved in the daily operations of his boats, often contacting them up to 70 times a day with questions about as their position, fuel supply, and other "minutiae". This incessant questioning compromised his ciphers by giving the Allies more messages to work with. Furthermore, replies from the boats enabled the Allies to use direction finding (HF/DF, called "Huff-Duff") to locate a U-boat using its radio, track it and attack it (often with aircraft able to sink it with impunity).
The major German naval operation of the war was the invasion of Norway in April 1940. U-boats launched four attacks on a battleship, fourteen on a cruiser, ten on a destroyer, and ten on transports, but owing to misses or to torpedoes that failed to explode only one transport was sunk.  Dönitz visited his U-boats to assure the crews that they soon would have effective weapons and sent them to sea as mine-layers while torpedoes were improved.
With the fall of France, Germany acquired U-boat bases at Lorient, Brest, St Nazaire, and La Pallice/La Rochelle. This extended the range of Type VIIs. A headquarter was established near Lorient, with a communication centre at the Château de Pignerolle at Saint-Barthélemy-d'Anjou.  Dönitz was convinced U-boats could defeat the British.  To locate convoys, he would deploy a patrol line of eight U-boats with extending 120 miles.[clarification needed] A U-boat that spotted a convoy would report to Dönitz, who would select a location at which the wolfpack would assemble and attack surfaced on a moonless night, where they were faster than their prey, escort sonar could not detect them, and British radar could not distinguish a U-boat from the water surface. 
By 1941, construction of new Type VIIs had improved to the point where operations were having a real effect on the British wartime economy. Although production of merchant ships shot up in response, improved torpedoes, better U-boats, and much better operational planning led to increasing numbers of "kills". On 7 January 1941, Hitler provided the long range aerial reconnaissance Dönitz had begged for. Following Hitler's declaration of war on the United States on 11 December 1941, Dönitz implemented Operation Drumbeat (Unternehmen Paukenschlag). [Note 2] It targeted shipping along the East Coast of the United States. Initially with only five U-boats (all the larger Type IX), it had dramatic and far-reaching results. The US Navy was entirely unprepared for antisubmarine warfare despite having had two years of British experience to draw from, and committed every imaginable mistake. Shipping losses, which had appeared to be coming under control as the Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy gradually adapted to the new challenge, skyrocketed. In April 1942 the Germans deployed their first Type XIV U-boat (Milchkuh - milk cow) to resupply U-boats at sea, extending their patrol durations and improving effectiveness. 
On at least two occasions, Allied success against U-boat operations led Dönitz to investigate the possibility Enigma had been compromised. Among reasons considered were espionage and Allied interception and decoding of German naval communications (the naval version of the Enigma cipher machine). Both investigations into communications security concluded espionage was more likely, or else Allied successes had been accidental. Nevertheless, Dönitz ordered his U-boat fleet to use an improved version of the Enigma machine (one with four rotors, which was more secure than the three-rotor version it replaced), the M4, for communications within the fleet, on 1 February 1942. The Kriegsmarine was the only branch to use this improved version; the rest of the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) continued to use three-rotor machines. The new system was named "Triton" (called "Shark" by the Allies). For a time, this change caused considerable difficulty for Allied codebreakers; it took 10 months before Shark traffic could be read (see also Ultra codebreaking and Cryptanalysis of the Enigma). However, the data for U-boats and merchantmen sunk shows reading the German codes gave the Allies little help. The introduction of microwave radar in early 1942, which enabled the allies to detect even periscopes, increased the number of U-boats sunk and reduced the number of Allied ships sunk. In response, U-boats were provided with French-made detectors for the microwave pulses, known as METOX. 
By the end of 1942, the production of Type VII U-boats had increased to the point where Dönitz was finally able to conduct mass attacks by groups of submarines, a tactic he called Rudel (group or pack) and became known as "wolfpack" in English. Allied shipping losses shot up tremendously, and serious concern existed for a while about the state of British fuel supplies.
During 1943, the war in the Atlantic turned against the Germans, but Dönitz continued to push for increased U-boat construction and entertained the notion that further technological developments would tip the war once more in Germany's favour, briefing the Führer to that effect. At the end of the war, the German submarine fleet was by far the most advanced in the world, and late-war examples such as the Type XXI U-boat served as models for Soviet and American construction after the war. The Schnorchel (snorkel) and Type XXI boats appeared late in the war because of Dönitz's personal indifference, at times even hostility, to new technology he perceived as disruptive to the production process,  a charge Dönitz would surely have disputed. 
His opposition to the larger Type IX was not unique; Admiral Thomas C. Hart, commander of the United States Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines at the outbreak of the Pacific War, unsuccessfully opposed fleet boats like the Gato and Balao classes as "too luxurious".
On 30 January 1943, Dönitz replaced Erich Raeder as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy (Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine) and Großadmiral (grand admiral) of the Naval High Command (Oberkommando der Marine). His deputy, Eberhard Godt, took over the operational command of the U-boat force. Dönitz was able to convince Hitler not to pay off all of the remaining ships of the surface fleet. However. the Kriegsmarine continued to lose what few capital ships it had. In September, the battleship Tirpitz was put out of action for months by a British midget submarine, and was sunk a year later by RAF bombers at anchor in Norway. In December, he ordered the battleship Scharnhorst (under Konteradmiral Erich Bey) to attack Soviet-bound convoys, after reconsidering her success in the early years of the war with sister ship Gneisenau, but she was sunk in the resulting encounter with superior British forces led by the battleship HMS Duke of York. When the Russians regained the shore of the Baltic in August 1944, the German navy became deeply committed to supply and evacuation.  The introduction of the snorkel in June 1944, substantially reduced U-boat losses in the Atlantic. 
In the final days of the war, after Hitler had taken refuge in the Führerbunker beneath the Reich Chancellery garden in Berlin, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring was considered the obvious successor to Hitler, followed by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Göring, however, infuriated Hitler by radioing him in Berlin asking for permission to assume leadership of the Reich. Himmler also tried to seize power by entering into negotiations with Count Bernadotte. On 28 April 1945, the BBC reported Himmler had offered surrender to the western Allies and that the offer had been declined.
From mid-April 1945, Dönitz and elements of what remained of the Reich government moved into the buildings of the Stadtheide Barracks in Plön. In his last will and testament, dated 29 April 1945, Hitler named Dönitz his successor as Staatsoberhaupt (Head of State), with the titles of Reichspräsident (President) and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The same document named Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels as Head of Government with the title of Reichskanzler (Chancellor). Furthermore, Hitler declared both Göring and Himmler traitors and expelled them from the party.
Rather than designate one person to succeed him as Führer, Hitler reverted to the old arrangement in the Weimar Constitution. He believed the leaders of the air force (Luftwaffe) and SS (Schutzstaffel) had betrayed him. As far as Hitler was concerned, since the Kriegsmarine had been too small to affect the war in a major way, its commander, Dönitz, became the only possible successor more or less by default.[page needed]
On 1 May, the day after Hitler's own suicide, Goebbels committed suicide. Dönitz thus became the sole representative of the crumbling German Reich. He appointed Finance Minister Count Ludwig Schwerin von Krosigk as "Leading Minister" (Krosigk had declined to accept the title of Chancellor), and they attempted to form a government.
On 1 May, Dönitz announced that Hitler had fallen and had appointed him as his successor. On 2 May, the new government of the Reich fled to Flensburg-Mürwik before the approaching British troops. That night, Dönitz made a nationwide radio address in which he announced Hitler's death and said the war would continue in the east "to save Germany from destruction by the advancing Bolshevik enemy". However, Dönitz knew Germany's position was untenable and the Wehrmacht was no longer capable of offering meaningful resistance. During his brief period in office, he devoted most of his effort to ensuring the loyalty of the German armed forces and trying to ensure German troops would surrender to the British or Americans and not the Soviets. He feared vengeful Soviet reprisals, and hoped to strike a deal with the western Allies. In the end, Dönitz's tactics were moderately successful, enabling about 1.8 million German soldiers to escape Soviet capture. His authority was effectively limited to a narrow band of territory running from the Austrian border through Berlin to the Danish border, and even that had been cut in two by the American advance to join with Soviet forces at Torgau on the Elbe.
Dönitz's headquarters were located in the Naval Academy in Mürwik, a suburb of Flensburg near the Danish border. Accordingly, his administration was referred to as the Flensburg government. The following is Dönitz's description of his new government:
These considerations (the bare survival of the German people), which all pointed to the need for the creation of some sort of central government, took shape and form when I was joined by Graf Schwerin-Krosigk. In addition to discharging his duties as Foreign Minister and Minister of Finance, he formed the temporary government we needed and presided over the activities of its cabinet. Though restricted in his choice to men in northern Germany, he nonetheless succeeded in forming a workmanlike cabinet of experts.
The picture of the military situation as a whole showed clearly that the war was lost. As there was also no possibility of effecting any improvement in Germany's overall position by political means, the only conclusion to which I, as head of state, could come was that the war must be brought to an end as quickly as possible in order to prevent further bloodshed.
Late on 1 May, Himmler attempted to make a place for himself in the Flensburg government. The following is Dönitz's description of his showdown with Himmler:
At about midnight he arrived, accompanied by six armed SS officers, and was received by my aide-de-camp, Walter Luedde-Neurath. I offered Himmler a chair and sat down at my desk, on which lay, hidden by some papers, a pistol with the safety catch off. I had never done anything of this sort in my life before, but I did not know what the outcome of this meeting might be.
I handed Himmler the telegram containing my appointment. "Please read this," I said. I watched him closely. As he read, an expression of astonishment, indeed of consternation, spread over his face. All hope seemed to collapse within him. He went very pale. Finally he stood up and bowed. "Allow me," he said, "to become the second man in your state." I replied that was out of the question and that there was no way I could make any use of his services.
Thus advised, he left me at about one o'clock in the morning. The showdown had taken place without force, and I felt relieved.
On 4 May, Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, representing Dönitz, surrendered all German forces in the Netherlands, Denmark, and northwestern Germany under Dönitz's command to Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery at Lüneburg Heath just southeast of Hamburg, signalling the end of World War II in northwestern Europe.
A day later, Dönitz sent Friedeburg to US General Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters in Rheims, France, to negotiate a surrender to the Allies. The Chief of Staff of OKW, Generaloberst (Colonel-General) Alfred Jodl, arrived a day later. Dönitz had instructed them to draw out the negotiations for as long as possible so that German troops and refugees could surrender to the Western powers, but when Eisenhower let it be known he would not tolerate their stalling, Dönitz authorised Jodl to sign the instrument of unconditional surrender at 1:30 on the morning of 7 May. Just over an hour later, Jodl signed the documents. The surrender documents included the phrase, "All forces under German control to cease active operations at 23:01 hours Central European Time on 8 May 1945." At Stalin's insistence, on 8 May, shortly before midnight, (Generalfeldmarschall) Wilhelm Keitel repeated the signing in Berlin at Marshal Georgiy Zhukov's headquarters, with General Carl Spaatz of the USAAF present as Eisenhower's representative. At the time specified, World War II in Europe ended.
On 23 May, the Dönitz government was dissolved when Dönitz was arrested by an RAF Regiment task force under the command of Squadron Leader Mark Hobden. The Großadmiral's Kriegsmarine flag, which was removed from his headquarters, can be seen at the RAF Regiment Heritage Centre at RAF Honington. Generaloberst Jodl, Reichsminister Speer and other members were also handed over to troops of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry at Flensburg. His ceremonial baton, awarded to him by Hitler, can be seen in the regimental museum of the KSLI in Shrewsbury Castle.
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 antisemitic 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 (12 March) 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.[Note 3] At the Nuremberg trials, Dönitz claimed the statement about the "poison of Jewry" was regarding "the endurance, the power to endure, of the people, as it was composed, could be better preserved than if there were Jewish elements in the nation." Initially he claimed, "I could imagine that it would be very difficult for the population in the towns to hold out under the strain of heavy bombing attacks if such an influence were allowed to work."
Author Eric Zillmer argues that, from an ideological standpoint, Dönitz was anti-Marxist and antisemitic. 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.[Note 3]
Dönitz told Leon Goldensohn, an American psychiatrist at Nuremberg, "I never had any idea of the goings-on as far as Jews were concerned. Hitler said each man should take care of his business and mine was U-boats and the Navy." Dönitz also told Goldensohn of his support for Admiral Bernhard Rogge, who had one Jewish grandparent, when the Nazis began to persecute him.
Following the war, Dönitz was held as a prisoner of war by the Allies. He was indicted as a major war criminal at the Nuremberg Trials on three counts: (1) conspiracy to commit crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; (2) planning, initiating, and waging wars of aggression; and (3) crimes against the laws of war. Dönitz was found not guilty on count (1) of the indictment, but guilty on counts (2) and (3).
During the trial, Gustave Gilbert, an American Army psychologist, was allowed to examine the Nazi leaders who were tried at Nuremberg for war crimes. Among other tests, a German version of the Wechsler-Bellevue IQ test was administered. Dönitz and Hermann Göring scored 138 which made them equally the third-highest among the Nazi leaders tested.
Dönitz disputed the propriety of his trial at Nuremberg, commenting on count (2) "One of the 'accusations' that made me guilty during this trial was that I met and planned the course of the war with Hitler; now I ask them in heaven’s name, how could an admiral do otherwise with his country's head of state in a time of war?" Over 100 senior Allied officers also sent letters to Dönitz conveying their disappointment over the fairness and verdict of his trial.
At the trial, Dönitz was charged with:
Among the war-crimes charges, Dönitz was accused of waging unrestricted submarine warfare for issuing War Order No. 154 in 1939, and another similar order after the Laconia incident in 1942, not to rescue survivors from ships attacked by submarine. By issuing these two orders, he was found guilty of causing Germany to be in breach of the Second London Naval Treaty of 1936. However, as evidence of similar conduct by the Allies was presented at his trial, and with the help of his lawyer Otto Kranzbühler, his sentence was not assessed on the grounds of this breach of international law.
On the specific war crimes charge of ordering unrestricted submarine warfare, Dönitz was found "[not] guilty for his conduct of submarine warfare against British armed merchant ships", because they were often armed and equipped with radios which they used to notify the admiralty of attack[Note 4] but the judges found,
Dönitz is charged with waging unrestricted submarine warfare contrary to the Naval Protocol of 1936 to which Germany acceded, and which reaffirmed the rules of submarine warfare laid down in the London Naval Agreement of 1930 ... The order of Dönitz to sink neutral ships without warning when found within these zones was, therefore, in the opinion of the Tribunal, violation of the Protocol ... The orders, then, prove Dönitz is guilty of a violation of the Protocol. ... The sentence of Dönitz is not assessed on the ground of his breaches of the international law of submarine warfare."
His sentence on unrestricted submarine warfare was not assessed, because of similar actions by the Allies: in particular, the British Admiralty on 8 May 1940 had ordered all vessels in the Skagerrak sunk on sight; and Admiral Chester Nimitz, wartime commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Fleet, stated the US Navy had waged unrestricted submarine warfare in the Pacific from the day the US officially entered the war. Thus, although Dönitz was found guilty of waging unrestricted submarine warfare against unarmed neutral shipping by ordering all ships in designated areas in international waters to be sunk without warning, no additional prison time was added to his sentence for this crime.
Dönitz was released on 1 October 1956 and retired to the small village of Aumühle in Schleswig-Holstein in northern West Germany. There, he worked on two books. His memoirs, Zehn Jahre, Zwanzig Tage (Memoirs: Ten Years and Twenty Days), were released in Germany in 1958 and became available in an English translation the following year. This book recounted Dönitz's experiences as U-boat commander (10 years) and President of Germany (20 days). In it, Dönitz explains the Nazi regime as a product of its time, but argues he was not a politician and thus not morally responsible for many of the regime's crimes. He likewise criticizes dictatorship as a fundamentally flawed form of government and blames it for many of the Nazi era's failings.
Dönitz's second book, Mein wechselvolles Leben (My Ever-Changing Life) is less known, perhaps because it deals with the events of his life before 1934. This book was first published in 1968, and a new ion was released in 1998 with the revised title Mein soldatisches Leben (My Martial Life). In 1973, he appeared in the Thames Television production The World at War, in one of his few television appearances.
Dönitz was unrepentant regarding his role in World War II, saying that he had acted at all times out of duty to his nation. He lived out the rest of his life in relative obscurity in Aumühle, occasionally corresponding with collectors of German naval history, and died there of a heart attack on 24 December 1980. As the last German officer with the rank of Großadmiral (grand admiral), he was honoured by many former servicemen and foreign naval officers who came to pay their respects at his funeral on 6 January 1981. He was buried in Waldfriedhof Cemetery in Aumühle without military honours, and service members were not allowed to wear uniforms to the funeral. Also in attendance were over 100 holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.
On 27 May 1916, Dönitz married a nurse named Ingeborg Weber (1894–1962), the daughter of German general Erich 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).
In 1937, Karl Dönitz's daughter Ursula married U-boat commander Günther Hessler.
Both of Dönitz's sons were killed during the Second World War. The younger, Peter, was killed on 19 May 1943, when U-954 was sunk in the North Atlantic with all hands. After this loss, the elder son, Klaus, was allowed to leave combat duty and began studying to be a naval doctor. Klaus was killed on 13 May 1944 while taking part in an action contrary to standing orders prohibiting his involvement in any combat role. He persuaded his friends to let him go on the torpedo boat S-141 for a raid on Selsey on his 24th birthday. The boat was sunk by the French destroyer La Combattante and Klaus died, though six others were rescued.
|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 date of rank 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)|
| Supreme Commander of the Kriegsmarine
Hans-Georg von Friedeburg
| President of Germany
Hein ter Poorten
| Cover of Time magazine
2 February 1942
Robert A. Lovett
| Cover of Time magazine
10 May 1943
Harold L. George