Dönitz was a German naval officer and the creator of Germany's World War Two U-boat fleet. He also briefly succeeded Adolf Hitler as German head of state in the last months of the war.
Karl Dönitz was born on 16 September 1891 near Berlin and went into the Imperial German Navy in 1911. Having served as a submarine officer in World War One, when Adolf Hitler came to power Dönitz was chosen to create a new U-boat fleet . He was appointed commander of the fleet and during the early years of World War Two, turned the U-boats into a serious threat to Britain's survival. Under his guidance, by early 1941 the U-boat commanders were operating in 'wolfpack' formation, with groups of U-boats patrolling in long lines. When one of the pack signalled a sighting of an Allied ship convoy, the others would join in to overwhelm the convoy by weight of numbers.
In January 1943, Dönitz replaced Admiral Erich Raeder as commander-in-chief of the German navy, where his loyalty and ability won him Hitler's trust. On 20 April 1945, facing the collapse of the Nazi regime, Hitler appointed him Dönitz of the northern military and civil command. Finally, Hitler named Dönitz as his successor as president of the Reich, minister of war and supreme commander of the armed forces. After Hitler's suicide on 30 April, Dönitz opened negotiations for surrender. He wanted to save as many German civilians and retreating soldiers from the Soviets as possible, correctly believing that the Soviets would prove much less forgiving conquerors than the Western Allies. He hoped that a separate surrender to the British and Americans might allow the Reich to rescue something from the Soviets in the east. The Western Allies, however, fearful of provoking Stalin's paranoia, demanded that Germany surrender to all the Allies simultaneously.
Early in the morning of 7 May 1945, a German delegation, on the orders of Dönitz, went to General Eisenhower's headquarters in Rheims and signed the surrender documents. During the interval of surrender, 1,800,000 German troops - 55% of the army of the east - were transferred into the British-US area of control.
In 1946, Dönitz was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. He was released from prison in 1956, and retired on a government pension. He died on 24 December 1980.
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