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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 May, 2005, 01:46 GMT 02:46 UK
Q&A: The man who succeeded Hitler
The man took over the Third Reich after Hitler committed suicide on 30 April, was not Field Marshal Hermann Goering, or SS chief Heinrich Himmler, but the head of the navy, Karl Doenitz.

Karl Doenitz
Doenitz insisted he was Germany's head of state, even in captivity
He did not last long in the job. He authorised the German surrender one week later, and was arrested by British forces on 23 May.

The BBC News website looks at the circumstances surrounding the succession and asks what kind of man Admiral Doenitz was.

Why did he get the top job?

Hitler lost faith in Goering and Himmler in the last days of his life. On 24 April 1945 Himmler had made an unauthorised offer of German surrender in the West. Two days before that, Goering had written to Hitler in his bunker, offering to take over leadership of the Reich. Hitler regarded the letter as a case of treachery. So, in his political testament, he railed against the shame the "traitors" had brought on the Reich, and named Doenitz president and supreme military commander.

How had Doenitz gained Hitler's trust?

He had shown total loyalty and sincere admiration. The two men became particularly close from the beginning of 1945. This was partly because Doenitz promised Hitler a "revolution at sea" to be achieved by new U-boats capable of remaining submerged for long periods.

How did he find out about his appointment?

Doenitz had escaped from Berlin and taken refuge in northern Germany. Couriers failed to deliver to him a copy of Hitler's testament, but Joseph Goebbels - whom Hitler had named head of government and chancellor - sent him the news in a telegram on 1 May. After sending the telegram, Goebbels killed himself and his family.

What was Doenitz's main goal as president of the Reich?

To enable as many German soldiers as possible to surrender to the Western Allies, rather than Soviet forces, who were thought likely to take an awful revenge on prisoners of war. In the first week of May, 1.8 million soldiers reportedly succeeded in moving out of Soviet-controlled territory.

Was Doenitz a war criminal?

The whole officer corps must be so indoctrinated that it feels itself co-responsible for the National Socialist State in its entirety
Adm Karl Doenitz
He got a 10-year sentence at the Nuremberg war trial - possibly the most controversial verdict the court handed down. Many in the Allied military regarded him as an honourable officer who did not deserve to be lumped together with people like Goering. Unlike many of the other defendants, he was not charged with crimes against humanity.

The main accusation against Doenitz was that he waged "unrestricted" submarine warfare. He always maintained he did nothing that his Allied counterparts had not also done - and US Adm Chester Nimitz supplied Doenitz with an affidavit saying he too had waged unrestricted warfare in the Pacific. When Doenitz was released in 1956, Nimitz was among a number of allied veterans who joined together to express in writing their regret about the way he had been treated.

Was he a Nazi?

He was not a member of the Nazi party, but according to the war correspondent Chester Wilmot (later a historian), he went further than any other senior officer in demanding that the armed forces should identify themselves with the Nazi movement. While most generals believed officers should stand apart from politics, Doenitz told the Navy that the officer corps should be "so indoctrinated that it feels itself co-responsible for the National Socialist State in its entirety".

What was his main claim to fame?

He built the German submarine force into a devastating killing machine. At the start of the war he had 50 U-boats, most of them short-range. At the end of the war, German submarines were the most advanced in the world.

As a submariner in World War I he was captured by the British, and held as a POW in Lodge Moor hospital, Sheffield.

In World War II, Doenitz argued that Allied merchant shipping should be the U-boats' main target. He also invented the idea of submarines hunting in "wolf-packs" large enough to overwhelm the convoys' naval escorts. In 1943, he took over from Adm Erich Raeder as commander in chief of the navy.

What kind of man was he?

He has been described as a typical Prussian officer. By continually demanding detailed information from U-boats about their location and fuel supplies, he inadvertently helped Allied forces track them down. He lost none of his appetite for battle despite the death in the war of both his sons, one of them in a U-boat. In captivity in Spandau prison in the 1950s, he continued to insist that he was Germany's rightful head of state.

How did he spend his old age?

Doenitz had a sharp mind - US psychiatrists who tested him before his trial gave him an IQ rating of 138 (the same as Goering). On his release in 1956, he retired to a village near Hamburg and wrote his memoirs, Ten Years and Twenty Days. The title referred to his years as a U-boat commander and his days as German president. He died in 1980, at the age of 89.


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