(Raeder, left and Donitz right)
There is an expression that suggests that if someone beats the verdict of a trial then they have “walked it.” In the case of Admirals Karl Donitz and Erich Raeder, it could be argued that they “swam it,” when at the Nuremberg trials in 1946, the verdicts of a prison sentence saved them from an appointment with the hangman. It’s interesting as well that at Nuremberg two generals were hung, two admirals did not, and not a Luftwaffe officer was in sight, very strange. Both men were products of their generation and would through their military expertise, launch some of the most devastating injuries on the Allies in the 20th century, and particularly in the grey Atlantic. (As regards the sea, it’s a perfect vision of God’s perfection, especially the beautiful oceans, the myriad of fishes, the deep and also of assorted marine animals that continually wander its vast seaways in search of prey. All sailors should stand in awe at this beautiful creation of God that can bring calm and total destruction within minutes. Man will and never can tame its terrible fury).
Incidentally, Donitz was a POW, when in 1918, he was captured by the Royal Navy and suspecting that he was insane, would later be confined to a mental hospital in Manchester. (That grim building has now long since gone, and today is an open area where my son James has street preached on numerous occasions). During this time Karl Donitz practised his English (which would certainly be an advantage to him later in Spandau prison, when British troops guarded that grim edifice). He would also later visit England in the 1920s to see Nelson’s great flagship HMS Victory. He was a great admirer of the British Navy and its historic traditions.
Funnily enough, Hitler once remarked to Donitz that he would ‘love to have travelled.’ Sadly he never had the time. But James and I did hear a story told to us by a Wigan inhabitant, that Hitler before the First World War, had once walked the streets of that town, apparently on his way to Liverpool to visit a relative there. Somehow he mistakenly got off at the wrong station and wandered around the town. Well believe it or not.
In those post-war years in Germany, the Republican navy would have been rife with any political rumours.
Certainly, the rumblings below ships deck about the emerging Nazi party would have been passionately discussed, with much of it reaching above deck to the officers dining room, many of those men may well have been sympathetic to the Nazi causes.
The pre-war naval officers’ fraternity would have been a closed one, everything could almost be self-sufficient to their needs.
Of anti-Semitism, both Donitz and Raeder (who later claimed he was seduced by Hitler), would know of it, since “Jew-baiting” was a popular pastime then.
So the rumours of what the Nazis had in preparation for the German Jews if they ever reached power, should have come as no surprise to the two admirals. One unfortunate episode in Radar’s professional life was in his dealing with the problem of Heydrich, then a young naval officer accused of conduct unbecoming in 1931. After the court-martial Raeder had him cashiered out of the navy. Later Heydrich would seek employment under Himmler Himmler, but I suspect he never forgave Raeder for what he saw as an unjust accusation against him and his name. He would later do all in his power to seek revenge someday.
Donitz’s nautical claims, and he was called the “U boat genius” did seem to be confirmed, when as early as 1935, he devised a system for using submarines in clusters; later they would be nicknamed ‘the wolf pack.’ During the war, they would certainly damage Allied shipping lanes. Amazingly almost fifteen million tons of merchant shipping was destroyed in the early war years by German submarines. Now proclaimed Donitz, “The Naval war is the U boat law.” The gloves of war were off.
In his memoirs, Winston Churchill later wrote: “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril….”
However, the uses at Bletchingly Park of “ULTRA” eventually did offer the upper hand to the Allies concerning naval and other German radio messages that would and could be intercepted.
By 1943 the war was folding on all fronts. By then Donitz had exhorted sub commanders to, “Kill and keep on killing. Remember no survivors. Humanity is weakness.”
This crude judgment against the human race sounds rather like Darwinism, always fatal when a nation adopts this thinking.
On the seafront, the authority of Erich Raeder was starting to crumble. Hitler now looked to submarines to be the new arm of Nazi surprise attack. The Manhattan project in 1943 was also initiated in the USA. German scientists were deeply involved with the work of splitting the atom in the Nevada desert.
Nazi intelligence must have known of this, and did they have direct access to what was happening, with field reports reaching Berlin. It would certainly be to their advantage if they had an informant willing or otherwise to pass info to the Nazis.
We now learn that in the last years of the war experimental ballistic missiles were being towed behind Nazi submarines. Progress it seems was well past the Nazi drawing boards. Much later, of course, they launched weapons such as Polaris, Trident and Cruise. All would become a dangerous weapon in the nuclear arms race and in the wrong hands. We have to suggest that forced slave labour in factories on behalf of the naval high command cannot be ruled out, the Nazis were desperate.
Werner Von Brauns, successes at Peenemunde with the VI and V2 rockets, could well have had some naval artefacts included in their working design.
Today just looking at the Nazi submarines of the war, such as the U-Boat type VIIB and its sister U-boat IXDs, could offer reconversion from torpedo class to swift missile carriers. This it seems would not be too much of a problem for the German Nazi technology. And here it seems Admiral Donitz’s war crimes become even more evident, for example when the bombproof U-Boat deep-sited bunkers were built by slave labour in Lorient. (I believe they can still be seen to this day).
Donitz and Speer would have certainly visited the building site when they were under construction, and they must have witnessed the half-starved wretches dressed in thin-stripped pyjamas being brutally overseen by their slave masters. Many of those slaves were worked to death and could not later testify at Nuremberg of the atrocities perpetrated against them and others.
But wasn’t this all part of the terrible Final Solution.” Donitz must have known of the Holocaust. But instead, he did nothing but serve his master, Adolph Hitler. And didn’t both admirals pin three swastikas on their naval uniforms for all to see? Both knew and were up to their maritime necks in collusion with the SS.
By 1945 Hitler’s world was crumbling. The war he had initiated had turned dangerously against him. Now there was no escape for him and Germany. But Hitler’s surprise choice as Donitz to replace him was also surprising to the admiral. Hitler seems to have regarded the Luftwaffe and the army as traitors to the Nazi cause. He now showed confidence in Donitz, who may have perhaps paused before clutching at the mantle of leadership being passed to him. Amazingly Donitz would prolong the war for some weeks before full surrender papers were humiliatingly signed.
Donitz, as always the more dedicated Nazi, would later go into full throttle in praise of Hitler’s narrow escape on 20th July 1944 by declaring that in: “The escape of our future we see proof of the righteousness of our cause. We would fight with all our strength till victory is ours.”
Donitz publicly believed God was on the Nazis side. Or did he? What we do know is that he could smile with glee that none of the wicked conspirators in the bomb plot were naval men, well except for three officers.
Hitler apparently never lost his temper with Donitz but he certainly did with Raeder. Frequently his vitriolic temper was unleashed against the sensitive admiral. By 1943 the Raeder era was almost over. Karl Donitz in the meantime was enjoying the full support of his leader and would be appointed Raeder’s chosen successor, even it seems being suggested to Hitler by Raeder himself, very strange.
At 69 and with declining health, Raeder must also have known the war was finished and by now the Allies were unbeatable. And very soon his beloved country would be at the mercy of the Russians, who came seeking revenge and retribution for the cruelty shown against them.
It’s interesting that after the failed bomb plot against Hitler in 1944, both admirals were quick to affirm their loyalty, to a visibly shaken and deafened Hitler. Even later when many of their colleagues were being filmed tortured and garrotted in Plotzensee prison, all Raeder could offer in disgust was to remove his golden Nazi party badge which he had worn since 1937. It seems he later had it destroyed.
By the end of the war both admirals would have a starring role at the Nuremberg trials, then hosted by the conquering Allies. The war may have been over but now the Allies looked to those men they believed had brought the death of over 50 million people.
Erich Raeder aged 69 and with an IQ of 134 had been captured in the Russian Zone. His family were still out there somewhere. (His wife and family were not only held in the Russian Zone for four years but ironically in a former Nazi prison camp). On top of this worry for him was a painful hernia. He rather wished he might expire on the operating table, but this was not to be.
For Donitz, this forced confinement did not alter his appearance, and as a “grand admiral” it’s claimed he would swagger around the exercise yard with open contempt for his fellow Nazis. His prison psychiatrist said of him that: “He is poised, affable and pleasantly spoken with some humour. He hopes to come across as the good German.” Another prison doctor found him very intelligent but politically naive. Of the stated war crimes, he naturally knew nothing about any of it. He scored an IQ of 138.
On the religious front, many of the men were now coming under the spiritual guidance of pastor Gerecke. He would later theorize that some of the ‘Spandau seven’ had truly repented and were indeed saved. We can only hope that it was a genuine conversion on their part.
And then it was all over. The ruling Judges’ sentences were as followed:
Grand Admiral Erich Raeder: Life in imprisonment.
Grand Admiral Karl Donitz: Ten years.
Next stop would be Spandau Prison for the now christened ‘Spandau seven.’
When finally berthed into Port Spandau the two old admirals were now like two decommissioned battleships left afloat in a dry dock. They would just have to rub along and fight old battles with each other in the prison Garden of Eden (named after Anthony Eden it seems) or mess room. But had justice been done, many argued that Donitz’s lawyer was able to secure a ten-year sentence. Did he indeed have friends in high places, many suspected he did.
For Erich Raeder, the stern autocratic officer who served Hitler longer than any other officer in the Nazi Reich made a poor impression on the court; why even the American judge demanded the death sentence, along with the Russians.
Then after much back-room bickering between the judges, their final verdict came in. For Erich Raeder, it would be life imprisonment.
It can only be suggested that if the evidence today about these men’s actions were presented at Nuremberg, both would have hung by a rope until dead, and perhaps like the others, very slowly!
For Donitz in prison, it would be to remind the other six that he was still head of the German state (as appointed by Hitler). Such arrogance!
One of Raeder’s chores inside was looking after the prison library with several New Testament translations on the shelf to study. He also would read Bible quotations from the calendar on his cell wall each morning and evening. It was said about this protestant that he had two religions: the one was his faith in God and the other was his faith in the German navy. We can only presume that he was repentant in these forced years.
During his incarceration, the usual health scares, bickering and dreaming of release to waiting families, would occupy both men’s days and nights. Also, future memoirs would have to be researched and written, their tarnished names would have to be “restored” for the history books in a more “favourable light.” For both them and Germany.
The first admiral to ship out would be Raeder, when on 17th September 1955, he was discharged from Spandau on the grounds of ill health.
He would complete his autobiography in 1957. Then death would claim him in 1960. At the graveside his old shipmate Karl Donitz would deliver the eulogy.
Erich Raeder, like many other men in authority, was able to remove to the recess of his mind, any unpleasant things he had seen or known about. This was also seen in Pius XII and Eden.
For Karl Donitz, his discharge papers arrived in October 1956. Incidentally the night before his release Speer heard him quietly weeping in his cell, for what reason we do now know. At midnight the Russian director said, “Sign here number two.” When he had complied the Russian looked at him and said, “So that ends that, Admiral Donitz,” and with that, he walked through the prison gate to enjoy his freedom.
In retirement, he would author two books, and continued to try and clear his name.
The author, Jack Fishman, once told an amusing story, how Donitz had said that when he was released, he would like to open an orphanage but as Fishman remarked, this was the man who had caused many children to become orphans through his actions as a Nazi naval officer.
Karl Donitz died on 6th January 1981. Then several days later he (almost) had a state funeral with full military honours accorded to him. And although full naval dress uniforms were banned as well as awarded Iron Crosses by the Government, many officers simply failed to comply with this verbal order, including the senior naval chaplain.
Donitz returned to the faith he knew as a boy (he had in the meantime placed over the family grave a large wooden crucifix,) and would be a regular worshiper at the local church. Evidently, this impressed the pastor because at the graveside in his own eulogy he would remark of Admiral Donitz: “He was for me, one of the most devout Christians I have ever met.” Praise indeed for a man who served time for his war crimes in Spandau, and once laud Hitler as: “One of the greatest heroes of German history.”
Then the funeral was all over. The last post would be sounded by the naval band. A page of German history was closed. But of Karl Donitz and Erich Raeder’s lasting reputation, that is still, yet to be decided.
As we have said before no religion can save you. You have to repent. Good deeds are useless unless you have been saved by the precious blood of Christ.
In their desired retirement both Donitz and Raeder had that desired freedom at last from Spandau, but their consciences would forever be confined within those prison walls of the mind, and this would be one penitentiary they would never escape from.
“There go the ships; there is that leviathan, who thou hast made to play therein” (Ps. 104:26).
“It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
UPDATE: FEBRUARY 2012
Reports by the Novosti Press Agency, that a Nazi stronghold has been located in the Lake Vostok region. (Daily Mail 6/2/12).
Admiral Donitz certainly claimed that they (the navy) had created a stronghold at the other end of the world in 1943.
After Hitler’s suicide, and with Donitz his now successor, a submarine U-530, apparently arrived in the region in 1945, with Nazi relics and Hitler’s files, to be deposited for safe keeping.
In fact, this artful admiral was in charge for another 23 days, until his surrender to the Allies, and that’s a long time to carry out any unfinished ‘Nazi business.’
Later a U-977 sub delivered the remains of Hitler and Eva Braun to a subterranean cavern (for DNA cloning?)
Much of this could, of course, be mere science fiction. Or the Russians just causing mischief, or just perhaps an element of truth is in this press release.
But I certainly believe they had the technology for that time.
UPDATE: MARCH 2016
The role of Donitz in the final crumbling days of the Third Reich still offers interesting reading, and he does seem to have been a safe pair of hands but he could not stop the fighting that still went on after Hitler’s death.
The author has had access to many documents concerning Donitz and his difficult attempts to end the war, yet he was Hitler’s chosen successor which later went very much against him at the Nuremberg trials. He would receive a ten-year sentence. My only regret about the book is that there wasn’t more of his ten years in Spandau Prison, and how he came to terms with the horrors of the “Final Solution,” and of meeting God one day. Because all men certainly will give an account of every “thought, word, and deed.” Yet as the author says of the man: “Karl Donitz remains a deeply enigmatic figure.”
The final paragraph in the book reads: “Of the 40,900 U-boat officers and men who served under Doenitz, 25,870 lost their lives; in that number were the two sons of Karl Donitz.” Yet the admiral must have sincerely believed in Hitler and Nazism to sacrifice his own two sons to that twisted cause of hate and racism that still remains today, the shocking legacy of the Third Reich from 1933-1945.
Karl Donitz and the Last Days of the Third Reich, by Barry Turner
Spandau, Jack Fishman
The Infamous of Nuremberg, Col. Andrus
Erich Raeder, Keith Bird
Donitz, Peter Padfield