Grand Admiral Doenitz, U-boat commander, is the man on whom Hitler pins desperate hopes for stalemating the war
THE MOST sinister single enemy of the Allies at sea is a small, wiry, square-headed man of 50, with close-cropped hair, protruding cheekbones, a small mustache, tight lips, an out-thrust chin, and an obsession for killing.
His name is Karl Doenitz.
He was recently appointed Grand Admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy, and he is probably the world’s foremost expert on the U-boat.
At the age of 14 he joined the Navy as a cabin boy. Two years earlier, in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, the submarine had indicated its potentialities. Many a bellicose and adventurous German lad dreamed of becoming an undersea pirate. Karl Doenitz has dreamed and lived the U-boat ever since.
In the first world war he commanded the U-68, one of the most successful German raiders, and one of the few that lasted until the closing days of the war, when it was sunk by a British sloop. Doenitz
was taken as a prisoner of war to England. Soon he had to be transferred to the Manchester asylum for the insane. From there he was repatriated to Germany as a case of “incurable insanity.” Whether his insanity was a shrewd feint, or merely the foreboding of a state of mind that subsequently burst out as Nazism, was never established. One lesson, however, Doenitz obviously learned from
his own English experience—it does not pay to take prisoners. The only enemy who can never be dangerous again is a dead enemy.
At the outbreak of this war Karl Doenitz was serving as U-boat commander with the rank of Captain. He did not conceal his contempt for the more glamorous units of the Nazi Navy. Pocket battleships, he insisted, would never be able to compete with the British Grand Fleet and the rapidly expanding American Navy. Germany, he said, is bound to remain a second-rate naval power. However, the fatherland could win on the seas, too, simply by relying on the “great equalizer” as Doenitz calls the U-boat, the invincible weapon of the weak. Its two assets, invisibility and surprise technique, can, Doenitz firmly believes, overcome any sort of naval supremacy.
This creed was apparently listened to by Hitler, particularly as the failure of the Nazi High Sea Fleet became ever more evident. The Captain was promoted to commander of the entire German
U-boat flotilla. In this function he devised the scheme of wolf packs, or “echelons of wolf packs,” to borrow an expression coined by A. V. Alexander, England’s First Lord of the Admiralty.
The idea was this: The gravest of the several handicaps under which the submarine labors is its slow speed. At best the U-boat makes 21 knots on the surface, 12 knots when submerged. It can be outrun by most naval craft, by fast liners, and even by some merchantmen. Moreover, the torpedo reaches its target with accuracy only if the U-boat attacks the enemy head on, always a perilous undertaking. A shot from any other position is chancy. Even the best torpedo marksman can only guess at the position of his target when the torpedo has run its course, particularly since Allied ships have the habit of zigzagging. The most promising method of attack is encirclement. Hence the wolf packs.
The system worked. Hitler, hungry for successes, appointed the smart leader of the wolf packs his naval commander-in-chief. It was the death-knell of the German High Sea Fleet, which for the present is relegated to such minor jobs as protecting the coasts of the “European Fortress.” All the punch of the German naval effort is concentrated on a single purpose-—the U-boat warfare. To interrupt the world-wide Allied lines of communication is
Hitler’s last desperate hope for stalemating the war, or prolonging it indefinitely.
Ruthlessness in Combat
UNDER Doenitz’ expert guidance the U-boat weapon has already greatly expanded its scope. He is carrying out the self-imposed task of building more and better submarines, and at the same time increasing both their fighting power and their ruthlessness in combat. Besides, he is multiplying the strongholds and bases for his U-boats, and he by no means neglects his world-embracing net of “information centres.” His “thieves in the night,” as he tenderly calls his U-boats, shall hunt in the seven seas. It is not a chivalrous form of warfare that he conducts but the time-honored chivalry of the seas is no concern of his.
Germany’s production of U-boats has increased remarkably, particularly in the last year. According to the best Allied information, she is now producing at least between 30 and 40 submarines a month. They are no longer the small and medium types, ranging from the 250-ton Mosquitoes to the 500ton average submarines and the 712-ton “large” ships, with which Hitler entered this war. An indication of the increased size of the new German types is given by the fact that the crews, formerly averaging some 30 men, have had to be increased to
45. The hulls are produced in U-boat pens, covered and screened with concrete 30 to 35 feet thick, and supposed to be bomb-proof. Thus even the devastating RAF raids on Wilhelmshaven, some 75 in number so far, which have left the foremost German naval port (incidentally, Doenitz’ personal residence) a shambles, were allegedly unable to halt the work in the pens. The smaller types are produced in factories inside Germany, and in some of the occupied countries. They are either assembled in the yards at Wilhelmshaven and Kiel, or pass down the Elbe, Rhine, Vistula and Rhone.
The modern German U-boats have overcome, or are about to overcome, the gravest impediments of the now outdated models. According to a technical book which Doenitz wrote a few months before the outbreak of the war, the slowness of the U-boat, its worst drawback, was due to the necessity for double driving power—Diesel engines on the surface, and batteries when submerged. If a single driving power sufficed, he reasoned, the U-boat could save much space and weight for better uses; machinery with far higher capacity could be incorporated with the hull. Today the Germans are said to be operating U-boats with a so-called oxygen-hydrogen engine that serves for both submerged and surface cruising, and makes unnecessary the heavy storage batteries.
The torpedo itself h^s been developed into the most deadly arm of the naval war. Doenitz is said to be using torpedoes of the “electric” type, driven by storage batteries, unseen as they travel, leaving no wake, and striking silently. They are charged with about 800 pounds of a new explosive of a greater destructive power than TNT. More formidable still is the magnetic torpedo which need not even score a direct hit, but only come within the magnetic field of its target to blow it up. The magnetic torpedo does more than tear a gaping hole in a ship. It literally splits its victim in two, thus making salvage and repair almost impossible, and imperilling many more lives.
The new type of submersible cruiser, the super U-boat, is equipped with 40 torpedoes, whereas the older types used to carry only 10 or 12. Its larger fuel storage enables it to cruise some 12,000 to 15,000 miles and remain four to six weeks in operation without refueling. Moreover, Doenitz has undersea tankers which replenish the fuel supply.
The submersible cruiser also carries a considerable load of mines, increasing the capacity for minelaying which was limited in the older and smaller types. The artillery on the U-boat is, according to Doenitz, only a secondary weapon, indeed a device for which the U-boat is not constructed. Yet the modern German U-boat is equipped with four medium-sized guns installed in bows and stern, which serve primarily to outgun lightly armed merchant ships. The machine guns, of which Doenitz’ U-boats have plenty, are used for repelling air attacks.
Bristling U-Boat Arsenal
ALL ALONG the European coastline there are - German U-boat bases in operation. For practical purposes the big home bases at Kiel and Wilhelmshaven, Hamburg and Bremen, under constant attack by British bombers, are even less useful than the bases in the occupied countries. Far the most important one, by all accounts, is the base at Lorient, which the Todt organization has transformed during a year and a half’s incessant labor into a bristling arsenal.
The civil population of the district of Lorient was recently evacuated. So were the 40,000 inhabitants of the famous Old Harbor in Marseilles which is being transformed into Germany’s biggest U-boat base in the Mediterranean. Other U-boat bases range all the way from Trondheim to Vlissingen (Flushing), Ostend, Cherbourg, Bordeaux, and Spezia, Mussolini’s naval stronghold which the Germans took over a short time ago. According to reports from occupied Europe, minor bases, those used for repairs and refueling at least, are shifted from port to port to keep the Allied air attackers guessing.
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U-boat operations depend largely on a world-wide net of intelligence, which Admiral Raeder, acting as his own spy-master, built up and which his successor, Doenitz, is weaving ever tighter. The Argentine is the paradise of German spies in reporting the movements of Allied shipping in the Atlantic. Regrettably—and cer-
tainly against the intentions of its Government — Portugal runs the Argentine a close second. The Portuguese colonies in Africa harbor hundreds of Nazi vermin who are responsible for the loss of many an Allied vessel.
But the omnipresence of the Nazi informer is not the greatest danger. The true weapon of the U-boat is its own invisibility. Well directed, it can penetrate any part of the seas it chooses for its operations. It can disappear practically unnoticed, even in seas which a German surface raider could not possibly enter without a losing fight. Only its periscope, a tiny spot in the vastness of the sea, is visible when the boat is submerged. But due to the latest progress in German technique, not even the use of the periscope is absolutely necessary. Some of Doenitz’ submarines are now firing theirtorpedoes“blind,” relying exclusively on their sound detection gear. Accuracy under these conditions ijs, of course, not quite the same, and it takes an expert commander to exploit this technique.
According to Doenitz, the U-boat is a one-man show. It depends entirely on the commander. The skipper himself directs the torpedo firing. Since he alone squints through the periscope, he is the boat’s only link with the world above. He is responsible for the crash-dive manoeuvre which takes only a few seconds. Within the fraction of a minute the boat must submerge, usually to a depth of 80 feet, and right itself again until the periscope breaks the surface by a hairsbreadth.
“Kill! Kill! Kill!”
ABOVE ALL, Doenitz is responsible for the aggressive, ruthless, devil-may-care combat tactics which the wolf pack system has revived. Tirpitz’ old slogan, “Sink without leaving a trace!” has become the order óf the day.
Addressing a gathering of U-boat commanders when he took over the supreme command, Doenitz expressed it thus: “The aim of the war is the extinction of the enemy’s conditions of life, to force him into unconditional acceptance of our demands. The best way is the complete annihilation of the enemy’s fighting capacity.” But since the Grand Admiral is a man of few words, he lowered his manuscript and concluded with the thrice repeated cry: “Kill! Kill! Kill!”
They are killing with a vengeance. No prisoners are taken. Save for an occasional skipper from a sunken ship, whose information, if exacted, may be valuable, there is neither food, water, nor oxygen for extra mouths. Moreover, it might be dangerous to leave witnesses of the
U-boat’s whereabouts to be picked up eventually by an Allied ship. The victims of a sinking are raked with machine-gun salvos. Lifeboats sometimes rate a few precious bullets from the guns in the bows. The Nazi U-boat crews take it in their stride. Possibly it is a compensation for the very great strain they are subjected to on their raiding cruises.
And here is where Grand Admiral Doenitz’ troubles begin. The Germans are running short of expert commanders and highly trained crews for their ever-expanding U-boat production.
The task of the submarine skipper is probably the toughest assignment in the war. It is almost impossible to enumerate his multiple duties. Doenitz himself asserts that one must be born with salt water in one’s veins to have the “feel.” On the feel of the commander the fate of boat and crew largely depends.
German propaganda rumors, diligently spread in the Allied countries, have it that U-boat crews are being trained as if on an assembly line Their entire training is allegedly a three-weeks’ run in the Baltic. And the U-boat is supposedly regarded as seaworthy if only three members of the crew, beside the commander, are “old hands.”
Of course, such talk is utter nonsense. Doenitz would be the first to admit it. He is perfectly aware of the terrible fatigue of his overtaxed personnel. He tries tb spur them on by pep talks. He races from U-boat base to U-boat base preaching to his men the virtues of German comradeship. Every man, he insists, must do his share of the duty —and more. He exhorts his commanders, whom he calls the “living embodiment of the Fuehrer principle,” to share to the end the hardships of their men.
The little cabin which was once reserved for the skipper has been abolished. The boss sleeps in the same room with his crew, sometimes on a narrow cot, sometimes even on the crowded floor. On the other hand his every breath is a sacred command. He has the right to suppress any lack of discipline—not quite infrequent in the tense atmosphere of the U-boat-—by whatever means he deems necessary.
These wretched German U-boat crews enjoy none of the amenities with which the Allied navies try to alleviate the hardest and most dangerous assignment of all. Often, especially during raids lasting many months, the food on Nazi U-boats is scanty and scarcely edible. Invariably the. wrath of the crew is turned against the Second Officer, an innovation of the Hitler system, indeed the Nazi commissar aboard, who usually prefers a comfortable civilian outfit to the ragged uniforms of the often ill-clothed German sailors.
But in spite of the crew’s many hardships and privations, and despite a good deal of discontent and grumbling, there is, if one may believe observers, not the slightest sign of any impending crack-up. It is true
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that the abortive German revolution of 1918 started in the fleet, particularly on the U-boats. But there appears little chance that history will repeat itself. Fundamentally, the Nazi U-boat crews are insanely proud of their miserable lives. Doenitz knows his men, and relies on them. His order to “sink without leaving a trace” has lifted the Nazi morale.
DOENITZ is, however, confronted by a second problem which no exhortation will solve. The once so effective co-operation between the U-boat and the Luftwaffe has practically ceased. Germany has lost for good her vaunted aerial supremacy. Her inferiority in the air, as compared with the ever-increasing power of the Allied air forces, is more marked from day to day. The Uboat was the first victim of the German aircraft shortage. Every German flier counts. None can be spared for long-range raids on insecure and, as likely as not, unprofitable targets. The U-boats are now on their own. True, Karl Doenitz is experimenting with aircraft-carrying U-boats, his latest device. But the German production of planes is' decreasing. If the skies over the Atlantic are some day darkened by planes they will not be German planes.
Two more limitations have severely restricted the successes of the submarines. Coastal defenses have been so powerfully improved that no U-boat can approach the British shores within 30 miles.
The other factor limiting the success of the U-boat are escort vessels. Out of about 3,000,000 soldiers who have been moved across the seas under the protection of the British Navy, only 1,348 have been killed or drowned, including the missing. The odds are about 2,201 to one against military personnel losses inflicted by U-boats. The figures on American losses during large-scale transport of troops to North Africa are correspondingly reassuring. But such successes cannot blind the Allies to the fact that month by month hundreds of thousands of tons of Allied shipping are sent to the bottom.
The danger is increasing. This is the U-boats’ “open season.” But with the danger, the resolution of the United Nations to deal effectively with the menace increases. There are four avenues of approach: Intensified air attacks on Nazi bases and on the shipyards producing U-boats; the development of protective devices, the better to cope with the rambling enemy lurking under the sea; the construction of more and faster merchant ships; and the strengthening of the escorting convoys. In all these four directions we are making headway every day. Ultimately, there is no doubt, our most dangerous single enemy at sea, Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz, will go down.