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Donitz nod Lockwood: A Comparison of Style Part II

Part I appeared in the July 1999 issue of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.

Well, Donitz lost and Lockwood won. Ifs easy to identify characteristics of the loser that contributed to his losing, and characteristics of the winner that contributed to his winning. But this doesn’t level the playing field. Would Donitz, given Lockwood’s hand have played it as well; or conversely, would Lockwood as FdU (Flag Officer, U-Boats) have done better than Donitz?

It is doubtful that either would have succeeded in the place of the other because the service traditions and styles of their respective navies and nations were so different. Lockwood was an amiable gentleman who was part of a cohort of similar naval officers, people who knew and respected each other and their near contemporaries throughout the Navy, and who learned to mask their ambition behind casual bonhomie. He knew that success in the Washington bureaucratic maze depended on contacts, on lobbying, on working the room so to speak, as much as it depended on your own credibility and the merits of your project. Lock-wood’s semi-informal correspondence with his classmate W .H.P. Blandy, Chief of Buord, for example, may have been worth hundreds of official complaints coming up through the chain of command in getting the bureau to attend to the torpedo problem. His incessant interest in, and nagging of University of California’s Division of War Research (UCWRD) about the fin sonar development undoubtedly had its effect in bringing that technology on line.

By contrast, it is difficult to conceive of Donitz sending off amiable notes to anyone, or gently but firmly pressing a bunch of academics into rushing a technical development. Had he been inclined to, or had his navy and war establishment been open to that kind of pressure, say in pushing the Walter air-independent development faster, perhaps Germany might have had their high-submerged speed submarine much sooner.

Donitz and Lockwood were both revered by the sailors in their boats. They took great care to meet as many boats returning from patrol as possible, and in personally debriefing commanding officers. Both had to relieve COs for Jack of aggressiveness, and they did this with a high degree of humanity; they were surfaced without humiliation or lasting discredit. Both provided beach facilities for returning crews that were unprecedented. Donitz requisitioned French hotels and chateaux for his troops, ran a special train back to Germany for sailors on leave, provided luxuries not available elsewhere for sale in the U-bootfahrers canteens, saw to it that their messes served the best food, and, in short, treated his crews like the elite sailors he saw them as. Lockwood-who had had an opportunity to hear of this treatment in his year in London (May ’41-April ’42)-was determined to do the same. As ComSubSoWesPac and as ComSubPac, his first concern was providing recreational facilities ashore for returning submariners.

Donitz knew that your first duty was to look out for your troops, but his boats’ situation, from late 1942 onward, got worse and worse. As losses mounted and vast numbers of new construction boats had to be manned, experienced hands grew scarce. Inevitably, morale declined, volunteers dried up, and impressed seamen grumbled. To his great credit, after losing 42 boats in May 1943, Donitz withdrew his boats from the dangerous North Atlantic convoy routes, awaiting, he thought, the arrival of new and better weapons. Alas, without any significant improvement in equipment, he threw the boats at the enemy once again in August 1943. The slaughter of the U-boats continued; their tonnage results continued to decline.

In recent years, Donitz’s policies of throwing the U-boats at the enemy regardless of losses, results achieved, or prospect of success, has come in for heavy criticism. The claim is that these policies were foolish, at best, and callously murderous at worst. Many old comrades defended Donitz, who died in 1982. They pointed out that morale in the U-bootwaffe remained high until the end, that discipline and efficiency were maintained, and survival to a great extent depended on experience. 1 And they argued it would have been impossible for any military leader to have done differently, considering how Hitler’s Reich seemed bent on self-immolation as its enemies tightened the ring around it.

When, in January 1943, Donitz took over from Raeder as navy commander-in-chief and had to move to Berlin and put another 500 miles between him and his beloved U-boat men, he became even more remote from the waterfront. In contrast, Lockwood was anxious to move his command closer to the forward deployment sites, and did move it to Guam late in 1944.

Both Lockwood and Donitz wrote their war memoirs after the war. Donitz’s Ten Years and Twenty Days was written while he was imprisoned in Spandau, and it suffered by not having access to many allied sources, particularly information about Ultra code breaking. The book, not surprisingly, is a great apologia. He had much to excuse and explain, not the least being his status as Hitler’s hand-picked successor as Fuhrer. His explanations are disingenuous: He was just a soldier doing his duty. If soldiers who do their duty to the state, and the state happens to lose the war, can be put on trial for waging 11aggressive war”-which is, after all, what all soldiers in all wars are encouraged to do-what is our honorable profession coming to?1 He was at pains to distance himself from Naziism and the Party. He was silent on his own anti-semitic and pro-Hitler speeches.

Donitz reserved most of his memoir to rationalizing his conduct of the U-boat war. He repeatedly stated that if only he had been given enough U-boats at the beginning of the war, he would have prevailed in the tonnage war. And who does he blame for not having enough boats at the beginning? Why, Hitler and Raeder of course. He defends his wolfpack tactic and ignores all evidence that shows it didn’t work. He regrets not having better Luftwaffe cooperation, but doesn’t appear to recognize that long-range air reconnaissance was a vital, and missing, element in a successful U-boat strategy; nor does he fault himself for not working harder to get it.

He says nothing about the Type VII’s shortcomings, particularly its inadequacy without radar in the rotten North Atlantic weather. He fails to_mention any initiative to put radar on U-boats even though his Japanese allies could have attested to the murderous efficiency of American subs using it. As for the rotten North Atlantic weather, I believe he dismissed it as a factor, perhaps rationalizing that weather affects both friend and foe alike. I don’t think Donitz had much familiarity with North Atlantic weather. He really was a warm water sailor.3 I believe that if he’d ever experienced a winter North Atlantic storm in a small vessel, he would have appreciated the Type VII sailor’s problems.

Lockwood penned his WWII memoirs, Sink ’em All, in 1951, after several other successful works centered on his submarine experiences. In 1967, the year he died, his autobiography Down to the Sea in Subs came out. Sink ’em All was his first literary work and it shows. It too is an apologia for his wartime steward-ship of the submarine forces; it isn’t stylish and is laced with clich and colloquialisms in common use during the era. The only problem American submarines faced during the war was a shortage of reliable torpedoes. America won, so Lockwood wasn’t faced with rationalizing defeat. Down to the Sea in Subs shows his maturity as a writer; it is much more interesting and shows his human side much more than Sink ’em All.

Both Lockwood and Donitz served on foreign stations, and this had to affect their worldviews. Lockwood’s experience was much broader, however. He spent much of his junior officer years in the Asiatic Fleet or in China, including a brief sojourn in Japan. As a staff officer he visited Europe during WWI and later he brought a surrendered German U-boat back to the U.S. Later as a commander he headed the U.S. Naval Mission to Brazil, and as a captain he was naval attache in London.

Donitz’s first duty was in the cruiser SMS BRESLAU which, together with the battlecruiser GOEBEN, was given to Turkey, and with its crew, commissioned in the Ottoman Navy at the beginning of WWI. He was a POW in England, and also spent several weeks in England on independent study during the early 1930s. Also, he had an opportunity to see other parts of the world as CO of EMDEN. He had no experience with the United States.

Lockwood benefitted from his Asiatic duty in appreciating the need for a large, long range submarine for distant Pacific patrols to be equipped with air conditioning to mitigate torrid tropical waters. All of which he pushed for as a member of the submarine conference. Again, there is no evidence that Donitz drew any positive benefit from his foreign experiences; on the contrary, his warm water experience may have led him to discount North Atlantic weather as an operational factor. Perhaps his very limited seagoing experience, when compared to Lockwood’s, narrowed the range of his judgement. Clay Blair believed that Donitz’s experience with ineffectual airborne ASW during WWI caused him to discount the aircraft threat 20 years later.

Donitz’s ignorance of the United States may have led him to repeatedly dismiss intelligence estimates of American shipbuilding output as fantasies. Had he credited these estimates, it would have destroyed his rationale for a tonnage war. Perhaps he shut his mind to it.

Perhaps Donitz’s greatest flaw was his inability to consider possible enemy countermeasures to his tactics and equipment. He started the war with too few boats. He felt that if he had 300 rather than 57, and using his beloved wolfpack tactic to destroy convoys, he would be able to defeat England. It was a case of winning the last war all over again. In WWI the U-boats’ big problem was finding convoys. Had they been able to do so, there was little the convoy’s escorts could do to attack a submerged submarine. Of course, asdic/sonar had been developed between the wars. He would get around that problem by attacking on the surface at night.

His first boats were manned by sharp COs and well trained crews. They were more than a match for the inexperienced British escorts and aircraft of 1939. But the enemy improved his ASW force’s training, equipped the escorts and aircraft with centimetric radar, huff duff, improved depth charges and bombs, and developed ahead-thrown weapons, acoustic torpedoes, Leigh lights, jeep carriers, sonobuoys, and much else, while the U-boats remained with essentially the same equipment they started the war with.5 The one intangible which the U-boats had an advantage in-training and experience-by 1943 had been reversed. Escorts became experienced and well-trained; U-boats, their crews diluted by losses and expansion were suffering horribly from inexperience. Donitz had to be aware of these problems with U-boat crews; he does not admit to being aware that the enemy was getting much better at the game.

There is not evidence that Lockwood ever underestimated his Japanese enemy. On the contrary, by the time he arrived on the scene, the Japanese had aptly demonstrated their naval capabilities by wiping the Western Allies from their seas. If anything, U.S. submariners were suffering from too much caution. It became Lockwood’s job to buck up or remove timid COs, and this was no easy task for either him or Donitz, since the shore commander has no way of directly observing a CO’s performance. One has to listen very carefully to the talk in the mess decks to discern what’s really happening in a boat. The shore commander has to be a shrewd judge of men. Lockwood certainly was, and so was Donitz.

Despite both being affectionately called Uncle Charlie by their respective submarine forces, Donitz and Lockwood were as different personalities as their navies were different. Donitz was a lean, austere, prussianized naval officer who found it difficult to unbend. Although he did unbend in the U-boat officer’s mess, he gave the impression that this was always a strain, that it was foreign to his basic nature. A telling detail is that his one vanity seemed to be his pride in being able to fit into his naval cadet’s uniform as a Grossadmiral.

Lockwood was avuncular, a hearty mid American type who loved playing poker with his buddies. Although Lockwood had run track at the Naval Academy, by WWil his body had settled into comfortable middle age. He loved vigorous outdoor activity, hunting, hiking, mountain climbing, preferably with amiable companions. Donitz was a loner; his idea of outdoor recreation was taking long walks alone with his dog.

As near as we can discern both Lockwood and Donitz enjoyed healthy marriages to strong women. Donitz married young (he was only 26, an age that raised eyebrows in the Imperial Navy) and apparently his courtship and marriage was a romantic affair. He even showed a flair for the poetic as a young officer. Lockwood was 40 when he married he apparently had put duty before the ladies. Consequently his children were still young when WWII came around. Both Donitz’s sons were killed in action, one of them in a U-boat; his daughter married a U-boat ace who survived the war. No one can fathom how the loss of his sons affected him typically his outward demeanor was stoic. He never betrayed how it may have touched his heart.

It is doubtful if either Lockwood or Donitz would have enjoyed the kind of success they did without Richard Voge and Eberhard Godt, their respective operations officers. Voge and Godt were tuned to their boss’s wavelength, and functioned with them like a hand in a glove. What is more they were trusted. Lockwood could travel to the mainland, or Guam, or Midway, knowing that SubPac Ops were in good hands. Similarly, when Donitz fleeted up to Navy C-in-C, Godt continued to run daily operations as he had for the previous three years.

Had Donitz been in Lockwood’s shoes it is doubtful he would have screwed up a winning hand. He may have had his blind spots, but he was a shrewd naval officer with a strategic appreciation of submarine warfare’s importance in a war against Britain. This strategic insight may have led him to focus on critical Japanese choke points much earlier than U.S. commanders did. He may have argued the case for continuing his commerce war when his superiors wanted submarines diverted to other operations, and may have gained some more boats for empire waters and East China Sea as a result (although his actual success in arguing against diversion of precious 1)-boats to non-productive sectors was not particularly great). His single-minded focus and advocacy of submarine conunerce warfare might have rubbed Nimitz and King the wrong way, although there is considerable evidence that Donitz was astute enough to know when to lay off pushing a superior. His handling of the torpedo problem would probably not have been as deft as Lockwood’s although he just might have listened more carefully to early CO’s complaints and raised an alarm with Nimitz and King long before U.S. commanders did.

Would Lockwood have done better than Donitz? Assuming Lockwood was as tuned in to the Nazi system as he was the American system, he would certainly have settled on a better sea-control submarine than the Type VII and he probably would have worked the system to get it into production faster than Donitz did. He would have foreswom the daily maneuvering of submarines and would have immersed himself in progressing technical developments that would give U-boats an edge. He probably would have seen that the Walter boat wasn’t going to make it and worked the system to get the Type XXI built in quantity for the earliest deployment. He would have insisted that his boats have radar. He would have swallowed his pride and romanced Goring to get Luftwaffe to provide long range air reconnaissance and protection for boats transiting the Bay of Biscay.

All this seems to suggest that he could have made the Battle of the Atlantic a closer contest than it was. But the thing that defeated Gennany was not U-boat failure, but failure of the entire German military-industrial structure. It just wasn’t up to the strain of serving military forces fighting on as many fronts as Germany had opened and contending with Allied forces served by seemingly endless amounts of men and materiel. Lockwood couldn’t have changed that.

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