The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
7th January to 19th January, 1946

Thirty-Third Day: Monday, January 14th, 1946
(Part 3 of 5)

[Page 223]

THE TRIBUNAL (Mr. Biddle): According to this document, the Germans have been given the benefit of the doubt.

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: Oh, yes, I should have read that sentence; I am obliged to your Honour.

I pass to the second report, D641/b. It is part of the same document and is put in as Exhibit GB 191. It is a report covering the next six months from 1st September, 1940 -

THE PRESIDENT: Are you not reading Page 3?

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: If your Lordship pleases, I have read a great deal of the report and there, are passages that I had not considered important.

THE PRESIDENT: I have not myself read it, but I think -

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: If I might read the first two paragraphs on Page 3:

"By the middle of October, submarines were sinking merchant vessels without any regard to the safety of the crews. Yet four months later the Germans were still officially claiming that they were acting in accordance with their Prize Ordinance. Their own semi-official commentators, how-ever, had made the position clear. As regards neutrals, Berlin officials had early in February stated that any neutral ship that is either voluntarily or under compulsion bound for an enemy port - including contraband control harbours - thereby loses its neutrality and must be considered hostile. At the end of February the cat was let out of the bag by a statement that a neutral ship which obtained a navicert from a British Consul, in order to avoid putting into a British contraband control base, was liable to be sunk by German submarines, even if it was bound from one neutral port to another. As regards Allied ships, in the middle of November, 1939, a Berlin warning was issued against the arming of British vessels. By that date a score of British merchantmen had been illegally attacked by gunfire or torpedo from submarines, and after that date some fifteen more unarmed Allied vessels were torpedoed without warning. It is clear therefore, that not only was the arming fully justified as a defensive measure, but also that neither before nor after this German threat did the German submarines discriminate between armed and unarmed vessels."
The last paragraph is merely a summing up; it does not add anything. Turning to 641/b, which is a similar report covering the next six months, if I might read the first five paragraphs of Page 1:
"On the 30th January, 1941, Hitler proclaimed: 'Every ship, with or without convoy, which appears before our torpedo tubes is going to be torpedoed.'"

[Page 234]

On the face of it, this announcement appears to be uncompromising; and the only qualification provided by the context is that the threats immediately preceding it are specifically addressed to the peoples of the American Continent. German commentators, however, subsequently tried to water it down by contending that Hitler was referring only to ships which attempted to enter the area where the German "total blockade" was alleged to be in force.
"From one point of view it probably matters little what exactly was Hitler's meaning, since the only conclusion that can be reached, after a study of the facts of enemy warfare on merchant shipping, is that enemy action in this field is never limited by the principles which are proclaimed by enemy spokesmen, but solely by the opportunities or lack of them which exist at any given time."
THE PRESIDENT: Colonel Phillimore, is not this document you are now reading really legal argument?

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: My Lord, some of it is. The difficulty is to leave those parts and take in the facts.


COLONEL PHILLIMORE: The third paragraph, if I might leave the rest of the second, is as follows:

"The effect of the German total blockade is to prohibit neutral ships from entering an enormous stretch of sea round Britain (the area extends to about 500 miles west of Ireland, and from the latitude of Bordeaux to that of the Faroe Islands), upon pain of having their ships sunk without warning and their crews killed. As a matter of fact, at least thirty-two neutral ships, exclusive of those sailing in British convoys, have been sunk by enemy action since the declaration of the 'total blockade.'"
Then the last sentence in the following paragraph deals with the sinking of merchant ships without warning:
"Yet, though information is lacking in many cases, details are available to prove that, during the period under review, at least thirty-eight Allied merchant ships exclusive of those in convoys have been torpedoed without warning in or near the 'total blockade' area.

That the Germans themselves have no exaggerated regard for the area is proved by the fact that of the thirty- eight ships referred to at least sixteen were torpedoed outside the limits of the war-zone."

My Lord, the next page deals with a specific case illustrating the matter set out above. It is in the first paragraph of that page, the third sentence:
"The sinking of the City of Benares on the 17th September, 1940, is a good example of this. The City of Benares was an 11,000-ton liner with 191 passengers on board, including nearly 100 children. She was torpedoed without warning just outside the 'war zone,' with the loss of 258 lives, including 77 children. It was blowing a gale, with hail and rain squalls and a very rough sea when the torpedo struck her at about 10 p.m. In the darkness, and owing to the prevailing weather conditions, at least four of the twelve boats lowered were capsized. Others were swamped and many people were washed right off. In one boat alone 16 people, including 11 children, died from exposure; in another 22 died, including 15 children: In a third 21 died. The point to be emphasised is not the unusual brutality of this attack, but rather that such results are inevitable when a belligerent disregards the rules of sea warfare as the Germans have done and are doing."
I think the rest of that paragraph is not important.

I turn to the next document, D-641/C, which is part of Exhibit GB 191.

THE PRESIDENT: It is clear, I suppose, from that statement of facts that there was no warning whatever given?


THE PRESIDENT: We think that you should read the next paragraph too.

[Page 235]

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: If your Lordship pleases.
"There are hundreds of similar stories, stories of voyages for days in open boats in Atlantic gales, of men in the water clinging for hours to a raft and gradually dropping off one by one, of crews being machine-gunned as they tried to lower their boats or as they drifted away in them, of seamen being blown to pieces by shells and torpedoes and bombs. The enemy must know that such things are the inevitable result of the type of warfare he has chosen to employ."
My Lord, the rest is very much to the same general effect.

The next document, D-641/C, is merely a certificate giving the total sinkings by U-boats during the War (1939 to 1945) as 2,775 British, Allied and neutral ships totalling 14,572,435 gross registered tons.

My Lord, it is perhaps worth considering one example not quoted in the above reports of the ruthless nature of the actions conducted by the defendants' U-boat commanders, particularly as both British and German versions of the sinkings are available. I turn to the next document, "The sinking of S.S. Sheaf Mead." That is D-644, which I put in as Exhibit GB 192. If I might read the opening paragraph:

"The British S.S. Sheaf Mead was torpedoed without warning on 27th May, 1940 - "
THE PRESIDENT: This is the German account, is it not?

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: This is actually in the form of a British report. It includes the German account in the shape of a complete extract from the log.

THE PRESIDENT: It bears the words, Top Secret?

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: Yes, my Lord, this was at the time a top secret document. That was some while ago.

"The British S.S. Sheaf Mead was torpedoed without warning on 27th May, 1940, with the loss of 31 of the crew. The commander of the U-boat responsible is reported to have behaved in an exceptionally callous manner towards the men clinging to upturned boats and pieces of wood. It was thought that this man was Kapitanleutnant Ohrn of U-37: The following extract from his log for 27th May, 1940, leaves no doubt on the matter and speaks for itself as to his behaviour."
Again, turning to the relevant extract from the log, on the second page, the time is marked on the document as 15.54.
"Surface. Stern is under water" - referring to the ship which has been torpedoed - "Stern is under water. Bows rise higher. The boats are now on the water. Lucky for them. A picture of complete order. They lie at some distance. The bows rear up quite high. Two men appear from somewhere in the forward part of the ship. They leap and rush with great bounds along the deck down the stern. The stem disappears. A boat capsizes. Then a boiler explosion. Two men fly through the air, limbs outstretched. Bursting and crashing. Then all is over. A large heap of wreckage floats up. We approach it to identify the name. The crew have saved themselves on wreckage and capsized boats. We fish out a buoy. No name on it. I ask a man on the raft. He says, hardly turning his head -'Nix Name.' A young boy in the water calls 'Help, help, please!' The others are very composed. They look damp and somewhat tired. An expression of cold hatred is on their faces. On to the old course. After washing the paint off the buoy, the name comes to light: Gretastone, Glasgow, 5,006 gross registered tons."
"On to the old course" means merely that the U-boat makes off.

Then the next page of that document contains an extract from the report of the Chief Engineer of the Sheaf Mead. The relevant paragraphs are the first and the last:

[Page 236]

"When I came to the surface I found myself on the port side, that is, nearest to the submarine, which was only about five yards away. The submarine captain asked the steward the name of the ship, which he told him, and the enemy picked up one of our life-buoys, but this had the name Gretastone on it, as this was the name of our ship before it was changed to Sheaf Mead last January."
In the last paragraph:
"She had cut-away bows, but I did notice a net-cutter. Two men stood at the side with boat-hooks to keep us off.

They cruised around for half an hour, taking photographs of us in the water. Otherwise they just watched us, but said nothing. Then she submerged and went off, without offering us any assistance whatever."

THE PRESIDENT: Is. there any suggestion in the German report that any warning was given?

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: No, my Lord. It is quite clear, indeed, that it was not.

Under the time, 14.14, there is a description of the sighting of the ship and the difficulty in identifying; and then at the top of the page:

"The distance apart is narrowing. The, steamship draws in quickly, but the position is still 40-50. I cannot see the stern yet. Tube ready. Shall I or not? The gunnery crews are also prepared. On the ship's side a yellow cross in a small, square, dark blue ground. Swedish? Presumably not. I raise the periscope a little. Hurrah, a gun at the stern, an ack-ack gun or something similar. Fire! It cannot miss..."
and then the sinking.

Now that it is possible to examine some of the actual documents by which the defendant and his fellow conspirators issued their orders in disregard of International Law, you may think the compilers of the above reports understated the case. These orders cover not only the period referred to in the reports, but also the subsequent course of the war. It is interesting to note in them the steps by which the defendants progressed. At first they were content with breaching the rules of International Law to the extent of sinking merchant ships, including neutral ships, without warning, where there was a reasonable prospect of being able to do so without discovery. The facts already quoted show that the question of whether ships were defensively armed or outside the declared operational areas was, in practice, immaterial.

I go to the next document in the document book, C-191, which I put in as Exhibit GB 193. That is a memorandum by the German Naval War Staff, dated 22nd September, 1939. It sets out:

"Flag Officer U-boats intends to give permission to U- boats to sink without warning any vessels sailing without lights."
Reading from the third sentence:
"In practice there is no opportunity for attacking at night, as the U-boats cannot identify a target which is a shadow, in a way that entirely obviates mistakes being made. If the political situation is such that even possible mistakes must be ruled out, U-boats must be forbidden to make any attacks at night in waters where French and English naval forces or merchant ships may be situated. On the other hand, in sea areas where only English units are to be expected, the measures desired by Flag Officer U-boats can be carried out; permission to take this step is not to be given in writing, but need merely be based on the unspoken approval of the Naval War Staff.

U-boat commanders should be informed by word of mouth, and the sinking of a merchant ship must be justified in the War Diary as due to possible confusion with a warship or an auxiliary cruiser. In the meanwhile, U- boats in the English Channel have received instructions to attack all vessels sailing without lights."

[Page 237]

Now I go to the next document, C-21, which I put in as Exhibit GB 194. My Lord, this document consists of a series of extracts from the War Diary of the German Naval War Staff of the German Admiralty. The second extract, on Page 5, relates a conference with the head of the Naval War Staff, "Report on the 2nd January, 1940," and then reading:
"(1) Report by Ia." - That is the Staff Officer Operations on the Naval War Staff.
THE PRESIDENT: Should not you read above that, paragraph 1 (b)?

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: Yes, if your Lordship pleases. It is important. The others are much to the same effect. If I might read it:

"Report by Ia," - This is one report by Ia on Directive of Armed Forces High Command of 30th December.

"According to this, the Fuehrer, on report of Commander- in-Chief in Navy, has decided:

(a) Greek merchant vessels are to be treated as enemy vessels in the zone blockaded by U.S.A. and Britain.

(b) In the British Channel all ships may be attacked without warning. For external consumption these attacks should be given out as hits by mines.

Both measures may be taken with immediate effect."

The next extract, report by Ia, that is, the Staff Officer Operations on the Naval War Staff on Directive of Armed Forces High Command, dated 30th December:

"Referring to intensified measures in naval and air warfare in connection with 'Fall Gelb.' In consequence of this directive, the Navy shall authorise, simultaneously with the general intensification of the war, the sinking by U-boats, without any warning, of all ships in those waters near the enemy coasts in which mines can be employed. In this case, for external consumption, pretence should be made that mines are being used. The behaviour of, and use of weapons by, U-boats should be adapted to this purpose."
And then the third extract, dated 6th January, 1940:
" ... the Fuehrer has in principle agreed (see minutes of report of C.-in-C. Navy of 30th December) to authorise firing without warning whilst maintaining the pretence of mine hits, in certain parts of the American blockade zone."
Well, then the order is given to Flag Officer U-boats carrying out that decision.

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