The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)
Nuremberg, war crimes, crimes against humanity

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
2nd May to 13th May, 1946

One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Day: Wednesday, 8th May, 1946
(Part 4 of 5)

[DR. KRANZBUHLER continues his direct examination of Karl Donitz]

[Page 213]

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Kranzbuhler, the Tribunal has itself to decide as a matter of law whether the war was an aggressive war. It does not want to hear from this witness, who is a professional sailor, what his view is on the question of law.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Mr. President, I believe my question has been misunderstood. I did not ask Admiral Donitz whether he considered the war an aggressive war or not; but I asked him whether he had the opportunity or the task, as a sailor, of examining whether his orders could become the means for an aggressive war. He, therefore, should state his conception of the task which he had as a sailor, and not of the question of whether it was or was not an aggressive war.

THE PRESIDENT: He can tell us what his task was as a matter of fact, but he is not here to argue the case to us. He can state the facts, as to what he did.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Does one not also, Mr. President, have to allow a defendant to say what considerations he had or what considerations he did not have? What I mean is, that the accusations of the prosecution arise from this point and the defendant must have the opportunity of stating his position regarding these accusations.

THE PRESIDENT: We want to hear the evidence. You will argue his case on his behalf on the evidence that he gives. He is not here to argue the law before us. That is not the subject of evidence.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: I shall question him on his considerations, Mr. President.


Q. Grand Admiral, as to the orders which you issued to the U- boats before the war or before the beginning of the Norway action - did you ever consider whether they would lead to aggressive war?

A. I received military orders as a naval officer, and my purpose naturally was to carry out these naval tasks. Whether the leadership of the State was thereby politically waging an aggressive war or not, or whether they were preventive measures, was not for me to decide; it was none of my business.

Q. As Commander-in-chief of U-boats, from whom did you receive your orders about the waging of U-boat warfare?

A. From the Chief of the SKL, the Naval War Staff.

Q. Who was that?

A. Grand Admiral Raeder.

Q. What were the orders which you received at the beginning of the war, that is, the beginning of September, 1939, for the conduct of U-boat warfare?

A. War against merchantmen according to the Prize Regulations, that is to say, according to the London Pact.

Q. What ships, according to that order, could you attack without previous warning?

A. At that time I could attack, without warning, all ships which were guarded either by naval or air forces. Furthermore, I was permitted to use force against any ship which, on the attempt to stop her, sent radio messages, or resisted or disobeyed the order to stop.

[Page 214]

Q. Now, there is no doubt that, a few weeks after the beginning of the war, the war against merchantmen was intensified. Did you know whether or why such an intensification was planned?

A. I knew that the Naval War Staff intended, according to events, according to the development of the enemy's tactics, to retaliate blow for blow, as it was said in the order, by an intensification of action.

Q. What were the measures taken by the enemy and what were your own experiences of these measures which led to an intensification of action?

A. Right at the beginning of the war it was our experience that all merchantmen not only took advantage of their radio installations whenever there was any attempt to stop them, but that they immediately sent messages as soon as they saw any U-boat on the horizon. It was absolutely clear, therefore, that all merchantmen were co-operating in the military intelligence service. Furthermore, only a few days after the beginning of the war we found out that merchantmen were armed, and were using their weapons.

Q. What orders on the part of Germany resulted from these experiences?

A. First, the order that merchantmen which sent radio messages on being stopped, could be attacked without warning. Then the order that merchantmen whose armament had been recognized beyond doubt, that is, whose armament one knew from British publication, could be attacked without warning.

Q. This order concerning attacks on armed merchantmen was issued on 4th October, 1939, is that right?

A. I believe so.

Q. Was there a second order, soon after that, according to which all enemy merchantmen could be attacked, and, if so, why was that order issued?

A. I believe that the Naval War Staff decided on this order on the basis of the British publication which said that now the arming of merchantmen was completed.

In addition, there was a broadcast by the British Admiralty on 1st October to the effect that the merchantmen had been directed to ram German U-boats and that furthermore - as stated at the beginning - it was clear beyond doubt that every merchantman was part of the intelligence service of the enemy, and its radio messages at sight of a U-boat determined the use of surface or aerial forces.

Q. Did you have reports from U-boats, according to which they were actually endangered by these tactics of enemy merchantmen, and were attacked by enemy surface or aerial forces?

A. Yes. I had received quite a number of reports in this connection, and since the German measures were always taken about four weeks after it had been recognized that the enemy employed these tactics, I had very serious losses in the meantime, in the period when I still had to keep to the one- sided and, for me, dangerous obligations.

Q. By these obligations, are you referring to the obligation to wage war against merchantmen according to the Prize Regulations during a period when the enemy's merchant ships had abandoned their peaceable character?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you protest later against the directives of the Naval War Staff which led to an intensification of the war on merchantmen, or did you approve these directives?

A. No, I did not protest against them. On the contrary, I considered them justified, because, as I said before, otherwise I would have had to remain bound by an obligation which was one-sided and meant serious losses for me.

Q. Was this intensification of the war against merchantmen expressed in the order to fire on armed merchantmen, and later the order to attack all enemy merchantmen, based on the free judgement of the Naval War Staff, or was it a forced development?

A. This development, as I have said before, was entirely forced. If merchantmen are armed and make use of their arms, and if they send messages and thereby

[Page 215]

immediately call for protection, they force the U-boat to submerge and attack without warning.

That same forced development, in the areas which we patrolled, was also the case with the British submarines, and applied in exactly the same way to American and Russian submarines.

Q. If, on one hand, a merchantman sends a message and opens fire, and on the other hand the submarine, for that reason, attacks without warning, which side has the advantage according to your experience? The merchantman or the submarine?

A. In an area where there is no contant [sic] patrolling by the enemy, by naval forces of any kind, or by aircraft, that is, along the coast, the submarine has the advantage. But in all other areas, the armed merchantman has the weapons with which to attack the submarine, and the submarine is therefore compelled to treat that ship as a ship of war, which means that it is forced to submerge and loses its speed. Therefore, in all ocean areas, with the exception of coastal waters which can be constantly controlled, the advantage lies with the merchantman, is on the side of the merchantman.

Q. Are you of the opinion that the orders of the Naval War Staff actually remained within the limits of what was militarily necessary due to enemy measures, or did these orders go beyond military necessity?

A. They remained absolutely within the bounds of what was necessary. I have explained already that the resulting steps were always taken gradually and after very careful study by the Naval War Staff. This very careful study may also have been motivated by the fact that for political reasons any unnecessary intensification in the West was to be avoided.

Q. Grand Admiral, these orders we have mentioned were based at that time only on German experiences and without an accurate knowledge of the orders which had been issued on the British side. Now, I should like to put these orders to you; we now have information on them through a ruling of the Tribunal, and I should like to ask you whether these individual orders coincide with your experiences or whether they are somewhat different. I submit the orders of the British Admiralty as Exhibit Donitz 67. It is on Page 168 of Document Book 3.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: I beg your pardon, Mr. President; the document begins on Page 163, not 168.


Q. As you know this is a Handbook of the British Navy of 1938, and I draw your attention to Page 164, to the paragraph on reporting the enemy.

A. I do not see it here.

Q. It is D.M.S- 3-1-55, the paragraph on radio. The heading is "Reporting the Enemy."

A. Yes.

Q. I will read the paragraph to you:

"As soon as the Master of a merchant ship realizes that a ship or aircraft in sight is an enemy, it is his first and most important duty to report the nature and position of the enemy by wireless telegraph. Such a report promptly made may be the means of saving not only the ship herself but many others; for it may give an opportunity for the destruction of her assailant by our warships or aircraft, an opportunity which might not recur."
Then there are more details which I do not wish to read, on the manner and method, when and how these radio signals are to be given. Is this order in accordance with your experience?

A. Yes. In this order, there is not only a directive to send wireless signals, if the ship is stopped by a U-boat (that alone would, according to International Law, justify the U- boat in employing armed force against the ship), but far beyond that, it is stated that as soon as an enemy ship is in sight, this signal is to be transmitted in order that the naval forces may attack in time.

[Page 216]

Q. So this order is in accord with the experiences which our U-boats reported?

A. Entirely.

Q. I shall draw your attention now to the paragraph D.M.S. 2 VII, on Page 165, that is the paragraph on opening fire. "Conditions under which fire may be opened."

"(a) Against enemy acting in accordance with International Law. - As the armament is solely for the purpose of self-defence, it must only be used against an enemy who is clearly attempting to capture or sink the merchant marine ship. On the outbreak of war it should be assumed that the enemy will act in accordance with International Law, and fire should therefore not be opened until he has made it plain that he intends to attempt capture. Once it is clear that resistance will be necessary if capture is to be averted, fire should be opened immediately.

"(b) Against enemy acting in defiance of International Law. - If, as the war progresses, it unfortunately becomes clear that, in defiance of International Law, the enemy has adopted a policy of attacking merchant ships without warning, it will then be permissible to open fire on an enemy vessel, submarine or aircraft, even before she has attacked or demanded surrender, if to do so will tend to prevent her gaining a favourable position for attacking."

Are these orders, that is to say, the orders (a) and (b), in accord with the experiences made?

A. In practice no difference can be established between (a) and (b). I should like to draw attention in this connection to D.M.S. 3 111, Page 167, under IV, that is the last paragraph of (b) of the number mentioned.

Q. One moment, do you mean (b)-V?

A. It says here (b)-IV. There -

DR. KRANZBUHLER: That is not printed, Mr. President.

A. "In ships fitted with a defensive armament, open fire to keep the enemy at a distance" - that is (b)-IV - "if you consider that he is clearly intending to effect a capture and that he is approaching so close as to endanger your chances of escape."

That means therefore that as soon as the ship sights a U- boat, which during war must be assumed to be there for a reason - to effect a capture - the ship will, in its own defence, open fire as soon as it comes within range; that is when the submarine has come within range of its guns. The ship, in using its guns for an offensive action, can act in no other way.

Q. Grand Admiral, did the armed enemy vessels act then in the manner which you have described; that is, did they really fire as soon as a submarine came within range?

A. Yes. As early as ... according to my recollection, the first report came from a U-boat about that on 6th September, 1939.

Q. With this order, however, we find a further supplement under AMS I 118, dated 13th June, 1940, on Page 165, and here we read:

"With reference to D.M.S. Part I article 53, it is now considered clear, that in submarine and aerial operations the enemy has adopted a policy of attacking merchant ships without warning. Sub-paragraph (b) of this article should therefore be regarded as being in force."
That means, then, that the order which we read before, (b), was to be considered in effect only from 13th June, 1940. Do you mean to say that actually before that, from the very beginning, your actions came under the heading (b)?

A. I have already stated that between an offensive and defensive use of armament on the part of an armed merchantman against a submarine, there is practically no difference at all, that it is a purely theoretical differentiation. But even if one did differentiate between them, then beyond doubt the Reuter report - I believe dated 9th September - which said incorrectly that we were conducting unlimited submarine warfare, was designed to inform ships' captains that now the case (b) was valid.

[Page 217]

Q. I put to you now a directive on the handling of depth charges on merchant ships. It is on Page 168, the reference list. The heading is "Reference List (D)," the date is "14th September, 1939."

A. What page?

Q. Page 168.

A. Yes.

Q. I read:

"The following instructions have been sent out to all W.P.S.'s: It has now been decided to fit a single depth charge chute, with hand release gear and supplied with 3 charges, in all D.M.S. of 12 knots or over."
Then there are more details and, at the end, a remark about the training of the crews in the use of depth charges. The distribution list shows numerous naval officers.

Did you experience this use of depth charges by merchant vessels, and were such depth charge attacks by merchant ships observed?

A. Yes, repeatedly.

Q. Speaking of a ship with a speed of 12 knots or more, can one say that a depth charge attack against a U-boat is a defensive measure?

A. No. Each depth charge attack against a submarine is definitely and absolutely an offensive action; for the submarine submerges, is harmless underwater, and the surface vessel which wants to carry out the depth charge attack, approaches as closely as possible to the position where it assumes the U-boat to be, in order to drop the depth charge as accurately as possible on top of the U-boat. A destroyer, that is a warship, does not attack a submarine in any different way.

Q. You therefore justify the way in which you attacked enemy ships by the tactics employed by enemy merchantmen. However, neutral ships also suffered, and the prosecution charges the German U-boat command expressly with this. What have you to say to that?

A. Neutral merchantmen, according to the political directive on the orders of the Naval War Staff, were only attacked without warning when they were found in operational zones which had been definitely designated as such, or naturally only when they did not act as neutrals should, but like ships which were participating in the war.

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