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 5 of 5)

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

[Page 217]

Q. The prosecution has offered a document in evidence, according to which in certain ocean areas, attack without warning against neutrals was authorized, beginning January, 1940. I am referring to Exhibit GB 194. I will read to you the sentence which the prosecution is holding against you.

THE PRESIDENT: Can you tell us where it is?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: It is in the British document book, Page 30, Mr. President.


Q. I will read you the sentence which is held against you:

"In the Bristol Channel, attack without warning has been authorized against all ships, where it is possible to claim that mine hits have taken place."
This order is dated 1st January, 1940. Can you tell me whether at that time neutrals already actually had been warned against using this shipping lane.

A. Yes. Germany had sent a note to the neutrals on 24th November, 1939, and warned them against using these lanes, and had advised them to follow the example of the United States whereby American ships - in order to avoid any incidents - had been forbidden to enter the waters around England.

[Page 218]

Q. I will hand you the note of which you speak, and I will at the same time submit it to the Tribunal as Exhibit Donitz 73, to be found on Page 206 of the document book. It is in Document Book 4, Page 206.

This is an excerpt from the War Diary of the Naval War Staff, dated 24th November, 1939. It has the following text:

"To the missions, according to enclosed list.

"Telegram. Supplement to wire release of 22nd October.

"Please inform the government there of the following:

"Since the warning issued on (date to be inserted here) regarding the use of English and French ships, the following two new facts are to be recorded:

(a) The United States has forbidden its ships to sail in an exactly defined area.

(b) Numerous enemy merchant ships have been armed. It is known that these armed ships have instructions to use their weapons aggressively and to ram U-boats.

These two new facts give the Reich Cabinet occasion to renew and emphasize its warning, that in view of the increasingly frequent engagements, waged with all means of modern war technique, in waters around the British Isles and in the vicinity of the French coast, the safety of neutral ships in this area can no longer be taken for granted. Therefore the Reich Cabinet urgently recommends the choice of the route south and east of the German- proclaimed danger zone, when crossing the North Sea.

"In order to maintain peaceful shipping for neutral States and to avoid losses of life and property for the neutrals, the Reich Cabinet furthermore feels obliged to recommend urgently legislative measures following the pattern of the US Government, which in apprehension of the dangers of modern warfare, forbade its ships to sail in an exactly defined area, in which, according to the words of the President of the United States, the traffic of American ships might be endangered by belligerent action.

"The Reich Cabinet must point out that it rejects any responsibility for consequences brought about by disregarding the above recommendations and warnings."

This is the note to which you referred, Grand Admiral?

A. Yes.

Q. In other words, in your opinion, these sinkings in the Bristol Channel could be carried out lawfully as from 1st January?

A. Yes; these ocean areas were clearly limited areas in which hostilities took place continuously on both sides. The neutrals had been warned expressly against using these areas, and if they entered them they had to run the risk of being damaged. England followed the same procedure in its operational areas in our waters.

Q. Since you considered these sinkings legal, why was the order given to attack without being sighted, if possible, in order to maintain the fiction that mine hits had taken place. Doesn't that indicate a bad conscience?

A. No. During a war there is no basic obligation to inform the enemy with what means one does one's fighting. In other words, this is not a question of legality, but a question of military or political expediency.

England in her operational areas did not inform us either as to the means of fighting she used; and I know how many headaches this caused me when I was Supreme Commander of the Navy, later, in my attempts to employ economically the small means we had.

That is the principle. At that time, when as Commander-in- Chief of the U-boat fleet I received this order to simulate mine hits where possible, I considered this as militarily expedient, because the counter-intelligence branch had been in doubt as to whether mine sweepers or U-boat defence means were to be employed.

[Page 219]

In other words, it was a military advantage for the nation conducting the war, and today I am of the opinion that political reasons also may have influenced this decision, with the object of avoiding complications with neutral countries.

Q. How could complications with neutral countries arise, in your opinion, if this naval warfare measure was a legal one?

A. During the first World War we had experienced what part is played by propaganda. Therefore I think it possible that our Government, our political leaders, for this reason, too, may have issued this order.

Q. From your own experiences you know nothing about these political reasons?

A. Nothing at all.

Q. Up to now you have spoken about the orders which were received by the U-boats, firstly for combating enemy ships, and secondly for combating or searching neutral ships. Were these orders then actually executed? That was primarily your responsibility, was it not?

A. No U-boat commander purposely transgressed an order, or failed to execute it. Of course, considering the large number of naval actions, which ran into several thousands within the five and a half years of war, a very few individual cases occurred in which, by mistake, an order was not followed.

Q. How could such a mistake occur?

A. Every sailor knows how easily mistakes in identification can occur at sea not only during a war, but also in peace time, due to poor visibility, bad weather conditions, and other factors.

Q. Is it also possible that submarines fired torpedoes on the borders of the operational areas, although they were already outside these borders?

A. That is, of course, also possible. For again every sailor knows that after a few days of bad weather, for instance, inaccuracy in the ship's course occurs very easily. This occurs, however, not only in the case of the submarine, but also of the ship, which perhaps is under the impression of having been outside the operational area when torpedoed. It is very difficult to establish the facts in such cases.

Q. What steps did you, as Supreme Commander of the U-boats, take when you heard of such a case, a case in which a U-boat had transgressed its orders, even if by mistake?

A. The main thing was the preventive measures, and that was done through training the U-boat Commanders to be thorough, and to investigate quietly and carefully before taking action. Moreover, this training had already been carried on, even in peacetime, so that our U-boat organization bore the motto: "We are a respectable firm."

The second measure was that during the war every commander, before leaving port, and every commander after returning from his mission, had to report to me personally. Before leaving port he had to be briefed by me.

Q. I beg your pardon, Grand Admiral. That did not continue when you were Supreme Commander, did it?

A. That was limited after 1943, after I had become Supreme Commander. Even then it did continue. In any case, it was the definite rule during my time as Supreme Commander of U- boats, so that a commander's mission was considered completed and satisfactory only after he had reported to me in full detail. If, on such an occasion, I could establish negligence, then I made my decision according to the nature of the case, as to whether disciplinary action or court martial proceedings and punishment had to take place.

Q. I have found here in a document of the prosecution, an entry, submitted as Exhibit GB 198, on Page 230, in Document Book 4, which I would like to read to you. This is a War Diary of the Supreme Commander of U-boats, that is, yourself.

[Page 220]

I read the entry of 25th September, 1942:-
"U-512 reports that the Monte Corbea was recognized as a neutral ship before being torpedoed. Assumed suspicions of being a camouflaged English ship are insufficient and do not justify the sinking. The Commander will have to stand court martial for his conduct. All boats at sea will be informed."
Two days later, on 27th September, 1942, a radio signal was sent to all. I read:
"Radio signal to all:

"The Commander-in-Chief of the Navy has personally and expressly ordered anew that all U-boat commanders are to comply exactly with the orders concerning the treatment of neutral ships. Violations of these orders will have incalculable political consequences. This order is to be relayed at once to all commanders."

Will you please tell me what resulted from the court martial which you ordered here?

A. I had sent my radio signal to the commander stating that after his return he would have to be answerable before a court martial, because of the sinking. The commander did not return from this mission with his boat. Therefore this court martial did not take place.

Q. Did you, in any other case, have experience as to how the courts martial treated the difficult tasks of the U-boat commanders when you had ordered a court martial?

A . Yes. I remember a case against Lieutenant Kramer, who had to be acquitted by the court martial because it was proven that, before the attack, before firing the shot, he had twice noted, by periscope, the ship's identification - it was a blockade-runner - and, in spite of that, wag of the opinion that it was a different ship, an enemy ship, and that he was justified in sinking it. In other words, it was not a case of negligence, and therefore in this case he was acquitted.

Q. Taking into consideration all the results of your measures for training and punishing personnel, have you the impression that enough was done to make the U-boat commanders obey your orders, or did the U-boat commanders in the long run cease to do so?

A. I do not think it is necessary to discuss this question at all. The simple facts speak for themselves. During the five and a half years, several thousand naval actions were engaged in by submarines. The number of incidents is an extremely small fraction and I know that this result is only due to the unified leadership of all submarine commanders, and also to their proper training and their sense of responsibility.

Q. The prosecution has offered a document -

THE PRESIDENT: If the defendant is speaking so slowly because of the interpreter, I think he can go a little bit faster.


Q. Grand Admiral, you understand that you can speak faster? The prosecution has offered a document - Exhibit GB 195 - on Page 32 of the prosecution's document book. In this document is entered an order of the Fuehrer, dated 18th July, 1941, and it reads as follows:-

"In the original operational area, which corresponds in extent with the USA prohibited zone for USA ships and which is not touched by the USA-Iceland route, attacks on ships under American or British escort or USA merchantmen sailing without escort are authorized."
In connection with this order by the Fuehrer the prosecution, Grand Admiral, termed your attitude cynical and opportunistic.

Will you please explain to the Tribunal what the meaning of this order actually is?

[Page 221]

A. In August, 1940, Germany had declared this operational area in English waters, USA ships were, however, expressly excluded from attack without warning in this operational area because, as I believe, the political leaders wanted to avoid any possibility of an incident with the USA. I said the political leaders. The prosecution has accused me, in my treatment and attitude, my differing attitude towards the neutrals, of having a masterful agility in adapting myself, an agility guided by cynicism and opportunism. It is clear that the attitude of a State towards neutrals is a purely political affair, and that this relation is decided exclusively by the political leadership, particularly in a nation that is at war.

Q. You mean to say, in other words, that you had nothing to do with the handling of this question.

A. As an officer I had not the slightest influence on the question of how the political leadership believed they had to treat this or that neutral. Regarding this particular case, however, from knowledge of the orders I received through the Chief of the Naval War Staff from the political leadership, I should like to say the following:-

I believe that the political leader did everything to avoid any incident on the high seas with the United States.

Firstly, I have already stated that the U-boats were actually forbidden even to stop American ships.

Secondly -

Q. One moment, Grand Admiral. To stop them where, in the operational area or outside the operational area?

A. At first, everywhere.

Secondly, that the American three-hundred-mile safety zone was recognized without any question by Germany, although according to the existing International Law only a three- mile zone was authorized.

Thirdly that -

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Kranzbuhler, an interesting distinction which may be drawn between the United States and other neutrals is not relevant to this trial, is it? What difference does it make?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: In connection with the document submitted by me, Exhibit GB 195, the prosecution has made the accusation that Admiral Donitz conducted his U-boat warfare cynically and opportunistically; that is, in that he treated one neutral well and another one badly. This accusation has been made expressly, and I want to give Admiral Donitz the opportunity to make a statement in reply to it. He has already said that he had nothing to do with the handling of this question.

THE PRESIDENT: What more can he say than that?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Mr. President, according to the principles of the Statute, a soldier is also made responsible for the orders which he executed. For this reason it is my opinion that he must be able to state whether on his side he had the impression that he received cynical and opportunistic orders or whether on the contrary he had the impression that everything was done to avoid a conflict, and that the orders which were given actually were necessary and right.

THE PRESIDENT: You have dealt with this order about the United States ships, now.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Yes, I have almost finished.

BY DR. KRANZBUHLER: Did you want to say something more about the third point, Grand Admiral?

A. I wanted to mention two or three more points on this subject.

Q. I think that is possible.

(The Tribunal conferred.)

[Page 222]

THE PRESIDENT: You may go on, but we hope that you will deal with this point shortly. It appears to the Tribunal to be very unimportant.


THE WITNESS: For instance, I had suggested that mines be laid before Halifax, the British port of Nova Scotia, and before Reykjavik, both bases being important for war ships and merchant shipping. The political leaders, the Fuehrer, rejected this because he wanted to avoid every possibility of friction with the United States.


Q. May I formulate the question this way, that you, from the orders for the treatment of US ships, in no way had the impression that opportunism or cynicism prevailed here, but that everything was done with the greatest restraint in order to avoid a conflict with the United States?

A. Yes. This went so far, in fact, that when the American destroyers in the summer of 1941 received orders to attack German submarines, that is, before war started, when they were still neutral and I was forbidden to fight back, I was then forced to forbid the submarines in this area to attack even British destroyers, in order to avoid having a submarine mistake an American for a British ship.

THE PRESIDENT: We will adjourn.

(The Tribunal adjourned until 9 May, 1946, at 1000 hours.)

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