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-Fifth Day: Thursday, 9th May, 1946
(Part 1 of 9)

[Page 223]

KARL DONITZ - Resumed.


DR. KRANZBUHLER: With the permission of the Tribunal, I will continue my examination of the witness.


Q. Admiral, how many merchant ships were sunk by German U- boats in the course of the war?

A. According to the allied figures, 2,472.

Q. How many actions, according to your estimate, were necessary to achieve those figures?

A. I believe torpedoed ships are not included in this figure of 2,472; and, of course, not every attack leads to a success. I would estimate that in five and a half years perhaps five to six thousand actions actually took place.

Q. In the course of all these actions did any of the U-boat commanders who were subordinate to you give voice to objections about the manner in which the U-boats operated?

A. No, never.

Q. What would you have done with a commander who refused to carry out the instructions for U-boat warfare?

A. First, I would have had him examined; if he proved to be normal I would have summoned him before a court-martial.

Q. You could only have done that with a clear conscience if you yourself assumed full responsibility for the orders which you either issued or which you transmitted?

A. Naturally.

Q. In engagements with U-boats, crews of merchant ships no doubt lost their lives. Did you consider crews of enemy merchantmen as combatants or as civilians?

A. Germany considered the crews of merchantmen as combatants, because they fought with the weapons which had been mounted aboard the merchant ships in large numbers. As you know, one or two men of the Royal Navy were on board for the servicing of these weapons, but, the rest of the gunners were part of the crew of the ship.

Q. How many were there for one gun?

A. That varied, according to the size of the weapon, probably between five and ten. Then, in addition, there were munitions men. The same applied to the servicing of depth charge chutes and depth charge throwers.

The members of the crew as well as the RN men, did, in fact, man the guns. It was also a matter of course, that the crew was considered as a unit: for in a battleship we cannot distinguish between the engineers and stokers on the one hand, and the gunners on the other.

Q. Did this view, that the members of the crews of hostile merchant ships were combatants, have any influence on the question of whether they could or should be rescued?

[Page 224]

A. No, in no way. Of course, every combatant has a right to be rescued if circumstances permit it. But it did have an influence upon the right to attack the crew as well.

Q. Do you mean that they could be attacked as long as they were on board the ship?

A. Yes, there can be no question of that.

Q. You know that the prosecution has submitted a document about a discussion between Adolf Hitler and the Japanese Ambassador, Oshima. This discussion took place on 3rd January, 1942. It is Exhibit GB 197, on Page 34 of the prosecution's document book. In this document Hitler promises the Japanese Ambassador that he will issue an order for the killing of the shipwrecked, and the prosecution concludes from this that Hitler actually gave such an order and that this order was carried out by you.

Did you, directly or through the Naval Operations Command, receive a written order of this nature?

A. I first heard about this discussion and the order when the record of it was submitted here.

Q. Admiral, may I ask you to answer my question? I asked, did you receive a written order?

A. No, I received neither a written nor a verbal order. I knew nothing at all about this discussion; I learned about it through the document which I saw here.

Q. When did you see Hitler for the first time after this discussion, that is, after January, 1942?

A. Together with Grand Admiral Raeder I was at headquarters on 14th May, 1942, and told him about the situation in the U- boat campaign.

Q. There is a note written by you, about this discussion with the Fuehrer and I would like to call your attention to it. It is Exhibit Donitz 16, to be found on Page 29 of Document Book No. I. I will read it to you. The heading runs

"Report of the Commander-in-Chief of Submarines to the Fuehrer on 14th May, 1942, in the presence of the Supreme Commander of the Navy," that is, Grand Admiral Raeder.

"Therefore it is necessary to improve the weapons of the submarines by all possible means, so that they may have adequate defence weapons. The most important development is the torpedo with magnetic detonator, which would increase the precision of torpedoes fired against destroyers and therefore would put the submarine in a better position with regard to defence; it would above all also hasten considerably the sinking of torpedoed ships, whereby we would economise on torpedoes, and also protect the submarine from counter-attacks, in so far as it would be able to leave the place of combat more quickly."

And now, the decisive sentence:-
"A magnetic detonator will also have the great advantage that the crew will not be able to save themselves on account of the quick sinking of the torpedoed ship. This greater loss of men will no doubt cause difficulties in the assignment of crews for the great American construction programme."
Does this last sentence which I read imply what you just referred to as combating the crews with weapons? -

THE PRESIDENT: You seem to attach importance to this document. Therefore, you should not put a leading question upon it. You should ask the defendant what the document means, and not put your meaning on it.


Q. Admiral, what does this document mean?

[Page 225]

A. It means that it was necessary for us, in accordance with the discussion with the Fuehrer at his headquarters, to find a good magnetic detonator which would bring about a more rapid sinking of the ships and thereby achieve the results noted in this report in the War Diary.

Q. Can you tell me what are the results to which you refer, as far as the crews are concerned?

A. I mean that, instead of several torpedoes being required, as heretofore, to sink a ship, by long and difficult attack, only one torpedo, or at any rate very few, would suffice to bring about a more speedy loss of the ship and the crew.

Q. Did you, in the course of this discussion with the Fuehrer touch on the question -

A. Yes.

Q. One moment - the question whether other means might be possible to cause loss of life among the crews?

A. Yes.

Q. In what way and by whom?

A. The Fuehrer brought up the fact that, in the light of experience, a large percentage of the crews, because of the excellence of the means of rescue, was reaching home, and was used again and again to man new ships, and he asked whether there might not be some action taken against these rescue ships.

Q. What do you mean by action taken?

A. At this discussion, in which Grand Admiral Raeder participated, I rejected this unequivocally and told him that the only possibility of causing losses among the crews would lie in the attack itself, in striving for a faster sinking of the ship, through the intensified effect of weapons. Hence this remark in my war diary. I believe, since I learned here, through the prosecution, of the discussion between the Fuehrer and Oshima, that this question of the Fuehrer to Admiral Raeder and myself arose out of this discussion.

Q. There exists an affidavit by Admiral Raeder about this discussion. You know the contents. Do they correspond to your recollection of this discussion?

A. Yes, completely.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Then I would like to submit to the Tribunal, as Donitz 17, the affidavit of Grand Admiral Raeder; since it has the same content, I may dispense with the reading of it.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: I was going to say, in case it might help the Tribunal, that I understand that the defendant Raeder will be going into the witness box; therefore, I make no formal objection to this affidavit going in.


DR. KRANZBUHLER: It is Donitz 17 and will be found on Page 33 of Document Book I.


Q. You just said that you rejected the suggested killing of survivors in lifeboats and stated this to the Fuehrer. The prosecution, however, has presented two documents, an order of the Winter of 1939 to 1940, and a second order of the Autumn of 1942, in which you limited or prohibited rescue measures. Is there not a contradiction between these orders and your attitude toward the proposal of the Fuehrer?

A. No. These two things are not connected with each other in any way. One must distinguish very clearly here between the question of rescue or non-rescue, and that is a question of military possibility. During a war the necessity of refraining from rescue may well arise. For example, if your own ship is endangered thereby, it would be wrong from a military viewpoint and, further, would not be of advantage to those who are to be rescued; and no commander is expected to rescue any of the enemy if his own ship is thereby endangered.

[Page 226]

The British Navy correctly takes up a very clear, unequivocal position in this respect: that rescue is to be denied in such cases; and that is evident also from its actions and its commands. That is one point.

Q. Admiral, you spoke only about the safety of the ship as a reason for not carrying out rescue.

A. There may of course be other reasons. For instance, it is clear that in war the mission to be accomplished is of first importance. No one will start to rescue, for example, if after subduing one opponent there is another on the scene. In such a case as a matter of course, it is more important to engage the second opponent than to rescue those who have already lost their ship. The other question is concerned with attacking the shipwrecked, and that is -

Q. Admiral, whom would you call shipwrecked?

A. Shipwrecked persons are members of the crew who, after the sinking of their ship, are not able to fight any longer, and are either In lifeboats or other rescue boats in the water.

Q. Yes.

A. Firing upon these men is a matter concerned with the ethics of war and under any and all circumstances should be scorned. In the German Navy and U-boat force, this principle, according to my firm conviction, has never been infringed, with the one exception of the affair Eck. No order on this subject has ever been issued, in any form whatsoever.

Q. I want to call to your attention to one of the orders submitted by the prosecution. It is your Permanent War Order Number 154; number GB 196 and in my document book on Pages 13 to 15. I will have this order given to you, and I am asking you to turn to the last paragraph, which was read by the prosecution. There it says, I read it again:-

"Do not rescue any men; do not take them along; and do not bother about the ship's boats. Weather conditions and proximity of land are of no consequence. Concern yourself only with the safety of your own ship and with efforts to achieve additional successes as soon as possible. We must be hard in this war. The enemy started the war in order to destroy us, and thus nothing else matters."
The prosecution has stated that this order went out, according to your records, before May,1940. Can you from your knowledge fix the date a little more exactly?

A. According to my recollection, I issued this order at the end of November or the beginning of December, 1939, and for the following reasons:

I had only a handful of U-boats at my disposal. In order that this small force might prove effective at all, I had to send the boats close to the English coast, almost into the ports. In addition, the magnetic mine showed itself to be a very valuable weapon of war. Therefore, I equipped these boats with both mines and torpedoes, and directed them, after laying the mines, to operate in waters close to the coast, immediately outside the ports. There they fought in constant and close combat and under the surveillance of naval and air patrols. Each U-boat which was sighted or reported there was hunted by U-boat pursuit units and by air patrols ordered to the scene.

The U-boats themselves, almost without exception, had as their objectives only ships which were protected or accompanied by some form of protection. Therefore, it would have been suicide for the U-boat, in a position of that sort, to surface and to rescue.

The commanders were all very young; I was the only one who had service experience from the first world war, and I had to tell them this very forcibly and drastically because it was hard for a young commander to judge a situation as well as I could.

Q. Did your experience with rescue measures influence you in issuing this order?

A. Yes. In the first months of the war, I had some very bitter experiences. I suffered very great losses in sea areas far removed from any coast, and as very

[Page 227]

soon I had information through the Geneva Red Cross that many members of crews had been rescued, it was clear that these U-boats had been lost above the water. If they had been lost below the water, the survival of so many members of the crews would be impossible. I also had reports that there had been very unselfish deeds of rescue, quite justifiable from a humane angle; but militarily very dangerous for the U-boat. So now, of course, since I did not want to fight on the open sea but close to the harbours I had to warn the U-boats of the great, even suicidal risks.

To state a parallel, English U-boats in the Skagerrak and Kattegat, areas which we dominated, showed, as a matter of course and quite correctly, no concern at all for those who were shipwrecked, even though, without a doubt, our defence was only a fraction of the British.

Q. You say that this order applied to U-boats which operated in the immediate presence of the enemy's defence. Can you, from the order itself, demonstrate the truth of that?

A. Yes; the entire order deals only with, or assumes, the presence of the enemy's defence; it deals with the battle against convoys.

"Close range is also the best security for the boat - "
Q. What number are you reading?

A. Well, the order is framed so that (1) deals with approach; not with combat. But the warning against enemy air defence is given there also, and in this warning about counter measures it is made clear it is concerned entirely with the approach. (2) Deals with the time prior to the attack. Here mention is made of the moral objections which every soldier has to overcome before an attack.

Q. Admiral, you need only refer to those parts which show that the order is concerned with fighting enemy defences.

A. Very well. Then I will quote from 2 (d). It says there:

"Close range is also the best security for the U-boat. If in the vicinity of the vessels" - that is the merchantmen - "the protecting ships - that is, the destroyers - will at first not fire any depth charges. If one fires into a convoy from close quarters - 'note that we are dealing with convoys' - and then is compelled to submerge, one can then dive most quickly below other ships of the convoy and thus remain safe from depth charges."
Then the next paragraph, which deals with night conditions, says:
"Stay above water. Withdraw above water. Possibly make a circle and go around at the rear."
Every sailor knows that one makes a circle or goes around at the rear of the protecting enemy ships. Further, in the third paragraph, I caution against submerging too soon, because it blinds the U-boat, and I say:
"Only then does the opportunity offer itself for a new attack, or for spotting and noting the opening through which one can shake off the pursuing enemy."
Then (3) C:
"During an attack on a convoy one may have to submerge to a depth of 20 metres, to escape from patrols or aircraft and to avoid the danger of being sighted or rammed...."
Thus we are talking here about a convoy. Now we turn to point (3) d, and here it says:
"It may become necessary to submerge to depth, when, for example, the destroyer is proceeding directly toward the periscope ..."
and then follow instructions on how to act in case of a depth-charge attack. Plainly, the whole order deals with -

[ Previous | Index | Next ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.