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 2 of 9)

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

[Page 227]

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think it is necessary to go into all these naval tactics. He has given his explanation of several points, and I don't think it is necessary to go into all of these other tactics.

THE WITNESS: I only want to say that the last paragraph about non-rescue must not be considered alone; but in this light: first, the U-boats had to fight

[Page 228]

in the presence of enemy defence near the English ports and estuaries, and secondly, the objectives were ships in convoys, or protected ships, as is shown clearly from the document as a whole.

Q. You said that this order was given about December, 1939. Did the German U-boats after the order had been issued actually continue rescues? What were your experiences?

A. I said that this order was issued for this specific purpose during the winter months. For the U-boats which, according to my memory, went out into the Atlantic again only after the Norwegian campaign, for these U-boats the general order of rescue applied: and this order was qualified only in one way, namely that no rescue was to be attempted if the safety of a U-boat did not permit it. The facts show that the U-boats acted in this sense.

Q. Do you mean then that you had reports from U-boat commanders about rescue measures?

A. I received these reports whenever a U-boat returned, and subsequently through the combat log books.

Q. When was this order which we have just discussed, formally rescinded?

A. To my knowledge this order was captured or salvaged by England on the U-13 which was destroyed by depth charges in very shallow water in the Downs. For this boat of course, this order may still have applied in May, 1940. Then in the year 1940, after the Norway Campaign, I again placed the centre of gravity of operations in the open waters of the Atlantic, and for these boats this order did not apply, as is proved by the fact that rescues took place, as I just explained.

I then rescinded this order completely, for it contained the first practical instructions how U-boats were to act toward a convoy, and later on it was no longer necessary, for then it had become second nature to the U-boat commanders. To my recollection the order was completely withdrawn in November, 1940 at the latest.

Q. Admiral, I have here the table of contents of the "Standing War Orders of 1942," and that may be found on Page 16 of Document Book No. 1. I will submit it as Donitz 11. In this table of contents the number 154, which deals with the order we have just discussed, is blank. Does that mean that this order did not exist any more at the time when the "Standing War Orders of 1942" were issued?

A. Yes, by then it had long ceased to exist.

Q. When were the standing orders for the year 1942 compiled?

A. In the course of the year 1941.

Q. When you received reports from commanders about rescue measures, did you object to these measures? Did you criticise or prohibit them?

A. No, not as a rule; only if subsequently I became alarmed, if, for example, I had a report from a commander to the effect that, because he had remained too long with the lifeboats, so that there was time for the enemy to radio for assistance, his U-boat had been severely attacked and damaged by depth charges - something which would not have happened if he had left the scene in time - then naturally I pointed out to him that his action had been wrong from a tactics point of view, and I am convinced that I lost U- boats in this way. Of course, I cannot prove that, since the boats are lost. But such is the whole mentality of the commander, it is entirely natural, for every sailor retains from the days of peace the view that rescue is the noblest and most honourable act he can perform. I believe there was no officer in the German Navy - it is no doubt true of all the other nations - who, for example, would not consider the medal of rescue, rescue at personal risk, as the highest peacetime decoration. As a basic principle it is always very dangerous not to change to a wartime perspective and to fully realise that the security of one's own ship comes first, and that war is, after all, a serious matter.

Q. In what years was the practice you have just described followed, that U-boats did not effect rescues when they endangered themselves?

[Page 229]

A. That is towards the end of 1939, according to the rules of war, when U-boats were still operating alone. Then came the operation close to the enemy coast of 1939-40 which I have described; the order applied to this operation. Then came the Norway campaign, and then, when the U-boat war was resumed in the spring of 1940, this order of rescue, or non- rescue if the U-boat itself was endangered, applied in the years 1940, 1941 and until the autumn of 1942.

Q. Was this order put in writing?

A. No, it was not necessary, for the general order about rescue was a matter of course, and besides it was contained in certain orders of the Naval Operations Command at the beginning of the war. The qualification of non-rescue if the safety of the submarine is at stake is taken for granted in every navy, and was only made use of by me in connection with reports in the cases which I have just discussed.

Q. In June of 1942, there was an order about the rescue of captains. This has the number, Donitz 22, I beg your pardon - it is Donitz 23. It can be found on Page 45 of Document Book I, and I hereby submit it. It is an extract from the war diary of the Naval Operations Command of 5th June, 1942. I quote:

"According to instructions received from the Naval Operations Command submarines are ordered by the submarine command to take on board as prisoners captains of ships sunk, with their papers, if this is possible without endangering the boat and without impairing fighting capacity."
How did this order come into being?

A. I did not quite understand.

Q. How did this order come into being?

A. Here we are concerned with an order of the Naval Operations Command that captains and chief engineer officers are to be taken prisoner, that is, to be brought home, and that again is something different from rescue. The Naval Operations Command was of the opinion - and rightly - that since we could not cause a very high percentage, say 80 to 90 per cent, of the crews of the sunk merchantmen to be brought back - we even helped in their rescue, which was natural - then at least we must see to it that the enemy is deprived of the most important members of the crew, that is, the captains and chief engineer officers: hence the order to take these officers from their lifeboats on to the U-boats as prisoners.

Q. Did this order exist in this or another form until the end of the war?

A. Yes, it was later even incorporated into the standing orders, because it was an order of the Naval Operations Command.

Q. Was it carried out until the end of the war, and with what results?

A. Yes, according to my recollection, it was carried out now and then even in the last few years of the war. But, in general, the results of this order were very slight. I personally can remember only a very few cases. But through letters which I have now received from my commanders, and which I read, I discovered that there were a few more cases than I believed, altogether perhaps ten or twelve.

Q. To what do you attribute the fact that despite this express order so few captains were taken prisoner?

A. The chief reason, without doubt, was that on an increasing scale, the more the convoy system of the enemy was being perfected, the more the concentration of the U- boats against the convoys. The great bulk of the U-boats was engaged in the battle against convoys. In a few other cases, it was not always possible for reasons of the boat's safety, to approach the lifeboats in order to pick out a captain. Finally, I believe that the commanders of the U-boats were reluctant, quite rightly from their viewpoint, to have a captain on board for so long. In any event, I know that the commanders were not at all happy about this order.

Q. Admiral, I now turn to a document which is really the nucleus of the accusation against you. It is Exhibit GB 199, Page 36 of the British Document Book. This is your wireless message of 17th September, and the prosecution

[Page 230]

asserts that it is an order for the destruction of the shipwrecked. It is of such importance that I will read it to you again.
"To all commanding officers:

" (1) No attempt of any kind must be made at rescuing members of ships sunk, and this includes picking up persons in the water and putting them in lifeboats, righting capsized lifeboats and handing over food and water. Rescue runs counter to the rudimentary demands of warfare for the destruction of enemy ships and crews.

"(2) Orders for bringing back captains and chief engineers still apply.

"(3) Rescue the shipwrecked only if their statements will be of importance for your boat.

"(4) Be harsh. Bear in mind that the enemy takes no regard of women and children in his bombing attacks on German cities."

Please describe to the Tribunal the antecedents of this order, which are decisive for its intentions. Describe first of all the general war situation out of which the order arose.

A. In September of 1942 the great bulk of the German U-boats fought convoys. The centre of gravity in the deployment of U- boats was in the North Atlantic where the protected convoys operated between England and America. The U-boats in the North Sea fought in the same way, attacking only the convoys to Murmansk. There was no other traffic in that area. The same situation existed in the Mediterranean; there also the objects of our attack were the convoys. Beyond that, some boats were committed directly to American ports, New York, Boston, and other hubs of shipping. A small number of U- boats fought also in open areas in the middle of the South Atlantic. The determining factor at this time was that the powerful Anglo-American air force was patrolling everywhere and in increasingly large numbers. That was a point which caused us great concern, for obviously the airplane, because of its speed, constitutes the most dangerous threat to the U- boat. That was not a matter of fancy on my part, for from the summer of 1942 - that is, a few months before September, when this order was issued - the losses of our U-boats through air attacks rose suddenly by more than 300 per cent., I believe.

Q. Admiral, for clarification of this point, I am giving you a diagram which I would like to submit in evidence to the Tribunal as Donitz 99. Will you, with the use of the diagram explain the curve of losses?

A. It is very clear that this diagram showing the losses of U-boats corroborates the statements which I have just made. One can see that up to June of 1942 U-boat losses were kept within reasonable limits and then - in July, 1942 - what I have just described, happened suddenly. Whereas the monthly losses in U-boats up to then were, as the diagram shows, 4, 5, 3, 4, 2, in July they jumped to 10, 11, 8, 13, 14. Then follow the two winter months December-January, which were used for a thorough overhauling of the ships; and that explains the decrease which, however, has no bearing on the trend of losses.

These developments caused me the greatest concern and resulted in a great number of orders to the submarine commanders on how they were to act while on the surface; for the losses were caused while the boats were above water, since the airplanes could sight them; and so the boats had to limit their surface activities as much as possible. These losses also prompted me to issue memoranda to the SKL.

Q. When?

A. The memoranda were written in the summer - in June.

Q. In June of 1942?

A. In June or July.

At the pinnacle of my success, it occurred to me that air power might some day stifle us and force us under the water. Thus, despite the huge successes which I still had at that time, my fears for the future were great, and that they were not imaginary is shown by the actual trend of losses after the submarines left the

[Page 231]

dockyard in February, 1943; in that month 18 boats were lost, in March, 15 in April, 14. And then the losses jumped to 38.

Airplane surveillance and the equipment of the planes with Radar - which in my opinion is, next to the atom bomb, the decisive war winning invention of the Anglo-Americans, brought about the collapse of U-boat warfare. The U-boats were forced under the water, for they could not maintain their position on the surface at all. Not only were they sighted when the airplane spotted them, but this Radar instrument located them up to sixty sea miles away, beyond the range of sight, during the day and at night-time. Of course to stay under water was an impossibility for the old U-boats; for they had to surface in order to recharge their batteries. This development forced me, therefore, to have the old U-boats equipped with the so-called "Schnorchel," and to build up an entirely new U-boat force which could stay under water and which could travel from Germany to Japan for example, without surfacing at all. It is evident, therefore, that I was in an increasingly dangerous situation.

Q. Admiral, in order to clarify this situation I want to call your attention to your war diary of this time. This will have the number Donitz 18, reproduced on Page 32, Volume I. I want to read only the contents of the entries from the 2nd until the 14th of September; Page 32:

"On 2nd September, U-256 surprised and bombed by aircraft; unfit for sailing and diving;

"On 3rd September, aircraft sights U-boat;

" On 4th September, U-756 has not reported despite request since 1st September, when near convoy; presumed lost.

"On 5th September, aircraft sights U-boat;

"On 6th September, U-705 probably lost through enemy aircraft attack;

"On 7th September, U-130 bombed by Boeing bomber;

"On 8th September, U-202 attacked by aircraft in Bay of Biscay.

"On 9th September - "

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Kranzbuhler, the defendant has already told us of the losses and of the reason for the losses. What is the good of giving us details of the fact that U-boats were fighting aircraft?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: I wanted to show, Mr. President, that the testimony of Admiral Donitz is confirmed by the entries in his diary of that time. But if the Tribunal -

THE PRESIDENT: We can read it. Anyhow, if you just draw our attention to the document we will read it. We don't need you to read the details of it.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Yes, Mr. President. I will do it in that way.

THE WITNESS: That is a typical and characteristic entry in my war diary of those weeks and days just before the issuance of my order; but I wish to add the following: The aircraft was very dangerous especially for psychological reasons; at one moment, when no aircraft is on the scene, the commander of the U-boat views his situation as perfectly clear, yet in the next moment, when the aircraft comes into sight, his situation is completely hopeless. That happened not only to young commanders, but to old experienced commanders who remembered the good old times. Perhaps I may, quite briefly, give a clear-cut example. A U-boat needs one minute for the crew to come in through the hatch before it can submerge at all. An airplane flies on the average six thousand metres in one minute. The U-boat, therefore, in order to be able to submerge at all - and not to be bombed while it is still on the surface - must sight the aircraft from a distance of at least six thousand metres. But that also is not sufficient, for even if the U-boat has submerged it still has not reached a safe depth. The U-boat, therefore, must sight the airplane even earlier, namely, at the extreme boundary of the field of vision. Therefore, it is an absolute condition of success that the U-boat is in a

[Page 232]

state of constant alert, and that above all, it proceeds at maximum speed, because the greater the speed the faster the U-boat submerges; Secondly, that as few men as possible are on the tower, so that they can come into the U-boat and the hatch be closed as quickly as possible, and that there are no men on the upper deck, and so on. This of course, would prevent any rescue work, as this necessitates men being on the upper deck in order to bring help and take care of more people, and would completely interrupt the submarine's state of alert, so that the U-boat would, as a consequence, be hopelessly exposed to all attack from the air.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Mr. President, I wish now to take up a matter which I would be reluctant to have to interrupt. If therefore, it is agreeable to the Tribunal, I would suggest that we have a recess now.

(A recess was taken.)

[ 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.