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-Sixth Day: Friday, 10th May, 1946
(Part 7 of 12)

[SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE continues his cross examination of Karl Donitz]

[Page 288]

Q. But if you say that that only applied when it was a question of attacking ships in convoy, would you look at Page 26 of the English Document Book, and at Page 57 of the German Document Book? There you will find the account of the sinking of the Sheaf Mead on 27th May, 1940. And if you will look at the U-boat's log, opposite the time group 1648 hours - which is on Page 27 of the English and page 57 of the German - this is what the log says:-
"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, nein.' A young boy in the water calls, 'Help, help, please.' The others are very composed," and so on. "They look damp and somewhat

[Page 289]

tired, and, naturally, they have a look of cold hatred on their faces. Then on to the old course."
If you turn to Page 57 of the German Document Book, or Page 28 of the English, you will find that the last sentence from the survivor's report describes the submarine as doing this:
"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."
There you see the point, defendant, that your own commander says that there was a young boy in the water calling " Help, help, please," and your submarine take a few photographs, submerges, and then goes off.

THE PRESIDENT: Sir David, ought you to refer to the passage just after the name of the vessel, under 1648, "It is not clear"?

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: "It is not clear whether she was sailing as a normal merchant ship. The following seemed to point to the contrary." And then, my Lord, it gives a number of matters. Of course, my Lord, I am on the point of survivors at the moment. I am taking this instance as a matter of wrongful sinking; I am taking it as an instance of carrying out this order.

I am very much obliged to your Lordship, but that is why I didn't do it.

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will adjourn now.

(A recess was taken until 1400 hours.)


Q. Defendant, you have now had opportunity of looking at the log of U-37.

Was it not your practice in May, 1940, to see personally the logs of all U-boats when they arrived?

A. The commanders of submarines always had to report verbally to me every time. The logs, which arrived or were finished several weeks later or some time after the entries were made, since they had to be written in the port, were only submitted to me by my Chief of Staff if they contained something special in addition to the verbal report.

Q. Did you remember seeing the log of U-37 that was involved in this incident?

A. No.

Q. Do you now observe that the Sheaf Mead was not sailing in convoy?

A. Yes. I know that. And I know that it was an armed ship and that, according to the orders which the commandant had, he was justified in sinking it as an armed ship. It also appears from his log that he could not decide on firing the torpedo until he had ascertained that the ship was armed. That is very clearly expressed here.

Q. May I please explain to his Lordship that I am not on the question of sinking. I am on the question of survivors. Did you take any action with the U-boat commander, Kapitanleutnant Ernst for not having assisted in the rescue of survivors?

A. No. But I did tell him that if he was on the spot where this rescue went on he should have also helped.

Q. Was he not simply carrying out your Order 154 of November or December, 1939?

A. No, he was not.

Q. Well, now -

A. I have already stated to which waters it applied, and that it only applied to ships which were protected.

Q. Well, now, would you look at Page 34 in the English Document Book, Page 69 in the German Document Book. That is the report of the conversation between Hitler and Oshima, and you say that you were told nothing about it.

[Page 290]

Now, I want you just to follow about half-way down, half-way through the extract, where it says:
"After having given further explanations on the map, the Fuehrer pointed out that, however many ships the United States built, one of their main problems would be on the lack of personnel. For that reason, even merchant ships would be sunk without warning, with the intention of killing as many of the crew as possible. Once it gets around that most of the seamen are lost in the sinkings, the Americans would soon have difficulties in enlisting new people. The training of sea-going personnel takes a long time."
Now, did you agree with that argument of Hitler that once it gets around that most of the seamen are lost in the sinkings, the American would soon have difficulties in enlisting new people? Did you think that that was a sound argument on the question of sea warfare against the United States?

A. I have already given my answer to that question in writing to the Foreign Office, and I clearly stated my opinion, which was that I did not believe that it would take a long time to train seamen, and that America would have no lack of personnel. Consequently also, I would not be of the opinion that this would serve as a deterrent.

Q. So you did not agree with the Fuehrer's reasoning on that point?

A. No, I did not agree with the last part, namely, that there would be a shortage of seamen.

Q. No, it is the first point that I want your opinion on expressly, once it gets around that most of the seamen are lost in the sinkings, the Americans would soon have difficulties in enlisting new crews. That is, I suggest to you that the new crews would be scared off by the news of the sinking and killing of crews. Did you agree that that was a sound argument. That is what I want your view on.

A. That was his personal point of view. Whether they would be scared off or not is an American matter which I cannot judge.

Q. Would you look at your own Document Book, Volume 1, Page 29 in the English version, which is your report to the Fuehrer on the 14th of May, 1942. Do you see the last sentence where you are advocating a range pistol? You say:

"A range pistol will also have the great advantage that the crew will not be able to rescue themselves on account of the quick sinking of the torpedoed ship. This greater loss of crews will no doubt cause difficulties for the assignment of crews for the great American construction programme."
A. It is perfectly clear, it is correct. If I have not got the old crews any more, I have to have new ones. It makes it more difficult. It says nothing about scaring off there, but the positive fact is stated that new crews have to be trained.

Q. So, are we to take it that if the old crews were sunk under conditions where they would probably lose their lives, you did not think that would have any frightening or terrorising effect on the getting of new crews?

A. That is a matter of opinion, it depends on the courage, the bravery of the people. The American Minister Knox, said that if - in 1941 - the sinkings of German U-boats were not published, he expected it would have a deterrent effect on my U-boats. That was his opinion. I can only say that the silent disappearance through American action had no scaring- off effect on my U-boats. It is a matter of morale.

Q. Well, on the 14th of May, the Fuehrer was pressing you to take action against the crews after the vessels were sunk. Is that not so?

A. Yes. He asked whether we couldn't take action against the crew, and I have already said, after I heard of the Oshima discussion here, that I believe this question to Grand Admiral Raeder and myself was the result of that Oshima discussion. My answer to that of course is known, it was "no."

[Page 291]

Q. Your answer was "no," it would be far better to have a range pistol and kill them while they were still on the boat. That was your answer, was it not?

A. No. My answer was: "Taking action against shipwrecked personnel is out of the question, but it is taken for granted that in a fight, one must use the best possible weapon. Every nation does that.

Q. Yes, but the object of your weapon, as quite clearly set out, was that the crew would not be able to rescue themselves on account of the quick sinking of the ship. That is why you wanted to use the range pistol.

A. Yes. And also of course, because we considered the crews of the steamers as combatants, since they were fighting with weapons.

Q. Well, I am not going back to deal with that point again, but that was in your mind. Now, the Fuehrer raised this point again on the 5th of September, 1942, as is shown in your Document Book, Volume 2, Page 81.

A. I have not got it. Where is it?

Q. It begins with the discussion in the OKW on 5th September, 1942. It is Exhibit 39, Page 81, and it is in the English Document Book, Volume 2.

A. Yes, I have it now.

Q. It arises out of an incident of the sinking of the mine- layer Ulm, and there is a question of whether British destroyers had fired with machine-guns on soldiers in lifeboats, and the Fuehrer gave orders to the naval command to issue an order according to which "our warships would use reprisals," and if you look a little lower down, you will see that the matter had been investigated by your operations staff, and it is stated:-

"It could not be proved beyond a doubt that the fire had been aimed at the crew boarding the lifeboats. The enemy fire was evidently aimed at the ship itself."
Then you discuss the question of applying reprisals, at the foot of that page, and you say:-
"It is the opinion of the Naval War Command that before issuing reprisal orders, one should take into consideration whether such measures, if applied by the enemy against us, would not in the end be more harmful to us than to the enemy. Even now our boats are able only in a few cases to rescue ship-wrecked enemy crews by towing the lifeboats, etc., whereas the crews of sunken German U- boats and merchant vessels have so far, as a rule, been picked up by the enemy. The situation would therefore not change in our favour, if we were to order as a measure of reprisal that, not only should shipwrecked enemy crews not be secured, but they should be fired on.

"It is significant in this respect that it could not be proved that, in the cases on record, where the enemy used arms against shipwrecked Germans, such action was the result of, or was covered by, an order of an official British office. We should therefore bear in mind the fact that knowledge of such a German order would be used by enemy propaganda in such a manner that its consequences could not easily be foreseen."

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Mr. President, I have objections against this manner of procedure. The document about which this cross-examination is being made is a document from me and I have not submitted it yet. I do not know whether it is customary in this trial that exhibits of the defence are submitted by the prosecution. For this reason I had suggested at the time to begin with the documentary evidence so that the prosecution should also have an opportunity to use my exhibits in cross-examination.

THE PRESIDENT: Have you any objection to the document which is in your Document Book being offered in evidence?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: I only want to avoid that now, in the course of cross- examination, my documents should be presented by the prosecution, because this upsets my entire documentary evidence. This particular case does not play a decisive role for me, but if the prosecution is proposing to present other documents

[Page 292]

of mine which have not yet been submitted, I should like to ask that the cross-examination be interrupted and I first be afforded an opportunity to submit my documents.

THE PRESIDENT: That will only waste time, will it not? It would not do any good; it would only waste time.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Mr. President, I do not think it would be a waste of time if I, as Defence Counsel, ask that I be allowed to submit my own documents to the Tribunal myself and that they shall not be quoted to the Tribunal by the prosecution from my Document Book, because the manner of presentation and the questions asked by the prosecution do, of course, give these documents a quite different character and meaning.

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Kranzbuhler, the Tribunal thinks there is no objection to the course that is being taken. You have had the opportunity already of putting this document to the witness. You will have a further opportunity of putting it to him again in re-examination.


Q. So that there was fresh pressure put on you in September to take this course, that is, to fire on the crews of sunken vessels, was there not?

A. No, that is not correct. I only learned of this document of the Naval War Command here, I was therefore not under pressure, but it is true that, in accordance with this document, the Naval War Command (SKL) (Seekriegsleitung) had apparently had orders from the OKW to compile a list of all such cases, and that the Naval War Command very correctly took the point of view that one would have to be very careful in judging these cases, and that it advised against reprisal measures. It appears to me that the compilation of this document served to convince us that, in principle, one should keep away from these reprisal measures.

Q. Did you know that on the instructions of Hitler, the OKW had put through an inquiry to the Naval War Command on this point in September?

A. No, I did not know that. I just said I do not know about this entry from the war diary of the Naval War Command and the appendix which is attached to it. I first heard of it here.

Q. You first heard of it here?

A. I did not know about the entry in the War Diary of the Naval War Command. That was done in Berlin, and I was Commander-in-Chief of the Submarine Fleet in France at the time.

Q. Well, if you tell the Tribunal that you did not know about it in September, then we will pass on to another document. That is what you say, that you did not know about it in September, 1942?

A. No.

Q. Now, I would just like you - I do not want to take you through the Laconia incident in any detail, but I want you just to tell me about one, I think, one or two entries. I think it is Page 40 of your own Document Book.

THE PRESIDENT: Is that not on Page 41?

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: I am very much obliged to your Lordship.


Q. It is Page 41, at the bottom. It is on 20th September, 1320 hours. That is your wireless message to the U-boat Schacht. Do you see that?

A. Yes, and I explained that in great detail yesterday.

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