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 9 of 12)

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

[Page 297]

Q. Did you notice that Heisig said in his evidence that during a lecture he heard you put forward the same argument as Hitler put forward in his conversations with Oshima?

A. First of all I want to state that Heisig here in this witness box said something different from what he said during his interrogation, During cross-examination he has admitted here that I have not said anything about fighting against shipwrecked personnel, secondly everything else he said is so vague that I do not attach much value to its credibility; thirdly, he stated quite clearly that I did not say this in a lecture but during a discussion, which is in itself of no importance, and, fourthly, it may be that the subject of America's new construction programme and the manning of the new ships by trained crews was opened. It was possible during that discussion.

Q. Do you now say you agree you never opened any discussion having reference to the American ship building programme and the difficulty of finding crews?

Do you agree with Heisig on that?

A. The German Press was full of that. Everybody read and knew about the ship building programme. Pictures were made -

Q. But the argument, I am suggesting to you, you know, was that the building programme would be useless if you could destroy or frighten off sufficient merchant navy crews. That is the point in Hitler's conversation, and that Heisig said you said. Did you say that?

A. I have always taken the attitude that losses of crews would make replacement difficult, and this is stated in my war diary, together with similar ideas, and perhaps I said something of the kind to my midshipmen.

Q. Would you look at Page 37 of the Prosecution Document Book, Page 76 in the German translation?

A. Page 37?

Q. Page 37 in the English. It is an order dated October, 1943. I just want you to look at the last sentence:

"In view of the desired destruction of ships' crews, their sinking is of great value."
A. I have not found the page yet, what number is it in English?

Q. I have the English ... if you will excuse me it is 76 in the German.

A. That can't be right.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: Perhaps you would help me, Sergeant Major, would you?

(The place is indicated to the witness.)

Q. In the last sentence...

A. Yes, I have read it.

Q. "In view of the desired destruction of ships' crews their sinking is of great value," and it is continually pressing the need for ships' crews.

A. Yes, of course, but in the course of fighting. It is perfectly clear these rescue ships were heavily armed, They had aircraft and could be sunk just as other convoy ships. If there were steamer crews it was taken for granted that we were justified in sinking these crews. Moreover they were used by the steamers as U-boat traps.

[Page 298]

Q. On the question of the rightness or wrongness of sinking rescue ships, the destruction of ships' crews, I want to ask you one or two questions about Mohle. He commanded the U- boat Flotilla from 1942 until the end of the war. That is nearly three years, and, as he told us, he has a number of decorations for gallant service. Are you telling the Tribunal that Commander Mohle went on briefing submarine commanders on a completely mistaken basis for three years without any of your staff or yourself discovering this? You saw every U-boat commander when he came back.

A. I am sorry that Captain Mohle, being the only one who said he had doubts in connection with this order, as he declared here, did not report it right away. But I was not able to know that he had these doubts. He had the opportunity of clearing up these doubts and I didn't know, and nobody on my staff had any idea that he had these thoughts.

Q. Now, I have a letter here, a letter from a widow of one of your submarine commanders. I cannot get the commander and this is a letter from his widow. I want you to say that you think of a passage in it.

She says: In the second paragraph - "Captain Mohle says he has not found one U-boat Commander who objected to the order to fire at helpless seamen who were in distress in the water."

DR. KRANZBUHLER: I object to the use of this letter. I think this is the sort of letter which cannot be used as an exhibit. It is not sworn, and it is a typical example of the kind of letter which Mr. Justice Jackson has already repeatedly criticized.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: The only point I make is this: The man himself has not come back. His widow can give information as to how he understood his orders before he went out. I should have submitted it with probative value. I think it occurs in Article 19. I will not use it if there is the slightest doubt about it before the Tribunal.

THE WITNESS: It is full of incorrect statements, too. It says there that he died in a KZ (Concentration Camp) which is not true.

THE PRESIDENT: Wait just a minute.

THE WITNESS: It is not true.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Mr. President, I have only just finished reading the whole letter -

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the Tribunal is considering the matter at the moment.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: May I state one argument in this connection first?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have heard your argument and we are considering the matter. The Tribunal thinks that it is undesirable that this document should be used.

SIR DAVID MAXWELL FYFE: As your Lordship pleases.


Q. Now I want to deal just for one moment with a passage in your own document book which Dr. Kranzbuhler put to you yesterday. It is Volume 2, Page 92, Exhibit 42. Before I ask you a question about it, there is one point that I would like you to help me on. In your interrogation you said that on the 22nd of October - you said that, about two months after that order of 17th September, you issued orders forbidding U-boats to surface at all. Is that right? You gave orders forbidding U-boats to surface, is that right?

A. If it is possible for a submarine to do this at all. We were always making changes, day and night, and it depended upon the degree of danger and the state of the weather whether we gave orders for the U-boats to surface and take on a load.

[Page 299]

They were not to surface after attacks, were not to surface at all before or after attacks; is not that the effect of your order?

A. Of course submarines, for example at night, had to be on the surface for attacks, but the main thing was to avoid every risk, when going to the attack.

Q. Then two months later there was an order that they were to surface as little as possible and you tell me it was your order?

A. As far as possible they were to use all means to avoid danger from the air.

Q. Did you give orders as to surfacing?

A. I gave them quite a number of orders, as I have already said, according to the weather, according to what part of the sea they were in, and whether it was day or night. The order was different according to these factors whether it was day or night, because the danger depended on these elements and varied accordingly. There were changes too; if we had bad experiences which showed that night was more dangerous than day, then we surfaced during the day. We had the impression that it was certainly better to surface during the day, because then one could at least see the attacking aircraft beforehand by direction finding, and so we changed.

Q. But it is a fact that quite soon after this order the Allied air cover became so heavy that - I quote your own words - You say: "Two months later submarines were no longer in a position to surface." That is, as I understand it, surfacing became very difficult in view of the heavy nature of allied air attacks, is that right?

A. Yes, they did not have a chance to come to the surface in certain waters without being attacked immediately. That is just the point. The submarines had to hold themselves in readiness, in the first degree of readiness, and this is the big difference, and, despite this, these heavy losses and difficulties still occurred.

Q. Now I want you to look at Page 93. It is the page after the one I referred you to in Volume 2 of your document book, you see Paragraph 1.

A. Yes.

Q. "The percentage of sunk merchant vessels in convoys in 1941 amounted to 40 per cent.; in the entire year of 1942 to barely 30 per cent.; in the last quarter of 1942 to 57 per cent.; in January 1943, to about 65 per cent.; in February to about 70 per cent. and in March to 80 per cent." Your worst period was the first three quarters Of 1942, is that not so? That appears from your own figures.

A. Which "worst period"? What do you mean? I do not understand.

Q. Well, it is Page 93, paragraph 1.

A. Yes, but how do you mean, "worst period "?

Q. Well, the percentage of sunk merchant vessels in convoys in 1941 amounted to 40 per cent.

A. You mean merchant ships?

Q. Yes, I am reading your own War Diary, or rather the SKL (Naval War Command) War Diary. "In the entire year of 1942 to barely 30 per cent - "

A. From convoys?

Q. Convoys, yes. So that the worst period that you had was the first three-quarters of 1942?

A. No. In 1942, as I have already said in my description of the entire situation, a large number of submarines were just outside the ports, they were off New York, off Trinidad, etc., so that they are not mentioned here. In this list only the sinkings carried out by those packs which were attacking the convoys in the North Atlantic are mentioned.

Q. But is it not right that these figures mean that your worst period was the first three quarters of 1942? It must have been around 30 per cent.

A. No, my most successful period was the year 1942.

Q. Well, how can you call it the most successful period if for the entire year of 1942 your percentage of sunk merchant vessels in convoys is only 30 per cent.,

[Page 300]

whereas in January and February and March, 1943, it got up to 65, 70 and 80 per cent.?

A. Right, it is so. Of the merchant ships sunk in 1942, 30 per cent. were sunk in the Atlantic in 1942, but the total figures was much larger than, for instance, in 1943 when 65 and 70 per cent. were sunk; and that is simply because at that time in 1943 we could no longer remain outside a port like New York. This only mentions percentages of sinkings in the Atlantic from convoys only.

Q. You see what I am putting to you is this, that in 1942, when your percentage from convoys was low, when you had had that pressure that I have gone into with you before, there was every reason for you to issue an unequivocal order which would have the effect of getting those submarine commanders who wanted to, to destroy the crews of the ships. In 1943 your U-boats weren't surfacing, your convoy proportions had gone up, and there wasn't any reason to make your order more explicit. This is what I am suggesting to you, defendant.

A. I consider that that is quite wrong.

Q. Now I just want to -

A. It was like this. As I already said, in the summer of 1942 we found that the danger from the air suddenly increased. This danger from the air was making itself felt in all waters, also in those waters where submarines were not fighting convoys or were not fighting just outside the ports.

Q. Now I just want you to help me on one other point. Dr. Kranzbuhler put to you yesterday that Kapitanleutnant Eck said that if he had come back he would not have expected you to have objected or been angry with him for shooting up the crew of the Pileus. You said you knew that Eck was carrying this order of yours in his locker when he did shoot up the crew of the Pileus.

A. Yes, but I also know that this order did not have the slightest effect on his decision, but as Eck has expressly said, his decision was to shoot up the wreckage, and he had quite a different aim, namely, to remove the wreckage because he was afraid for his boat which would have been smashed to pieces just as the other boats. He stated clearly that there was no connection whatsoever in his mind between the order, which he had on board quite accidentally with reference to the Laconia, and his decision.

Q. Now you know there are two other cases before the Tribunal, the Noreen Mary and the Antonico, which are on Pages 47 and 52 of the prosecution's document book, where witnesses give specific evidence of the U-boat carrying out attacks on them when they are, in one case, on wreckage, and, in the other case, in the lifeboat. Will you look at the Noreen Mary, on Page 47 of the document book? The statement of the survivor is on Pages 49 and 50. He deals with this point, he says in the fourth paragraph - Page 85 of the German Document Book -

A. I have the English Document Book.

Q. It is Page 50 of the English one; I have got the English Document Book:

"I swam around until I came across the broken bow of our lifeboat which was upside down and managed to scramble on top of it. Even now the submarine did not submerge, but deliberately steamed in my direction, and when only about 60 to 70 yards away, fired directly at me with a short burst from the machine gun. As their intention was quite obvious, I fell into the water and remained there until the submarine ceased firing, and submerged, after which I climbed back on to the bottom of the boat."
The statement by the Brazilian gentleman-which you will find on Page 52. Have you got it?

A. Yes, I've got it.

Q. Fifteen lines from the foot, he says: "The enemy ruthlessly machine-gunned the defenceless sailors in No. 2 lifeboat." Assuming - of course, one has to assume - that Mr. McAlister and Signor De Oliveira Silva are speaking the truth, are you saying that these U-boat officers were acting on their own?

A. It is possible that the men themselves might have taken it into their heads to do this. I want to point out, however, that in a night fight, let us take the case

[Page 301]

of the Antonico, where it lasted 20 minutes, it could very easily have been assumed that these were shots, or that shots directed against the ship hit a life-boat. At any rate, if someone makes a report on a night attack lasting 20 minutes, then it is a subjective report and everyone who knows how these reports vary knows how easily a seaman can make a mistake. If, during such a night fight, the U-boat had wanted to destroy these people, then it would not have left after 20 minutes, particularly as the person stated that he could not see the submarine in the darkness. These are certainly all very vague statements.

The case of the Noreen Mary is quite similar. A large number of statements are made which are certainly not true; for instance, that the submarine bore a swastika. Not a single submarine went to sea painted in any way. If someone is on some wreckage or in a lifeboat and there are shots nearby, then he very easily feels that he is being shot at. It was for this very reason that quite a number of cases of the Anglo-American side have been mentioned by us; not because we wanted to make an accusation, but because we wanted to show how very sceptical one has to be regarding these individual reports.

And the only cases in five and a half years of war, during several thousand attacks, are the ones brought up here.

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