The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Q. Admiral, you have just described the enemy's supremacy in
the air in September, 1942. During these September days you
received the report about the sinking of the British
transport Laconia. I submit to the Tribunal the war diaries
concerning that incident, under Donitz 18, 20, 21, and 22.
These are the war diaries of the Commanders of the U-boats
which took part in this action, naval lieutenants
Hartenstein, Schacht and Wurdemann. They are reproduced in
the document book on Page 34 and the following pages. I
shall read to you the report which you received. That is on
Page 35 of the Document Book, date: 13th September, time:
0125 hours. I read:-

  "Wireless message sent on American circuit: Sunk by
  Hartenstein British ship Laconia."

Then the position is given and the message continues:-

  "Unfortunately with 1,500 Italian prisoners of war. Up to
  now picked up 90 - "

then the details, and the end is "request orders."

I had the document handed to you -

THE PRESIDENT: Where are you now?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: On Page 35, Mr. President, the entry of
13th September, time 0125 hours, the number at the beginning
of the line; at the bottom of the page.


Q. (continuing). I had the documents handed to you to
refresh your memory. Please tell me, first, what impression
or what knowledge you had about this ship Laconia, which had
been reported sunk, and about its crew.

A. I knew, from the handbook on armed British ships which we
had at our disposal, that the Laconia was armed with
fourteen guns. I concluded, therefore, that it would have a
British crew of at least about 500 men. When I heard that
there were also Italian prisoners on board, it was clear to
me that this number would be further increased by the guards
of the prisoners.

Q. Please, describe now on the basis of the documents the
main events surrounding your order of 17th September, and
elaborate first, on the rescue or non-rescue of British or
Italians, and secondly, your concern for the safety of the U-
boats in question.

A. When I received this report, I radioed to all U-boats in
the whole area. I issued the order:-

  "Schacht, Group Eisbar, Wurdemann and Wilamowitz, proceed
  to Hartenstein immediately."

Hartenstein was the commander who had sunk the ship. Later,
I had to order several boats to turn back, because their
distance from the scene was too great. The boat that was
furthest from the area and received orders to participate in
the rescue was 700 miles away, and therefore could not
arrive before two days.

                                                  [Page 233]

Above all I asked Hartenstein, the commander who had sunk
the ship, whether the Laconia had sent oat wireless
messages, because I hoped that as a result British and
American ships would come to the rescue. Hartenstein
affirmed that and, besides, he himself sent out the
following wireless message in English.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: That is on Page 36, Mr. President, under
time figure 0600.

  A. (continuing). "If any ship will assist the shipwrecked
  Laconia crew, I will not attack her, providing I am not
  being attacked by ship or air force."

Summing up briefly, I gained the impression from the reports
of the U-boats that they began the rescue work.

Q. How many U-boats were there?

A. There were three or four submarines. I received reports
that the numbers of those taken on board by each U-boat were
between one hundred and two hundred. I believe Hartenstein
had 156, and another boat 131. I received reports which
spoke of the crew being cared for and placed into lifeboats,
one report mentioned thirty-five Italians, twenty-five
Englishmen and four Poles, another, thirty Italians and
twenty-four Englishmen; a third, twenty-six Italians, thirty-
nine Englishmen and three Poles. I received reports about
the towing of lifeboats. All these reports caused me the
greatest concern because I knew exactly that this would not
end well.

My concern at that time was expressed in a message to the
submarines radioed four times:-

  "Detailed boats to take over only so many as to remain
  fully able to dive."

It is obvious that, if the narrow space of the submarine -
our U-boats were half as big as the enemy's - is crowded,
with 100 to 200 additional people, the submarine is already
in absolute danger, not to speak of its fitness to fight.
Furthermore, I sent the message:-

  "All boats are to take on only so many people -

THE PRESIDENT: Are these messages in the document?


THE PRESIDENT: Well, where are they? Why did be not refer to
the time of them?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: They are all messages contained in the
three diaries of the U-boats. The first message is on Page
36, Mr. President, under hour 0720. I will read it.

  "Wireless message received" - a message from Admiral
  Donitz - "Hartenstein remain near place of sinking.
  Maintain ability to dive. Detailed boats to take over
  only so many as to remain fully able to dive."

A. (continuing). Then I sent another message:-

  "Safety of U-boat is not to be endangered under any

DR. KRANZB UHLER: This message is on Page 40, Mr. President,
under the date of 17th September, 0140 hours.

  A. (continuing). "Take all measures with appropriate
  ruthlessness, including discontinuance of all rescue

Furthermore, I sent the message:-

  "Boats must at all times be clear for crash diving and
  underwater use."

Q. That is on Page 37, under 0740, para- 3.

A. "Beware of enemy interference by airplanes and


Q. "All boats, also Hartenstein, take in only so many people
that boats are completely ready for use under water."

A. That my concern was justified was clearly evident from
the message which Hartenstein sent, and which said that he
had been attacked by bombs from an American bomber.

                                                  [Page 234]

DR. KRANZBUHLER: This message, Mr. President, is on Page 39,
under 1311 hours. It is an emergency message, and under 2304
hours there is the whole text of the message which I should
like to read.

THE WITNESS: On this occasion -

DR. KRANZBUHLER: One moment, Admiral. The message reads:-

"Radiogram sent: from Hartenstein" - to Admiral Donitz:-

  "Bombed five times by American Liberator in low flight
  when towing four full boats, in spite of four sq. in. Red
  Cross flag on bridge and good visibility. Both periscopes
  at present out of order. Breaking off rescue; all off
  board; putting out to West. Will repair."

THE WITNESS: Hartenstein, as can be seen from a later
report, also had 55 Englishmen and 55 Italians on board his
submarine at that time. During the first bombing attack, one
of the lifeboats was hit by a bomb and capsized, and
according to a report on his return there were considerable
losses among those who had been rescued.

During the second attack, one bomb exploded right in the
middle of the submarine, and damaged it seriously,
Hartenstein reported that it was only the perfection of
German shipbuilding technique that prevented the submarine
from falling to pieces.

THE PRESIDENT: Where has he gone to now? What page is he on?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: He is speaking about the events which are
described on Pages 38 and 39, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: It would help the Tribunal, you know, if you
kept some sort of order instead of going on to one page and
then back to another - from 40 back to 38, and so on.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: The reason is that we are using two
different war diaries, Mr. President.


Q. Admiral, would you tell us now what measures you took
after Hartenstein's report that he had been attacked
repeatedly in the course of the rescue measures?

A. I deliberated at length whether, after this experience, I
should not break off all attempts at rescue, and beyond
doubt, from the tactics point of view, that would have been
the right thing to do, because the attack showed clearly in
what way the U-boats were endangered.

That decision became more grave for me, because I received a
call from the Naval Operations Command that the Fuehrer did
not wish me to risk any submarines in rescue work or to
summon them from distant areas. A very heated conference
with my staff ensued, and I can remember closing it with the
statement, "I cannot throw these people into the water now.
I will carry on."

Of course, it was clear to me that I would have to assume
full responsibility for further losses, and from the
tactical point of view this continuation of the rescue work
was wrong. Of that I received proof from the Submarine U-506
of Wurdemann, who also reported - I believe on the following
morning - that he was bombed by an airplane.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: That report, Mr. President, is on Page 42,
in the war diary of Wurdemann, on entry of 17th September,
at 23-43 hours. He reported:-

  "Transfer of survivors to Annamite completed." Then come
  "Attacked by heavy sea plane at noon. Fully ready for

A. (continuing). The third submarine, Schacht's, the U-507,
had lent a wireless message that he had so and so many men
on board and was towing four lifeboats containing Englishmen
and Poles.

                                                  [Page 235]

DR. KRANZBCHLER: That is the report on Page 40, the first

A. (continuing). Thereupon, of course, I ordered him to cast
off these boats, because this tail made it impossible for
him to dive.

Q. That is the second message on Page 40.

A. Later, he again sent a long message, describing the
supplying of the Italians and Englishmen in the boat.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: That is on Page 41, at 2310 hours. I shall
read that message:-

  "Transferred 163 Italians to Annamite."

The Annamite was a French cruiser which had been called to
assist in the rescue.

  "Navigation officer of Laconia and another English
  officer on board. Seven lifeboats with about 330
  Englishmen and Poles, among them 15 women and 16
  children, deposited at Qu. FE 9612, women and children
  kept aboard ship for one night. Supplied all shipwrecked
  with hot meal and drinks, clothed and bandaged when
  necessary. Sighted four more boats at sea anchor Qu. FE

Then there are further details which are not important.

WITNESS (continuing): Because I had ordered him to cast off
the lifeboats and we considered this general message as a
supplementary, later report, he was admonished by another
message; and from that, the prosecution wrongly concluded
that I had prohibited the rescue of Englishmen. That I did
not prohibit it can be seen from the fact that I did not
raise objection to the many reports speaking of the rescue
of Englishmen.

Indeed, in the end I had the impression that the Italians
did not fare very well in the rescue. That this impression
was correct can be seen from the figures of those rescued.
Of 811 Englishmen, about 800 were rescued, and of 1,800
Italians, 450.


Q. Admiral, I want once more to clarify the dates of the
entire action. The Laconia was torpedoed on 12th September.
When was the air attack on the lifeboats?

A. On the 16th.

Q. In the night of the 16th? On the 17th?

A. On the 16th.

Q. On the 16th of September. So the rescue took how many
days all together?

A. Four days.

Q. And afterwards was continued until when?

A. Until we turned them over to the French warships which
had been notified by US.

Q. Now, what is the connection between this incident of the
Laconia which you have just described, and the order which
the prosecution charges as an order for destruction?

A. Apart from my great and constant anxiety for the
submarines, and the strong feeling that the British and
Americans had not helped in spite of their proximity, I
learned from this action very definitely that the time had
passed when U-boats could carry out operations on the
surface without danger. As can be seen from the two bombing
attacks, carried out in spite of good weather, in spite of
large number of people to be rescued, and clearly visible to
the aviators, the danger to the submarines was so great
that, as the one responsible for the boats and the lives of
the crews, I had to prohibit rescue activities in the face
of the ever-present - I cannot express it differently - the
ever-present tremendous Anglo-American Air Force. I want to
mention just, as an example, that all the submarines which
took part in that rescue operation, were lost by bombing
attack at their next action or soon afterwards. The
situation in which the enemy kills the rescuers, while they
expose themselves to great personal danger, is really and

                                                  [Page 236]

emphatically contrary to primitive common decency and the
elementary laws of warfare.

Q. In the opinion of the prosecution, Admiral, you used that
incident to carry out in practice an idea which you had
already cherished for a long time, namely, in future to kill
the shipwrecked. Please, state your view on this.

A. Actually, I cannot say anything in the face of such an
accusation. The whole question concerned rescue or non-
rescue; the entire development leading up to that order,
speaks clearly against such an accusation. It was a fact
that we rescued with devotion and were bombed while doing so
- it was also a fact that the U-boat Command and I were
faced with a serious decision and we acted in a humane way,
which, from a combatant point of view, was wrong. I think,
therefore, that no more need be said in rebuttal of this

Q. Admiral, I must put to you now the wording of that order
from which the prosecution draws its conclusions. I have
read it before; in the second paragraph, it says:-

  "Rescue is contrary to the most primitive laws of warfare
  for the destruction of enemy ships and crews."

What does that sentence mean?

A. That sentence is, of course, in a sense intended to be a
justification. Now the prosecution says I could quite simply
have ordered that safety did not permit it, that the
predominance of the enemy's air force did not permit it -
and as we have seen in the case of the Laconia, I did order
that four times. But that reasoning had been worn out, it
was a much-played record, if I may use the expression, and I
was now anxious to state to the commanders of the submarines
a reason which would exclude all discretion and all
independent decisions of the commanders. For again and again
I had the experience that for the reasons mentioned before,
the situation, while the sky was still clear, was adjudged
too favourably by the U-boats and then the submarine was
lost; or that a commander, in the role of rescuer, was
eventually no longer master of his own decisions, as the
Laconia case showed; therefore, under no circumstances -
under no circumstances whatsoever - did I want to repeat the
old reason which again would give the U-boat commander the
opportunity to say: "Well, at the moment there is no danger
from air attack," that is - I did not want to give him a
chance to act independently to make his own decision, for
instance, to say to himself: "Since the danger of air attack
no longer permits - ." That is just what I did not want. I
did not want an argument to arise in the mind of one of the
many hundred - 200 U-boat commanders. Nor did I want to say:
"If somebody with great self-sacrifice rescues the enemy,
and in that process is killed by him, then this is a
contradiction of the most primitive laws of warfare." I
could have said that, too. But I did not want to put it in
that way, and therefore I worded the sentence as it now

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