The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression
Individual Responsibility Of Defendants

Karl Doenitz

(Part 4 of 13)

[Page 820]


The course of the war waged against neutral and allied merchant shipping by German U-boats followed, under Doenitz's direction, a course of consistently increasing ruthlessness.

(1) Attacks on Merchant Shipping. Doenitz displayed "his masterly understanding in adjusting himself to the changing fortunes of war" (1463-PS). From the very early days, merchant ships, both allied and neutral, were sunk without warning, and when operational danger zones had been announced by the German Admiralty, these sinkings continued to take place both within and without those zones. With some exceptions in the early days of the war, no regard was taken for the safety of the crews or passengers of sunken merchant ships, and the announcement claiming a total blockade of the British Isles merely served to confirm the established situation under which U-boat warfare was being conducted without regard to the established rules of international warfare or the requirements of humanity.

The course of the war at sea during the first eighteen months is summarized by two official British reports made at a time when those who compiled them were ignorant of some of the

[Page 821]

actual orders issued which have since come to hand. An official report of the British Foreign Office summarizes German attacks on merchant shipping during the period 3 September 1939 to September 1940, that is to say, the first year of the war (D-641-A). is report, made shortly after September 1940, states in part follows:

" During the first twelve months of the war, 2,081,062 tons of Allied shipping, comprising 508 ships, have been lost by enemy action. In addition, 769,213 tons of neutral shipping comprising 253 ships, have also been lost. Nearly all these merchant ships have been sunk by submarine, mine, aircraft or surface craft, and the great majority of them sunk while engaged on their lawful trading occasions. 2,836 Allied merchant seamen have lost their lives in these ships.

"In the last war the practice of the Central Powers was so remote from the recognized procedure that it was thought necessary to set forth once again the rules of warfare in particular as applied to submarines. This was done in the Treaty of London 1930, and in 1936 Germany acceded to these rules. The rules laid down:

"1) In action with regard to merchant ships, submarines must conform to the rules of International Law to which surface vessels are subjected.

"2) In particular, except in the case of persistent refusal to stop on being summoned, or of active resistance to visit and search, a warship, whether surface vessel or submarine, may not sink or render incapable of navigation a merchant vessel without having first placed passengers, crew, and ship's papers in a place of safety. For this purpose, the ship's boats are not regarded as a place of safety unless the safety of the passengers and crew is assured in the existing sea and weather conditions, by the proximity of land, or the presence of another vessel which is in a position to take them on board. "At the beginning of the present war, Germany issued a Prize Ordinance for the regulation of sea warfare and the guidance of her naval officers. Article 74 of this ordinance embodies the submarine rules of the London Treaty. Article 72, however, provides that captured enemy vessels may be destroyed if it seems inexpedient or unsafe to bring them into port, and Article 73 (i) (ii) makes the same provision with regard to neutral vessels which are captured for sailing under enemy convoy, for forcible resistance, or for giving assistance to the enemy. These provisions are certainly not

[Page 822]

in accordance with the traditional British view but the important point is that, even in these cases, the Prize Ordinance envisages the capture of the merchantman before its destruction. In other words, if the Germans adhered to the rules set out in their own Prize Ordinance, we might have argued the rather fine legal point with them, but we should have no quarrel with them, either on the broader legal issue or on the humanitarian one. In the event, however, it is only too clear that almost from the beginning of the war the Germans abandoned their own principles and waged war with steadily increasing disregard for International Law, and for what is, after all, the ultimate sanction of all law, the protection of human life and property from arbitrary and ruthless attacks." (D-641-A)

Two instances are then set out:

"On 30 September 1939, came the first sinking of a neutral ship by a submarine without warning and with loss of life. This was the Danish ship 'Vendia' bound for the Clyde in ballast. The submarine fired two shots and shortly after torpedoed the ship. The torpedo was fired when the master had already signalled that he would submit to the submarine's orders and before there had been an opportunity to abandon ship. By November submarines were beginning to sink neutral vessels without warning as a regular thing. On the 12th November the Norwegian 'Arne Kjode' was torpedoed in the North Sea without any warning at all. This was a tanker bound from one neutral port to another. The master and four of the crew lost their lives and the remainder were picked up after many hours in open boats. Henceforward, in addition to the failure to establish the nature of the cargo, another element is noticeable, namely an increasing recklessness as to the fate of the crew." (D-641-A)

And then, dealing with attacks on allied merchant vessels, certain figures are given:

"Ships sunk241
"Recorded attacks211
"Illegal attacks112

"At least 79 of these 112 ships were torpedoed without warning." (D-641-A)

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