The report of the Chief Engineer of the "S. S. Sheaf Mead" contains this description of the situation:
"When I came to the surface I found myself on the port side, .that is, nearest to the submarine, which was only about five
yards away. The submarine Captain asked the steward the name of the ship, which he told him, and the enemy picked up one of our lifebuoys, but this had the name 'Gretaston on it, as this was the name of our ship before it was changed to 'Skeaf Mead' last January."
"She had cutaway bows, but I did not notice a net cutter. Two men stood at the side with boat hooks to keep us off.
"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." (D-644)
The U-boats log at 1444 hours contains a description of the sighting of the ship, the difficulty in identification, and then the
"The distance apart is narrowing. The steamship draws in quickly, but the position is still 40-50. I cannot see the stern yet. Tube ready. Shall I or not? The gunnery crews are also prepared. On the ship's side a yellow cross in a small, square, dark blue ground. Swedish? Presumably not. I raise the periscope a little. Hurrah, a gun at the stern, an ack-ack gun or something similar. Fire! I cannot miss"
The actual documents by which Doenitz and his fellow conspirators issued their orders in disregard of International Law indicate that the compiler of the above reports understated the case. These orders cover not only the period referred to in the above reports, but also the subsequent course of the war. It is interesting to note in them the steps by which the conspirators progressed. At first they were content with breaching the rules of International Law to the extent of sinking merchant ships, including neutral ships, without warning where there was a reasonable prospect of being able to do so without discovery. The facts already quoted show that the question of whether ships were defensively armed or outside the declared operational areas was in practice immaterial.
A memorandum by the German Naval War Staff, dated 22 September 1939, (C-191) provides:
"Flag Officer U-boats intends to give permission to U- boats to sink without warning any vessels sailing without lights. *** In practice there is no opportunity for attacking at night, as the U-boat cannot identify a target which is a shadow in a way that entirely obviates mistakes being made.
If the political situation is such that even possible mistakes must be ruled out, U-boats must be forbidden to make any attacks at night in waters where French and English Naval forces or merchant ships may be situated. On the other hand, in sea areas where only English units are to be expected, the measures desired by F. O. U-boats can be carried out; permission to take this step is not to be given in writing, but need merely be based on the unspoken approval of the Naval War Staff. U-boat commanders would be informed by word of mouth and the sinking of a merchant ship must be justified in the War Diary as due to possible confusion with a warship or an auxiliary cruiser. In the meanwhile, U-boats in the English Channel have received instructions to attack all vessels sailing without lights." (C-191)
The War Diary of the Naval War Staff of the German Admiralty contains the following report by Ia (Staff Operations Officer on the Naval War Staff) on directive of the Armed Forces High Command of 30 December 1939:
"According to this the Fuehrer, on report of the Commander in Chief, Navy, has decided:
"a) Greek merchant vessels are to be treated as enemy vessels in the zone blockaded by USA. and Britain.
"b) In the Bristol Channel all ships may be attacked without warning. For external consumption these attacks should be given out as hits by mines.
"Both measures may be taken with immediate effect." (C- 21)
Another report by Ia, refers to intensified measures in naval and air warfare in connection with "Fall Gelb"
"In consequence of this Directive, the Navy will authorize, simultaneously with the general intensification of the war, the sinking by U-boats, without any warning, of all ships in those waters near the enemy coasts in which mines can be employed. In this case, for external consumption, pretence should be made that mines are being used. The behaviour of, and use of weapons by, U-boats should be adapted to this purpose." (C-21)
A third extract from the Naval War Diary, dated 6 January 1940, states:
" the Fuehrer has in principle agreed (see minutes of report of C. in C. Navy of 30 December) to authorize firing without warning whilst maintaining the pretence of mine hits in certain parts of the American blockaded zone." (C-21)
Whereupon, the order is given to Flag Officer, Submarines, carrying out that decision (C-21). The report for 18 January 1940 states:
"The High Command of the Armed Forces has issued the following Directive dated 17th of January, cancelling the previous order concerning intensified measures of warfare against merchantmen.
"The Navy will authorize, with immediate effect, the sinking without warning by U-Boats of all ships in those waters near the enemy coasts in which the use of mines can be pretended. U-Boats must adapt their behavior and employment of weapons to the pretence, which is to be maintained in these cases, that the hits were caused by mines. Ships of the United States, Italy, Japan and Russia are exempted from these attacks." (C-21)
An extract from the BDU War Diary (Doenitz's War Diary) dated 18 July 1941, reveals a further extension of the above order so as to cut down the protected categories:
"Supplementary to the order forbidding, for the time being, attacks on U. S. warships and merchant vessels in the operational area of the North Atlantic, the Fuehrer has ordered the following:
"1. Attack on U. S. merchant vessels sailing in British or U. S. convoys or independently is authorized in the original operational area which corresponds in its dimensions to the U. S. blockade zone and which does not include the sea-route U. S. to Iceland." (C-118)
As these orders slow, at one date the ships of a particular neutral under certain conditions could be sunk, while those of another could not. The attitude to be adopted toward ships of particular neutrals changed at various times, for Doenitz conducted the U-Boat war against neutrals with cynical opportunism. It all depended on the political relationship of Germany toward a particular country at a particular time whether her ships were sunk or not.
The original plaintext version of this file is available via ftp.
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