The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression
Individual Responsibility Of Defendants

Karl Doenitz

(Part 8 of 13)

[Page 830]

In this connection, a telegram from the Commander of the U- boat "Schacht" to Doenitz's headquarters, and the reply, are significant. "Schacht" had been taking part in the rescue of survivors from the "Laconia." The telegram from "Schacht," dated 18 September 1942, reads:

"163 Italians handed over to 'Annamite.' Navigating Officer of 'Laconia' and another English Officer on board." (D-630)

The telegram goes on to set out the position of English and Polish survivors in boats.

The reply from Doenitz's headquarters was sent on the 20th:

"Action as in wireless telegram message of 17th of September was wrong. Boat was detailed to rescue Italian allies and not for the rescue of English and Poles." (D-630)

Such were Doenitz's plans before the bombing incident ever occurred.

"Operation Order Atlantic No. 56," dated 7 October 1943, con-

[Page 831]

tains the sailing orders of a U-boat (D-663). Although the date of this order is 7 October 1943, in fact it is only a reproduction of an order issued earlier, in the autumn of 1942. The following is an extract from this order:

"Rescue ships: A so-called rescue ship is generally attached to every convoy, a special ship of up to 3000 gross registered tons, which is intended for the picking up of survivors after U-boat attacks. These ships are, for the most part, equipped with a shipborne aircraft and large motor-boats, are strongly armed with depth-charge throwers, and very maneuverable, so that they are often called U-Boat Traps by the commander. In view of the desired destruction of ships' crews, their sinking is of great value." (D-663)

The Prosecution does not complain against attacks on rescue ships. They are not entitled to protection. But the point of the foregoing order to U-boats was that priority in attack should be given to rescue ships. This order, therefore, is closely allied with order of 17 September 1942 (D-630): in view of the Allied shipbuilding program the German Navy had resolved to take all means to prevent Allied ships from being manned.

To summarize, it would appear from the War Diary entry of 17 September that orders on the lines discussed between Hitler and Oshima were, in fact, issued. They have not, however, been captured. It may be that they were issued orally, and that Doenitz awaited a suitable opportunity before confirming them. The incident of the bombing of the U-boats detailed to rescue the Italian survivors from the "Laconia" afforded the opportunity, and the order to all commanders was issued. Its intent is clear when it is considered in the light of the War Diary entry. The wording is, of course, extremely careful, but to any officer of experience its intention was obvious: he would know that deliberate action to annihilate survivors would be approved under that order.

It may be contended that this order, although perhaps unfortunately phrased, was merely intended to stop a commander from jeopardizing his ship by attempting a rescue, which had become increasingly dangerous as a result of the extended coverage of the ocean by Allied aircraft; and that the notorious action of U-Boat Commander Eck in sinking the Greek steamer "Peleus" and then machine-gunning the crew on their rafts in the water, was an exception; and that, although it may be true that a copy of the order was on board, this action was taken solely, as Eck himself swore, on his own initiative.

In reply it may be said that if the intention of this order was to stop rescue attempts, in the interests of the preservation of

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the U-boat, it would have been done by calling attention to Standing Order 154. Secondly, this very fact would have been prominently stated in the order. Drastic orders of this nature are not drafted by experienced staff officers without the greatest care and an eye to their possible capture by the enemy. Thirdly, if it was necessary to avoid the risks attendant on surfacing, not only would this have been stated but there would have been no question of taking any prisoners at all except possibly in circumstances where virtually no risk in surfacing was to be apprehended. Fourthly, the final sentence of the first paragraph would have read very differently. And fifthly, if in fact -- and the Prosecution does not accept it -- Doenitz did not mean to enjoin murder, his order was so worded that he cannot escape the responsibility which attaches to such a document.

The instructions given by Admiral Doenitz with regard to the murder of shipwrecked Allied seamen are described in an affidavit by Oberleutnant Zur See Peter Josef Heisig (D- 566). (Heisig was called as a prosecution witness in the case against Doenitz and testified on direct examination to the same effect, in substance, as the statements in his affidavit.) In September 1942 Heisig was a Midshipman in a training course for U-boat officers of the watch. On the last day of the course Grand Admiral Doenitz, who was then Commander-in-Chief, U-boats, held an inspection tour and made a speech to the officers in training. Heisig describes the content of Doenitz's speech as follows:

" According to news received from America we were bound to reckon with the possibility that in the Allied countries more than 1,000,000 net registered tons of new merchant shipping space would be brought into service monthly. This was more shipping space than would be sunk even with good U-boat successes. The bottleneck of the Allies lay only in the problem of personnel for these newly built ships. The Atlantic route was too dangerous for seamen so that they even had to be brought aboard ship under compulsion. This was the point where we, the U-boat crews, had to take a hand. He therefore demanded that we should from now on carry on total warfare against ship and crew. That meant: so far as possible, no seaman from a sunk ship was to get home any more. Only thus could the supply line of the British Isles be seriously endangered and only thus in the long run could we strike a noticeable blow at Allied merchant shipping traffic. In this way it would be impossible for the opponent even to make use of his newly built ships, since no more crews would be available to him. After the sinking of

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a ship, every possibility of rescue must be denied to the crew, through the destruction of every means of saving life. "I later discussed these remarks of Admiral Doenitz's with the others, and all present unanimously and unambiguously took them to mean that after the sinking of a ship, all possibility of escape, whether in boats, on rafts, or by any other means, must be denied to the crew and the destruction of the crew was to be attempted by every means. This mode of warfare was for me as for most of my comrades completely new. Owing to Admiral Doenitz's authoritative position, it was nevertheless fully and completely accepted by many of them. He sought to invalidate in advance any doubts which might arise, by pointing to the air war and the bombing." (D-566)

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