The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)
Nuremberg, war crimes, crimes against humanity

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
14th May to 24th May, 1946

One Hundred and Twenty-Ninth Day: Tuesday, 14th May, 1946
(Part 10 of 10)

[DR, KRANZBUHLER continues his direct examination of Gunther Hessler]

[Page 36]

Q. How did you help the life-boats?

A. First of all I gave the survivors their exact position and told them what course to take in order to reach land in their life-boats. In the second place, I gave them water, which is of vital importance for survivors in tropical regions. In one case I also furnished medical aid for several wounded men.

Q. Did your personal experiences with torpedoed ships dispose you to caution with regard to rescue measures?

[Page 37]

A. Yes. The experienced U-boat Commander was justifiably suspicious of every merchantman and its crew, no matter how innocent they might appear. In two cases this attitude of suspicion saved me from destruction.

This happened in the case of the steamer Kalchas, a ten- thousand ton British ship, which I torpedoed north of Cape Verde. The ship had stopped after being hit by the torpedo. The crew had left the ship and were in the life-boats, and the boat seemed to be sinking. I was wondering whether to surface in order, at least, to give the crew their position and ask if they needed water. A feeling which I could not explain kept me from doing so. I raised my periscope to the fullest extent and just as the periscope rose almost entirely out of the water, sailors who had been hiding under the guns and behind the rails, jumped up, manned the guns of the vessel - which so far had appeared to be entirely abandoned - and opened fire on my periscope at very close range, compelling me to submerge at full speed. The shells fell close to the periscope but were not dangerous to me.

In the second case, the steamer Alfred Jones, which I torpedoed off Friedhaven, also seemed to be sinking. I wondered whether to surface, when I saw in one of the life- boats two sailors of the English Navy in full uniform. That aroused my suspicions. I inspected the ship at close range - I would say from a distance of 50 to 100 metres - and established the fact that it had not been abandoned, but that marines were still concealed aboard her in every possible hiding-place and behind wooden boarding. When I torpedoed the ship this boarding was smashed. I saw that the ship had at least four to six guns of ten and fifteen centimetre calibre, a large number of depth-charge throwers and anti-aircraft guns behind the rails. Only a pure accident-the fact that the depth charges had been rendered blank, saved me from destruction.

It was clear to me, naturally, after such an experience, that I could no longer concern myself with crews or survivors without endangering my own ship.

Q. When did you enter the Staff of C.-in-C. U-boats?

A. In November 1941-

Q. You were the first Naval Staff Officer?

A. Yes.

Q. Was it your task to instruct the Commanders on orders issued before they left port?

A. Yes, I did that.

Q. And what was the connection between the instructions given by you and those to be given by the Flotilla chiefs - Mohle, for instance?

A. The Commanders whom I had to instruct received a complete summary of all questions concerning procedure at sea. The Flotilla Chief was charged with ascertaining that all Commanders should receive a copy of the most recent orders issued by C.-in-C. U-boats. I might say that these were limited instructions, compared with the full instructions they received from me.

Q. Did these full instructions include the instructions to the Commanders regarding the treatment of survivors?

A. Yes, in much the same style as the instructions I received during my training in the U-boat school.

Q. Was any change made in the manner of instruction after the Laconia order of September 1942?

A. Yes. I related the incident briefly to the Commanders and said to them: "Now the decision as to whether the situation at sea permits of rescue attempts no longer rests with you. Rescue measures are prohibited from now on."

Q. Do you mean to say that during the whole of the rest of the war - that is, for two and a half years - the Commanders continued to be told about the Laconia incident, or was that only done immediately after this incident in the autumn of 1942?

A. I would say up to January 1943 at the latest. After that, no further mention was made of it. You mean, no further mention of the incident

[Page 38]

A. No further mention of the Laconia incident.

Q. But the orders issued as a result of it were mentioned?

A. Yes, that specific order not to take any more rescue measures had been issued.

Q. Did the Commanders at any time receive orders or suggestions from you or from one of your crews to shoot at survivors?

A. Never.

Q. Were the Commanders told by you about the order to take captains and chief engineers on board, if possible?

A. Yes.

Q. Was it emphasized in those instructions that this was only to take place when it could be done without endangering the U-boat?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you know of the incident of U-boat 386, which passed some airmen shot down in the Bay of Biscay?

A. I remember this incident very distinctly.

Q. Then you also remember that this incident took place in the autumn of 1943?

A. Yes.

Q. Did C.-in-C. U-boats think, with regard to this incident, that the U-boat Commander should have shot at the airmen in the rubber dinghy?

A. No, on the contrary he was annoyed because the crew of the aircraft had not been brought along by the U-boat.

Q. Did any other person or persons on the staff put forward the view I have just expressed?

A. No, we knew everyone on the staff, and it is out of the question that any member of the staff held a different opinion.

Q. Commander Mohle testified that he asked Commander Kupich, who was a member of your staff, for an explanation of the Laconia order; and that Commander Kupich told him about the incident of the U-386; and told it in such a way as to make it appear that C.-in-C. U-boats ordered the shooting of survivors?

A. That is impossible.

Q. Why?

A. Because Kupich took his U-boat out to sea in July 1943 and never returned from that cruise. The incident of U-386 happened in the autumn of 1943, which was later.

Q. Commander Mohle in his first statement left the possibility open that this story about U-386 might have come from you. Did you discuss this matter with him?

A. No.

Q. Are you certain of that?

A. Absolutely certain.

Q. Did you hear of the interpretation given by Commander Mohle to this Laconia order?

A. After the capitulation-that is, after the end of the war and then through a British officer.

Q. How do you explain the fact that of the very few officers who received these instructions from Mohle, none raised the question of the interpretation of this order with C.-in-C. U- boats?

A. I have only one explanation of this; and that is that these officers thought Commander Mohle's interpretation completely impossible, and not in agreement with the interpretation of C.-in-C. U-boats.

Q. Therefore they did not think that clarification was necessary?

A. They did not think that clarification was necessary.

Q. The prosecution's charges against Admiral Donitz are based to a great extent on extracts from the War Diaries of SKL and C.-in-C. U-boats, documents

[Page 39]

which are in the possession of the British Admiralty. How is it possible that all these fell into the hands of the British Admiralty and in toto?

A. It was the Admiral's desire that the War Diaries of the U- boats and of C.-in-C. U-boats which formed part of the Navy archives, should be preserved and should not be destroyed.

Q. Did he say anything to you about this?

A. Yes; and in this form - when I told him that our own staff data had been completely destroyed.

Q. Did he give any reason as to why he did not want the navy archives destroyed?

A. He wanted to keep these data until after the war, as the Naval War Staff had nothing to conceal.

Q. Is that your opinion or is that the opinion which Admiral Donitz expressed to you?

A. He told me, "We have a clear conscience."

Q. Immediately after the capitulation you were repeatedly interrogated on questions of U-boat warfare and on those occasions you asked the senior officers present whether the German U-boat command would be accused by the British Navy of criminal acts. Is that right?

A. Yes.

Q. And what answer did you receive?

A. An unhesitating "no".

DR. KRANZBUHLER I have no further questions, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Does any defendant's Counsel wish to ask any questions? The prosecution?

COLONEL PHILLIMORE: With the Tribunal's permission I do not propose to cross-examine, and ask leave to adopt the examination of the last witness because it is the same ground substantially.


Does any other Prosecutor wish to cross-examine?

Yes, Dr. Kranzbuhler?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: I have no further questions to ask the witness, Mr. President.


Q. During his interrogation the defendant Donitz said that Goth and Hessler - that is you, is it not?

A. Yes.

Q. - told him

"Don't send that signal. You see, one day it might appear ambiguous; it might be misinterpreted."
Did you say that?

A. I do not remember. As administrative officers, we often had to oppose orders which were being drafted, and we were entitled to do so but I do not remember whether Admiral Goth and I did so in this case.

Q. Then later in this interrogation the defendant Donitz said:-

"I am completely and personally responsible for it (that is that order) because Captain Goth and Hessler both expressly stated that they considered the telegram as ambiguous or liable to be misinterpreted."
Did you say that this telegram was ambiguous or liable to be misinterpreted?

A. I do not remember that point. I do not think I thought the telegram was ambiguous.

[Page 40]

Q. And lastly the defendant Donitz said this
"I would like to emphasize once more that both Captain Goth and Captain Hessler were violently opposed to the sending of the telegram."
Do you say that you were not violently opposed to the sending of the telegram?

A. It is possible that we opposed the despatch of the telegram because we did not consider it necessary to refer to the matter again.

Q. Did you say anything to the defendant Donitz about this telegram at all?

A. When the telegram was drafted we discussed it, just as we discussed every wireless message drafted by us. As time went on, we drafted many hundreds of wireless messages so that it is impossible to remember just what was said in each case.

Q. You began your answer to that question:-

"When the telegram was ... "
Do you remember what happened at the drafting of this telegram?

A. I can only remember that in the course of the so-called Laconia incident, a great many wireless messages were sent and received; that many wireless messages were drafted; and that, in addition, U-boat operations were going on in the Atlantic, so that I cannot recall details of what happened when the message was drafted.

Q. You said now that it was possible that you and Admiral Goth were opposed to the sending of this telegram. Is that your answer?

A. It is possible but I cannot say.

THE PRESIDENT: Very well Dr. Kranzbuhler, the witness can retire.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Mr. President, this morning I had already advised the prosecution that I should not call the fourth witness scheduled and that is Admiral Eckhardt. Therefore, my examination of witnesses is concluded.

THE PRESIDENT: And that concludes your case for the present?

DR. KRANZBUHLER: That concludes my case but with the permission of the Tribunal I would like to clarify one more question which deals with documents.

The Tribunal has refused all documents which refer to contraband, control ports and "Navicert system." These questions are of some importance if I am to present a correct case later on.

May I interpret the Tribunal's decision as saying that these documents are not to be used now as evidence but that I may have permission to use them later on in my legal argument?

THE PRESIDENT: Dr. Kranzbuhler, the Tribunal thinks that is a question which may be reserved until the time comes for you to make your speech.

DR. KRANZBUHLER: Thank you, Mr. President. Then I have concluded my case.

THE PRESIDENT: We will adjourn now.

(The Tribunal adjourned until 15th May, 1946, at 1000 hours.)

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