September 16, 1891
: Karl Doenitz is born in Gruenau, a suburb Berlin, to engineer Emil Doenitz and Anna Beyer.
October 28, 1908
: From a Daily Telegraph
interview with Kaiser Wilhelm II:
Germany is a young and growing empire. She has a world-wide commerce which is rapidly expanding, and to which the legitimate ambition of patriotic Germans refuses to assign any bounds. Germany must have a powerful fleet to protect that commerce and her manifold interests in even the most distant seas. She expects those interests to go on growing, and she must be able to champion them manfully in any quarter of the globe. Her horizons stretch far away. She must be prepared for any eventualities in the Far East.
April 4, 1910
Who can foresee what may take place in the Pacific in the days to come, days not so distant as some believe, but days at any rate, for which all European powers with Far Eastern interests ought steadily to prepare? Look at the accomplished rise of Japan; think of the possible national awakening of China; and then judge of the vast problems of the Pacific. Only those powers that have great navies will be listened to with respect when the future of the Pacific comes to be solved; and if for that reason only, Germany must have a powerful fleet. It may even be that England herself will be glad that Germany has a fleet when they speak together on the same side in the great debates of the future.
: Doenitz joins the Kaiserliche Marine
(Imperial German Navy), becoming a Seekadett (sea-cadet).
April 15, 1911
: Doenitz becomes a Faehnrich zur See
September 27, 1913
: Doenitz is commissioned as an Acting Leutnant zur See (acting sub-Lieutenant).
October 17, 1914
Siege of Tsingtao: The German torpedo boat S-90
slips out of Tsingtao harbor and fires a single torpedo, sinking the 3,000 ton Japanese cruiser Takachiho with the loss of 271 sailors. S-90
will not be able to run the blockade back to Tsingtao, and will intern itself to Chinese authorities after running short of fuel.
March 25, 1915
: A United States F-4 submarine sinks off the coast of Hawaii.
July 25, 1915
: A U-boat sinks an American cargo ship, the Leelanaw
of New York, bound from Archangel to Belfast. This is the first destruction of an American ship by submarine.
March 22, 1916
: Doenitz is promoted to Oberleutnant zur See
: Doenitz, after serving on a cruiser in the Mediterranean since the outbreak of the war, joins the submarine (Unterseeboot) service. He will serve as senior lieutenant on U-39
and ultimately command U-68
October 4, 1918
: After the sinking of U-68
off Malta, Doenitz becomes a prisoner of war of the British. Doenitz:
In October 1918, I was Captain of a submarine in the Mediterranean, near Malta. On a dark night, I met a British convoy, with cruisers and destroyers. I attacked and I sank a ship. But the chance would have been very much greater if there had been many submarines. That's why the idea of a wolf pack, to put the submarines together, to attack together. In all the years from 1918 until 1935, when we had submarines again, I never forgot this idea.
June 21, 1919
: Nine German sailors die—the last casualties of the First World War—when British forces open fire as the Germans attempt to scuttle their ship at Scapa Flow. The German officer in command, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, after waiting for the bulk of the British fleet to leave on exercises, had given the order to scuttle all his ships to prevent their falling into British hands. Fifty-one ships are sunk.
June 28, 1919
: From Articles 42 and 43 of the Versailles Treaty:
Germany is forbidden to maintain or construct any fortifications either on the left bank of the Rhine or on the right bank, to the west of the line drawn 50 kilometers to the east of the Rhine.
In the area defined above, the maintenance and the assembly of armed forces, either permanently or temporarily and military maneuvers of any kind, as well as the upkeep of all permanent works for mobilization, are in the same way forbidden.
: After nine months in a lunatic asylum (due to a breakdown caused by becoming a POW), Doenitz is released from captivity and repatriated to Germany.
August 11, 1919
: The Weimar Republic is founded as Reichspraesident Friedrich Ebert of the SPD signs a new German constitution into law.
May 13, 1920
: Klaus Doenitz, the first of two sons, is born.
January 10, 1921
: Doenitz becomes a Kapitaenleutnant (Lieutenant) in the new Vorlaufige Reichsmarine.
February 6, 1922
: The US, UK, France, Italy and Japan sign the Washington naval arms limitation agreement, also known as the Five-Power Treaty, limiting the naval armaments of its five signatories. All signatories pledge to maintain a balance in their respective capital fleets under a predetermined ratio: Britain 5, United States 5, Japan 3, France 1.67, and Italy 1.67. All signatories agree to honor a naval construction 'holiday' for a period of 10 years. Britain, Japan and the United States, with some specific exceptions, mutually agree not to increase fortifications on their Pacific bases. (LaFeber)
November 9, 1923
: The so-called Beer Hall Putsch
takes place in Munich.
May 12, 1925
: Paul von Hindenburg is elected the second President of Germany.
September 8, 1926
: Admission of Germany to the League of Nations. Germany is made a permanent Member of the Council. (Kennedy II, Gill)
January 20, 1928
: Reichsminister Karl Severing speaks before the Reichstag:
Now the armored cruiser. The fact that a government, which knows precisely what gigantic sums we must raise during the coming year, should make such demands is, to say the least, quite surprising. It says, the Peace Treaty permits it: yes, but the Peace Treaty also decrees the payment of reparations. The 9,300,000 marks demanded for this year will play their decisive part only in the consequences entailed which would require the raising of several hundred million marks, which during the next few years seems to me absolutely impossible. Considering the development of weapons for naval warfare, I am not convinced of the military value of armored cruisers. It may be that armored cruisers are the backbone of the defense at sea, as the government says. But, to form an active fighting unit (Gefechtskoerper), the backbone must also be made up of other elements, of U-boats and airplanes; and as long as we are not allowed to build these, armored cruisers are of very little value even for defense. (Note: See May 21, 1946.)
August 27, 1928
: The Kellogg-Briand Pact 'providing for the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy' is signed by 59 nations.
October 1, 1928
: Raeder is promoted to full Admiral. Reich President Von Hindenburg names Raeder Chief of the Navy Command (Oberbefehlshaber der Reichsmarine
) in Berlin, at the suggestion of Groener, the Reich Minister of Defense.
April 22, 1930
: The United States, France, Italy, Britain and Japan sign the London Naval Treaty, which regulates submarine warfare and limits naval shipbuilding. The ratio between Britain, the US and Japan is set to 10:10:7. (Cullen)
September 26, 1931
: The Assembly of the League of Nations adopts a General Convention to improve the Means of Preventing War.
February 2, 1932
: The two-year Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments opens in Geneva. (Kennedy II)
January 30, 1933 Machtergreifung
: Hitler is appointed Chancellor of Germany.
January 30, 1933
: From a telegram to Hindenburg from Ludendorff:
By appointing Hitler Chancellor of the Reich you have handed over our sacred German Fatherland to one of the greatest demagogues of all time. I prophesy to you that this evil man will plunge our Reich into the abyss, and will inflict immeasurable woe on our nation. Future generations will curse you in your grave for this action.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: Immediately after 30 January 1933, I believe it was on 1 February, I went on leave to the Dutch East Indies and Ceylon, a trip which lasted well into the summer of 1933. This leave journey had been granted me, at Grossadmiral Raeder's recommendation, by President Hindenburg.
March 4, 1933
: Franklin D. Roosevelt is inaugurated President of the United States for the first of four consecutive terms.
March 22, 1933
: Dachau concentration camp opens near Munich, soon to be followed by Ravensbrueck for women, Sachsenhausen near Berlin in northern Germany, and Buchenwald near Weimar in central Germany.
March 23 1933
: Hitler addresses the Reichstag:
April 4, 1933
For years, Germany has been waiting in vain for the fulfillment of the promise of disarmament made to her by the others. It is the sincere desire of the national Government to be able to refrain from increasing our army and our weapons, insofar as the rest of the world is now also ready to fulfill its obligations in the matter of radical disarmament...
: Hitler creates the Reich Defense Council to spur his secret disarmament program.
April 7, 1933
: The Nazi Civil Service Act is passed, a law which provides that all civil servants must be trustworthy, as defined by Nazi standards and also must meet the Nazi racial requirements.
September 1, 1933
: Doenitz becomes a Fregattenkapitaen
October 14, 1933
: Germany withdraws from the International Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations.
April 11, 1934
: Raeder, and his army counterpart, General von Fritsch, set sail aboard the cruiser Deutschland in the company of Hitler. The former lance corporal proves to be no sailor; he is seasick the whole way to Koenigsberg. On the way, he proposes a deal: Hitler will curb the ambitions of Roehm and his SA, and pledge that he will ensure that the Army and Navy emerge as the only bearers of arms in the Reich, in return for their acquiescence in Hitler's assuming the Reich Presidency following the death of the ailing von Hindenburg. Fritsch is hesitant, but Raeder enthusiastically agrees. (Shirer)
June 30, 1934
: The Night of the Long Knives occurs.
August 19, 1934
: Polish strongman Pilsudski proposes a war against Germany by Poland and France before Hitler has the chance to rearm.
August 2, 1934
: President Paul von Hindenburg dies.
August 19, 1934 Gleichschaltung
: Hitler is Fuehrer und Reichskanzler as 90% of the German electorate approves Hitler's merging the two offices of Chancellor and President.
: Doenitz becomes commander of the cruiser Emden, the German Navy's training cruiser.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: In the autumn of 1934 I went as captain of the cruiser Emden through the Atlantic, around Africa into the Indian Ocean, and back... I saw Adolf Hitler for the first time when, in the presence of Grossadmiral Raeder in the autumn of 1934, I informed him of my departure for foreign parts as captain of the cruiser Emden. I saw him again on the day following my return with the Emden. From the autumn of 1934 until the outbreak of war in 1939, in 5 years, I saw him four times in all, including the two occasions when I reported to him as already mentioned...
September 18, 1934
One was a military matter when he was watching a review of the fleet in the Baltic Sea and I stood next to him on the bridge of the flagship in order to give the necessary explanations while two U-boats showed attack maneuvers. The other occasion was an invitation to all high-ranking army and navy officers when the new Reich Chancellery in the Voss Strasse was completed. That was in 1938 or 1939. I saw him there but I did not speak with him... In the years between 1939 and 1943 I saw the Fuehrer four times, each time when short military reports about U-boat warfare were being made and always in the presence of large groups.
: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is admitted into the League of Nations. The Assembly approves the Council's proposal that the USSR should be made a permanent Member. (Kennedy II, Gill)
November 8, 1934
: Hitler speaks in Munich: "...let us look back in this new Reich upon that which lies behind us and do so in the most distant future, too, and let us bear in mind one article of faith: We shall be resolved at all times to take action! Willing at all times, if necessary, to die! Never willing to capitulate...
March 16, 1935
: Hitler's Germany institutes universal military service.
May 21, 1935
: Hitler's Germany announces that they will respect the territorial limitations of Versailles and Locarno. Hitler: "Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, to annex Austria or to conclude an Anschluss."
June 18, 1935
: The Anglo-German Naval Agreement, a bilateral agreement between the United Kingdom and German Reich regulating the size of the Kriegsmarine in relation to the Royal Navy, is signed. The Kriegsmarine is to be 35% of the total tonnage of the Royal Navy on a permanent basis. It will be renounced by Adolf Hitler on April 28, 1939.
From Doenitz's US SBS Team interview: After the summer of 1935, that is after the London Naval Agreement, our Navy started building different vessels of the types permitted, including U-boats. As far as I can remember, we had about forty-eight U-boats at the beginning of the war. I am not entirely sure of this number, because I am quoting from memory. It is the number of submarines which were the potential operational fleet. The number that actually went into combat was, during the first months of the war, so small that in some months we had only two, three, or five submarines simultaneously in the combat zone...
August 35, 1935
: Americans, since the time of George Washington, have, under normal circumstances, displayed a great reluctance to involve themselves in foreign 'attachments,' and legislation ensuring this isolationist tendency have always been popular with the citizens of the US. On this day, the United States Congress passes the first of a series of Neutrality Acts imposing a general embargo on trading in arms and war materials with all parties in any war, and declaring that American citizens traveling on the ships of warring nations do so at their own risk.
September 27, 1935
: Fregattenkapitaen Doenitz becomes the commander of Hitler's U-boats, the 1st Flotilla 'Wediggen' with 3 U-boats (U-7, U-8
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: On 27 September 1935 I became the commanding officer of the U-boat Flotilla Weddigen, the first German U-boat flotilla after 1918. As an introduction to taking up that command, that is, in September 1935, I spent a few days in Turkey, in order to go there in a U-boat and to bridge the gap from 1918... (from 1918 to 1935 I had) nothing at all (to do with U-boats)...
October 21, 1935
The U-boat Flotilla Weddigen, of which I became the commanding officer, consisted of three small boats of 250 tons each, the so-called "Einbaume." Besides, there were six somewhat smaller boats which were in a U-boat school, which was not under my command, for the purpose of training. Then there were afloat and in service perhaps another six of these small boats... I merely received the order to fill in that gap from 1918, to train the U-boats for the first time in cruising, submersion, and firing... I instructed the commanders as to how they should behave if they stopped a merchantman and I also issued an appropriate tactical order for each commander.
: Hitler's Germany leaves the League of Nations. (Kennedy II)
March 7, 1936
: The re-occupation and fortification of the Rhineland occurs.
April 20, 1936
: Hitler promotes Raeder to General Admiral (Generaladmiral).
August 14, 1936
: From an address by President Roosevelt:
March 25, 1936
We are not isolationists except in so far as we seek to isolate ourselves completely from war. Yet we must remember that so long as war exists on earth there will be some danger that even the Nation which most ardently desires peace may be drawn into war. I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen two hundred limping exhausted men come out of line-the survivors of a regiment of one thousand that went forward forty-eight hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war. I have passed unnumbered hours, I shall pass unnumbered hours, thinking and planning how war may be kept from this Nation. I wish I could keep war from all Nations; but that is beyond my power...
London Agreement: Naval agreement between France, United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, India, and New Zealand. The agreement is intended to limit the growth in naval armaments until its expiration in 1942. Submarines must not be larger than 2,000 tons or have any gun armament of greater than 5.1-inches.
: Germany launches U-27, its first sea-going U-boat.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: I had the mission of developing the U-boat service as well as possible, as it is the duty of every front-line officer of all armed forces of all nations, in order to be prepared against all war emergencies. Once, in the year 1937 or 1938, in the mobilization plan of the Navy, my order read that, in case France should try to interrupt the rearmament by an attack on Germany, it would be the task of the German U-boats to attack the transports in the Mediterranean which would leave North Africa for France. I then carried out maneuvers in the North Sea with this task in mind. If you are asking me about a definite aim or line of action, that, so far as I remember, was the only mission which I received in that respect from the Naval Operations Staff. That occurred in the year 1936 or 1937. According to my recollection, that plan had been issued lest the rearmament of Germany, at that time unarmed, might be interrupted by some measure or other.
January 8, 1937
: From a statement by President Roosevelt:
May 1, 1937
I have directed the Navy Department to proceed with the construction of two replacement capital ships. The keels of these ships may be laid in conformity with existing treaties at any time after January 1. Three of our battleships, the Arkansas, Texas, and New York, will be more than 26 years old before these ships can be completed. If we are not to reduce our Navy by obsolescence, the replacement of capital ships can no longer be deferred...
: President Roosevelt signs the third US Neutrality Act.
March 12, 1938 Anschluss
: The German Army marches unopposed into Vienna.
March 16-19, 1938
: As most of Europe is preoccupied with the German absorption of Austria, the Polish government issues a series of demands to the Lithuanians. Faced with the threat of war, the Lithuanian government immediately agrees to all of the Polish demands, including recognition of the status quo in eastern Europe. The Lithuanian capitulation prevents the crisis from escalating.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: The only instruction which I gave concerning the war against merchantmen was an instruction on how the U-boat should behave in the stopping and examining, the establishing of the destination and so on, of a merchantman. Later, I believe in the year 1938, when the draft of the German Prize Regulations came, I passed this on to the flotillas for the instruction of the commanders.
April 10, 1938 Annexionvolksabstimmung
: In a national plebiscite, Austrian voters register 99.75% in favor of union with Germany: Austria becomes part of the Reich as a new state, divided into seven Gaue (states). Austria withdraws as a member state from the League of Nations because of the republic's incorporation into Germany.
September 29, 1938 Muenchen Konferenz
: The Munich Conference concludes.
October 15, 1938
: German troops occupy the Sudetenland; the Czech government resigns.
November 6, 1938
: Hitler speaks in Weimar:
March 10, 1939
From the very first day I have proclaimed as a fundamental principle: 'the German is either the first soldier in the world or he is no soldier at all.' No soldiers at all we cannot be, and we do not wish to be. Therefore we shall be only the first. As one who is a lover of peace I have endeavored to create for the German people such an army and such munitions as are calculated to convince others...
: Raeder, Goering, Brauchitsch and two professional judges convene a Court of Honor to hear the case of the disgraced Wehrmacht Commander General Werner von Fritsch, who is falsely accused of engaging in homosexual activities. During the proceedings, Raeder becomes convinced that Goering had engineered the affair, and is a threat to the Wehrmacht officer corps. The antagonism between the two men will reach a climax in February 1940, when the overenthusiastic Luftwaffe sinks two of Germany's limited number of destroyers. Goering will try to blame the mishap on the Navy's carelessness and inadequate identification signals. Raeder, livid, will retort that Goering is 'sabotaging naval warfare,' and suggest that the proper action would be 'to arraign the supreme commander of the air force before a court-martial.' Note: Before the day is out, the tribunal will postpone the hearing due to Hitler's desire to devour Czechoslovakia. (Conot)
March 17, 1939
: A statement by Acting US Secretary of State Welles:
The Government of the United States has on frequent occasions stated its conviction that only through international support of a program of order based upon law can world peace be assured. This Government, founded upon and dedicated to the principles of human liberty and of democracy, cannot refrain from making known this country's condemnation of the acts which have resulted in the temporary extinguishment of the liberties of a free and independent people with whom, from the day when the Republic of Czechoslovakia attained its independence, the people of the United States have maintained specially close and friendly relations.
May 22, 1939
The position of the Government of the United States has been made consistently clear. It has emphasized the need for respect for the sanctity of treaties and of the pledged word, and for non-intervention by any nation in the domestic affairs of other nations; and it has on repeated occasions expressed its condemnation of a policy of military aggression. It is manifest that acts of wanton lawlessness and of arbitrary force are threatening the world peace and the very structure of modern civilization. The imperative need for the observance of the principles advocated by this Government has been clearly demonstrated by the developments which have taken place during the past 3 days.
: Hitler signs the Pact of Steel
May 24, 1939
: General Thomas gives the Fuehrer an update in broad terms of German numerical strength: Army: 51 divisions. Navy: 2 battleships, 4 heavy cruisers, 17 destroyers, one aircraft carrier 47 submarines. Luftwaffe: 21 squadrons, 260,000 men.
From Doenitz's interview by the US SBS Team: ...With the beginning of the war, a U-boat program was formulated. According to this plan, we wanted to build fifteen to twenty a month, which should later have been increased to twenty or twenty-five. We did not reach that number (15-20 a month) until 1942. It took a long time to build these U-boats and to train the crews for them... In general, the ratio is such that, of the submarines available, one half will be in the docks and the other half on the sea. Out of the latter ones, again, one-half will be in the combat zone, and the other half on their way to and from the combat zone. We had about two to eight in the combat zone all through 1940.
I can best illustrate this by a story which was being told at that time. I had under my command two brothers, both U-boat officers, each one serving on a different U-boat. It so happened that those were the only U-boats at sea at that time, and people would say: 'The brothers "so-and-so" alone are winning the war for Germany.' This story illustrates how small the number was, because the Navy was in the process of building up.
In 1941, we managed to get eight, twelve, fifteen, or perhaps a maximum of twenty submarines simultaneously in the zone of operation. In 1942, this increased from that to some thirty-five to fifty-five, and in the winter of 1942-43, we had perhaps seventy to eighty submarines simultaneously in the zone of operations. You will understand that these are only approximate figures. We had then reached a climax in the submarine warfare in March or April 1943. At that time, we suffered a very sharp reverse, from which we never again recovered. That was caused by the Anglo-American Air Force, with its improved radio location equipment. From then on, the submarines on the surface were detected and your planes could both fight them and notify and divert their convoy...
: Grossadmiral Raeder and Doenitz attend submarine maneuvers in the Baltic Sea.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: Grossadmiral Raeder embarked in the middle of July 1939 for submarine maneuvers of my fleet in the Baltic Sea... All submarines which had completed their tests, I had assembled in the Baltic. I cannot remember the exact figure, but I think there were about 30. In the maneuvers, I then showed Grossadmiral Raeder what these submarines could accomplish...in addition there were the smaller submarines of lower tonnage, which could operate only as far as the North Sea...
August 23, 1939
At that time we had not even 15 submarines capable of navigating in the Atlantic. At the outbreak of war, as far as I remember, we went to sea with fifteen submarines capable of navigating in the Atlantic... Grossadmiral Raeder told me—and he repeated this to the entire officers' corps during his final speech in Swinemunde—that the Fuehrer had informed him that, under no circumstances, must a war in the West develop, for that would be Finis Germaniae. I asked for leave; and immediately after the maneuvers, I went on leave on 24 July for a 6-weeks' rest at Bad Gastein. I am merely stating that because it shows how we regarded the situation at that time... I was called back by telephone in the middle of August.
: The German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact is signed in Moscow. Sometimes called the Ribbentrop-Molotov Agreement of Non-aggression, or simply the 'Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact.'
August 23, 1939
: Hitler is delighted with the pact, and believes Stalin has just handed him the perfect opportunity to restore the Reich's "rightful possessions" without having to fight a war on two fronts. He is certain that this new treaty with the Russians will allow him to safely reclaim Danzig and take back the Polish Corridor; so certain that he tells his staff that Britain and France, without other major allies, will not go to war in such a situation... "especially over what everyone knows are, by all rights, German territories anyway."
August 23, 1939
: Secret Additional Protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact:
On the occasion of the signature of the Nonaggression Pact between the German Reich and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics the undersigned plenipotentiaries of each of the two parties discussed in strictly confidential conversations the question of the boundary of their respective spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. These conversations led to the following conclusions:
1. In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement in the areas belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern boundary of Lithuania shall represent the boundary of the spheres of influence of Germany and the USSR. In this connection, the interest of Lithuania in the Vilna area is recognized by each party.
2. In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement of the areas belonging to the Polish state the spheres of influence of Germany and the USSR shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narew, Vistula, and San. The question of whether the interests of both parties make desirable the maintenance of an independent Polish state and how such a state should be bounded can only be definitely determined in the course of further political developments. In any event both Governments will resolve this question by means of a friendly agreement.
3. With regard to Southeastern Europe attention is called by the Soviet side to its interest in Bessarabia. The German side declares; its complete political disinterestedness in these areas. This protocol shall be treated by both parties as strictly secret.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: The German U-boat service, in the fall of 1939, consisted of about thirty to forty operational boats. That meant that at any time about one-third could be used for operations. In view of the harsh reality the situation seemed much worse later. There was one month, for instance, when we had only two boats out at sea. With this small number of U-boats, it was, of course, only possible to give pinpricks to a great naval power such as England.
August 23, 1939
That we were not prepared for war against England in the Navy, is, in my opinion, best and most clearly to be seen from the fact that the armament of the Navy had to be radically changed at the beginning of the war. It had been the intention to create a homogeneous fleet which, of course, since it was in proportion much smaller than the British fleet, was not capable of waging a war against England. This program for building a homogeneous fleet had to be discontinued when the war with England started; only these large ships which were close to completion were finished. Everything else was abandoned or scrapped. That was necessary in order to free the building capacity for building U-boats. And that, also, explains why the German U-boat war, in this last war, actually only started in the year 1942, that is to say, when the U-boats which had been ordered for building at the beginning of the war were ready for action.
Since peacetime, that is in 1940, the replacement of U-boats hardly covered the losses... The U-boat has, of course, the assignment of approaching an enemy and attacking him with torpedoes. Therefore, in that respect, the U-boat is an aggressive weapon... Aggressive or defensive war is a political decision and, therefore, it has nothing to do with military considerations. I can certainly use a U-boat in a defensive war because, in defensive war also, the enemy's ships must be attacked. Of course, I can use a U-boat in exactly the same way in a politically aggressive war. If one should conclude that the navies which have U-boats are planning an aggressive war, then all nations—for all the navies of these nations had U-boats, in fact many had more than Germany, twice and three times as many—planned aggressive war...
I received information on plans from the Naval Operations Staff only after these plans had been completed; that is to say, only if I was to participate in some way in the carrying out of a plan, and then only at a time necessary for the prompt execution of my military task.
: Hitler sets the date for the invasion of Poland: Saturday, August 26, at 4:30am.
August 24, 1939
: Poland and Great Britain formally sign a treaty of mutual assistance.
September 1, 1939
: After some delays, Hitler's forces invade Poland.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: At that time I could attack without warning all ships which were guarded either by naval vessels or which were under air cover. Furthermore, I was permitted to exercise armed force against any ship which, when stopped, sent radio messages, or resisted the order to stop, or did not obey the order to stop... I knew that the Naval Operations Staff intended, according to events, according to the development of the enemy's tactics, to retaliate blow for blow, as it says or said in the order, by intensified action...
September 3, 1939 SS Athenia
Right at the beginning of the war it was our experience that all merchantmen not only took advantage of their radio installations when an attempt was made to stop them, but that they immediately sent messages as soon as they saw any U-boat on the horizon. It was absolutely clear, therefore, that all merchantmen were co-operating in the military intelligence service. Furthermore, only a few days after the beginning of the war we found out that merchantmen were armed and made use of their weapons.
Incident: Just hours after Britain declares war on Germany, U-30
, commanded by Oberleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp, sinks the British liner SS Athenia
, mistaking her for an armed merchant cruiser. The 13,500 ton passenger liner is carrying 1,103 civilians from Glasgow to Montreal, including more than 300 Americans. 112 passengers and crew are killed, including 28 Americans. Most of the fatalities are caused by a botched rescue attempt as one of the lifeboats is crushed in the propeller of a freighter that takes part in the collection of survivors. Note: Due to neglect of the U-boat arm by Grand Admiral Raeder, Doenitz begins the war with a mere 57 U-boats; only 27 of the boats are capable of operations in the Atlantic.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: I have already stated that that was a mistake; the Athenia was taken for an auxiliary cruiser. The sinking of an auxiliary cruiser without warning is legal. I have also stated already that on a thorough examination of the case, I have found that the commander should have been more cautious and that is why he was punished...
September 3, 1939
If a merchant ship acts like a merchant ship, it is treated as such. If it does not, then the submarine must proceed to attack. That is legal, and in accordance with international law. The same thing happened to the crews of German merchant ships...if a merchant ship is sunk legally, that is just war, and there is suffering in other places, too, during the war... Men are killed during wars and no one is proud of it...It is a necessity, the harsh necessity of war.
: From a memorandum to the Reich Foreign Office:
Submitted respectfully to the Secretary of State (Baron von Weizsacker) with the enclosed memorandum. The Chief of the Operational Department of the Naval High Command, Captain Fricke, informed me by telephone that the Fuehrer was already dealing with this matter. The impression had, however, arisen here that the political connections had again to be gone into and brought to the Fuehrer's notice anew. Captain Fricke had therefore sent Korvettenkapitan Neubauer to the Foreign Office in order to discuss the matter further.
The question of an unlimited U-boat war against England is discussed in the enclosed data submitted by the Naval High Command. The Navy has arrived at the conclusion that the maximum damage to England, which can be achieved with the forces available, can only be attained if the U-boats are permitted an unrestricted use of arms without warning against enemy and neutral shipping in the prohibited area indicated in the enclosed map. The Navy does not fail to realize that (a) Germany would thereby publicly disregard the agreement of 1936 regarding the prosecution of economic warfare, and (b) a military operation of this kind could not be justified on the basis of the hitherto generally accepted principles of international law...
The High Command does not assert that England can be beaten by unrestricted U-boat warfare. The cessation of traffic with the world trade center of England spells serious disruptions of their national economy for the neutrals, for which we can offer them no compensation. Points of view based on foreign politics would favor using military method of unrestricted U-boat warfare only if England gives us a justification, by her method of waging war, to order this form of warfare as a reprisal. It appears necessary, in view of the great importance in the field of foreign politics of the decision to be taken, that it should be arrived at not only as a result of military considerations, but taking into full account the needs of foreign politics.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: ...it is a memorandum from the Chief of the Operations Department to the Secretary of State, that is to say, a negotiation between Berlin and the Foreign Office; and the front-line commander, whose station was on the coast and who, for all practical purposes, was in charge of the U-boats, had nothing to do with it. I do not know this letter... I was not informed about this letter... I knew that the view of the Naval High Command was to follow the measures of the enemy step by step. I knew that... I did not know of this letter; and I do not know if that is Herr Raeder's view. I do not know... In the West we wanted to avoid any further complications, and we endeavored as long as possible to fight according to the London Agreement. That can be seen from all the directives that the U-boats received.
September 3, 1939
: FDR delivers a Fireside Chat to the American people:
It is right, too, to point out that the unfortunate events of these recent years have, without question, been based on the use of force (or) and the threat of force. And it seems to me clear, even at the outbreak of this great war, that the influence of America should be consistent in seeking for humanity a final peace which will eliminate, as far as it is possible to do so, the continued use of force between nations...
From the IMT testimony of Admiral Gerhard Wagner: A plan for the war against England did not exist at all before the beginning of the war. Such a war seemed to us outside the realm of possibility. Considering the overwhelming superiority of the British fleet, which can hardly be expressed in proportionate figures, and considering England's strategical domination of the seas such a war appeared to us to be absolutely hopeless. The only means by which Britain could have been damaged effectively was by submarine warfare; but even the submarine weapon was by no means being given preferential treatment nor was its production accelerated. It was merely given its corresponding place in the creation of a well-balanced homogeneous fleet.
September 4, 1939
At the beginning of the war, all we had were 40 submarines ready for action, of which, as far as I can remember, barely half could have been used in the Atlantic. That, in comparison with the earthgirdling naval means at the disposal of the first-ranking world power England, is as good as nothing. As a comparison, I should like to cite the fact that both the British and the French Navy at the same time had more than 100 submarines each... Captain Doenitz at that time was a subordinate frontline commander, under the command of the chief of the fleet and he, because of his warfare experience, had the task of training and tactically guiding the inexperienced submarine personnel.
: From orders sent out to U-boat commanders:
Order prepared for intensifying the economic war because of the arming of enemy merchant ships.
1) Arming of, and therefore resistance from, the majority of English and French merchant ships is to be expected.
2) Submarines will stop merchant ships only if own vessel is not endangered. Attack without warning by submarines is allowed against plainly recognized enemy merchant ships.
3) Battleships and auxiliary cruisers will watch for possibility of use of arms by merchant ships when stopped. ...On the Fuehrer's orders, no hostile action is to be taken against passenger ships for the time being, even when in convoy.
From the IMT testimony of Admiral Gerhard Wagner: The Naval Operations Staff thought that Great Britain would probably start in where she had stopped at the end of the first World War. That meant that there would be a hunger blockade against Germany, a control of the merchandise of neutral countries, introduction of a system of control, the arming of merchant ships, and the delimitation of operational waters...
September 6, 1939
At the beginning of the war we were forced to improvise a great many orders we were issuing, because they were not prepared thoroughly... After consultation with the Foreign Office, we had decided that we would strictly adhere to the London Agreement until we had clear-cut evidence of the British merchant navy being used for military purposes. We remembered from the last war the power which the enemy propaganda had, and we did not under any circumstances want to give anyone cause once more to decry us as pirates.
: The German admiralty receives its first report of a U-boat being fired upon by an armed merchant ship.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: It is a matter of course that if a ship has a gun on board she will use it. It would have been a one-sided obligation if the submarine, in a suicidal way, were then to wait until the other ship fired the first shot. That is a reciprocal agreement, and one cannot in any circumstances expect the submarine to wait until it gets hit first. And, as I said before, in practice the steamers used their guns as soon as they came within range...
September 7, 1939
I am not an expert on international law. I am soldier; and I acted according to my military orders. Of course, it is suicide for a submarine to wait till it receives the first hit. It goes without saying that the steamer is not carrying guns for fun, but to make use of them. And I have already explained what use was made of them...
It is generally laid down by international law that a merchant ship can be fired on if it makes use of its wireless when stopped. That is also in the French Ordinance, for instance. In order to avoid more severe measures we had not, as a rule, done so yet. Not until the end of September, when I received a definite order or permission to do so, was that rule, which is in accordance with international law, put into effect. ...according to the International Conference on International Law - I happen to know this because it appeared as a footnote in the Prize Ordinance - according to this conference of 1923, they were not allowed to use wireless when being stopped. That is international law and is found in all instructions. I know for certain that the French instructions say this too.
: Grand Admiral Raeder declares that all U-Boats have been contacted and none was responsible for the sinking of the Athenia. Meanwhile, Reich Propaganda Minister Goebbels proclaims that the Athenia was sunk by none other than Winston Churchill himself, in an effort to repeat history with a Lusitania-like provocation. (Read)
September 7, 1939
: Guenther Prien's U-47
, which will carry out a total of ten combat patrols, spend a total of 238 days at sea, and sink 30 enemy merchant ships, today sinks ship number three; the SS Gartavon
September 11, 1939
: From the war diary of Lemp's U-30
Sighted a blacked-out vessel. Got on its trail. In zigzag course recognized as merchant ship. Requested to stop by Morse lantern. Steamer signals 'not understood,' tries to escape in the thick squall and sends out SOS 'chased by submarine' and position by radiotelegraphy. Gave 'Stop' signal by radio and Morse lantern. Ran ahead. First 5 shots with machine gem C/30 across the bow. Steamer does not react. Turns partly, about 90Â°, directly toward the boat. Sends 'still chased.' Therefore, fire opened from aft bearing with 8.8 cm. English steamer Blairlogie, 4,425 tons. After 18 shots and three hits, steamer stops. Crew boards boats. Last message by radio, 'Shelled, taking to boats.' Fire immediately ceased when emergency light was shown and steamer stopped. Went over to life boats, gave orders to pull away toward south. Steamer sunk by torpedo. Afterwards both boat crews supplied with Steinhager and cigarettes. 32 men in two boats. Fired red stars until dawn. Since American steamer, American Skipper, was nearby, we departed. Crew was rescued.
September 13 1939 Athenia
Incident: From a meeting between the Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy and the American naval attaché:
...at about 1300 hours, the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy received the American naval attaché on the advice of the Reich Foreign Minister and told him more or less the following: He had intended for some days already—as he knew—to write him that he should visit him in order to tell him his opinion about the sinking of the Athenia, in view of the continued agitation about it. However, he had waited for the return of those of the submarines that had been employed in waging war against merchant ships at the time in question and which might possibly be concerned, in order to receive reports about their activity personally.
September 14, 1939
He repeated most emphatically that the sinking of the Athenia was not caused by a German submarine. The ship nearest to the place of the incident was at the time actually situated about 170 sea miles away from the place of the sinking. Besides this, the instructions as to how the commanders were to wage war against merchant shipping had after all been published. Up to date, in no case had these instructions been even slightly disregarded. On the contrary, an American captain reported a short time before about the particularly courteous and chivalrous behavior of the submarine commanders.
: Eleven days after sinking the SS Athenia
, Oberleutnant Lemp and the U-30
enter Kiel Harbor. Admiral Doenitz swears Lemp and his crew to absolute secrecy. They are not to mention anything at all to do with the incident at any time. Problematically, the U-30
had arrived in post with victory pennants displayed on her conning tower, one of which showed 14,000 tons, the tonnage of the Athenia
. The official U-Boat Command War Diary makes no mention of the incident and Lemp is ordered (again, by Doenitz) to falsify his War Diary by rewriting two complete pages. An entry for any vessel of 14,000 tons does not appear.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: No, it was not faked, but there was a clear order that the case of the Athenia should be kept secret for political reasons and, as a result, the log had to be changed... Probably Captain Lemp received the order either from me or my staff: "The case is to be kept secret." And following that, he or the flotilla took the log, which went to ten different departments of the Navy, and altered it. What else could he do? He could not do otherwise...
Either it was done by my order or, if it had not been done, then I would have ordered it, because the political instructions existed that "it must be kept secret." The fighting men had no other choice, therefore, but to alter the log. The U-boat commanders never received the order to make a false entry, but in the particular case of the Athenia, where it was ordered afterwards that it must be kept secret, it was not noted in the log... The soldier had nothing to do with politics; but, on the other hand, he naturally had to stand by his country during the war.
September 14, 1939: U-39 narrowly misses sinking the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. U-39 is sunk and the crew is captured, but the near miss causes many a migraine in the British Admiralty.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: In the first months of the war I had very bitter experiences. I suffered very great losses in sea areas far removed from any coast; and as very soon I had information through the Geneva Red Cross that many members of crews had been rescued, it was clear that these U-boats had been lost above the water. If they had been lost below the water the survival of so many members of the crews would have been impossible.
September 14, 1939
I also had reports that there had been very unselfish deeds of rescue, quite justifiable from a humane angle, but militarily very dangerous for the U-boat. So now, of course, since I did not want to fight on the open sea but close to the harbors or in the coastal approaches to the harbors, I had to warn the U-boats of the great dangers, in fact of suicide. And, to state a parallel, English U-boats in the Jutland waters, areas which we dominated, showed, as a matter of course and quite correctly, no concern at all for those who were shipwrecked, even though, without a doubt, our defense was only a fraction of the British.
: From orders sent out to U-boat commanders:
The following instructions have been sent out to all W.P.S.'s: It has now been decided to fit a single depth charge chute, with hand release gear and supplied with 3 charges, in all armed merchant vessels of 12 knots or over.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: Each depth charge attack against a submarine is definitely and absolutely an offensive action; for the submarine submerges and is harmless under water, while the surface vessel which wants to carry out the depth charge attack approaches as closely as possible to the position where it assumes the U-boat to be, in order to drop the depth charge as accurately as possible on top of the U-boat. A destroyer, that is, a warship, does not attack a submarine in any different way...
September 17, 1939
Neutral merchantmen, according to the political orders, the orders of the Naval Operations Staff, were only attacked without warning when they were found in operational zones which had been definitely designated as such, or naturally only when they did not act as neutrals should, but like ships which were participating in the war.
: Kapitaenleutnant Otto Schuhart and U-boat U-29
torpedoes the British aircraft carrier Courageous off Ireland. The carrier sinks in twenty minutes killing 518 of 1,200. (Shirer)
September 17, 1939
: The USSR invades Poland from the east.
September 22, 1939
: From a memorandum by the German naval war staff:
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 Flag Officer 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 Operations Staff. U-boat commanders should 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.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: If a merchant ship sails without lights, it must run the risk of being taken for a warship, because at night it is not possible to distinguish between a merchant ship and a warship. At the time the order was issued, it concerned an operational area in which blacked-out troop transports were traveling from England to France... I was not asked before Germany signed this Treaty; Germany adhered to the Treaty in practice, as I know very well, until countermeasures were introduced; and then I received orders to act accordingly. ...the paper you are showing me is a note or memorandum made by a young official on the Naval Operations Staff. In fact-it was the idea of that particular officer on the Naval Operations Staff; and as I have pointed out here, I did not know of the matter—in actual fact, the Naval Operations Staff never gave me such an order. The contents of that paper are fiction...
September 24, 1939
That was this young officer's idea. The order which I received from the Naval Operations Staff stated explicitly that blacked-out vessels could be sunk in this area where English transports were traveling from England to France. So, you see, it contained none of the things stated in this memorandum. There is no doubt that the section chief, and likewise the Chief of the Naval Operations Staff, refused and rejected that entirely impossible idea and gave me that short and explicit order... That is a note submitted by the official on the Naval Operations Staff, of which his superiors on the Naval Operations Staff did not approve. It was corrected. There was no unspoken agreement but an explicit and clear order to myself; so that young officer's idea had already been turned down by the Naval Operations Staff itself...
No order for that has ever been given. The order of the Naval Operations Staff issued to me in that connection has been submitted and that is a clear and concise order, without the things mentioned here... the clear, concise order was given by the Naval Operations Staff to me in which these things were not mentioned. And quite as clearly I passed my orders on. That is how it is. This memorandum, or these ideas of that officer, was already disapproved by his chief of department in Berlin. A clear order was given to me, however, and there was nothing in it about a War Diary and all these things mentioned here. That order is available.
: From the War Diary of the Naval Operations Staff:
English reports that, when the English steamer Akenside was sunk, a German U-boat was rammed by a steam trawler.
September 22, 1939
: Raeder orders the 'pocket' battleships Deutschland
and Graf Spree
to attack British shipping. (Shirer)
September 24, 1939
: From the War Diary of the Naval Operations Staff: "Commander, Submarine Fleet, reports that on 6 September the English steamer Manaar, on being told to stop by U-38
after a warning shot, tried to escape. Steamer sent wireless message and opened fire from rear gun. Abandoned ship only after four or five hits, then sank it."
September 28, 1939
: The first German note is sent to the neutral governments with the request that they warn their merchant ships against any suspicious conduct, such as changes in course and the use of wireless upon sighting German naval forces, blacking out, noncompliance with the request to stop, et cetera. These warnings will subsequently be repeated many times.
September 30, 1939
: The first sinking of a neutral ship (the Danish steamer Vendia
) by a submarine occurs. From the War Log of Submarine U-3
, which sank the Vendia:
The steamer turns away gradually and increases speed. The boat comes up only very slowly. Obvious attempt to escape. The steamer is clearly recognizable as the Danish steamer Vendia. Boat reduces speed and uncovers her machine-gun. Several warning shots are fired across the steamer's bow. Thereupon the steamer stops very slowly; nothing more happens for a while. Then some more shots are fired. The Vendia lies into the wind. For 10 minutes nothing is visible on deck to remove suspicion of possible intended resistance; at 1124 hours I suddenly see bow waves and screw movements. The steamer swings sharply round toward the boat. The officer on watch and the first mate agree with my view that this is an attempt at ramming.
October 1, 1939
For this reason I turn in the same angle as the steamer. A torpedo is fired 30 seconds later; point of aim, bow; point of impact, extreme rear of stern. The stern is torn off and goes down. The front part remains afloat. By risking the loss of our own crew and boat (heavy sea and numerous floating pieces of wreckage) six men of the Danish crew are rescued, among them the captain and helmsman. No further survivors can be seen. In the meantime, the Danish steamer Swawa approaches and is stopped. She is requested to send her papers across in a boat. She is carrying a mixed cargo from Amsterdam to Copenhagen. The six persons rescued are transferred to the steamer for repatriation...After the crew of the steamer had been handed over, it was learned that the engineer artificer of the steamer had told the stoker Blank that the captain had intended to ram the submarine.
: From a circular of the British Admiralty:
Within the last few days some German U-boats have been attacked by British merchant marine vessels. In this connection the German radio announces that the German U-boats have so far observed the rules of international law in warning the merchant vessels before attacking them. Now, however, Germany intends to retaliate by considering every British merchant marine vessel as a warship...Be prepared to meet it. ... The British Admiralty announces that German submarines are pursuing a new strategy. English boats are called upon to ram every German submarine.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: They first brought about the order that merchantmen which sent radio messages on being stopped could be attacked without warning. They also brought about the order that merchantmen whose armament had been recognized beyond doubt, that is, whose armament one knew from British publication, could be attacked without warning...
October 1, 1939
I believe that the Naval Operations Staff decided on this order on the basis of the British publication which said that now the arming of merchantmen was completed. In addition, there was a broadcast by the British Admiralty on 1 October to the effect that the merchantmen had been directed to ram German U-boats and furthermore...it was clear beyond doubt that every merchantman was part of the intelligence service of the enemy, and its radio messages at sight of a U-boat determined the use of surface or air forces...
I had received quite a number of reports in this connection, and since the German measures were always taken about 4 weeks after it had been recognized that the enemy employed these tactics, I had very serious losses in the meantime-in the period when I still had to keep to the one-sided and, for me, dangerous obligations.
: Doenitz is promoted to Konteradmiral
(Rear Admiral) and Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote
(Commander of the Submarines).
October 4, 1939
: From orders sent out to all U-boat commanders:
Immediate attack in any manner available is permitted submarines against enemy merchant vessels which are obviously armed or have been proclaimed as such on the basis of conclusive evidence received by the Naval Operations Staff. As far as circumstances permit, measures are to be taken to save the crew after every possibility of danger for the submarine has been eliminated. Passenger ships not used to transport troops are still not to be attacked, even if armed.
From the IMT testimony of Admiral Gerhard Wagner: The fact that enemy merchant vessels were armed became clear after a few weeks of the war. We had a large number of reports about artillery fights which had occurred between U-boats and armed enemy merchant ships. Certainly one, and probably several boats were lost by us. One British steamer, I think it was called Stonepool, was praised publicly by the British Admiralty for its success in combating submarines...
October 3, 1939
They were due to an order from the Fuehrer. At the beginning of the war he had stated that Germany did not have any intention of waging war against women and children. He wished, for that reason, that also in naval war any incidents in which women and children might lose their lives should be avoided. Consequently, even the stopping of passenger ships was prohibited. The military necessities of naval warfare made it very difficult to adhere to this order, particularly where passenger ships were traveling in enemy convoys. Later on, step by step, this order was altered as it became evident that there was no longer any peaceful passenger traffic at all, and that enemy passenger ships were particularly heavily armed and used more and more as auxiliary cruisers and troop transport ships...
Neither side made its war measures known during the war, and that held true in this case also. But, in October, the German press left no doubt whatsoever that every armed enemy merchant ship would be sunk by us without warning, and later on it was equally well known that we were forced to consider the entire enemy merchant marine as being under military direction and in military use. These statements by our press must no doubt have been known to the British Admiralty and the neutral governments. Apart from that, and I think this was in October, Grossadmiral Raeder gave an interview to the press on the same theme.
: A few days after the Soviet Union had obtained naval bases in Estonia, Raeder urges Hitler to demand bases for the German Navy from Norway.
October 6, 1939
: Hitler addresses the Reichstag:
October 8, 1939
A Geneva convention once succeeded in prohibiting, in civilized countries at least, the killing of wounded, ill treatment of prisoners, war against noncombatants, etc., and just as it was possible gradually to achieve universal observance of this statute, a way must surely be found to regulate aerial warfare, use of poison gas and submarines, etc., and also so to define contraband that war will lose its terrible character of conflict waged against women and children and against noncombatants in general. A growing horror of certain methods of warfare will of its own accord lead to their abolition and thus they will become obsolete...
: Guenther Prien's U-47
gets underway from the German naval base at Kiel on a daring mission to raid Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands north of Scotland.
October 11, 1939
: Guenther Prien's U-47
runs the enemy blockade.
October 12, 1939
: Prien announces to the crew of the U-47
that their mission is to attack the protected harbor of Scapa Flow. The German submariners listen in stunned silence, believing the mission to be suicidal.
October 14, 1939
: The British Battleship Royal Oak is torpedoed by Guenter Prien's U-47
, in the protected anchorage at Scapa Flow; 833 drown.
October 15, 1939
: From a memorandum compiled by Raeder and the German naval war staff:
Possibilities of Future Naval Warfare: I. Military requirements for the decisive struggle against Great Britain: Our naval strategy will have to employ all the military means at our disposal as expeditiously as possible. Military success can be most confidently expected if we attack British sea communications wherever they are accessible to us, with the greatest ruthlessness; the final aim of such attacks is to cut off all imports into and exports from Britain. We should try to consider the interests of neutrals in so far as this is possible without detriment to military requirements. It is desirable to base all military measures taken on existing international law; however, measures which are considered necessary from a military point of view, provided a decisive success can be expected from them, will have to be carried out, even if they are not covered by existing international law. In principle, therefore, any means of warfare which is effective in breaking enemy resistance should be based on some legal conception even if that entails the creation of a new code of naval warfare. The supreme war council...will have to decide what measures of military and legal nature are to be taken.
Once it has been decided to conduct economic warfare in its most ruthless form, in fulfillment of military requirements, this decision is to be adhered to under all circumstances. Under no circumstances may such a decision for the most ruthless form of economic warfare, once it has been made, be dropped or released under political pressure from neutral powers; that is what happened in the World War to our own detriment. Every protest by neutral powers must be turned down. Even threats of further countries, particularly of the United States, coming into the war, which can be expected with certainty should the war last a long time, must not lead to a relaxation in the form of economic warfare once embarked upon. The more ruthlessly economic warfare is waged, the earlier will it show results and the sooner will the war come to an end. The economic effect of such military measures on our own war economy must be fully recognized and compensated through immediate reorientation of German war economy and the redrafting of the respective agreements with neutral states; for this, strong political and economic pressure must be employed if necessary.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: I did not protest against them (the orders above). On the contrary, I considered them justified, because, as I said before, otherwise I would have had to remain bound to an obligation which was one-sided and meant serious losses for me... This development, as I have said before, was entirely forced. If merchantmen are armed and make use of their arms, and if they send messages which summon protection, they force the U-boat to submerge and attack without warning. That same forced development, in the areas which we patrolled, was also the case with the British submarines, and applied in exactly the same way to American and Russian submarines...
October 17, 1939
In an ocean area where there is no constant patrolling by the enemy, by naval forces of any kind or by aircraft, as along the coast, the submarine has the advantage. But in all other areas the ship acquires the main attack weapons against a submarine, and the submarine is therefore compelled to treat that ship as a battleship, which means that it is forced to submerge and loses its speed. Therefore, in all ocean areas, with the exception of coastal waters which can be constantly controlled, the advantage of arms lies with the merchantman...
They remained absolutely within the bounds of what was necessary. I have explained already that the resulting steps were always taken gradually and after very careful study by the Naval Operations Staff. This very careful study may also have been motivated by the fact that, for political reasons, any unnecessary intensification in the West was to be avoided. ...there is not only a (British) directive to send wireless signals if the ship is stopped by a U-boat; that alone would, according to international law, justify the U-boat in employing armed force against the ship; but beyond that, it is stated that as soon as an enemy ship is in sight, this signal is to be transmitted in order that the naval forces may attack in time.
: Three days after the successful attack on the British naval base at Scapa Flow by a U-boat, a German raid by four Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 bombers damages the battleship HMS Iron Duke
. Note: Japanese military planners, studying the effects of these two attacks, will eventually combine both strategies when planning their own surprise attack on capital ships in a protected harbor.
October 17, 1939
: At 1500 hours the following order was issued to Commander of Submarines:
Submarines are permitted immediate and full use of armed force against all merchant vessels recognizable with certainty as being of enemy nationality, as in every case attempts to ram or other forms of active resistance may be expected. Exceptions to be made as hitherto in the case of enemy passenger boats.
October 22, 1939
: From orders sent out to U-boat commanders:
According to previous experiences such tactics may be expected with certainty from English and French boats, particularly when sailing in convoys: inadmissible use of wireless, sailing without lights, and in addition, armed resistance and aggressive action.
October 23, 1939 Athenia
Incident: Reich Propaganda Minister Goebbels propagates that the Athenia
was sunk by none other than Winston Churchill himself, in an effort to repeat history with a Lusitania-like provocation. The Nazi Party paper, the Voelkischer Beobachter
, publishes Churchill sank the Athenia
in screaming headlines:
The above picture shows the proud Athenia, the ocean giant, which was sunk by Churchill's crime. One can clearly see the big radio equipment on board the ship. But nowhere was an SOS heard from the ship. Why was the 'Athenia' silent? Because her captain was not allowed to tell the world anything. He very prudently refrained from telling the world that Winston Churchill attempted to sink the ship, through the explosion of an infernal machine. He knew it well, but he had to keep silent. Nearly fifteen hundred people would have lost their lives if Churchill's original plan had resulted as the criminal wanted.
November 4, 1939
Yes, he longingly hoped that the one hundred Americans on board the ship would find death in the waves, so that the anger of the American people, who were deceived by him, should be directed against Germany as the presumed author of the deed. It was fortunate that the majority escaped the fate intended for them by Churchill. Our picture on the right shows two wounded passengers. They were rescued by the freighter, City of Flint, and as can be seen here, turned over over [sic] to the American coast guard boat Gibb for further medical treatment. They are an unspoken accusation against the criminal Churchill. Both they and the shades of those who lost their lives call him before the Tribunal of the world and ask the British people, 'How long will the office, one of the richest in tradition known to Britain's history, be held by a murderer?'
: The US House of Representatives votes on an updating of the arms embargo and loan prohibition provisions of the Neutrality Act. The new version does away with the arms and loan embargoes, but preserves the prohibition against US ships sailing into war zones. Belligerent countries like Britain can buy arms in the United States, but only on a cash-and-carry basis. This cash-and-carry policy will remain in effect until the Lend-Lease Act is passed in March of 1941.
From the IMT testimony of Admiral Gerhard Wagner: I think on 4 November, the United States of America declared the so-called American combat zone, and the specific reason given for it was that in that zone actual belligerent actions rendered the sea dangerous for American shipping. By this announcement, some of the points of that memorandum were in immediate need of being revised. As a rule we remained within the limits of the measures as they had been employed by both parties during the first World War.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: ...operational areas around the enemy are admissible. I may repeat that I am not a specialist in international law but a soldier, and I judge according to common sense. It seems to me a matter of course that an ocean area or an ocean zone around England could not be left in the undisturbed possession of the enemy. ...there are plenty of British statements which declare that in wartime—and we were at war with England—one cannot permit neutrals to enter and give aid to the belligerents, especially if they had previously been warned against doing so. That is quite in accordance with international law...
November 7, 1939
I have already said that the neutrals had been warned not to cross the combat zones. If they entered the combat zones, they had to run the risk of suffering damage, or else stay away. That is what war is. For instance, no consideration would be shown on land either, to a neutral truck convoy bringing ammunition or supplies to the enemy. It would be fired on in exactly the same way as an enemy transport. It is, therefore, quite admissible to turn the seas around the enemy's country into a combat area. That is the position as I know it in international law, although I am only a soldier...
Strict neutrality would require the avoidance of combat areas. Whoever enters a combat area must take the consequences... And for that reason, the United States explicitly prohibited entry into these zones in November, because it refused to enter the combat zone... Special lanes were left open for the neutrals. They did not have to enter the combat area unless they were going to England. Then they had to run the risk of war.
: From an order by the SKL to Commander of U-boats:
U-boats are permitted to attack immediately, with all weapons at their command, all passenger ships which can be identified with certainty as enemy ships and whose armament is detected or is already known.
November 12, 1939
: From an IMT document:
On 12 November, the Norwegian Arne Kjode was torpedoed in the North Sea without warning at all. This was a tanker bound from one neutral port to another.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: Well, the submarine commander in this case could not see, first of all, that the ship was traveling from one neutral port to the other... But that ship was heading for England, and he confused it with an English ship. That is why he torpedoed it. I know of that case... If one or two instances of mistakes are found in the course of 5 1/2 years of clean submarine warfare, it proves nothing.
November 24, 1939
: From the War Diary of the German Naval Operations Staff:
To the Missions... Since the warning issued on (date to be inserted here) regarding the use of English and French ships, the following two new facts are to be recorded: a) The United States has forbidden its ships to sail in a definitely defined area. b) Numerous enemy merchant ships have been armed. It is known that these armed ships have instructions to use their weapons aggressively, and to ram U-boats. These two new facts give the Reich Government occasion to renew and emphasize its warning, that in view of the increasingly frequent engagements, waged with all means of modern war technique, in waters around the British Isles and in the vicinity of the French coast, the safety of neutral ships in this area can no longer be taken for granted.
Therefore the German Government urgently recommends the choice of the route south and east of the German proclaimed danger zone, when crossing the North Sea. In order to maintain peaceful shipping for neutral states and in order to avoid loss of life and property for the neutrals, the Reich Government furthermore feels obliged to recommend urgently legislative measures following the pattern of the U.S. Government, which in apprehension of the dangers of modern warfare, forbade its ships to sail in an exactly defined area, in which, according to the words of the President of the United States, the traffic of American ships may seem imperiled by belligerent action. The Reich Government must point out that it rejects any responsibility for consequences brought about by disregarding recommendations and warnings.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: Germany had sent a note to the neutrals on 24 November 1939, warning them against using these lanes and advising neutrals to use the methods of the United States, whereby American ships, in order to avoid any incidents, had been forbidden to enter the waters around England. ...these ocean areas were clearly limited areas in which hostilities took place continuously on both sides. The neutrals had been warned expressly against using these areas. If they entered this war area, they had to run the risk of being damaged. England proceeded likewise in its operational areas in our waters...
December 14, 1939
During a war, there is no basic obligation to inform the enemy with what means one does one's fighting. In other words, this is not a question of legality, but a question of military or political expediency. England, in her operational areas, did not inform us either as to the means of fighting she uses or did use; and I know how many headaches this caused me when I was Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, later, in endeavoring to employ economically the small means we had. That is the principle. At that time when, as Commander of U-boats, I received this order to simulate mine hits where possible, I considered this as militarily expedient, because the counterintelligence were left in doubt as to whether mine sweepers or U-boat defense means were to be employed.
In other words, it was a military advantage for the nation conducting the war, and today I am of the opinion that political reasons also may have influenced this decision, with the object of avoiding complications with neutral countries... During the first World War we had experienced what part is played by propaganda. Therefore I think it possible that our Government, our political leaders, for this reason, too, may have issued this order.
: The USSR is expelled from the League of Nations. (Kennedy II, Gill)
December 17, 1939
: The Graf Spree
is scuttled by her crew after being forced into port at Uruguay. Note: The Graf Spee
, under the command of the able Captain Hans Langsdorff, had sunk nine cargo ships with a total tonnage of 50,089; not one enemy crewmen or passenger had been killed in the process.
December 18, 1939
: Raeder is severely dressed-down by Hitler due to the scuttling of the Graf Spree
December 30, 1939
: From the minutes of a meeting between Hitler and Raeder:
The Chief of the Naval Operations Staff requests that full power be given to the Naval Operations Staff in making any intensification suited to the situation and to the means of war. The Fuehrer agrees in principle to the sinking, without warning, of Greek ships in the American prohibited area, and of neutral ships in those sections of the American prohibited area, in which the fiction of mine danger can be upheld, e.g., the Bristol Channel.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: According to my recollection, I issued this order at the end of November or the beginning of December 1939, for the following reasons: I had only a handful of U-boats a month at my disposal. In order that this small force might prove effective at all, I had to send the boats close to the English coast, in front of the ports. In addition, the magnetic mine showed itself to be a very valuable weapon of war. Therefore, I equipped these boats both with mines and torpedoes and directed them, after laying the mines, to operate in waters close to the coast, immediately outside the ports. There they fought in constant and close combat and under the surveillance of naval and air patrols. Each U-boat which was sighted or reported there was hunted by U-boat-chasing units and by air patrols ordered to the scene.
December 30, 1939
The U-boats themselves, almost without exception or entirely, had as their objectives only ships which were protected or accompanied by some form of protection. Therefore, it would have been suicide for the U-boat, in a position of that sort, to come to the surface and to rescue. The commanders were all very young; I was the only one who had service experience from the first World War. And I had to tell them this very forcibly and drastically because it was hard for a young commander to judge a situation as well as I could... For the U-boats which, according to my memory, went out into the Atlantic again only after the Norwegian campaign, for these U-boats the general order of rescue applied; and this order was qualified only in one way, namely that no rescue was to be attempted if the safety of a U-boat did not permit it. The facts show that the U-boats acted in this light.
: Generated by the OKW, signed by Jodl:
On the 30th of December 1939, according to a report of the Supreme Commander of the Navy, the Fuehrer and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces decided that: I) Greek merchant ships, in the area declared by England and the USA to be a barred zone, are to be treated as enemy vessels. (Attack must be carried out without being seen. The denial of the sinking of these steamships, in case the expected protests are made, must be possible.) 2) In the Bristol Channel, all shipping may be attacked without warning where the impression of a mining incident can be created. Both measures are authorized to come into effect immediately.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: That was probably why the Naval Operations Staff gave the order, because of the Greek fleet sailing in England's service. I assumed that those were the reasons of the Naval Operations Staff... It says here that they were to be treated like enemy ships... These are matters connected with the political leadership and I know nothing about them. I myself, as Commander of U-boats, looked at them only from the angle of military advantage or expediency, just as England did in similar cases. What the political reasons may have been, I cannot say...
January 2, 1940
There were certain areas which neutrals had been warned not to cross. I stated yesterday that the same procedure was followed in English operational areas. If a neutral, in spite of these warnings, entered those areas where military actions were constantly being carried on by one side or the other, it had to run the risk of suffering damage. Those are the reasons which induced the Naval Operations Staff to issue these orders.
: From conference notes:
Conference with the Chief of Naval Operations Staff (on the) intensified measures in connection with the Case Yellow (the invasion of Holland and Belgium) the sinking by U-boats...without any warning, of all ships in those waters near the enemy coasts in which mines can be employed... By the present order, the Navy will be authorized, in keeping with the general intensification of the war, to sink by U-boats, without any warning, all ships in those waters near the enemy coasts in which mines can be employed. In this case, for external consumption, pretense should be made that mines are being used. The behavior of, and use of weapons by, U-boats should take this into consideration.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: ...that was a question not of legality but of military expediency. For military reasons I cannot give the enemy explicit information as to the means of combat I am using in an area which may be mined. You operated in the same way. I remind you of the French danger zone which was declared, corresponding to the mined areas around Italy. You did not state which weapons you were using, either. That has nothing to do with legality. That is purely a question of military expediency...
January 20, 1940
It is not true that we tried to fool the neutrals. We warned the neutrals explicitly that combat actions were going on in these operational areas and that if they entered they would suffer damage. We pretended nothing; we told them explicitly: "Do not enter these zones." England did the same. ...we did not fool them because we warned them beforehand. In wartime I do not have to say what weapon I intend to use; I may very well camouflage my weapon. But the neutrals were not fooled. On the contrary, they were told, "Do not enter these zones." After that, the question of which particular military method I use in these areas no longer concerns the neutrals...
In operational areas I am obliged to take care of the survivors after the engagement, if the military situation permits. The same held good in the Baltic and in many operational areas... I have stated that I was obliged to take care of the survivors after the engagement, if the military situation permitted. That forms part of the Geneva Convention, or the agreement on its application. ...outside the zone, neutrals were treated according to the Prize Ordinance, only inside the zone they were not... The difference was that neutrals outside the zone were treated according to the Prize Ordinance. According to the London Agreement, we were obliged, before sinking the ship, to see that the crew were safe and within reach of land. There was no obligation to do so inside the zone. In that case, we acted according to the Hague Agreement for the application of the Geneva Convention, which provides that the survivors should be taken care of, after the fight, if the military situation permits. ...the attacks on survivors were contrary to a soldier's idea of fair fighting; and that I have never put my name to any order which could in the slightest degree lead to anything of the kind—not even when it was proposed to me as a reprisal measure...
As I know my U-boat forces, there would have been a storm of indignation against such an order. The clean and honest idealism of these would never have allowed them to do it; and I would never have given such an order or permitted it to be given. ...we were thinking of an area in the immediate vicinity of the permanent positions. Enemy defenses off the harbors on the British coast. The London Agreement has nothing to do with fighting ships under escort. Those are two entirely different things; and that order applied to this area and the combating of ships under escort.
: Churchill addresses the House:
March 4, 1940
Neutral ships are sunk without law or mercy, not only by the blind and wanton mine, but by the coldly considered, deliberately aimed, torpedo... It seems pretty certain that half the U-boats with which Germany began the war, have been sunk, and that their new building has fallen far behind what we expected. Our faithful Asdic detector smells them out in the depths of the sea and, with the potent aid of the Royal Air Force, I do not doubt that we shall break their strength and break their purpose. The magnetic mine, and all the other mines with which the narrow waters, the approaches to this Island, are strewn, do not present us with any problem which we deem insoluble. It must be remembered that in the last war we suffered very grievous losses from mines, and that at the climax more than six hundred British vessels were engaged solely upon the task of mine-sweeping. We must remember that. We must always be expecting some bad thing from Germany...
: From an interview given by Admiral Raeder to a representative of the National Broadcasting Company:
The German standpoint may be concisely expressed by the formula: Whoever depends on the use of arms must be prepared for attack by arms... In discussing the possibility that there might be frequent differences of opinion, the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy mentioned President Roosevelt's order prohibiting American shipping in the dangerous zones around England. He said, 'This prohibition is the best proof against England's practice of forcing neutrals to sail through these zones, without being able to guarantee their security. Germany can only advise all neutrals to imitate the policy of your President. Question: Thus, according to this state of affairs, there is no protection for neutral shipping in the war-endangered zones? Answer: 'Probably not, so long as England adheres to her methods.
March 5, 1940
: From the War Diary of the Naval Operations Staff:
With reference to the conduct of economic warfare, orders are given to the Naval Forces that U.S. ships are not to be stopped, seized, or sunk. The reason is the assurance given by the Commander-in-Chief to the American Naval Attache, whom he received on 20 February, that German submarines had orders not to stop any American ships whatsoever. All possibility of difficulties arising between the U.S.A. and Germany as a result of economic warfare are thereby to be eliminated from the start.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: On 5 March 1940 I was called from Wilhelmshaven, where I had my command, to Berlin, to the Naval Operations Staff, and at that meeting I was instructed on the plan (for the Norway action) and on my task... had neither the opportunity nor indeed the authority to do that. I should like to ask what soldier of what nation, who receives any military task whatsoever, has the right to approach his general staff and ask for examination or justification as to whether an aggressive war can evolve from this task... I received military orders as a soldier, and my purpose naturally was to carry out these military tasks. Whether the leadership of the State was thereby politically waging an aggressive war or not, or whether they were protective measures, was not for me to decide; it was none of my business.
March 5, 1940
Katyn Forest Massacre: People's Commissar for Internal Affairs and First Rank Commissar of State Security, Lavrentiy Beria, had earlier suggested that the 25,700 Polish 'nationalists and counterrevolutionaries' kept at camps and prisons in occupied western Ukraine and Belarus be executed. On this day, the Soviet Politburo approves and Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, Kliment Voroshilov and Anastas Mikoyan sign the order.
March 10, 1940
The news about the Finnish-Russian negotiations is very gratifying from a political point of view. The French press is furious about it, because it considers it necessary to cut Germany off from Swedish ore.
March 19, 1940
The Fuehrer has returned beaming with joy and highly satisfied from the conference with the Duce. Complete agreement...The Balkans should and must remain quiet.
March 25, 1940
The English have begun to molest or to fire on our merchantmen in Danish and Norwegian territorial waters.
April 9, 1940
: Nazi forces invade Norway and Denmark.
May 8, 1940
: From a statement by the First Lord of the British Admiralty:
Therefore we limited our operations in the Skagerrak to the submarines. In order to make this work as effective as possible, the usual restrictions which we have imposed on the actions of our submarines were relaxed. As I told the House, all German ships by day and all ships by night were to be sunk as opportunity served.
From the IMT testimony of Admiral Gerhard Wagner: It (the order above) means that all German ships by day and by night in this area were to be sunk without warning... With certainty (it was in effect) from 8 April 1940, but I believe I recall that even on 7 April this practice was already in existence. ...the first declaration of danger zone for this area took place on 12 April 1940.
May 19, 1940
: The Nazis invade France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands; Winston Churchill becomes British Prime Minister. French General Henri Honoré Giraud, a member of the Superior War Council, is captured by German troops while trying to block a German attack through the Ardennes.
May 26, 1940
: FDR delivers a Fireside Chat to the American people:
May 27, 1940
...between 1933 and this year, 1940—seven fiscal years—your Government will have spent ($1,487,000,000) a billion, four hundred eighty-seven million dollars more than it spent on the Navy during the seven years (before) that preceded 1933. What did we get for the money, money, incidentally, not included in the new defense appropriations, only the money heretofore appropriated? The fighting personnel of the Navy rose from 79,000 to 145,000. During this period 215 ships for the fighting fleet have been laid down...
, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Ernst, sinks the Sheaf Mead. From the U-boats log:
It is not clear whether she was sailing as a normal merchant ship... A large heap of wreckage floats up. We approach it to identify the name. The crew have saved themselves on wreckage and capsized boats. We fish out a buoy; no name on it. I ask a man on the raft. He says, hardly turning his head 'Nixuame.' A young boy in the water calls, 'Help, help, please.' The others are very composed; they look damp and somewhat tired and have a look of cold hatred on their faces. Then on to the old course...
From a survivor account: 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.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: I had the commanders of submarines report verbally to me every time. The logs, which arrived, or were finished several weeks later, or some time after the entries were made, since they had to be written in the port, were only submitted to me by my Chief of Staff if they contained something special in addition to the verbal report...
I know that (the Sheaf Mead was not sailing in convoy). And I know that she was an armed ship and that, according to the orders which the commander had, he was justified in sinking her as an armed ship. It also appears from his log that he could not decide on firing the torpedo until he had ascertained that the ship was armed. That is very clearly expressed here... I did tell him that if he was on the spot where this rescue went on he should also have helped.
: After the fall of France, twelve U-boat flotillas are established in Brest, La Rochelle, La Pallice, St Nazaire, Lorient and Bordeaux.
June 6, 1940
: Engelbert Endrass' U-46
torpedoes the armed merchant cruiser RMS Carinthia
off the coast of Ireland. Four crew members are killed in the initial explosion. Carinthia remains afloat for 35 hours before sinking on 7 June, allowing the rescue of all on board.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: One must distinguish very clearly here between the question of rescue or non-rescue, and that is a question of military possibility. During a war the necessity of refraining from rescue may well arise. For example, if your own ship is endangered thereby, it would be wrong from a military viewpoint and, besides, would not be of value for the one to be rescued; and no commander of any nation is expected to rescue if his own ship is thereby endangered. The British Navy correctly take up a very clear, unequivocal position in this respect: that rescue is to be denied in such cases; and that is evident also from their actions and commands. That is one point...
June 8, 1940
There may of course be other reasons. For instance it is clear that, in war, the mission to be accomplished is of first importance. No one will start to rescue, for example, if after subduing one opponent there is another on the scene. Then, as a matter of course, the combating of the second opponent is more important than the rescue of those who have already lost their ship.
The other question is concerned with attacking the shipwrecked...Shipwrecked persons are members of the crew who, after the sinking of their ship, are not able to fight any longer, and are either in lifeboats or other means of rescue or in the water... Firing upon these men is a matter concerned with the ethics of war and should be rejected under any and all circumstances. In the German Navy and U-boat force this principle, according to my firm conviction, has never been violated, with the one exception of the affair Eck. No order on this subject has ever been issued, in any form whatsoever.
: While evacuating British troops from Norway in 1940, the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious
is sunk with the loss of over 1,200 lives.
June 11, 1940
: From a letter from Raeder to the German Navy:
The most outstanding of the numerous subjects of discussion in the Officers Corps are, for the time being, the torpedo positions and the problem whether the naval building program, up to autumn 1939, envisaged the possibility of the outbreak of war as early as 1939, or whether the emphasis ought not to have been laid, from the first, on the construction of U-boats...If the opinion is voiced in the Officers Corps that the entire naval building program has been wrongly directed and if, from the first, the emphasis should have been on the U-boat weapon and after its consolidation on the large ships, I must emphasize the following matters:
June 13, 1940
The building up of the fleet was directed according to the political demands, which were decided by the Fuehrer. The Fuehrer hoped, until the last moment, to be able to put off the threatening conflict with England until 1944- 45. At that time, the Navy would have had available a fleet with a powerful U-boat superiority and a much more favorable ratio as regards strength in all other types of ships, particularly those designed for warfare on the High Seas. The development of events forced the Navy, contrary to the expectation even of the Fuehrer, into a war which it had to accept while still in the initial stage of its rearmament. The result is that those who represent the opinion that the emphasis should have been laid from the start on the building of the U-boat arm appear to be right.
I leave undiscussed how far this development, quite apart from difficulties of personnel, training, and dockyards, could have been appreciably improved in any way in view of the political limits of the Anglo-German Naval Treaty. I leave also undiscussed, how the early and necessary creation of an effective air force slowed down the desirable development of the other branches of the forces. I indicate, however, with pride, the admirable and, in spite of the political restraints in the years of the Weimar Republic, far-reaching preparation for U- boat construction, which made the immensely rapid construction of the U-boat arm, both as regards equipment and personnel, possible immediately after the assumption of power...
: From orders concerning 'conditions under which fire may be opened' issued to U-boat commanders:
With reference to D.M.S. Part 1, Article 53, it is now considered clear that in submarine and aerial operations the enemy has adopted a policy of attacking merchant ships without warning. Subparagraph (b) of this article should therefore be regarded as being in force... Against enemy acting in defiance of international law... If, as the war progresses, it unfortunately becomes clear that in defiance of international law the enemy has adopted a policy of attacking merchant ships without warning, it will then be permissible to open fire on an enemy vessel, submarine, or aircraft, even before she has attacked or demanded surrender, if to do so will tend to prevent her gaining a favorable position for attacking... In ships fitted with a defensive armament, open fire to keep the enemy at a distance if you consider that he is clearly intending to effect a capture and that he is approaching so close as to endanger your chances of escape.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: That means therefore that as soon as the ship sights a U-boat, which during war must be assumed to be there for a reason to effect a capture-the ship will, in its own defense, open fire as soon as it comes within range; that is when the submarine has come within range of its guns. The ship, in using its guns for an offensive action, can act in no other way.
June 22, 1940
: France signs an armistice with Germany. Under its terms, the French army is to be disbanded and two thirds of France is to be occupied by the Germans. The French are to be allowed to keep possession of their fleet, but it is confined to port.
August 1, 1940
: Hitler gives Goering the go-ahead for Operation Eagle, the Luftwaffe bombing campaign against Britain. Raeder reports to Hitler that the earliest possible date for an invasion of Britain is September 15.
August 17, 1940
: Germany declares a 'total blockade of Britain.'
From the IMT testimony of Admiral Gerhard Wagner: ...up to that time we confined ourselves to the area...near the British Coast, whereas now we considered the entire U.S.A. combat zone as an operational zone. The declaration regarding a blockade was based on the fact that in the meantime France had been eliminated from the war, and that Britain now was the focal point of all belligerent action...
August 19-29, 1940
(The German blockade zone) was nearly exactly the same as the USA combat zone. There were merely a few insignificant corrections. ...the practice on the part of the enemy was identical with ours. In the areas controlled by us in the Baltic, in the eastern part of the North Sea' around Skagerrak and later on in the Norwegian and French waters, the enemy used every suitable weapon without giving previous warning, without notifying us in advance by which means of combat other ships were to be sunk—submarines, mines, aircraft, or surface vessels. In these regions the same thing applied to neutrals, and especially to Sweden.
: During this time period, seventeen ocean-going U-boats have made their way to the Atlantic. Thirteen smaller U-boats have left their base to prepare to lay mines in British waters and to patrol the North Sea.
September 1, 1940
: Doenitz is promoted to Vizeadmiral
September 3, 1940
: President Roosevelt addresses congress:
September 7, 1940
...The right to bases in Newfoundland and Bermuda are gifts-generously given and gladly received. The other bases mentioned have been acquired in exchange for 50 of our over-age destroyers. This is not inconsistent in any sense with our status of peace. Still less is it a threat against any nation. It is an epochal and far-reaching act of preparation for continental defense in the face of grave danger. Preparation for defense is an inalienable prerogative of a sovereign state. Under present circumstances this exercise of sovereign right is essential to the maintenance of our peace and safety...
: US State Department Circular:
The Secretary of State on September, 6 sent the following instruction to diplomatic missions of the United States in all the other American republics. It is desired that you formally notify the Government to which you are accredited that the United States has acquired the right to lease naval and air bases in Newfoundland, and in the islands of Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad, and Antigua, and in British Guiana. The Government of the United States has taken this step to strengthen its ability not only to defend the United States but in order the more effectively to cooperate with the other American republics in the common defense of the hemisphere. The resulting facilities at these bases will, of course, be made .available alike to all American republics on the fullest cooperative basis for the common defense of the hemisphere and in entire harmony with the spirit of the pronouncements made and the understandings reached at the conferences of Lima, Panama, and Habana.
September 17, 1940
: Hitler postpones Operation Sealion
From Of Arms and Men by Robert L. O'Connell: Germany was decidedly ill equipped to wage war against England. It has been suggested by many, including Manstein, who would have commanded the initial landings, that if the Germans had only invaded England during the autumn of 1940, operation 'Sea Lion' would have stood a good chance of success. But this line of reasoning fails to take sufficient account of continuing British air superiority in the Channel and the truly primitive nature of the armada slated to transport the German invasion force. Rather, it seems clear that an early invasion was not undertaken because it stood little chance of success. Besides, Hitler never had his heart in it.
September 26, 1940
Yet his alternative was possibly even worse. He would simultaneously seek to wage air war against the British and starve them by unleashing Admiral Doenitz's U-boats against their overseas commerce. Besides having neglected both U-boat and heavy bomber production, and therefore lacking the requisite means for success, there were excellent political reasons why Hitler should have abstained from both. The United States had entered the Great War on the side of the Allies because of unrestricted submarine warfare, and, even considering American neutrality legislation, there was good reason she would do so again.
Also, despite the bombing of Rotterdam, which the Germans claimed was accidental, there were many who continued to hope such attacks on population centers could be curbed. Had the Luftwaffe abstained from bombing the British, it is quite possible that the Royal Air Force would have been reciprocally restrained from using its superior strategic strike force in an all-out assault against German cities. It seems unlikely that the British would have dropped out of the war, but their prime means of hurting Germany would have been blunted. Yet Hitler was Hitler. Calculated acts of moderation were alien to his nature. Therefore, he got the worst of everything.
: From official notes of the German naval war staff:
Naval Supreme Commander with the Fuehrer. Naval Supreme Commander presents his opinion about the situation: The Suez Canal must be captured with German assistance. From Suez, advance through Palestine and Syria; then Turkey in our power. The Russian problem will then assume a different appearance. Russia is fundamentally frightened of Germany. It is questionable whether action against Russia from the north will then be still necessary.
September 27, 1940
: An extract from the official publication Das Archiv on the Doenitz's promotion to vice admiral:
In 4 years of untiring and, in the fullest sense of the word, uninterrupted work of training, he succeeds in developing the young U-boat armed personnel and material till it is a weapon of a striking power unexpected even by the experts. More than 3 million gross tons of enemy shipping sunk in only 1 year, achieved with only a few boats, speak better than words of the merits of this man.
September 27, 1940
: Nazi-Germany, Italy and Japan sign a formal alliance called the Tripartite Pact, a 10 year military and economic alliance forming the foundation of the Axis alliance.
September 27, 1940
: From a statement by US Secretary of State Hull:
The reported agreement of alliance (Tripartite Pact) does not, in the view of the Government of the United States, substantially alter a situation which has existed for several years. Announcement of the alliance merely makes clear to all a relationship which has long existed. .... to which this Government has repeatedly called attention. That such an agreement has been in process of conclusion has been well known for some time, and that fact has been fully taken into account by the Government of the United States in the determining of this country's policies.
September 29, 1940
: FDR delivers a Fireside Chat to the American people:
October 12, 1940
Does anyone seriously believe that we need to fear attack anywhere in the Americas while a free Britain remains our most powerful naval neighbor in the Atlantic? And does anyone seriously believe, on the other hand, that we could rest easy if the Axis powers were our neighbors there? If Great Britain goes down, the Axis powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the high seas—and they will be in a position to bring enormous military and naval resources against this hemisphere...
: The Germans occupy the Romanian oil fields.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: The U-boats of all navies had so far operated singly, contrary to all other categories of ships which, by tactical co-operation, tried to get better results. The development of the "wolf pack tactics" was nothing further than breaking with that principle of individual action for each U-boat and attempting to use U-boats exactly in the same manner as other categories of warships, collectively.
October 16-19, 1940
Such a method of collective action was naturally necessary when a formation was to be attacked, be it a formation of warships, that is, several warships together, or a convoy. These "wolf pack tactics," therefore, have nothing to do with war against merchantmen according to Prize Regulations. They are a tactical measure to fight formations of ships, and, of course, convoys where procedure according to Prize Regulations cannot be followed.
: The first major Wolf Pack attack occurs as convoy SC7 is repeatedly attacked by a pack of seven U-boats, sinking 20 ships out of 34 in the convoy. The very next night, convoy HX79 is attacked with further losses of 14 ships, making a total of 34 ships in 48 hours.
October 28, 1940
: Hans Jemisch's U-32
sinks the ocean liner RMS Empress
of Britain while traveling along the west coast of Ireland. The Empress of Britain is the largest ship sunk by a U-boat in WW2.
October 29, 1940
: US Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, draws the first number in the first peacetime military draft in US history. Note: Stimson, a Republican, had been Taft's Secretary of War, Governor of the Philippines under Coolidge, and Secretary of State under Hoover.
October 30, 1940
: To support the Greek government, the British send an expeditionary force to Crete and other Greek islands. In addition, the Soviet government sends 134 fighter aircraft to the Greeks to help stem the Italian invasion.
November 11-12, 1940
Battle of Taranto: The British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious
demonstrates the vulnerability of moored capital ships to surprise attack by carrier-based aviation by attacking the Italian fleet at Regia Marina naval base in the harbor of Taranto. The enemy fleet is devastated as a consequence of the attack by a mere 12 British Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers launched from the Illustrious
. At a total cost of 2 aircraft destroyed, 2 pilots killed and two captured, the British kill 59 Italian sailors and wound 600, sink 3 battleships, and severely damage 2 other battleships and a light cruiser. Note: The Japanese planning staff will study the Taranto attack intensively while masterminding their attack on Pearl Harbor.
November 12-14, 1940
: Soviet Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav Molotov travels to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler.
November 14, 1940
: From official notes of the German naval war staff:
Naval Supreme Commander with the Fuehrer. Fuehrer is "still inclined" to instigate the conflict with Russia. Naval Supreme Commander recommends putting it off until the time after the victory over England, since there is heavy strain on German forces and the end of warfare is not in sight.
December 13, 1940
: From Direction Number 20—Operation Marita
December 18, 1940
The result of the battles in Albania is not yet decisive. Because of a dangerous situation in Albania it is doubly necessary that the British endeavor be foiled to create airbases under the protection of a Balkan front, which would be dangerous above all to Italy as well as to the Rumanian oil fields. 2. My plan therefore is (a) to from a slowly increasing task force in Southern Rumania within the next months. (b) After the setting in of favorable weather, probably in March, to send this task force for the occupation of the Aegean North coast by way of Bulgaria, and if necessary to occupy the entire Greek mainland...
: Hitler gives orders for military preparations against the USSR. From Directive No. 21:
Operation Barbarossa. The German Armed Forces must be prepared, even before the conclusion of the war against England, to crush Soviet Russia in a rapid campaign. ... General Intention: The bulk of the Russian Army stationed in western Russia will be destroyed by daring operations led by deeply penetrating armored spearheads. Russian forces still capable of giving battle will be prevented from withdrawing into the depths of Russia. The enemy will then be energetically pursued and a line will be reached from which the Russian Air Force can no longer attack German territory...
December 19, 1940
: From the SKL War Diary:
News from the Neutrals—Spain—According to a report from the naval attache, Spanish fishing vessel was sunk by a submarine of unknown nationality between Las Palmas and Cape Juby. In the rescue boats the crew was subjected to machine gun fire. Three men badly wounded. Landed at Las Palmas on 18 December. Italians suspected. (Possibility it might have been U-37).
December 20 1940
: From the SKL War Diary:
Commander, Submarine Fleet, will be informed of Spanish report regarding sinking of Spanish fishing vessel by submarine of unknown nationality on 16 December between Las Palmas and Cape Juby, and requested to conduct an investigation. On the responsibility of the Naval Operations Staff it is confirmed to our naval attache in Madrid that, regarding the sinking, there is no question of a German submarine.
December 21, 1940
: From the SKL War Diary:
U-37 reports: a torpedo fired at a tanker of the Kopbard type (7329) ran off in a circle and probably hit an Amphitrite submarine in the tanker's convoy. Tanker burned out. Spanish steamer St. Carlos (300) without distinguishing marks, through concentrated gunfire. Nine torpedoes left. Then U-37 torpedoed French tanker Rhone and the submarine Sfax and sank the Spanish fishing vessel... We shall continue to maintain to the outside world that there is no question of a German or Italian submarine in the sea area in question being responsible for the sinkings.
From the IMT testimony of Admiral Gerhard Wagner: This case is doubtless a deception, but I do not remember for what particular reason this deception was carried through.
: From The Crucial Years, 1939-1941
by Hanson W. Baldwin:
Admiral Doenitz understood the vital importance to the u-boat campaign of aerial reconnaissance, but he had lost all the pre-war arguments with Goering and had been unable—until he pulled a 'tour de force' in December 1940—to secure any kind of real cooperation from the Luftwaffe. Then, while Goering was away from the halls of power on a hunting trip, Doenitz was able to persuade General Jodl, who in turn persuaded Hitler, that the Kondors based in Bordeaux should be assigned to Doenitz' u-boat campaign. Goering was furious, but the Kondors ultimately remained... (Baldwin)
December 27, 1940
: From official notes of the German naval war staff:
Naval Supreme Commander with the Fuehrer. Naval Supreme Commander emphasizes again that strict concentration of our entire war effort against England as our main enemy is the most urgent need of the hour. On the one hand, England has gained strength by the unfortunate Italian conduct of the war in the eastern Mediterranean and by the increasing American support. On the other hand, however; she can be hit mortally by a strangulation of her ocean traffic which is already taking effect. What is being done for submarine and naval air force construction is much too little. Our entire war potential must work for the conduct of the war against England; thus for the Navy and Air Force, every dispersion of strength prolongs the war and endangers the final success. Naval Supreme Commander voices serious objections against Russia campaign before the defeat of England.
January 30, 1941
: Hitler speaks in Berlin:
February 9, 1941
...That the German nation has no quarrel with the Americans is evident to everybody who does not consciously wish to falsify truth. At no time has Germany had interests on the American Continent except perhaps that she helped that Continent in its struggle for liberty. If States on this continent now attempt to interfere in the European conflict, then the aim will only be changed more quickly. Europe will then defend herself. And do not let people deceive themselves. Those who believe they can help England must take note of one thing: every ship, whether with or without convoy which appears before our torpedo tubes is going to be torpedoed...
: Churchill broadcasts an address to the British people:
February 24, 1941
...we do need most urgently an immense and continuous supply of war materials and technical apparatus of all kinds. We need them here and we need to bring them here. We shall need a great mass of shipping in 1942, far more than we can build ourselves, if we are to maintain and augment our war effort in the West and in the East. These facts are, of course, all well known to the enemy, and we must therefore expect that Herr Hitler will do his utmost to prey upon our shipping and to reduce the volume of American supplies entering these Islands. Having conquered France and Norway, his clutching fingers reach out on both sides of us into the ocean...
: Hitler speaks in Munich:
March 7, 1941
...Just two hours ago I received a communique from the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy stating that the reports of the last two days from our ships and submarines on the high seas reveal that another 215,000 tons have been sunk; that of this total 190,000 tons were sunk by submarines alone, and that this figure includes a single convoy of 125,000 tons which was destroyed yesterday. From March and April on, those gentlemen will have to be prepared for something very different. They will see whether we have been asleep during the winter, or whether we have made good use of our time. During the long months when we had so few submarines to fight our battles, Italy kept large forces engaged. It does not matter to us whether our Stukas attack British ships in the North Sea or in the Mediterranean; the result is always the same. One thing is certain: Wherever Britain touches the Continent she will immediately have to reckon with us, and wherever British ships appear, our submarines will attack them...
, commanded by top ace Guenther Prien, hero of Scapa Flow, is sunk by the British Destroyer HMS Wolverine
March 9, 1941
: The Italians launch a full-scale counterattack across the entire front in Greece. It fails.
March 11, 1941
WW2: Thinly slicing US 'neutrality,' the US Congress passes the Lend-Lease Bill, which enables Britain and her Allies to borrow money to buy additional food and arms. A time limit is placed on the operation of the act -- until June 1943. A motion originally passed in the House forbidding US warships to give protection to convoys of foreign ships is defeated. Also to be allowed are transfers of ships to other countries solely on Presidential authority without reference to Congress.
March 16, 1941
: The Kriegsmarine loses two of its most successful U-boat commanders, Kretschmer (U-99
) and Schepke (U-100
) to British escorts from convoy HX112.
March 17, 1941
: The HMS Vanoc
utilizes Type 286 radar—able to detect surfaced U-boats—for the first time to detect and sink U-100
March 18, 1941
: Notes from a meeting between Raeder and Hitler:
Japan must take steps to seize Singapore as soon as possible, since the opportunity will never again be as favorable (whole English fleet contained; unpreparedness of USA for war against Japan; inferiority of US fleet vis-a-vis the Japanese). Japan is indeed making preparations for this action, but according to all declarations made by Japanese officers she will carry it out only if Germany proceeds to land in England. Germany must therefore concentrate all her efforts on spurring Japan to act immediately. If Japan has Singapore all other East Asiatic questions regarding the USA and England are thereby solved (Guam, Philippines, Borneo, Dutch East Indies). Japan wishes, if possible, to avoid war against the USA. She can do so if she determinedly takes Singapore as soon as possible.
March 19, 1941
: Churchill forms the 'Battle of the Atlantic' committee in order to afford the highest level of co-ordination against the U-boat menace.
March 19, 1941
: From official notes of the German naval war staff:
In case of Barbarossa, Supreme Naval Commander describes the occupation of Murmansk as an urgent request of the Navy; Chief of Supreme Command Armed Forces considers compliance very difficult.
March 27, 1941
: Hitler decides to invade Yugoslavia.
April 4, 1941
: From the German Admiralty to all ships at sea:
American neutrality zone from now on to be observed south of 20° North only at a distance of 300 nautical miles from the coast (full recognition of the neutral zone). For reasons of foreign policy, the hitherto existing limitation will for the time being continue to be observed north of the above-mentioned line.
April 6, 1941
: On Palm Sunday, Hitler invades Yugoslavia and Greece.
April 13, 1941
: German troops enter Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
April 14, 1941
: Hungarian troops occupy northern Yugoslavia.
April 20, 1941
: From official notes of the German naval war staff:
Naval Supreme Commander with Fuehrer. Navy Supreme Commander asks about result of Matsuoka's visit and evaluation of Japanese-Russian pact....Fuehrer has informed Matsuoka 'that Russia will not be touched if she behaves in a friendly manner according to the treaty. Otherwise, he reserves action for himself.' Japan-Russia pact has been concluded in agreement with Germany and is to prevent Japan from advancing against Vladivostok and to cause her to attack Singapore.
May 8, 1941
: During an attack against convoy OB318, U-110
—commanded by Julius Lemp—is captured after an attack by the HMS Bulldog
, HMS Broadway
, and the corvette HMS Aubretia
. Unfortunately for the Germans, the scuttling charges fail to detonate, allowing the British destroyer HMS Bulldog
to put across a boarding party. The Enigma code machine and accompanying material is taken after the U-boats crew is taken below decks aboard HMS Bulldog
. The British put U-110
under tow, but the damaged U-boat later sinks.
May 8, 1941
: The German raider Penguin is sunk by HMS Cornwall
off the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean.
May 17, 1941
Operation Rheinuebung: The German battleship Bismarck
and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen
leave Gotenhafen in the Baltic to begin operations against British convoys in the Atlantic.
May 21, 1941
: The SS Robin Moor
, a US merchant steamship carrying nine officers, 29 crewmen, eight passengers, and a commercial cargo from New York to Mozambique via South Africa, is sunk by U-69
. Although the Robin Moor
was flying the flag of a neutral country (the US is still not at war with anyone), her mate was told by the U-boat crew that they had decided to 'let us have it.' After a brief period for the ship's crew and passengers to board her four lifeboats, the U-boat fired a torpedo and then shelled the vacated ship. Once the ship sank beneath the waves, the submarine's crew pulled up to Captain W.E. Myers' lifeboat, left him with four tins of ersatz bread and two tins of butter, and explained that the ship had been sunk because she was carrying supplies to Germany's enemy. This sinking of a neutral American vessel is publicly denounced by President Roosevelt and becomes yet another argument for him in his nudging of the United States into a war against Germany.
May 24, 1941
Operation Rheinuebung: The German battleship Bismarck
, supported by the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen
, sinks the British battle cruiser Hood after firing only three salvoes. There are only 3 survivors out of a crew of 1,421. The Prince of Wales
is also damaged and forced to break off the action.
May 26, 1941
Operation Rheinuebung: British flying boat spots the Bismarck
at 10:36 AM. Swordfish Torpedo-bombers from the Ark Royal
score hits on the Bismarck
, disabling her steering gear and rendering her un-maneuverable. This will enable the British destroyers to attack after dark.
May 26, 1941
Operation Rheinuebung: The crippled Bismarck
is relentlessly bombarded by dozens of British warships, including the battleships Rodney
and King George V
. Once her guns are silenced, she is sunk by torpedoes from the cruiser Dorsetshire
. Only 110 survive out of a crew of 2,300.
May 27, 1941
: FDR delivers a Fireside Chat:
May 27, 1941
...The battle of the Atlantic now extends from the icy waters of the North Pole to the frozen continent of the Antarctic. Throughout this huge area, there have been sinkings of merchant ships in alarming and increasing numbers by Nazi raiders or submarines. There have been sinkings even of ships carrying neutral flags. There have been sinkings in the South Atlantic, off West Africa and the Cape Verde Islands; between the Azores and the islands off the American coast; and between Greenland and Iceland. Great numbers of these sinkings have been actually within the waters of the Western Hemisphere itself. The blunt truth (is) of this seems to be this -- and I reveal this with the full knowledge of the British Government: the present rate of Nazi sinkings of merchant ships is more than three times as high as the capacity of British shipyards to replace them; it is more than twice the combined British and American output of merchant ships today. We can answer this peril by two simultaneous measures: first, by speeding up and increasing our own great shipbuilding program; and second, by helping to cut down the losses on the high seas...
: HX129 convoy becomes the first to be escorted 'end-to-end' across the Atlantic, with the help of the Canadian Navy.
June 15, 1941
: From official notes of the German naval war staff:
On the proposal of Chief Naval Operations...use of arms against Russian submarines south of the northern boundary of the land warning area is permitted immediately; ruthless destruction is to be aimed at." From a letter by Keitel: "Offensive action against enemy submarines in the Baltic Sea. To: High Command of the Navy - OKM (SKL). Offensive action against submarines south of the line Memel-southern tip of land is authorized if the boats cannot be definitely identified as Swedish during the approach by German naval forces. The reason to be given up to B-day is that our naval forces believed to be dealing with penetrating British submarines.
June 21, 1941
: A massive invasion force prepares for action on the Soviet border.
June 22, 1941
: Operation (Unternehmen) Barbarossa (Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union), begins as 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invade the USSR along an 1,800 mile front.
July 7, 1941
: President Roosevelt addresses Congress:
July 18, 1941
...forces of the United States Navy have today arrived in Iceland in order to supplement, and eventually to replace, the British forces which have until now been stationed in Iceland in order to insure the adequate defense of that country. As I stated in my message to the Congress of September third last regarding the acquisition of certain naval and air bases from Great Britain in exchange for certain over-age destroyers, considerations of safety from overseas attack are fundamental...
: From an order of the Fuehrer:
In the original operational area, which corresponds in extent with the US prohibited zone for US ships and which is not touched by the US-Iceland route, attacks on ships under American or British escort or US merchantmen sailing without escort are authorized.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: In August 1940 Germany had declared this operational area in English waters. US ships were, however, expressly excluded from attack without warning in this operational area because, as I believe, the political leaders wanted to avoid any possibility of an incident with the USA. I said the political leaders. The Prosecution has accused me, in my treatment and attitude, my differing attitude toward the neutrals, of having a masterful agility in adapting myself, that is guided by cynicism and opportunism. It is clear that the attitude of a state toward neutrals is a purely political affair, and that this relation is decided exclusively by the political leadership, particularly in a nation that is at war... As a soldier I had not the slightest influence on the question of how the political leadership believed they had to treat this or that neutral. Regarding this particular case, however, from knowledge of the orders I received through the Chief of the Naval Operations Staff from the political leadership, I should like to say the following: I believe that the political leadership did everything to avoid any incident on the high seas with the United States.
August 12, 1941
First, I have already stated that the U-boats were actually forbidden even to stop American ships... Second, that the American 300-mile safety zone was recognized without any question by Germany, although according to the existing international law only a three-mile zone was authorized... For instance, I had suggested that mines be laid before Halifax, the British port of Nova Scotia, and before Reykjavik, both bases being important for war ships and merchant shipping, The political leaders, the Fuehrer, rejected this because he wanted to avoid every possibility of friction with the United States. ...when the American destroyers in the summer of 1941 received orders to attack German submarines, that is, before war started, when they were still neutral and I was forbidden to fight back, I was then forced to forbid the submarines in this area to attack even British destroyers, in order to avoid having a submarine mistake an American for a British ship.
: In clear violation of the US Neutrality Act, the US Navy takes over patrolling convoy routes in the North Atlantic and tracking German submarines for the Royal Navy.
August 14, 1941
: Churchill and FDR release a joint declaration; the Atlantic Charter:
August 16, 1941
...after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want; Seventh, such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance...
: Joseph Stalin, acting as People's Commissar of Defense, releases Order No. 270, prohibiting any Soviet soldier from surrendering: 'There are no Russian prisoners of war, only traitors.' The order demands anyone deserting or surrendering to be killed on the spot, and subjects their families to arrest and their wives to be sent to labor camps.
August 16, 1941
: German submarines sink 3 British and one Norwegian ship from the 22 ship and 9 escort Convoy OG-71.
September 4, 1941 Greer
Incident: The destroyer USS Greer
, while carrying mail and passengers to Argentina, is signaled by a British plane that a Nazi submarine has crash-dived some 10 miles ahead. Forty minutes later the DD's soundman picks up the sub, and Greer
begins to trail the submarine. The plane, running low on fuel, drops four depth charges at 1032 and returns to base, while Greer continues to dog the U-boat. Two hours later the German ship begins a series of radical maneuvers and Greer
's lookouts can see her pass about 100 yards off. An impulse bubble at 1248 warns the Greer that a torpedo has been fired. Ringing up flank speed, hard left rudder, Greer
watches the torpedo pass 100 yards astern and then charges in for attack. She lays a pattern of eight depth charges, and less than two minutes later a second torpedo passes 300 yards to port. Greer
loses sound contact during the maneuvers, and begins to quarter the area in search of the U-boat. After 2 hours, she re-establishes sound contact and lays down a pattern of 11 depth charges before discontinuing the engagement. Greer
had held the German raider in sound contact 3 hours and 28 minutes; had evaded two torpedoes fired at her; and with her 19 depth charges had become the first American ship in World War II to attack the Germans.
September 6, 1941
: On a voyage from New York to Suez, the Liberty Ship SS Steel Seafarer
, clearly marked with an American flag painted on the side, is attacked and sunk by a German plane in the Red Sea. "Seaports South of Sahara" reported this vessel was carrying 5,700 tons of munitions, being one of numerous American flag freighters carrying, under lucrative charter terms, munitions for British operations in North Africa.
September 8 1941
: German forces succeed in surrounding and isolating the city of Leningrad. Artillery bombardments, which had begun in August 1941, increase in intensity during 1942 and will be stepped up further during 1943. German shellings and bombings will kill 5,723 and wound 20,507 civilians in Leningrad during the length of the siege.
September 8, 1941
: Keitel's OKW issues a regulation for the treatment of Soviet POW's. It states that Russian soldiers will fight by any methods for the idea of Bolshevism and that consequently they have lost any claim to treatment in accordance with the Geneva Convention. Stern measures are to be employed against them, including the free use of weapons. The politically undesirable prisoners are to be segregated from the others and turned over to 'special purpose units' of the Security Police and the Security Service. There is to be the closest cooperation between the military commanders and these police units.
September 10, 1941
: British convoy SC-42 (64 ships), sailing from Sydney to the Britain is attacked by a wolf pack of 19 U-boats just south of Greenland between the 10th and 14th September. SC-42 loses 17 merchant ships for 69,813-tons. 2 U-boats, U-207 and U-510 are sunk in return.
September 11, 1941
: FDR delivers a Fireside Chat:
September 16, 1941
...To be ultimately successful in world mastery, Hitler knows that he must get control of the seas. He must first destroy the bridge of ships which we are building across the Atlantic and over which we shall continue to roll the implements of war to help destroy him, (and) to destroy all his works in the end. He must wipe out our patrol on sea and in the air if he is to do it. He must silence the British Navy. I think it must be explained (again and) over and over again to people who like to think of the United States Navy as an invincible protection, that this can be true only if the British Navy survives. And that, my friends, is simple arithmetic.
For if the world outside of the Americas falls under Axis domination, the shipbuilding facilities which the Axis powers would then possess in all of Europe, in the British Isles and in the Far East would be much greater than all the shipbuilding facilities and potentialities of all of the Americas - not only greater, but two or three times greater, enough to win. Even if the United States threw all its resources into such a situation, seeking to double and even redouble the size of our Navy, the Axis powers, in control of the rest of the world, would have the manpower and the physical resources to out-build us several times over. It is time for all Americans, Americans of all the Americas to stop being deluded by the romantic notion that the Americas can go on living happily and peacefully in a Nazi-dominated world...
: Convoy HX150—from Halifax as far as Iceland—becomes the first convoy with American escorts.
September 26, 1941
: The first Arctic bound for Russia leaves Britain. It consists of ten merchantmen with escorts and was designated as PQ1.
October 3, 1941
: Hitler opens up the charitable Winter Aid campaign with a speech at the Sportpalast:
October 6, 1941
...I am grateful to fate that I may lead this fight. I am convinced that no understanding can be reached with these men. They are mad fools, men who for ten years had not spoken another word but 'We want another war with Germany.' When I endeavored to bring about an understanding, Churchill cried, 'I want war!' He has got it now...
: Churchill gives a personal promise to Stalin to send a convoy every ten days to Russia's northern ports.
October 9, 1941
: From President Roosevelt's message to Congress:
October 16, 1941
...The practice of arming merchant ships for civilian defense is an old one. It has never been prohibited by international law. Until 1937 it had never been prohibited by any statute of the United States. Through our whole history American merchant vessels have been armed whenever it was considered necessary for their own defense. It is an imperative need now to equip American merchant vessels with arms. We are faced not with the old type of pirates but with the modern pirates of the sea who travel beneath the surface or on the surface or in the air destroying defenseless ships without warning and without provision for the safety of the passengers and crews. Our merchant vessels are sailing the seas, on missions connected with the defense of the United States. It is not just that the crews of these vessels should be denied the means of defending their lives and their ships...
: The United States destroyer USS Kearny
, while escorting a convoy in the North Atlantic, drops depth charges after three merchant ships in her care are torpedoed. The Kearny
continues to search for the elusive U-boat all night.
October 17, 1941
: In the wee hours, the U-568
strikes the USS Kearny
on its starboard side with a torpedo, killing 11 and wounding 22. The Kearny
will struggle to recovery in Iceland by the 19th.
October 19, 1941
: The SS Lehigh
is sunk off the African coast by U-126
October 20, 1941
: Averell Harriman to Winston Churchill:
The interventionists have increased in number and are more confident and aggressive. Many of the less violent isolationists have become reconciled to the inevitability of war. Some of the more violent isolationists like Lindbergh have been discredited in the public eye. Others are running to cover. And yet, with all this trend, it is not at all clear what or when something will happen to kick us into it. The news on Saturday of the torpedoing of the Kearny did not cause even a ripple. It seems that the public had expected—and were thoroughly prepared for—such occurrences... (Harriman)
October 31, 1941
: The US destroyer, the USS Reuben James
, is torpedoed by German submarine U-552
commanded by Kapitaenleutnant Erich Topp near Iceland. Reuben James
had positioned herself in harm's way between an ammunition ship in a British convoy and the known position of a 'wolfpack' (a group of submarines hunting Allied shipping). Of the 159-man crew, only 44 survive. This destroyer is the first US naval casualty in an undeclared war, between Germany and the United States, which has existed since President Roosevelt authorized the use of American naval vessels to escort Lend-Lease convoys bound for Britain.
November 1, 1941
: The German government issues a statement denying the charges made by President Roosevelt that the US destroyers Greer
were attacked by German submarines without any provocation. The exact opposite is true, say the Germans, in that the U-boats fired their torpedoes only after they were tracked and depth-charged for hours by these US vessels.
November 11, 1941
: From a speech by Secretary of the Navy Knox:
November 13, 1941
...My friends, we meet here in the presence of grave dangers. It is impossible to overemphasize them or exaggerate them. We are not only confronted with the necessity of extreme measures of self-defense in the Atlantic, but we are likewise faced with grim possibilities on the other side of the world - on the far side of the Pacific. Just what the morrow may hold for us in that quarter of the globe, no one may say with certainty. The only thing we can be sure of is that the Pacific, no less than the Atlantic, calls for instant readiness for defense. In the Pacific area, no less than in Europe, interests which are vital to our national security are seriously threatened...
: Friedrich Guggenberger's U-81
torpedoes the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal
. The carrier sinks the next day with only one fatality.
November 22, 1941
: All operational U-boats are ordered to proceed to the Mediterranean or its approaches.
November 25, 1941
: Hans Diedrich Freiherr von Tiesenhausen's U-331
sinks the battleship HMS Barham
December 6, 1941
: Averell Harriman (London) to Harry Hopkins (Washington):
The President should be informed of Churchill's belief that in the event of aggression by the Japanese it would be the policy of the British to postpone taking any action—even though this delay might involve some military sacrifice—until the President has taken such action as, under the circumstances, he considers best. Then Churchill will act 'not within the hour but within the minute.' I am seeing him again tomorrow. Let me know if there in anything special you want me to ask.
December 9, 1941
: Two days before he declares war on the US, Hitler lifts the ban on U-boats operating in US territorial waters. This is to allow Doenitz to deploy 5 U-boats along the America's eastern seaboard in order to be ready to pounce once the declaration of war is made.
: 2.8 million Soviet POW's perish through starvation, exposure, and summary execution in the first 8 months of Barbarossa.
December 6, 1941
: Germans forces are pushed back by a major Russian counter-attack near Moscow. With supply lines badly over-stretched—and temperatures of -34C (-29F) and below making German equipment nearly useless—even Adolf Hitler himself begins to realize that he has drastically underestimated Soviet strength.
December 7, 1941
Night and Fog Decree:
...Within the occupied territories, the adequate punishment for offences committed against the German State or the occupying power which endanger their security or a state of readiness is on principle the death penalty. II. The offences listed in paragraph I as a rule are to be dealt with in the occupied countries only if it is probable that sentence of death will be passed upon the offender, at least the principal offender, and if the trial and the execution can be completed in a very short time. Otherwise the offenders, at least the principal offenders, are to be taken to Germany. III. Prisoners taken to Germany are subjected to military procedure only if particular military interests require this. In case German or foreign authorities inquire about such prisoners, they are to be told that they were arrested, but that the proceedings do not allow any further information...
December 7, 1941
: Japanese forces attack Pearl Harbor.
December 11, 1941
: Hitler Declares War on the US:
...On 10th June, the Navy Minister, Knox, suddenly announced an American order to shoot at Axis warships. On 4th September, the U.S. destroyer Greer obeying orders, operated with British aircraft against German U-boats in the Atlantic. Five days later, a German U-boat noticed the U.S. destroyer acting as escort in a British convoy. On 11th September Roosevelt finally made a speech in which he confirmed and repeated his order to fire on all Axis ships. On 29th September, U.S. escort-vessels attacked a German U-boat with depth charges east of Greenland. On 7th October, the U.S. destroyer Kearney
acting as an escort vessel for Britain, again attacked German U-boat with depth-charges. Finally, on 6th November U.S. forces illegally seized the German steamer, Odenwald, and took it to an American port where the crew were taken prisoner. I will pass over the insulting attacks made by this so-called President against me. That he calls me a gangster is uninteresting. After all, this expression was not coined in Europe but in America, no doubt because such gangsters are lacking here. Apart from this, I cannot be insulted by Roosevelt for I consider him mad...
From Operation Drumbeat: U-Boat Attacks Along the American Coast by M. Gannon: Though, understandably, Japan was now pressing him forward. Adolf Hitler could well have concluded at this point that a formal declaration of war was not necessary. The Japanese actions had had the effect of blunting rather than sharpening the danger of American intervention in Europe. Certainly Hitler could now decline Japan's invitation to wage war against the United States in the same way Japan had declined his suggestion that she attack the Soviets at Vladivostok. He was under no obligation to Japan. The conversation with Matsuoka in April had been only that, a conversation. Why declare and thus cancel out the unexpected great advantage to Germany of the Japanese attack, namely its diversion of American attention from the Atlantic to the Pacific? As for a declaration from the other side, Hitler's embassy in Washington had informed him that Congress, its emotions directed solely at Japan, was in no mood to chose a two-ocean war. It was not too late to cancel the orders given to Admiral Doenitz (to attack American shipping). He had cancelled U-boat orders before. Why should he not wait and examine later developments?
December 17, 1941
A rational person might have chosen this course. Instead, though for what precise reason still remains unclear, perhaps to guarantee (if any treaty the Axis members ever signed was a guarantee) that Japan would not make a separate peace before victory had been won in Europe; perhaps for vengeance pure and simple against Roosevelt, his false neutrality, and his destroyers; perhaps because, in his view, war with the United States was inevitable anyway, so he might as well seize this moment as, if not ideal, acceptable; perhaps because he saw this action as necessary to get Japan totally committed against his key enemy, England; perhaps because he relished the prospect of huge U-boat successes against US naval vessels and merchant shipping; or perhaps because he agreed with his foreign minister that 'a great power does not allow itself to be declared war on, it declares war itself' - for whatever reason or reasons the Fuehrer signed a revision of the Tripartite Pact that threw Germany into the war on Japan's side and extracted a promise from the Japanese to stay on course... ...It would be argued later by historians that, next to Barbarossa, the 11 December declaration was Hitler's greatest mistake. 'Improvised and unnecessary,' it doomed his war.
: Convoy HG76, escorted by the Royal Navy’s first escort aircraft carrier, the HMS Audacity
, secures its first kill when it sinks U-131
December 21, 1941
: The escort carrier HMS Audacity
is sunk by U-751
December 31, 1941
: World-wide from January 1941 to year's end, the number of Allied merchant ships sunk by U-boats is 503 (equaling 2,530,011 gross tons) while 35 U-boats are lost.
January 3, 1942
: From a conversation between Hitler and Japanese Ambassador Oshima, in the presence of Ribbentrop:
The Fuehrer, using a map, explains to the Japanese Ambassador the present position of marine warfare in the Atlantic, emphasizing that what he considers his most important task is to get the U-boat warfare going in full swing. The U-boats are being reorganized. Firstly, he had recalled all U-boats operating in the Atlantic. As mentioned before, they would now be posted outside United States ports. Later, they would be off Freetown and the larger boats even as far down as Capetown...
After having given further explanations on the map, the Fuehrer pointed out that, however many ships the United States built, one of their main problems would be the lack of personnel. For that reason even merchant ships would be sunk without warning with the intention of killing as many of the crew as possible. Once it gets around that most of the seamen are lost in the sinkings, the Americans would soon have difficulties in enlisting new people. The training of seagoing personnel takes a very long time. We are fighting for our existence and our attitude cannot be ruled by any humane feelings. For this reason he must give the order that in case foreign seamen could not be taken prisoner, which is in most cases not possible on the sea, U-boats were to surface after torpedoing and shoot up the life boats. Ambassador Oshima heartily agreed with the Fuehrer's comments, and said that the Japanese, too, are forced to follow these methods.
From Doenitz's IMT testimony: Germany considered the crews of merchantmen as combatants, because they fought with the weapons which had been mounted aboard the merchant ships in large numbers. According to our knowledge one or two men of the Royal Navy were on board for the servicing of these weapons, but where guns were concerned the rest of the gunners were part of the crew of the ship... That (the number of gunners) varied according to the size of the weapon, probably between five and ten. Then, in addition, there were munitions men. The same applied to the servicing of depth charge chutes and depth charge throwers. The members of the crew did, in fact, fight with the weapons like the few soldiers who were on board. It was also a matter of course that the crew was considered as a unit, for in a battleship we cannot distinguish either between the man who is down at the engine in the boiler room and the man who services the gun up on deck...
January 3, 1942
Of course, every soldier has a right to be rescued if the circumstances of his opponent permit it. But this fact should have an influence upon the right to attack the crew as well...means fought with weapons used for an attack against a ship as part of naval warfare... I first heard about this discussion (above) and its contents when the record of it was submitted here... I received neither a written nor a verbal order. I knew nothing at all about this discussion; I learned about it through the document which I saw here... I did not believe that it would take a long time to train seamen, and that America had no lack of them. Consequently I would also not be of the opinion that this would serve as a deterrent if they had enough men. ...Whether they would be scared off or not is an American matter which I cannot judge.
: From a Hitler Order:
...Cling to every populated center; do not retreat a single step; defend yourself to the last soldier, to the last grenade. That is the requirement of the present moment. Every point occupied by us must be turned into a base, which must not be surrendered under any circumstances, even if outflanked by the enemy. If, however, the given point must be abandoned on superior orders, it is imperative that everything be razed to the ground, the stoves blown up...
January 10, 1942
: From a Naval Operations Staff document:
In view of the further extension of the war, the Naval Operations Staff has asked the Foreign Office to point out again to the neutral seafaring nations, with the exception of Sweden, the necessity of carefully marking their ships in order that they shall not be mistaken for enemy ships.
January 11, 1942
Operation Drumbeat: German U-boats begin to sink ships along the American coast. Their first victim is the 9,000 ton British steamer Cyclops
which is sunk by U-123
east of Cape Cod. Five German Type XI long-range U-boats will sink 25 ships by the end of February. In the first six months of 1942, 21 U-boats will sink 500 ships and terrorize the US East Coast.
January 12, 1942
: Hitler orders Admiral Otto Ciliax, who commands the battleships Scharnhorst
and the cruiser Prinz Eugen
at Brest, to prepare to return to Germany. The new German battleship Tirpitz
, sister ship of the Bismarck is ordered to Norway.
January 14, 1942
: The German battleship Tirpitz
arrives at Trondheim in Norway. Its mission is to threaten the Arctic convoys. The British will not became aware of this threat until the 23rd.
January 29, 1942
: RAF Bomber Command mounts an unsuccessful attack on the Tirpitz
, at anchor in Trondheim.
February 1, 1942
: All U-boats adopt a new Enigma cipher known as 'Triton.' The new cipher replaces the previous cipher, 'Hydra' and has an additional rotor in the Enigma machine. This means that the British are now unable to read U-boat coded communications traffic, seriously affecting their ability re-route their convoys around U-boat wolf packs.
February 8, 1942
: While departing by plane from a meeting with Hitler at the Wolf's Lair (Wolfsschanze) at Rastenburg, builder of the Autobahn Dr Fritz Todt, director of the Organization Todt and Reichsminister of Armaments, dies as his Junker 52 aircraft mysteriously explodes.
February 10, 1942
: Albert Speer succeeds Fritz Todt as Reich Minister of Armaments.
February 11, 1942
: Admiral Ciliax orders his squadron, which includes the battleships Scharnhorst
and Gneisenau and the cruiser Prinz Eugen
, to leave Brest and dash through the English Channel for the safety of Kiel in Germany.
February 12, 1942
: British aircraft spot the Scharnhorst
and Prinz Eugen
as they enter the straits of Dover. They launch MTB attacks, but miss. Scharnhorst
both ultimately hit mines while maneuvering, but are able to continue on towards Kiel.
February 13, 1942
: The Scharnhorst
puts into Wilhelmshaven in the wee hours, while the Gneisenau
and Prinz Eugen
reach Kiel a short while later.
February 16, 1942
: German U-boats, with their deck guns, bombard oil storage facilities and refineries on the Dutch islands of Aruba and Curacao in the southern Caribbean.
February 23, 1942
: The German cruiser Prinz Eugen
, sailing to Norway from Kiel, is torpedoed by the British submarine HMS Trident
. Prinz Eugen
is forced to return to Germany for repairs.
February 24, 1942
: Hitler speaks to the Reich via radio:
February 26, 1942
Just as the Hun assault could not be beaten back by pious wishes or fair warnings, just as the invasion of our country from the southeast in the course of centuries was not warded off by diplomatic tricks, and the Mongolian onslaught did not spare old monuments of culture, this danger also will not be overcome by right in itself but only by strength supporting this right. Right itself is nothing but the duty to defend the life entrusted to us by the Creator of the world. It is the sacred right of self-preservation. Whether this self-preservation will be successful depends solely on the greatness of our efforts and on willingness to make any sacrifice to preserve this life for the future. Attila's power was broken not at a meeting of the League of Nations but in battle...
: The RAF launches an attack against the battleship Gneisenau
at Kiel's floating dock causing severe damage. The battleship will never again put to sea under her own power.
March 1, 1942
off Cape Race is sunk by a squadron of VP-82 based at Argentia, Newfoundland.
From the IMT testimony of Admiral Gerhard Wagner: We did think, however, that the modern technical developments would create conditions for naval warfare which would certainly justify and necessitate further development of the laws of naval warfare... I am thinking mainly of two points: First, the large-scale use of the airplane in naval warfare. As a result of the speed and wide range of the airplane, militarily guarded zones could be created before the coasts of all warfaring nations, and in respect to these zones one could no longer speak of freedom of the seas. Secondly, the introduction of electrical orientation equipment which made it possible, even at the beginning of the war, to spot an unseen opponent and to send fighting forces against him.
March 2, 1942
: Churchill declares that the Tirpitz
is 'the most important naval vessel in the situation today' and believes her destruction will 'profoundly affect the course of the war'.
March 5, 1942
: British convoy PQ-12, bound for Murmansk, is spotted by German reconnaissance planes.
March 6, 1942
: The Battleship Tirpitz
and 3 destroyers set sail from Trondheim to intercept convoy PQ-12. They are spotted by a British submarine which relays the information to the British Admiralty. Bad weather causes Tirpitz to miss PQ-12, and, avoiding an attack by aircraft from HMS Victorious
, she heads back to base at Trondheim.
March 12, 1942
: Convoy PQ-12 earns the distinction of being the last PQ convoy to sail without losses when it arrives unscathed at Murmansk.