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in accordance with the traditional British view but the important point is that, even in these cases, the Prize Ordinance envisages the capture of the merchantman before its destruction. In other words, if the Germans adhered to the rules set out in their own Prize Ordinance, we might have argued the rather fine legal point with them, but we should have no quarrel with them, either on the broader legal issue or on the humanitarian one. In the event, however, it is only too clear that almost from the beginning of the war the Germans abandoned their own principles and waged war with steadily increasing disregard for International Law, and for what is, after all, the ultimate sanction of all law, the protection of human life and property from arbitrary and ruthless at
tacks.” (D-641-A) Two instances are then set out:
“On the 30th of September, 1939, came the first sinking of a neutral ship by a submarine without warning and with loss of life. This was the Danish ship ‘Vendia' bound for the Clyde in ballast. The submarine fired two shots and shortly after torpedoed the ship. The torpedo was fired when the master had already signalled that he would submit to the submarine's orders and before there had been an opportunity to abandon ship. By November submarines were beginning to sink neutral vessels without warning as a regular thing. On the 12th November the Norwegian 'Arne Kjode' was torpedoed in the North Sea without any warning at all. This was a tanker bound from one neutral port to another. The master and four of the crew lost their lives and the remainder were picked up after many hours in open boats. Henceforward, in addition to the failure to establish the nature of the cargo, another element is noticeable, namely an increas
ing recklessness as to the fate of the crew.” (D-641-A) And then, dealing with attacks on allied merchant vessels, certain figures are given: “Ships sunk
.241 “Recorded attacks
221 "Illegal attacks
.112 "At least 79 of these 112 ships were torpedoed without warn
ing.” (D-641-A) The report continues:
"By the middle of October submarines were sinking merchant vessels without any regard to the safety of the crews. Yet four months later the Germans were still officially claim
ing that they were acting in accordance with the Prize Ordinance. Their own semi-official commentators however, had made the position clearer. As regards neutrals, Berlin officials had early in February stated that any neutral ship that is either voluntarily or under compulsion bound for an enemy port—including contraband control harbours—thereby loses its neutrality and must be considered hostile. At the end of February the cat was let out of the bag by a statement that a neutral ship which obtained a navicert from a British Consul in order to avoid putting into a British contraband control base was liable to be sunk by German submarines, even if it was bound from one neutral port to another. As regards Allied ships, in the middle of November 1939 a Berlin warning was issued against the arming of British vessels. By that date a score of British merchantmen had been illegally attacked by gunfire or torpedo from submarines, and after that date some fifteen more unarmed Allied vessels were torpedoed without warning. It is clear, therefore, that not only was the arming fully justified as a defensive measure, but also that neither before nor after this German threat did the German submarines discriminate between armed and un
armed vessels.” (D-641-A) A similar report covering the next six months (D-641-B) makes these statements:
"On the 30th January 1941, Hitler proclaimed that 'every
"The effect of the German total blockade is to prohibit neutral
ships from entering an enormous stretch of sea round Britain (the area extends to about 500 miles west of Ireland, and from the latitude of Bordeaux to that of the Faroe Islands), upon pain of having their ships sunk without warning and their crews killed. As a matter of fact, at least thirty-two neutral ships, exclusive of those sailing in British convoys, have been sunk by enemy action since the declaration of the 'total blockade'."
"Yet, though information is lacking in very many cases, details are available to prove that, during the period under review, at least thirty-eight Allied merchant ships, exclusive of those in convoys, have been torpedoed without warning in or near the 'total blockade' area. "That the Germans themselves have no exaggerated regard for the area is proved by the fact that of the thirty-eight ships referred to at least sixteen were torpedoed outside the limits of the war-zone.”
"The sinking of the City of Benares' on the 17th September 1940 is a good example of this. The City of Benares' was an 11,000-ton liner with 191 passengers on board, including nearly 100 children. She was torpedoed without warning just outside the 'war zone,' with the loss of 258 lives, including 77 children. It was blowing a gale, with hail and rain squalls and a very rough sea when the torpedo struck her at about 10 p.m. In the darkness and owing to the prevailing weather conditions, at least four of the twelve boats lowered were capsized. Others were swamped and many people were washed right out of them. In one boat alone sixteen people, including 11 children, died from exposure; in another 22 died, including 15 children; in a third 21 died. The point to be emphasized is not the unusual brutality of this attack but rather that such results are inevitable when a belligerent disregards the rules of sea warfare as the Germans have done and are doing.” "There are hundreds of similar stories, stories of voyages for days in open boats in Atlantic gales, of men in the water clinging for hours to a raft and gradually dropping off one by one, of crews being machine-gunned as they tried to lower their boats or as they drifted away in them, of seamen being blown to pieces by shells and torpedoes and bombs. The enemy must know that such things are the inevitable result of the type of warfare he has chosen to employ.” (D-641-B)
The total sinkings by U-boats during the war (1939 to 1945) amounted to 2,775 British, Allied, and Neutral ships totalling 14,572,435 gross tons (D641-C).
Another example of the ruthless nature of the actions conducted by Doenitz's U-boat commanders, particularly as both British and German versions of the sinking are available, is the sinking of “S. S. Sheaf Mead.” The British report, which includes the German account in the shape of a complete extract from the U-boat's log, states:
“The British 'S. S. Sheaf Mead' was torpedoed without warning on 27 May 1940 with the loss of 31 of the crew. The commander of the U-boat responsible is reported to have behaved in an exceptionally callous manner towards the men clinging to upturned boats and pieces of wood. It was thought that this man was Kapitaenleutnant Oehrn of U-37. The following extract from his diary for 27 May 1940 leaves no doubt on the matter and speaks for itself as to his behaviour.”
(D-644) The relevant extract from the log, at 1554 hours, reads:
“Surface. Stern (referring to the ship which has been torpedoed] is underwater. Bows rise higher. The boats are now on the water. Lucky for them. A picture of complete order. They lie at some distance. The bows rear up quite high. Two men appear from somewhere in the forward part of the ship. They leap and rush with great bounds along the deck down to the stern. The stern disappears. A boat capsizes. Then a boiler explosion. Two men fly through the air, limbs outstretched. Bursting and crashing. Then all is over. A large heap of wreckage floats up. We approach it to identify the name. The crew have saved themselves on wreckage. We fish out a buoy. No name on it. I ask a man on the raft. He says, hardly turning his head— Nix Name.' A young boy in the water calls 'Help, help, please. The others are very composed. They look damp and somewhat tired. An expression of cold hatred is on their faces. On to the old course. After washing the paint off the buoy, the name comes to light: Greatafield, Glasgow. 5006 gross registered
tons.” (D-644) “On to the old course” means merely that the U-boat makes off.
The report of the Chief Engineer of the "S. S. Sheaf Mead" contains this description of the situation:
“When I came to the surface I found myself on the port side, that is, nearest to the submarine, which was only about five
yards away. The submarine Captain asked the steward the name of the ship, which he told him, and the enemy picked up one of our lifebuoys, but this had the name 'Gretaston' on it, as this was the name of our ship before it was changed to 'Sheaf Mead' last January.”
“She had cutaway bows, but I did not notice a net cutter.
us any assistance whatever.” (D-644) The U-boats log at 1444 hours contains a description of the sighting of the ship, the difficulty in identification, and then the sinking:
“The distance apart is narrowing. The steamship draws in quickly, but the position is still 40–50. I cannot see the stern yet. Tube ready. Shall I or not? The gunnery crews are also prepared. On the ship's side a yellow cross in a small, square, dark blue ground. Swedish? Presumably not. I raise the periscope a little. Hurrah, a gun at the stern, an ack-ack gun or something similar. Fire! I cannot miss”
(D-644) The actual documents by which Doenitz and his fellow conspirators issued their orders in disregard of International Law indicate that the compiler of the above reports understated the case. These orders cover not only the period referred to in the above reports, but also the subsequent course of the war. It is interesting to note in them the steps by which the conspirators progressed. At first they were content with breaching the rules of International Law to the extent of sinking merchant ships, including neutral ships, without warning where there was a reasonable prospect of being able to do so without discovery. The facts already quoted show that the question of whether ships were defensively armed or outside the declared operational areas was in practice immaterial.
A memorandum by the German Naval War Staff, dated 22 September 1939, (C-191) provides:
"Flag Officer U-boats intends to give permission to U-boats to sink without warning any vessels sailing without lights.
In practice there is no opportunity for attacking at night, as the U-boat cannot identify a target which is a shadow in a way that entirely obviates mistakes being made.