Document Analyst's Report

During July I finished the analysis of the IMT defense documents for Admiral Doenitz, and most but not all of the corresponding transcript work. The transcript is slow going for Doenitz's material because it went through four steps once the four document books were assembled: the prosecution objected to many of the documents, the defense argued for their inclusion, the tribunal ruled on which documents were rejected or accepted, and finally the defense presented those that had been allowed. Most of the documents, like those analyzed in June, concerned the war at sea, especially submarine warfare, with a few documents on other issues such as the treatment of POWs and Doenitz's three-week tenure as head of state in May 1945.

Escalating risks: Because ships were highly vulnerable to U-boats and torpedoes, and U-boats were highly vulnerable to ships and planes when on the surface, a protocol had been developed before the war for the conduct of U-boats and merchant ships or passenger ships in wartime: the U-boat would approach the ship, surface, and order the ship to stop for inspection; the ship would allow the inspection; if the ship and its cargo were determined to be hostile, the crew and passengers would go into lifeboats; the U-boat would sink the ship; the lifeboats would proceed to a safe harbor with assistance from the U-boat (directions and supplies). (I knew someone in England whose ship had been sunk this way, and the lifeboat brought him to a safe landing.) This gentleman's agreement did not last long, on either side, as both the Germans and the Allies reacted to the other side's aggressiveness. Once the war began, Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty, who happened to be Winston Churchill, announced that British merchant ships would be armed and would attack any U-boats they encountered, and in May 1940 he eased the restrictions placed on British submarines to enable more attacks on German shipping. Hitler responded in kind, and would have gone further.

The almost-war with America: Once Britain and Germany established naval blockades on each other, the most significant naval commerce involved the nominally neutral United States. Trade with Germany was blocked by the British navy but trade with Britain increased. In January 1941 Hitler pointed to this discrepancy and issued a warning to Americans: "Every ship that comes in front of our torpedo tubes, whether with or without convoy, will be torpedoed." By September 1941 President Roosevelt was no longer claiming neutrality. The United States would help Britain destroy the Nazis, he said, and the Atlantic "bridge of ships" would carry that help.

The commando order: Alarmed by Allied commando operations in the Balkans and Norway, in October 1942 Hitler ordered that any commandoes who were captured should killed in the field or turned over to the security police for execution; they were to be "annihilated to the last man." The navy received the order and distributed it to its officers in February 1943 under the heading "Re: treatment of saboteurs." While Doenitz was acquitted of charges related to the war of aggression and the killing of shipwrecked crews (which was the primary issue in his case), he was found guilty for the navy's cooperation with the commando order and sentenced to a ten-year prison term.

Matt Seccombe, 1 August 2023