The Truth at Last
- The Defendents
- Tribunal Personnel
- Evidence from Submarine U-30
- Evidence from German Navy Commanders
- Sentences of the Tribunal
So finally our story takes us to the transcripts of the Nuremberg Trials and how they reveal the truth of what happened to Athenia. The people who knew what happened were the officers and crew of German submarine U-30 and the commanders of the German Navy.
The photos below from the US National Archives shows the tribunal under way with the defendents in the specially constructed dock. Most are wearing earphones so they can hear the proceedings translated into German.
They are seated as follows:
- Front row (left to right): Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Julius Streicher, Walther Funk, Hjalmar Schacht.
- Back row (left to right): Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel, Alfred Jodl, Franz von Papen, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Albert Speer, Konstantin van Neurath, Hans Fritzsche.
The following people appear in the excerpts from tribunal transcripts quoted on this page.
- The President: Geoffrey Lawrence (later Baron Oaksey), President of all judges at the Tribunal.
- Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (later Viscount Kilmuir) was a British prosecutor at the Tribunal and was later instrumental in
drafting the European Convention of Human Rights - and later still Home Secretary.
If the cross-examination of Hermann Göring was his finest hour, his low point was in refusing to reprieve Derek Bentley who was hung in 1953 despite having a mental age of 11 and a very dubious trial. Bentley was posthumously pardoned in 1993 after a long campaign and the sentence eventually quashed in 1998.
As Home Secretary he presided over a crackdown on homosexual men in Britain. Paradoxically he had set up the Wolfenden Committee to review the laws about homosexuality but then led the opposition to the committee's recommendations.
- Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: Otto Kranzbühler was German Naval Fleet Judge-Advocate, (Flottenrichter in German). He was appointed to defend Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz and, it has to be said, made an extremely good job of it.
- Major Elwyn Jones: Frederick Elwyn Jones, later Baron Elwyn-Jones, was a junior British Counsel at the Tribunal. He later led the prosecution of the "Moors Murderers" Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
Lemp had been the Commander of U-30 at the time Athenia had been sunk. He could not be questioned as he had died during the capture of U-110 on 9 May 1941. The submarine had been forced to the surface by depth charges fired by HMS Bulldog, HMS Broadway and HMS Aubretia. There are differing views of what happened to him. German survivors alleged that he was shot whilst swimming back to the submarine but he may have simply drowned. What is clear is that he had ordered the crew to abandon ship when he thought that the submarine would be rammed by HMS Bulldog but she veered away at the last minute. Lemp then tried to get back to destroy key equipment.
What happened next was critical to the future conduct of the war, though of no relevance to the loss of Athenia. A boarding party managed to get hold of an Enigma machine and code books with rotors set to operate. To make sure that this was kept secret, the survivors were taken to Iceland, the crew of HMS Bulldog sworn to secrecy and the submarine scuttled.
Adolf Schmidt had been serving on German submarine U-30 which was under the command of Oberleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp. Lemp had attacked the merchant ship Fanad Head on 14 September 1939 and the crew had abandoned ship into lifeboats. Lemp put a "prize crew" aboard with the intention of obtaining provisions before scuttling the ship. However their action was interrupted by an attack by aircraft from HMS Ark Royal which had been alerted by radio. The first attack was unsuccessful and the submarine crash-dived. Surfacing later U-30 torpedoed Fanad Head but was attacked again by aircraft and depth charges from HMS Bedouin and HMS Punjabi. The submarine was badly damaged but managed to escape and limped into Reykyavik on 19 September.
The seriously wounded Maschinenobergefreiter (Fireman 1st class) Adolf Schmidt was transferred to the interned German steam merchant Hamm and replaced by Hamm's third officer Grohm. Adolf Schmidt recovered from his wounds, but was taken prisoner when Britain occupied Iceland in May 1940 and transferred to a POW camp in Canada.
After the war, Schmidt swore an affidavit that was cited during the trials on several occasions.
International Military Tribunal Day 34: (Tuesday January 15 1946)
During this stage of the trial, the Prosecution was presenting various items of evidence that would be used in later examination of witnesses. Major Elwyn Jones presented Schmidt's affidavit to the Tribunal. The words of Schmidt's affidavit is shown in italics in the quote below.
The Athenia, as the Tribunal will be aware, was a passenger liner which was sunk on the evening of 3rd September, 1939, when she was outward bound to America, about one hundred lives being lost. On 23rd October, 1939, the Nazi Party paper, the "Volkischer Beobachter, published, in screaming headlines, the story,
"Churchill sank the Athenia."
I would refer the Court to Document 3260-PS, at Page 97 of the document book, which will be Exhibit GB 218, and I would also like the Tribunal to, look for a moment at the copy of the "Volkischer Beobachter" here, and see the scale on which this deliberate lie was perpetrated. I have a photostat of the relevant page of the "Volkischer Beobachter" for that day. The Tribunal will see that on this front page, with the big red underlining, there are the words:
"Churchill found guilty this time."
The above picture" - and the Tribunal will see it is a fine picture of this fine ship - "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. 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 to the American coastguard 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 his office, one of the richest in tradition known to Great Britain's history, be held by a murderer?"
Now, in view of the maliciousness of this "Volkischer Beobachter" announcement, and in fairness to the men of the British Merchant Navy, I think it is proper that I should say, that contrary to the allegation in this Nazi sheet, the Athenia of course made repeated wireless distress signals which were in fact intercepted and answered by His Majesty's ship Electra, in escort, as well as by the Norwegian steamer Knut Nelson and the yacht Southern Cross.
I shall submit evidence to the Tribunal to establish that, in fact, the Athenia was sunk by the German U-boat U-30. So unjustifiable was the torpedoing of the Athenia, however, that the German Navy embarked upon a course of falsification of their records and on other dishonest measures, in the hope of hiding their guilty secret. And for their part, as the Tribunal has seen, the Nazi propagandists indulged in their favourite falsehood of seeking to shift the responsibility to the British.
The Captain of the U-boat 30, Oberleutnant Lemp, was later killed in action, but some of the original crew of the U-30 have survived to tell the tale, and they are now prisoners of war. And so that the truth of this episode may be placed beyond a peradventure, I submit to the Tribunal an affidavit by a member of the crew of the U-30; as to the sinking of the Athenia and as to one aspect of the attempt to conceal the true facts.
I refer to document C-654, Exhibit GB 219, at Page 106 of the document book. The affidavit reads:
I, Adolf Schmidt, Official Number N 1043-33T, do solemnly swear that:
I am now confined to Camp No. 133, Lethbridge, Alberta.
That on the first day of war, 3 September 1939, a ship of approximately 10,000 tons was torpedoed in the late hours of the evening by the U-30.
That after the ship was torpedoed and we surfaced again, approximately half an hour after the explosion, the Commandant called me to the tower in order to show me the torpedoed ship.
That I have seen the ship with my very eyes, but that I do not think that the ship could see our U-boat at that time on account of the position of the moon.
That only a few members of the crew had an opportunity to go to the tower in order to see the torpedoed ship.
That apart from myself, Oberleutnant Hinsch was in the tower when I saw the steamer after the attack.
That I observed that the ship was listing.
That no warning shot was fired before the torpedo was launched.
That I myself observed much commotion on board of the torpedoed ship.
That I believe that the ship had only one smoke stack.
That in the attack on this steamer one or two torpedoes were fired which did not explode but that I myself heard the explosion of the torpedo which hit the steamer.
That Oberleutnant Lemp waited until darkness before surfacing.
That I was severely wounded by aircraft 14 September 1939.
That Oberleutnant Lemp, shortly before my disembarkation in Reykjavik 19 September 1939, visited me in the forenoon in the Petty Officers quarters where I was lying severely wounded.
That Oberleutnant Lemp then had the Petty Officers' quarters cleared in order to be alone with me.
That Oberleutnant Lemp then showed me a declaration under oath according to which I had to bind myself to mention nothing concerning the incidents of 3 September 1939 on board the U-30.
That this declaration under oath had approximately the following wording: 'I, the undersigned, swear hereby that I shall shroud in secrecy all happenings of 3 September 1939 on board the U-30, regardless whether foe or friend, and that I shall erase from my memory all happenings of this day.'
That I have signed this declaration under oath, which was drawn up by the Commandant in his own handwriting, with my left hand very illegibly.
That later on in Iceland when I heard about the sinking of the 'Athenia,' the idea came into my mind that the U-30 on the 3 September 1939 might have sunk the 'Athenia,' especially since the Captain caused me to sign the above-mentioned declaration.
That up to today I have never spoken to anyone concerning these events.
That due to the termination of the war I consider myself freed from my oaths. (D-654)
Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz
The relevant evidence from Dönitz regarding the fate of Athenia appears in the tribunal transcripts for Day 34 (January 15 1946) and Day 126 (10 May 1946).
International Military Tribunal Day 34: (Tuesday January 15 1946)
After conclusion of the reading of the affivit of Adolf Schmidt, Major Jones addressed the Tribunal and read an affidavit by Dönitz - Document D-638. In the quotes below, Major Jones statements are shown in normal text and those of Dönitz in italics. I have kept the Anglicised spelling of Dönitz's name in the quotes as this is how it appears in the Nuremberg transcripts
Doenitz's part in the "Athenia" episode is described in an affidavit which he has sworn, in English (D-638). At the end of the affidavit four words are added in Doenitz's handwriting, the significance of which will be adverted to shortly.
U-30 returned to harbor about Mid-September. I met the captain, Oberleutnant Lemp, on the lockside at Wilhelmshaven, as the boat was entering harbor, and he asked permission to speak to me in private. I notice immediately that he was looking very unhappy and he told me at once that he thought he was responsible for the sinking of the Athenia in the North Channel area. In accordance with my previous instructions, he had been keeping a sharp lookout for possible armed merchant cruisers in the approaches to the British Isles, and had torpedoed a ship he afterwards identified as the Athenia from wireless broadcasts, under the impression that she was an armed merchant cruiser on patrol. I had never specified in my instructions any particular type of ship as armed merchant cruiser nor mentioned any names of ships. I dispatched Lemp at once by air to report to the SKL at Berlin; in the meantime, I ordered complete secrecy as a provisional measure. Later the same day or early on the following day, I received a verbal order from Kapitaen zur See Fricke [head of the Operations Division of the Naval War Staff] that:
I had had no part whatsoever in the political events in which the Fuehrer claimed that no U-boat had sunk the Athenia.
- The affair was to be kept a total secret.
- The OKM considered that a court martial was not necessary as they were satisfied that the captain had acted in good faith.
- Political explanations would be handled by the OKM.
After Lemp returned to Wilhelmshaven from Berlin, I interrogated him thoroughly on the sinking and formed the impression that although he had taken reasonable care, he had still not taken sufficient precautions to establish fully the identity of the ship before attacking. I had previously given very strict orders that all merchant vessels and neutrals were to be treated according to naval prize law, before the occurrence of this incident. I accordingly placed him under cabin arrest, as I felt certain that a court-martial could only acquit him and would entail unnecessary publicity (whereat Doenitz has added the words, and too much time).
Doenitz's suggestion that the captain of the U-30 sank the "Athenia" in mistake for a merchant cruiser must be considered in the light of Doenitz's order of 22 September 1939, that:
"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." (Document C-191)
The U-30 returned to Wilhelmshaven on 27 September 1939. On that date another fraudulent entry was made in the War Diary of the Chief of U-boats:
"U-30 comes in. She had sunk: 'S.S. Blairlogie'; 'S.S. Fanad Head'." (D-659)
There is no reference at all to the sinking of the Athenia.
Perhaps the most elaborate forgery in connection with this episode was made on the log book of the U-30, which was responsible for sinking the "Athenia" (Document D-662). The Prosecution submits that the first page of that log book is a forgery which shows a curiously un-German carelessness about detail. It is clear on the original document that the first page of the text is a substitute for pages that have been removed. The dates in the first column of that page are in Arabic numerals. On the second and more authentic-looking page, and throughout the other pages of the log book, they are in Roman numerals. (D-662)
Furthermore, all reference to the sinking of the Athenia on 3 September is omitted. The log book shows that at 1400 hours on 3 September 1939 the position of the U-30 is given as AL 0278, which is one of the few positions quoted at all upon that page, and which was some 200 miles west of the position where the Athenia was sunk. The recorded course (due south) and the recorded speed (10 knots)-those entries are obviously designed to suggest that the U-30 was well clear of the Athenia's position on 3 September.
Finally, the original shows Lemp's own signature upon the page dealing with 3 September differs from his other signature in the text. The difference appears in the final letter of his name. The signature in question shows a Roman "p", whereas on the other signatures there is a script "p." The inference is that either the signature is a forgery or it was made by Lemp at some other, and probably considerably later, date. (D-662)
The story of the Athenia establishes that the German Navy under Raeder embarked upon deliberate fraud. Even before receiving Lemp's reports, the German Admiralty had repeatedly denied the possibility that a German U-boat could be in the area concerned. The charts which showed the disposition of U-boats and the position of sinking of the Athenia (discussed in Section 14 on Doenitz) have shown the dishonesty of these announcements. The conclusion to be drawn is this: Raeder, as head of the German Navy, knew all the facts. Censorship and information control in Nazi Germany were so complete that Raeder, as head of the Navy, must have been party to the falsification published in the "Voelkischer Beobachter," which was an attempt by the Nazi conspirators to save face with their own people and to uphold the myth of an infallible Fuehrer backed by an impeccable war machine.
International Military Tribunal: Day 126 (10 May 1946)
The later stages of the tribunal sessions involved examination of the accused. On this day, Dönitz was examined by Sir David Maxwell-Fyffe. The quotes below are from the transcripts
Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: Well, now, tell me this: Did you know that the log of the Athenia was faked, after she came in?
Doenitz: 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.
Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: I see. You do not like the word "faked." Well, I will use the word "changed"; that a page was cut out of the log and a false page had been put in. Did you know about that?
Doenitz: I cannot tell you that today. It is possible. 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.
Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe: I want to know, was it your order and with your knowledge that that log was altered from, I suppose, the truth into the falsity in which it exists today? That is a simple question. Can you answer it?
Doenitz: Yes. 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.
Later in the same day the following relevant exchange took place between Kranzbuehler and Dönitz:
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: In connection with the sinking of the Athenia it has been hinted that your statement was considered an excuse; that is, that the commanding officer of the submarine confused the Athenia with an auxiliary cruiser. Therefore, I should like to put to you an excerpt from the war diary of the officer commanding in that action and I want you to confirm that it is really by the same commanding officer. I shall read from the document of the Prosecution, Exhibit GB-222, on Page 142 of my document book, Volume III. It is the war diary of the submarine U-30. The excerpt is dated 11 September 1939, Page 142 in document book, Volume III.
"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 90°, 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."
Can you confirm, Admiral, that this was an entry by the same commanding officer who nine days before had torpedoed the Athenia?
Doenitz: Yes, that is the same commander of the same operation who shortly before had committed this error.
The relevant evidence from Godt regarding the fate of Athenia appears in the tribunal transcripts for Day 129 (14 May 1946).
International Military Tribunal: Day 129 (14 May 1946)
Admiral Godt was Chief of Operations attached to the Chief of Submarines (Dönitz) and, during questioning by Kranzbuehler about various operational matters, explained how Athenia was sunk by mistake and why the log of U-30 was changed on the orders of Dönitz.
The President: Will you state your full name?
Eberhard Godt (Witness): My name is Eberhard Godt.
The President: Will you repeat this oath after me: I swear by God-the Almighty and Omniscient-that I will speak the pure truth-and will withhold and add nothing. [The witness repeated the oath.] You may sit down.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: Admiral Godt, when did you enter the Navy as an officer cadet?
Godt: On 1 July 1918.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: How long have you been working with Admiral Doenitz, and in what position?
Godt: Since January 1938; first of all as First Naval Staff Officer attached to the Commander, U-boats, and immediately after the beginning of the war as Chief of the Operations Department.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: Chief of the Operations Department with the Chief of Submarines?
Godt: Yes, attached to the Chief of Submarines, later Flag Officer, U-boats.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: Did you collaborate since 1938 in the drafting of all operational orders worked out by the staff of the Flag Officer, U-boats?
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: The Prosecution holds that an order-apparently a verbal order-existed, prohibiting the entry in the log of measures considered dubious or unjustifiable from the point of view of international law. Did such a general order exist?
Godt: No; there was no general order. In certain individual cases-can remember two-an order was given to omit certain matters from the log.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: Which cases do you remember?
Godt: The first was the case of the Athenia; and the second was the sinking of a German boat, which was coming from Japan through the blockade, by a German submarine.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: Before I ask you to give me details of that, I should like to know the reason for omitting such matters from the log.
Godt: It was done for reasons of secrecy. U-boat logs were seen by a great many people: First, in the training stations of the U-boat service itself; and, secondly, in numerous offices of the High Command. Special attention had therefore to be paid to secrecy.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: How many copies of each U-boat war log were made?
Godt: I should say six to eight copies.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: Did the omission of such an item from the log mean that all documentary evidence was destroyed in every office; or did certain of these keep these documents?
Godt: These records were received by Commander, U-boats, and probably by the Naval Operations Staff as well.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: Was there a standing war order prescribing treatment of incidents?
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: What were the contents?
Godt: It stated that incidents must be reported immediately by wireless and that a supplementary report must be made later, either in writing or by word of mouth.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: Does this standing order contain any allusion to the omission of such incidents from the log?
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: Will you please tell me now how this alteration was made in the log in the case of the Athenia?
Godt: In the case of the Athenia Oberleutnant Lemp reported on returning that he had torpedoed this ship, assuming it to be an auxiliary cruiser. I cannot now tell you exactly whether this was the first time I realized that such a possibility existed or whether the idea that this might possibly have been torpedoed by a German submarine had already been taken into consideration. Lemp was sent to Berlin to make a report and absolute secrecy was ordered with regard to the case.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: By whom?
Godt: By the Naval Operations Staff, after a temporary order had been issued in our department. I ordered the fact to be erased from the war log of the U-boat.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: And that, of course, was on the orders of Admiral Doenitz?
Godt: Yes, or I ordered it on his instructions.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: Did you participate in the further handling of this incident?
Godt: Only with regard to the question of whether Lemp should be punished. As far as I remember, Commander, U-boats, took only disciplinary action against him because it was in his favor that the incident occurred during the first few hours of the war, and it was held that in his excitement he had not investigated the character of the ship as carefully as he might have done.
Flottenrichter Kranzbuehler: Did I understand you correctly as saying that the detailed documentary evidence in connection with the sinking of the Athenia was retained by both Commander, U-boats, and, you believe, the Naval Operations Staff?
Godt: I can say that with certainty only as far as Commander, U-boats, is concerned. That is what happened in this case.
The transcripts of the Nuremberg Trials clearly show that the sinking of Athenia was an error of judgement by Fritz-Julius Lemp - Commander of submarine U-30, and that Hitler and his cadre of 'spin doctors' decided to try and cover it up with their standard 'telling a big lie' approach.
In Adolf Hitler's own words (Mein Kampf vol 1 Chapter X):
But it remained for the Jews, with their unqualified capacity for falsehood, and their fighting comrades, the Marxists, to impute responsibility for the downfall precisely to the man who alone had shown a superhuman will and energy in his effort to prevent the catastrophe which he had foreseen and to save the nation from that hour of complete overthrow and shame. By placing responsibility for the loss of the world war on the shoulders of Ludendorff they took away the weapon of moral right from the only adversary dangerous enough to be likely to succeed in bringing the betrayers of the Fatherland to Justice.
All this was inspired by the principle--which is quite true within itself--that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.
As to Dönitz, he remained unrepentant to the end and his autobiography "Memoirs - Ten Years and Twenty Days" has just the minimal quote below. Dönitz seems to have regarded the restrictions about not sinking liners as just an annoyance as far as I can see:
As a general rule all merchant vessels sailed without lights in the same way as warships. At night it ws very difficult in a U-boat when sighting a shadowy form, to decide whether it was an auxiliry cruiser or an ordinary merchantman. In order to be able to distinguish details the U-boat was forced to close to a comparitively short range. If it then made a signal by lamp ordering the ship to stop or made use of its searchlight, the glare interfered with its own readiness for action and at the same time betrayed its exact position to any ship in close proximity. If that ship turned out to be an armed vessel or perhaps a 'Q-Ship', the U-boat stood a very good chance of being destroyed by a sudden burst of gunfire.
To all these obstacles with which enemy measures confronted us in our endeavours to wage the ware on commerce according to the provisions of the Prize Ordinance was added yet another, this time a further limitation imposed on us by our own side. It was imposed as the result of an incident which occurred immediately after the declaration of war. On September 4 1939, U-30 sand the British liner Athenia. The ship ws steaming without lights, on an unusual course and was zig-zagging. The U-boat commanded concluded therefore that she must be an auxiliary cruiser and sank her. As a result of this occurrence, the following orders were issued to U-boats on that same evening: 'By order of the Fuehrer and until further orders no hostile action will be taken against passenger liners even when sailing under escort.'
The sentencing pronouncements took two days to read out with the sentences being completed on the afternoon of 1 October 1946 and summarised in the table below:
|Accused||Sentence of the Tribunal|
|Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach (unfit for trial), Robert Ley (committed suicide before trial began)||No decision|
|Hans Fritzsche, Franz von Papen, Dr. Hjalmar Schacht||Acquitted of all charges|
|Karl Dönitz||10 years imprisonment|
|Baron Konstantin von Neurath||15 years imprisonment|
|Baldur von Schirach, Albert Speer||20 years imprisonment|
|Walther Funk, Rudolf Hess, Erich Raeder||Life imprisonment|
|Martin Bormann, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Hermann Göring, Alfred Jodl, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, Fritz Sauckel, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Julius Streicher||Sentenced to death by hanging|
The French judges suggested that Göring, Keitel and Jodl should be shot by a firing squad, as is standard for military courts-martial, but this was opposed by US Judge Francis Biddle and the Soviet judges, who argued that the military officers had violated their military ethos and were not worthy of death by being shot, which was considered to be more dignified.
The death sentences were carried out on 16 October 1946 by hanging using the standard drop method instead of 'long drop'. The U.S. army denied claims that the drop length was too short which caused the condemned to die slowly from strangulation instead of quickly from a broken neck, but it has been claimed that some of the condemned men died agonizingly slowly, struggling for 14 to 28 minutes before finally choking to death. The executioner was John C. Woods who had hanged 34 U.S. soldiers during the war, allegedly botching several of them.
The executions took place in the gymnasium of the court building which was demolished in 1983. I can't honestly say I feel any pity for the suffering of these pitiless men who caused so much death and misery and brought their own country to ruin. Their bodies were incinerated at a crematorium in Munich and the ashes scattered over the river Isar.
Those jailed were transferred to Spandau prison in 1947 where Hess remained until committing suicide there by hanging himself with the cord of a lamp on 17 August 1987. His lawyer claimed that, at 93 years old, he was too old and frail and had been murdered by the British Secret Intelligence Service. If true, all I can say is that it is a pity that they hadn't done it sooner.
Dönitz completed his jail sentence in 1956 and was released from Spandau. British Pathé produced a newsreel item about his release which can be viewed by clicking the Play button below
Click the link below for information about the passengers and crew members lost on Athenia, photographs of memorials and memorabilia from the vessel.