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Conference of the Chief of the Seekriegsleitung and the Führer on 23 September 1939 in Zoppot.

Present: Generaloberst Keitel

After a report on the situation in the Baltic, North Sea, and Atlantic, the Chief of the Seekriegsleitung reported the following:

1. The first phase of the submarine war in the Atlantic and the Channel is over. When war broke out, numerous submarines were at sea; a great stream of ships was returning home to England and France; as yet there were no armed merchantmen; defenses were not fully organized. It is true the submarines sank 232,000 tons of shipping so far, but they are hampered by political restrictions, e.g., no attacks on passenger vessels and no action against French naval and merchant shipping. The latter restriction prevents submarine action against the French battleships DUNKERQUE and STRASBOURG, the chief opponents of our Panzerschiffe; it hampers our operations against the large convoys from North Africa to France, and interferes with effectively harassing British troop transports to France, especially by mining French ports. The Navy considers the disruption of British transport traffic a special duty. Mines have been laid in the approaches of some of the many possible British ports of departure, such as Weymouth and Dover, but we cannot be sure they are the ones being used. The number of French ports of arrival is smaller, however, and thus easier to deal with - but it is doubtful whether this is true at the present stage. At present, moreover, three submarines, are operating against the British troop transport traffic, two from the east and one from the west, and they should not be handicapped in their already tremendously difficult task by having to give consideration to possible French ships which may have to be spared.

On the basis of these arguments, the Führer, with the agreement of General Keitel, approved lifting the restrictions on the following eight points:

    a. Treatment of French battleships and operational aircraft.
    b. Attitude toward French warships sailing in convoy or mixed convoy.
    c. Attitude toward French merchant ships sailing in convoy, troop transports, etc.
    d. Treatment of French merchant ships.
    e. Procedure with regard to French goods.
    f. Neutral goods (contraband) destined to France.
    g. The use of mines off the coast of France.
    h. Action against vessels sailing without lights along the English and French coasts, including the Channel and its approaches.
2. The intensification of anti-submarine measures by aircraft and armed merchant vessels will apparently make it impossible to search British merchantmen in the future. The Führer approved the proposal that action should be taken without previous warning against enemy merchant ships definitely identified as such (with the exception of unmistakable passenger steamers), since it may be assumed that they are armed. To offset this, a neutral ship should occasionally be treated especially well in order to show that the system has not been fundamentally altered.

3. The Chief of the Seekriegsleitung then broached the question of the measures to be adopted if the war against France and England has to be fought out to the finish. (The Führer still hopes to drive a wedge between France and England. He intends to make a statement on the political situation to the Commanders in Chief within the next two weeks.) Among the measures discussed are the following:

The expression "submarine warfare" is to be replaced by the expression "war against merchant shipping". The notorious expression "unrestricted submarine warfare" is to be avoided. Instead of this, the proclamation of the "siege of England" is under consideration; such a military system would free us from having to observe any restrictions whatsoever on account of objections based on International Law. It would be up to the Kriegmarine and the Luftwaffe to put the siege into effect. If necessary both branches of the Wehrmacht could participate, but the Luftwaffe alone may be sufficient. In about two weeks, after discussions with the Foreign Office, there will be more detailed information as a basis for a decision by the Führer.

4. It will be necessary to commit the Panzerschiffe by about the beginning of October so that their supplies will not be exhausted or their morale undermined. The second large wave of submarines will also be committed at the beginning of October, presumably against convoys west of Spain, coming from the Mediterranean or from around Africa. The protection of merchant shipping by means of convoys is from now on of primary importance to the enemy.
The Führer agrees.

5. According to aerial reconnaissance, the SCHARNHORST and the GNEISENAU have at the moment no opposition even in the northern North Sea (Shetland Islands-Norway); it would be incorrect, therefore, to send them out on a wild goose chase, whereby they would be unnecessarily exposed to submarine attacks while putting in and out of the Belts and the German Bight. They are still greatly in need of training and this can be carried out in the Baltic Sea. The HIPPER has not had sufficient trial runs. These ships are to be committed when enemy resistance by surface forces in the North Sea is strengthened due to our intensive war on merchant shipping in those waters, which is to begin next week, and which will be directed against the steamers sailing between Great Britain and Scandinavia. At the same time they are to divert the attention of the enemy from the operations of the Panzerschiffe.

6. The submarine construction program set up within the framework of the Mobilization Plan, as ordered by the Führer in the conference on 7 September 1939, gives figures which, in the long run, will not keep pace with the anticipated losses. The planned increases are approximately as follows:

    1939 - 7 submarines.
    1940 - 46 submarines.
    1941 - 10 submarines per month.
In 1918 the Scheer Program provided for approximately 30 submarines per month. Thus in about two weeks at the latest, when the aforementioned political decision is made, the number of submarines to be constructed must be increased to at least 20 to 30 per month. This may have to be done at the expense of other branches of the Wehrmacht and by cutting construction of everything not absolutely essential to the Navy, e.g., small torpedo boats. In connection with the Ju 88 program it was revealed in a discussion with Field Marshal Göring that the Luftwaffe would not be able to carry out large-scale attacks until the beginning of 1940 at the earliest, and in all probability - and this coincides with the view of the Chief of the Seekriegsleitung - not until the autumn of 1940. It is probable that the defenses will then be so strong that any successes against ports and naval craft in port will be almost out of the question. It will perhaps be possible to lay mines at night, and during the day under smoke cover. At all events, the entire burden of the war against England during the whole of the first year will rest on the Navy alone, which means on the submarines. (The Führer recognizes that air attacks on England have more prospects of success at the present stage, even with fewer aircraft, than later with a larger number of planes, as the defenses will then be too strong.) The Führer declared that for these reasons, which he fully appreciates, the submarine construction program must be promoted in every way, even at the expense of the Ju 88 program.

The Commander in Chief, Navy, received instructions to investigate the following:

    a. What else could be shelved in the Navy (BISMARCK, TIRPITZ, and the two 10,000 ton cruisers will not yield very much).

    b. What the Navy needs in the way of labor and material in order to realize a monthly increase of from 20 to 30 submarines (problem of engines and periscopes).

7. The Chief of the Seekriegsleitung raises the question of Russian and Italian cooperation on the following points:
    a. Cession of submarines to the German Navy.
    b. Equipment of auxiliary cruisers (Murmansk).
    c. Permission for German warships to use Russian ports.
The Führer will ask the Foreign Minister [von Ribbentrop] to clarify these questions on his next visit to Moscow. The Italians will certainly be very cautious. Japan will presumably keep her promises regarding permission to use Japanese ports and equipment of German ships.

(handwritten note: seen by Chief, Seekriegsleitung)



   


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