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Conference between the Commander in Chief, Navy, and the Führer on 6 January 1943 in the evening at Wolfsschanze.

Present: Chief of OKW [Wilhelm Keitel]

The Führer talks for an hour and a half about the role played by the Prussian and German navies since they came into existence. The German Navy was originally patterned after the British Navy, and proved to be unimportant during the wars of 1864, 1866, and 1870-71.

The first distinct contribution of the German Navy was the development of the torpedo boats. Special care was taken to perfect this weapon.

Submarines constituted the most important branch of the German Navy in the last war and must be considered equally important today.

The High Seas Fleet made no notable contribution during the World War. It is customary to blame the Kaiser for this inactivity, but this opinion is unwarranted. The real reason was that the Navy lacked men of action who were determined to fight with or without the support of the Kaiser. As a result of this inactivity a large amount of fighting-power lay idle, while the Army was constantly heavily engaged. The revolution and the scuttling of the fleet at Scapa Flow do not redound to the credit of the German Navy. The Navy has always been careful to consider the number of their own ships and men as compared with the enemy before entering an engagement. The Army does not follow this principle. As a soldier, the Führer demands that, once forces have been committed to action, the battle be fought to a decision.

Due to the present critical situation, where all fighting power, all personnel, and all materiel must be brought into action, we cannot permit our large ships to ride idly at anchor for months. They require constant protection by the Luftwaffe as well as by numerous smaller surface craft. The same situation would hold in case of an invasion of Norway, where the Luftwaffe would be of more value in attacking an invasion fleet than being obliged to protect our own fleet. For this reason, the fleet would not be of great value in preventing the enemy from establishing a beachhead.

Until now light naval forces have been doing most of the fighting. whenever the larger ships put out to sea, light forces have to accompany them. It is not the large ships which protect the small, but rather the reverse is true.

Due to the mining of the Baltic the large ships find it more and more difficult to engage in maneuvers. The Coast Defense could use the guns from these large ships very effectively. Heavy naval guns, if mounted where invasions on a large scale would be practical, could possibly prevent such landings. In this connection, consideration should be given the North Sea area.

It should not be considered a degradation, if the Führer decides to scrap the large ships. This would be true only if he were removing a fighting unit which had retained its full usefulness. A parallel to this in the Army would be the removal of all Cavalry Divisions.

The Führer also points out that the Italian Fleet uses the complements of her large ships for duty in the destroyers.

The Navy shall consider the following:

1. Should the three aircraft carriers which were planned, be retained? Should other ships be converted into aircraft carriers? (especially in case the DE GRASSE cannot be used) Are the HIPPER and the PRINZ EUGEN, because of their great speed, more suited than the LÜTZOW and the SCHEER, which have a more extensive operating radius? If the latter were lengthened, could they develop greater speed and could they be given a larger landing deck?

2. Where would the heavy guns of these ships best be mounted on land?

3. In which order should the ships be decommissioned? Probably the GNEISENAU would be the first, since she will not be ready for active duty until the end of 1944. Next would probably be the ships which are now due for overhauling and repairs. Personnel of these ships will remain with the Navy.

4. Can the submarine program be extended and speeded up if the large ships are eliminated?

The Commander in Chief, Navy, shall prepare a memorandum giving his views on the above. These comments will be of historical value. The Führer will carefully examine the document.

The Commander in Chief, Navy, rarely had an opportunity to comment, but his final impression was that the Führer, even though he described his decision as final, would reconsider some of his views if sound arguments were presented.

Concerning the question of the Commander in Chief, Navy, whether the SCHARNHORST and PRINZ EUGEN are to be sent to Norway, the Führer replied in the affirmative and said that for the present, Norway is to be defended as strongly as possible.

During a private conversation between the Commander in Chief, Navy, and the Führer mostly questions of a private nature were discussed. The Commander in Chief, Navy, tried to explain the reason for the delay in communications on 31 Dec./1 Jan. It was explained that the Commanding admiral, Cruisers, had expected to obtain reliable information from the radiogram with the date/time group 31 Dec. at 1234, which would report success or failure of the operation and the presence of enemy cruisers. The Commander in Chief, Navy, further pointed out the difficulty of compiling a composite report from the two cruisers and six destroyers after they had anchored. Finally he mentioned that the teletype station Alta greatly delayed the transmission of the final report.

The course of the operation itself was only briefly mentioned at the beginning of the discussion with the Führer. At that time the Commander in Chief, Navy, explained that the Commanding Admiral, Cruisers, and the individual commanders had obeyed orders to the letter. The orders of the Naval Staff strictly limited the extent of the operation.

Berlin 2 January 1943

Report presented by Naval Staff Quartermaster Division concerning the dismantling of the battleships TIRPITZ, SCHARNHORST, GNEISENAU, and the heavy cruisers HIPPER, PRINZ EUGEN, ADMIRAL SCHEER, and LÜTZOW.

Advantages gained by scrapping the heavy ships are as follows:

1. In personnel. Approximately 300 officers and 8,500 non-commissioned officers and men will be made available. These include highly specialized personnel, especially trained for duty on large naval vessels and in the use of their weapons.

The need for personnel in defense units has considerably increased due particularly to developments in the Mediterranean. Further requests for increasing the complements of defense units may also be expected since the threat which the large ships formerly represented to the enemy, no longer exists. On the whole, the above personnel will be assigned to defense units.

See Annex 1 for list of ships' complements.

2. In materiel. 125,000 tons of steel and iron will be gained.

Tonnages of individual ships are listed in Annex 2.

However, one must not lose sight of the fact that all this steel and iron will not be available immediately but must first be melted down and produced a second time.

Presumably for some time to come all the large docks will have to be used exclusively for dismantling the ships, and more workers must be found.

The Naval Construction Division uses 65,000 tons of iron and steel per month for the construction of vessels including submarines.

The 125,000 tons mentioned above would not even be sufficient to cover these needs of the Navy for a period of two months.

3. In fuel. At present the fleet receives, 16,700 tons of fuel oil per month. This figure includes ships of 4,500 tons. In addition Group North received 9,000 tons of fuel oil per month for operational purposes. This amount must cover the requirements of Naval Commander, East, who is presently carrying on operations in the Gulf of Finland.

A saving of 5-8,000 tons may be achieved, but this does not make allowances for the possible increase in the use of destroyers for defense purposes.

4. A choice must be made between obtaining a limited number of younger officers for submarine duty on this single occasion, and destroying the training and educational facilities of the entire Navy including submarines. These facilities are indispensable for a constant supply of commanding officers, officers, and non-commissioned officers.

Naval Staff, Quartermaster Division


Annex 1 to the report presented by Naval Staff Quartermaster Department.

1. TIRPITZ
2. SCHARNHORST
3. GNEISENAU
4. HIPPER
5. PRINZ EUGEN
6. ADMIRAL SCHEER
7. LÜTZOW
50 Officers
57 Officers
decommissioned
53 Officers
53 Officers
42 Officers
44 Officers
2,022 non-commissioned officers and men
1,701 non-commissioned officers and men
skeleton crew
1,250 non-commissioned officers and men
1,250 non-commissioned officers and men
1,120 non-commissioned officers and men
1,119 non-commissioned officers and men

308 Officers

8,562 non-commissioned officers and men

Annex 2 to the report presented by Naval Staff Quartermaster Department.

Hull Armor Engines
TIRPITZ
SCHARNHORST
GNEISENAU
ADMIRAL SCHEER
LÜTZOW
PRINZ EUGEN
HIPPER
12,000
8,000
8,000
3,800
3,800
7,300
7,300
19,000
15,000
15,000
2,500
2,500
500
500
4,200
3,500
3,500
2,000
2,000
3,200
3,200
- 35,200
- 26,500
- 26,500
- 8,300
- 8,300
- 11,000
- 11,000

125,800



   


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