Minutes taken at the Conference of the Commander in Chief, Navy, with the Führer on 14 and 18 March 1943 at Headquarters, Wolfsschanze.
1. Conference on 14 March at 1230.
The Führer expressed his views about as follows:
Tunisia is strategically of prime importance. Conquest of Tunisia means a saving of 4-5 million BRT and more to the enemy, so that the submarines have to work 4-5 months to effect equalization. Retention of Tunisia is a question of supplies. The 80,000 tons per month cited as necessary by the Italian Supreme Command are entirely inadequate; rather 150,000 to 200,000 tons monthly are needed. We estimate for each division about 1 train - 500 tons daily. For the 8 divisions in Tunisia, inclusive of the Italians, this makes a total of 4,000 tons daily. The Führer draws a comparison with Norway and Crete, both of which are supplied much better than Tunisia. Norway carries supplies for 8 to 9 months, Crete now has a 72 day supply, and a 1/2 year supply has been ordered. The necessary supplies can be brought in only by sea. It is impossible to supply armies by air. A single 9,000 ton steamer, for example, can carry as much on one voyage as a whole air fleet can carry over a longer period of time. Protection of convoys by the Air Force alone is not possible; ships continue to be required. The Straits of Sicily must teem with patrol and escort vessels. Good organization is essential. Only the German Navy can organize this on the basis of its experience and success in this field. We can reinforce the Armored Africa Army [Panzerarmee Afrika] by sending the 7th Airborne Division, the 999th Brigade, and the remainder of the Göring Division as planned only if we are successful in increasing the supplies and in transporting them safely.
It is therefore necessary at the present time to confront the Italians boldly with the alternative of either making an all-out effort to get through supplies regardless of personnel considerations, or to lose Tunisia, and with that also Italy.
The Commander in Chief, Navy, is authorized to present these views to the Duce and to insist on having his suggestions followed as closely as possible.
The Führer reads a few paragraphs from his letter to the Duce, setting forth these same ideas. Field Marshal Kesselring is to deliver this letter to the Duce even prior to the arrival of the Commander in Chief, Navy.
Field Marshal Kesselring calls attention to the fact that it is essential that the transfer of German units from southern France be speeded up and that a considerably greater number of small craft, such as cargo ships, landing craft and Siebel ferries must be made available in order to get the situation brought about by the present emergency under control. He believes, however, that it is impossible to do this without large ships. He offered the Italians German fire fighters to control fires in ships. He arranged with Gauleiter Sauckel that 10-15,000 Italian workers be sent from Germany to increase the Italian ship repair capacity. In order to relieve the Italian shipyards, he proposes that mobile repair shops be set up for the repair of landing craft similar to those in existence for Siebel ferries.
The Commander in Chief, Navy, reaffirms his previous recommendations that the German Command take a strong hand in the convoy conferences. However, in carrying out the Führer's orders, he will take care lest, due to the Italian mentality, the opposite of what is desired will be accomplished through passive resistance on the part of the Italians. He does not think it impossible that, even though the Duce should agree, loser officials might sabotage putting the measures planned into effect. The Führer emphasizes that he prefers the most drastic solution, but that he would agree to a milder one reluctantly.
In a final brief, private conference with the Führer, the Commander in Chief, Navy, reports to the Führer the measures planned to increase the output of submarines. The Führer approves.
In addition, the Commander in Chief, Navy, reports to the Führer that the reports made by Gauleiter Kaufmann are not always accurate. He will talk with the Gauleiter himself later. The Führer stresses that he attaches great importance to these reports since he has to depend on receiving information from as many sources as Possible.
2. Report on Conference Held 18 March 1943 at 1530.
1. The Commander in Chief, Navy, reports the results of his conference with the Duce and of the talks with the Italian Naval Staff in Rome. He submits the signed agreement and gives a step by step description of how the agreement was reached. In so doing he calls attention particularly to the Duce's emphatic approval and the cordial tone of the talks. A note of restraint and disapproval was noticeable from the very beginning in his conference with the Italian Naval Staff, which according to Admiral Riccardi was due to the fact that he understood very little of what was said during the conference with the Duce, since the conversation was carried on in German. The proper rapport was established only when the Commander in Chief, Navy, spoke in stronger terms after the Italian counter-proposals had not provided a basis for understanding. Complete agreement was then reached, since the form adhered to by the Commander in Chief, Navy, gave the Italians the possibility of saving face.
Subsequently the Commander in Chief, Navy, briefly gives details about the 6 war vessels handed over by the Italians. Torpedo boats POMONE, BOMBARDE, IPHIGENIE (ready for action), BALISTE, BAYONNAISE (still to be raised) and gunboat YSER (ready soon in Toulon).
2. The Duce stressed particularly his intention of committing the entire Italian Fleet in case of an Anglo-Saxon landing on Sardinia, but states that he lacks the necessary fuel oil. The Commander in Chief, Navy, gave his approval of this plan and agreed to investigate the fuel question immediately upon his return to Berlin, since he is convinced that this operation has possibilities of success against an enemy who is hampered by his landing operations. Furthermore he feels that it would be better for the Italian ships to get into the fight even at the risk of heavy losses, rather than to fall into the hands of the enemy in the harbors perhaps even without a fight.
3. The Commander in Chief, Navy, subsequently calls attention to the fact that the Air Force is indispensable for the protection of supply shipping. It is impossible to fight off present and future air attacks by naval forces alone. The Führer agrees as far as high-altitude attacks are concerned, but expresses the hope that measures taken will improve the defense against low flying planes.
4. The Commander in Chief, Navy, stresses the implications of the inadequate shipyard and repair facilities in Italy, as a result of which about 2/3 of the Italian escort vessels are always layed up. Therefore the 15,000 Italian workers to be returned to Italy should be selected in such a way that most of them will be shipyard workers. The Führer agrees, since he recognizes the importance of keeping the escort vessels in a good state of repair.
5. The Führer does not approve of the request made by the Commander in Chief, Navy, that the S-boat flotilla based in the Bodø area be released for service in the Mediterranean unless they are replaced, since the presence, of S-boats in Norway is still essential. It had been planned to transfer these S-boats together with the minesweepers and landing craft. The Führer orders an investigation to determine whether it would be possible to divert one of the S-boat flotillas from the English Channel to Norway as replacement; in that event he would approve of sending one S-boat flotilla to the Mediterranean.
6. The Commander in Chief, Navy, reports that he gathered from his talk with General Ambrosio that profitable cooperation is feasible, and that the General expressed his readiness to see to it that the requests of the Commander in Chief, Navy, are carried out.
7. The Commander in Chief, Navy, reports that the Italians agree to the use of their Atlantic submarines for transport purposes, with the single exception of submarine CAGNI, which is to continue in combat. The Italians accordingly would eventually get 9 newly-built German submarines. The distribution of rubber is to be made as usual according to the existing trade agreements. Field Marshal Keitel affirms the accuracy of this assumption.
8. Report on the submarine situation and the success of the past few days.
countersigned: Kapitänleutnant Spitsbarth
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