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Commander in Chief of the Kriegsmarine

Minutes of the Conference of the Commander in Chief, Navy, with the Führer at Headquarters Wolfsschanze, 17 July 1943.

Present: Generalfeldmarschall Keitel
General Jodl
Konteradmiral Voss
Kapitän zur See von Puttkamer
Oberst Scherff
and, temporarily, Generalfeldmarschall Rommel.

The Commander in Chief, Navy, says that he is making this report because he feels that it is his duty to give the Führer his opinion about the situation in Italy. Generally speaking his views are the same as those submitted by General Jodl in written form. He happens to know that the younger officers of the Italian Navy, who have really seen action for example with the Tunisian convoys, and also the young submarine commanders are opposed to the Supermarina. Already at the time when the Commander in Chief, Navy, first visited Rome, these young officers had expected a change in the high command of the Italian Navy, since it is completely out of touch with what is going on at the front and is therefore not recognized by most of the younger officers. Furthermore, the Commander in Chief, Navy is of the opinion that the Italian Navy would have been of much greater help to us if it had been under German leadership. This holds true today. He believes that there are quite a few Italian officers who sincerely want to fight on our side and have proved their willingness in action, but who at the same time would welcome a change in leadership.

The Commander in Chief, Navy believes that it would be advisable to place a young Italian admiral who has the confidence of the officers in command of the Italian Navy, to be assisted by a German staff. The Führer asks whether the Commander in Chief, Navy, has an admiral in mind. The Commander in Chief, Navy mentions Admiral Manfredi as his first choice, and Admiral Legnani as second. The Führer is very happy to learn these names, since he himself does not know any of the persons that would come in question.

The Commander in Chief, Navy declares that the attitude of the High Command in the employment of the Italian fleet at the present time is infamous. In spite of all his efforts, he was unable to get Admiral Riccardi to use his light forces to drive the enemy from the Straits of Messina, an intolerable situation since he has the forces available to do so. Admiral Riccardi is hoarding these light forces in the event the battleships should put to sea. The Commander in Chief, Navy, believes that this will never be the case. However, he, the Commander in Chief, Navy, has no way of doing anything about the situation except to send telegrams. Riccardi replies to these that he will submit them to the Duce. At this point the Führer exclaims: "The Duce is not getting them."

The Commander in Chief, Navy, continues: "Later an answer arrives that for very subtle strategic reasons it is impossible to take the necessary steps. The situation would be greatly improved if the present Supermarina would be done away with and a new command with a good German staff be put in its place. This presupposes further, however, that we make an effort to win over the young officers in the garrisons, tell them what it is all about, and ask them whether they want to join or not. The collaboration of the young officers is also needed because, in the event of new landing attempts, it is absolutely necessary to eliminate the enemy forces before they have successfully established a beachhead. Otherwise, in view of their uncontested supremacy of the sea, they will be in a position to bring more troops to the scene than we. We must not permit harbors with excellent dock installations to fall into the hands of the British as was the case in Syracuse and Augusta. If we want to hold Italy, German troops and German naval coast artillery must take over these harbors. Otherwise Taranto and Naples may meet the same fate as Augusta."

The Führer replies that he himself has been pondering the question how this might best be done. The greatest problem is the demoralization of the Italian Army about which nothing has been done. Only very severe measures, like those applied by Stalin in 1941, or by the French in 1917, will be of any avail. If only individual units were affected, we could appeal to their sense of honor by offering medals etc., but the whole army is in a state of collapse, and only barbaric measures can help to save the nation.

Therefore the Führer believes that a sort of directorate, tribunal, or court-martial should be set up in Italy to remove undesirable elements. Some capable people must be left in Italy, for everything could not suddenly have turned evil. He has already consulted Ambassador von Mackensen, but the latter could suggest no one capable of taking over the leadership.

The Commander in Chief, Navy, expresses his opinion as follows: "I believe, my Führer, that we either have to do without the Italian Army altogether, or we must try to strengthen it with German troops." The Führer replies: "Without the Italian Army we cannot hold the entire peninsula. In that case we would have to withdraw to a relatively short line." General Jodl points out that this would have very serious repercussions in the Balkans. The Commander in Chief, Navy replies: "That is why I believe that we must infiltrate our men into the Italian Army."

At this point Field Marshal Rommel enters, and the Führer asks him whether he knows of any really capable persons in the Italian Army who are fully cooperating with Germany. Field Marshal Rommel replies that there is no such person. Ferrari Orsi would have qualified, but was killed in action. At the present time Roatta would probably come closest, although he is not to be trusted and is without character. The Commander in Chief, Navy, says that he will again ask in Navy circles to see whether they might know of a suitable Army man. The Führer declares that everything depends on a radical change in the Italian situation. If this can be brought about, it will be worth taking the risk. If not, there is no point in throwing in additional German troops and thus engaging our last reserves.

Then follows a discussion of the measures that must be taken to safeguard the Straits of Messina, particularly the installation of medium and heavy coastal batteries. In this connection Konteradmiral Voss reports on the results of his trip to southern Italy and Messina. The Führer asks the Commander in Chief, Navy, whether he thinks it would be worthwhile to station more submarines in Sicilian waters. The Commander in Chief answers in the negative. Above all we must keep in mind that at the present time it is impossible for submarines to get through the Straits of Gibraltar. Perhaps this situation may be changed by fall. He does not believe that we can radically change the situation at sea with the means at our disposal, in view of the tremendously superior forces of the Anglo-Saxons. Even our S-boats have lost their effectiveness due to a tenfold superiority of enemy gunboat flotillas. Against light forces we can use only the Italian light forces. Coastal batteries will be our only means of defense against enemy cruisers and battleships. After a thorough discussion of the problem, the Führer, Commander in Chief, Navy, and Konteradmiral Voss come to the conclusion that heavy batteries cannot be brought from other areas, since it would take too long to dismantle them and install them anew. Finally the Führer asks Konteradmiral Voss to look into the question of the 24 cm guns.

The Commander in Chief, Navy, expresses the opinion that we ought to give the British something new to worry about. For this purpose he suggests that we begin laying our new mines in great numbers by the end of August. The Führer repeatedly asserts that he is very much worried that the enemy in turn might use these new-type mines if he finds them. This could easily be the case if the Luftwaffe makes a mistake in dropping them. He is willing to let the Navy lay the new mines at any time, but you can never tell where the Luftwaffe will drop them. The Commander in Chief, Navy, points out that experienced units of the Luftwaffe, for example the IX Corps, were very successful in laying mines, and that with the proper training this could be done successfully even now. For mine laying the Navy must depend on S-boats which can lay 500 mines per month at the most, and that is not enough. The Führer replies to this: "All right, I agree, but I must call attention to what can happen if the British should drop these mines in the Baltic Sea. Then we are through." He then orders that the possible effects of laying pressure mines in the Gulf of Taranto be explored.

In conclusion, the Commander in Chief, Navy, reports that work on the anti-destroyer torpedo has progressed to the point that it will be possible to equip submarines therewith in the beginning of August. This torpedo was completed 2 to 3 months earlier than he had expected. He expects to resume his attack in the North Atlantic by the end of August. Following this the Führer describes the demonstrations held at the Torpedo Experimental Establishment in 1938, when the Navy and Luftwaffe, probably the only time they were ever in full agreement, tried to convince him that it would not be advisable to develop an aerial torpedo force. Those cleverly executed demonstrations made him abandon his plan to build up a strong aerial torpedo force which could have been used as a surprise measure at the outbreak of war. He would have gone ahead with those plans if the utter uselessness of this undertaking had not been proven to him so expertly at that time by means of these wretched demonstrations.

signed: Dönitz

countersigned: Kapitänleutnant Rudolph


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