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Berlin, 3 September 1939

Reflections of the Commander in Chief, Navy, on the Outbreak of War, 3 September 1939.

Today the war against France and England broke out, the war which, according to the Führer's previous assertions, we had no need to expect before about 1944. The Führer believed up to the last minute that it could be avoided, even if this meant postponing a final settlement of the Polish question. (The Führer made a statement to this effect in the presence of the Commanders in Chief of the Armed Forces on the Obersalzberg on 22 August.) At the turn of the year 1944-1945, for which time, according to the Führer's instructions, the Navy's "Z Plan" was scheduled, Germany would have been able to begin a war against Great Britain with the Navy at the following strength:

    For merchant warfare on the high seas:

    3 fast battleships
    3 converted Panzerschiffe
    5 heavy cruisers
    Several mine-laying and scouting cruisers
    2 aircraft carriers
    About 190 submarines, including about 6 gun submarines, 6 fleet submarines, and 6 mine-laying submarines.

Two groups, each consisting of three of the heaviest type Diesel-powered battleships equipped with 40 cm. guns, would have had the task of intercepting and destroying the heavy British forces which, more or less dispersed, would pursue the German forces engaged in merchant warfare. Two ships of the SCHARNHORST and two of the TIRPITZ class would have remained available in home waters to hold down some of the heavy British ships. In this way, especially with the cooperation of Japan and Italy, who would have held down a section of the British Fleet, the prospect of defeating the British Fleet and cutting off supplies, in other words of settling the British question conclusively, would have been good.

On 3 September 1939 Germany entered into a war with Great Britain, as the latter - contrary to the Führer's assumption that "England did not need to fight on account of the Polish question" - thought it expedient to fight now with the Polish question as a pretext. Sooner or later, as she saw it, she would have to fight Germany, and then probably under unfavorable military conditions, i.e., against an expanded German Fleet.

As far as the Navy is concerned, obviously it is in no way very adequately equipped for the great struggle with Great Britain by autumn 1939. It is true that in the short period since 1935, the date of the Fleet Treaty, it has built up a well-trained, suitably organized submarine arm, of which at the moment about 26 boats are capable of operations in the Atlantic; the submarine arm is still much too weak, however, to have any decisive effect on the war. The surface forces, moreover, are so inferior in number and strength to those of the British Fleet that, even at full strength, they can do no more than show that they know how to die gallantly and thus are willing to create the foundations for a later reconstruction. The Panzerschiffe - with the outbreak of war only the DEUTSCHLAND and the GRAF SPEE are ready for operations in the Atlantic - if skillfully used, should be able to carry out cruiser warfare on the high seas for some time. The SCHARNHORST and the GNEISENAU, which are still by no means ready for action or reliable in operation, will have to attempt to hold down enemy battle cruisers in home waters and keep them away from the Panzerschiffe. The Panzerschiffe, however, cannot be decisive for the outcome of the war, either.

countersigned: Assmann



   


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