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Hallish (profile) wrote,
on 1-9-2005 at 3:07pm
Music: None. Beeyotches. n_n

There was one other decision agreed upon by Hitler and Raeder at the meeting on September 7. The Admiral noted it in his diary: "No attempt shall be made to solve the Athenia affair until the submarines return home."

The war at sea, as we have noted, had begun ten hours after Britains declaration of war when the British line Athenia, jammed with some 1400 passengers, was torpedoed without warning at 9 PM on September 3 some two hundred miles west of the Hebrides, with the loss of 112 lives, including twenty-eight Americans. The German Propaganda Ministry checked the first reports from London with the Naval High Command, was told that there were no U-boats in the vicinity and proptly denied that the ship had been sunk by the Germans. The disaster was most embarrassing to Hitler and the Naval Command and at first they did not believe the British reports. Strict orders had been given to all submarine commanders to observe the Hague Convention, which forbade attacking a ship without warning. Since all U-boats maintained radio silence, there was no means of immediately checking what had happened.* That did not prevent the controlled Nazi press from charging, within a couple of days, that the British had torpedoed their own ship in order to provoke the United States into coming into the war.
* The next day, September 4, all U-boats were signaled: "By order of the Führer, on no account are operations to be carried out against passenger steamers, even when under escort."

The Wilhelmstrasse was indeed concerned with American reaction to a disaster that had caused the deaths of twenty-eight United States citizens. The day after the sinking Weizsaecker sent for the American chargé, Alexander Kirk, and denied that a German submarine had done it. No German craft was in the vicinity, he emphasized. That evening, according to his later testimony at Nuremberg, the State Secretary sought out Raeder, reminded him of how the German sinking of the Lusitania during the First World War had helped bring America into it and urged that "everything should be done" to avoid provoking the United States. The Admiral assured him that "no German U-boat could have been involved."

At the urging of Ribbentrop, Admiral Raeder invited the American Naval attaché to come see him on September 16 and stated that he had now recieved reports from all the submarines, "as a result of which it was a U-boat." He asked him to so inform his government, which the attaché promptly did.

The Grand Admiral had not quite tol the truth. Not all the submarines which were at sea on September 3 had yet returned to port. Among those hat had not was U-30, commanded by Oberleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp, which did not dock in home waters until September 27. It was met by Admiral Karl Dönitz, commander of the submarines, who years later at Nuyremberg described the meeting and finally revealed the truth about who sank the Athenia.

"I met the captain, Oberleutnant Lemp, on the lockside at Wilhelmshaven as the boat was entering that harbor, and he asked permission to speak to me in private. I noticed iimmediately that he was looking very unhappy and he told me at once that he thought he was responsible for the sinking of the Athenia in the North Channe area. In accordance with my previous instructions he had been keepinga sharp lookout for possible armed merchant cruisers in the approaches to the British Isles, and had torpedoed a ship he afterward identified as the Athenia from wireless broadcasts, under the impression that she was an armed merchant crusier on patrol...

I dispatched Lemp at once by air to report to the Naval War Staf (SKL) at Berlin; in the meantime, I ordred complete secrecy as a provisional measure. Later the same day, or earlier the following day, I recieved an order from Kapitän zur See Fricke that:

1. [i] The affair was to be kept a total secret.[/i]
2. The High Command of the Navy (OKM) /considered/ that a court martial was not necessary, as they were satisfied that the captain had acted in good faith.

Political explanations would be handled by OKM. I had no part whatsoever in the political events in which the Führer claimed that no U-boat had sunk the Athenia."

But Dönitz, who must have suspected the truth all along, for otherwise he would not have been at the dock to greet the returning U-30, did have a part in altering the submarine's log and his own diary as to erase any telltale evidence of the truth. In fact, as he admitted at Nuremberg, he himself had ordered any mention of the Athenia stricken from the U-30's log and deleted it from his own diary. He swore the vessel's crew to absolute secrecy.*
* The officers, including Lemp, and some of the crew were transferred to the U-110, and went down with her on May 9, 1941. One member of the crew was wounded by aircraft fire a few days after the sinking of the Athenia. He was disembarked at Reykjavik, Iceland, under pledge of the strictest secrecy, later taken to a POW camp in Canada, and after the war signed an affidavit giving the facts. The Germans appear to have been worried that he would "talk", but he didn't until the war's end.

From Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. n_n
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