If we want to understand Großadmiral Dönitz' actions in the last few months of the Second World War and why he was tried at Nuremberg, we have to go back as far as the second half of the year 1944, when the time for stunning German victories was over for good.
At that time, the Wehrmacht was engaged on the Eastern Front in an increasingly desperate struggle to defend the German countries of Eastern and Western Prussia against an overwhelming Soviet superiority. To support the forces of the German Army, the last remaining big surface units of the German Navy, pocket-battleships, heavy and light cruisers, were assembled in a task force providing heavy artillery gunfire to halt or delay the advance of the Soviet Red Army.
The small town of Nemmersdorf, near the Prussian-Polish border, was the first German soil to be conquered by the Soviets. The 11th Guards Army under the command of General Galitsky had held the town for nearly a week, when General Hossbach's decimated, tired and battle weary 4th German Army threw the Soviets out of the town. The scene unfolding in front of the German soldiers' eyes was hard to believe. Almost everyone in the town had been slaughtered. The troops found dead and raped women nailed to barn doors, children shot dead and civilians crushed and smashed to bits and pieces by tanks which had run over them. In their seemingly unsatiable bloodthirst, the crazed 'soldatnia' even killed 40 French prisoners of war, hailing the soldiers of the Red Army as their liberators. These beastly cruelties, which - though war crimes under every jurisdiction - were never investigated, showed clearly what an unconditional surrender to such an enemy meant.