LACONIA - sinking September 1942

andysk
4th January 2011, 10:19
For those with access to UK BBC Two televison, there is a drama based on the September 1942 sinking of the Laconia by U156 this week.

It is in two parts showing on Tursday 6 and Friday 7 January, and has been written by Alan Bleasdale, he of Yosser Hughes (gissa job) and the Boys from the Blackstuff fame.

Cheers

Andy

BrianP
6th January 2011, 10:07
Today 06/01/2011 on BBC 2 at 21:00 part 1 of 2, a true story of the sinking of the Laconia by U-156, and its attemps to save the civilian crew.
Link:http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00x9cjj

fred henderson
6th January 2011, 12:52
There is a detailed report on the Laconia sinking in the SN Directory pages: -

http://www.shipsnostalgia.com/guides/Passenger_Ship_Disasters_-_Part_7

E.Martin
6th January 2011, 16:14
Read in the Mail today about the sinking of the Laconia after being torpedoed
by a Uboat,after surfacing seeing all the people in the water the captain attempted to rescue lots of the survivors including civilians,would he have done this if it was not for the fact that most of the people in the water were Italian
who were allies of the Germans.
When sinking any passenger ship he must have realised that there would be lots of people on board.

Binnacle
6th January 2011, 16:52
Thanks for alerting us Andy. It will be interesting to watch, however I suspect, as is fashionable nowadays, the Allies will be condemned for not calling for a temporary cessation of the anti U-boat war while the U-boat commander carried out his humanitarian act, attempting to save his Italian Allies. I hope I am mistaken.

binliner
7th January 2011, 14:10
I am surprised that no one has commented on the anomalies and down right mistakes made in last nights tv programme about the sinking of the Laconia. Where are all the nitpickers ?

chadburn
7th January 2011, 14:19
I think that you have to have the right approach to what was shown and that it is Alan Bleasdale's "take" on event's that were Based on a true story rather than it being a factual covering of the event.

R58484956
7th January 2011, 15:11
Cunarder with yellow funnel, three different types of braid on the bridge, Cunard, RN, inverted "v". thats for starters.

E.Martin
7th January 2011, 15:28
Junior third,three gold chevrons on his shoulder and the crossed anchors of a Bosun on his arm,still trying to fathom out what his job was other than a baby sitter.
Regarding the ship every thing was filthy.
Having said that I did enjoy the first half.

IAN M
7th January 2011, 15:57
You've opened a can of worms here, binliner.

A Hollywood approach with perhaps too many mistakes for most of us to comment.

Never saw such gold braid.
A telegram to the ship about an officer's family - during the war!
The captain having a leisurely talk with a colleague when his ship is going down, and tells the man to cup his cigarette, in case a u-boat sees it, when the ship is ablaze.
The u-boat telegraphist using only his index finger to operate the Morse key.

KYRENIA
7th January 2011, 16:07
LACONIA is shown ,at sea, as she was with double banked lifeboats on luffing davits. On board shots are shown with gravity davits! Also, surely she would be overall in wartime grey? But still an enjoyable programme.
Cheers, John.

Coastie
7th January 2011, 16:12
I enjoyed it and am looking forward to the second half tomorrow night.

mikeg
7th January 2011, 16:15
Amazing to have such leisurely chats during chaos however I think the instruction to cup his cigarette was sardonically humorous under such circumstances.

Did anyone actually use an index finger to send morse I wonder, not easy I'd guess. I would have liked at least some views of the Laconia's radio room.

Mike

sidsal
7th January 2011, 16:26
Not bad last night. However the junior 3rd Officer has 3 rings and the u- boat crew seem to spend a lot of time on deck and drinking bottled beer !

eriskay
7th January 2011, 17:13
With reference to the shot of the U-boat crewmen walking along the floor of a drydock, against the background of a fair-sized vessel on the blocks, complete with bulbous bow - when did bulbous bows first come about then?

Felt a lot of the acting was very wooden or OTT. Reminded me of the Titanic film, another one I had to stop watching after a while.

Winebuff
7th January 2011, 17:18
Am I the only one who can not bring themselves to watch any ship disaster movie?
The Posiden Adventure turned my stomach, still not seen Titanic and no desire to.

Peter Smith

sailingday
7th January 2011, 17:27
First visit for a long time, guessed the laconia would bring a load of comments,not dissapointed, be back again tomorrow

stores
7th January 2011, 17:45
SO MANY MISTAKES , A FILM COULD BE MADE OF THOSE ALONE, IT SHOWED 2 LIFEBOATS BEING TOWED, THERE WERE MORE, TYPICAL MOVIE COCK UP OF A REAL EVENT, THEY FORGET PEOPLE HAVE KNOWLEDGE OF THE REAL EVENT, SAME AS LAST TITANIC FILM, MADE IT INTO A LOVE STORY, A NIGHT5 TO REMEMBER WAS FAR MORE FACTUAL, THIS IS A WASTED OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A FACTUAL MOVIE, TOO MANY EMBELLISHMENTS, TO MANY MISTAKES REGARDING EQUIPMENT, UNIFORMS, TH E BRIDGE ATMOSPHERE WAS CRAZY, WHAT ELSE TONIGHT ? stores ?

John Cassels
8th January 2011, 08:42
Second part not much better !.

lesfish
8th January 2011, 09:12
During WW2 I think a baby sitting ticket was part of 2nd mates writtens and had to be carried out on articals with the seatime counting. Loved the programe.

My question is why did they change into "Blues" 645 miles off the coast of Africa?

Billieboy
8th January 2011, 09:43
Not a bad show, but I doubt if it will get an Oscar nomination! I thought that there would be a lot of remarks after seeing the shots in the dock bottom!

Billieboy
8th January 2011, 09:53
Eriskay; 1936 ish with the "Bremen", if I remember correctly, but the form of the Bremen forefoot was flatter at the bottom. The boot topping/ant-fouling colour was far too recent too!

Coastie
8th January 2011, 10:32
I haven't seen the second part yet, BBC2 Wales had rugby on last night(MAD) (typical) and I believe that they are showing it tonight, although it's not listed in any of the listings, Radio Times etc, so I suppose it's a case of wait and see!!:rolleyes:

Treborvfr
8th January 2011, 10:45
Not a bad show, but I doubt if it will get an Oscar nomination! I thought that there would be a lot of remarks after seeing the shots in the dock bottom!

So did I. :D
I find it helps to disengage reality drive when watching this type of drama then the facts don't get in the way of the enjoyment of it (*))

mikeg
8th January 2011, 11:35
Watched the second part last night. Is this the way to portray such a historical event? Women standing around with fresh faces, makeup, nail varnish hairdo's chatting as if nothing much had happened. Major engine repairs happening with no sounds. Hardly any injuries or shock, losses hardly mentioned, a lost baby hardly missed with virtually no tears. The seemingly endless and boreing dialogue was lightweight and pointless. Also the extreme closeup on faces during dialogue was irritating. A complete waste of time

Coastie
8th January 2011, 11:40
So did I. :D
I find it helps to disengage reality drive when watching this type of drama then the facts don't get in the way of the enjoyment of it (*))

I wholeheartedly agree, otherwise we'd never watch anything and enjoy it.

Bob Murdoch
8th January 2011, 12:15
Am I the only one who can not bring themselves to watch any ship disaster movie?
The Posiden Adventure turned my stomach, still not seen Titanic and no desire to.

Peter Smith

Hi Peter,
You are not alone. I also have not watched either of the Poseidon Adventure films, same reason. However, I did watch the Titanic one to please the missus. Dont worry, you will be asleep after half an hour from sheer boredom. I had my weekly phone call with my brother the next day. He has nowt to do with the sea, but he beat me asleep by some minutes, comparing what we could remember.
I do enjoy Lord's Night to Remember though.
Cheers Bob

Tom(Tucker)Kirby
8th January 2011, 12:54
It was an interesting film regardless of errors, I thought the comment of the skippers about covering the cigarette whilst lighting it was a hoot when the ship was ablaze from bow to stern, but I,m glad Bleasedale came up with another entertaining piece of film, better than all the reality and sitcom rubbish. P.S. Seeing the German crew member sitting on temporary crapper hanging out over the water reminded me of Palm Line and Elders, they had the same over the stern for all the African Kroo boys to use, even at sea !

ReineAstrid
8th January 2011, 13:33
Think this is Bleasedale being entertaining rather than factual and as such I think it probably succeeded, mostly. I get yelled at by She who must be Obeyed if I start saying there's too much egg on that ones arm for reality, so I have learnt to keep quiet, but she says the red face betrays me.........

Billieboy
8th January 2011, 13:47
I get yelled at by She who must be Obeyed if I start saying there's too much egg on that ones arm for reality, so I have learnt to keep quiet, but she says the red face betrays me.........

I had it slightly easier, I told the missus that Thursday and Friday there was a show about ships, so she said that she'd go to bed early!

chadburn
8th January 2011, 13:50
It may be that as the "Junior Third Officer" was himself a piece of fiction that it was also a deliberate move to make his mish mash of a Uniform a piece fiction in order not to offend former Merchant Navy Officer's.

gwzm
8th January 2011, 14:14
The fundamentals of the story were there but the execution grated due to glaring anomalies as have been commented on by others.
The control room on the "submarine" was huge, when in reality there would barely have been enough room for two (thin) people to pass each other. The "British" uniforms looked like a collection of slop chest discards donated to Oxfam from several different countries' tramp steamers. The message about the J3/O's family would have been on a message form, not a piece of company headed note-paper etc. etc. etc.
The whole thing was OK if you accepted it as moving wallpaper and the reality is that the inaccuracies wouldn't have been noticed by 99.9999% of the viewers.
gwzm

chadburn
8th January 2011, 14:19
The German's were involved in the production/acting of/on the programme it was not a pure British piece of fiction based on a real event. You just have to take these production's with a pinch of sea salt.

chadburn
8th January 2011, 14:56
As an addendum to the above in regard's to the comment's about the signal by gwzm. The taking of a message off the RN Sigs 266? form and placing it on a plain piece of paper to be hand delivered to an MN Bridge is not unusual as it may have been just part of a longer Classified signal taken by the RN Coder's (who were P.V. for Ultra). Placing it on a plain piece of paper de-classifies it and it can be disposed of in the normal way rather than take up space in the Classified Waste Bag which it would have to be if it was written on a Sigs 266? (even without the other information).

Jem
8th January 2011, 15:31
No matter what we think about the accuracy of the programme, what I find amazing and humbling is this event actually took place at all. Doneitz did what he could to help and the US bombed a vessel showing the Red Cross! The Allies just seemed to wish the whole episode would vanish. At his trial Doneitz was cleared of the 'Laconia Order'.

Jem
8th January 2011, 17:06
Don't forget chaps

IAN M
8th January 2011, 19:14
I was a wartime R/O and personal messages were NEVER sent.

Jem
8th January 2011, 19:47
I was a wartime R/O and personal messages were NEVER sent.Thanks for clearing that up Ian.

R396040
9th January 2011, 10:05
Tried five minutes each night of the Sinking of the Laconia and like the majority wasnt impressed.
However las t night watched the factual documentary of the event and was very impressed by the very dignified and impessive way the survivors recalled their terrible experiences way back in 1942 and their first hand impressions of the German Captain & crew. Good wishes to them all
Stuart
France

chadburn
9th January 2011, 11:07
I was a wartime R/O and personal messages were NEVER sent.

Ian, were you cleared for Ultra and and was your vessel manned by RN Encoder's? The reason why I ask is not to catch you out but to make the point that the Laconia was running as an independent under NCS control rather than a cargo ship in a Convoy under a Convoy Coomodore whose vessel would be the only one in the Convoy able to "Take" Ultra.

johnjames06
9th January 2011, 12:52
Pre dreadnought battleships had bulbous bows, The captain was only joking about the fag. Try to watch this for entertainment value, it's not a documentary. John

peter drake
9th January 2011, 15:43
Come on lads You will be expecting Coronation Street to be like a real back street next !!

Pete

johnjames06
9th January 2011, 16:13
Hello Peter, And all these years I thought it was. John.(A)(A)

will.
9th January 2011, 21:13
Captain George Steele was my great uncle, he was staff captain on the Laconia, I have read he was on the bridge wing with the Master as the ship went down, makes me proud to be part of the MN !,& makes me wonder how I would have felt if I were in his position.

Thegrandaughter
9th January 2011, 22:09
Hello to all

Having just found this thread after googling Laconia to find out more about her, I found it quite interesting to see that most of you didn't think the two part drama was up to much.

I have just been reading other peoples views on other various sites/forums and most people found it really enjoyable, and interesting as did myself.

But then I realised that most of you, maybe all, know much more than your average Joe about life at sea and all that sails on it. So I can understand some of you being disappointed, if the exact paper wasn't used in the telegram or if the life boats weren't attached properly ( can't remember the exact quote) But whilst most of you are being picky,( and maybe rightly so given your knowledge)

What you have to understand is the drama did the job it set out to do, it informed people of an incident that a lot of people including myself didn't even know happened and furthermore it actually portrayed a German officer to be humane,( which you have to admit is a first for a Jew owned TV company)


So I just thought I would give my two pence worth, hope you don't mind me barging in.

Thanks Gilly. :)

Coastie
9th January 2011, 23:10
Hear hear, Gilly, very well put! Up untill that TV programme, I hadn't heard about the Laconia either, so the programme did it's job. I managed to watch the second half on BBC Wales last night.

Thegrandaughter
9th January 2011, 23:28
Lol Thanks Coastie,

I re-read my post after and thought they will think I am a right bossy sod. (Jester)

I didn't mean it to come across that way if that is the case.

Yeah, I managed to catch the second half on iplayer last night, so for anyone who missed it, I think iplayer keeps it on for 20 days.

I thought it was interesting, I know i'ts not everyones cup of tea, but it beats all the other rubbish that's on TV.

Thanks, Gilly

Coastie
9th January 2011, 23:48
Quite true! I even chose to watch Laconia instead of Casualty last night!!

stan mayes
9th January 2011, 23:53
Gilly,
Many thanks for barging in with your comments - just what I needed to prompt
me into entering this thread..
I served in the merchant navy for 20 years from 1936 -including the war years..
I sailed as AB and Bosun in tramps and tankers of various companies.
I experienced being bombed and being torpedoed and having six days in a lifeboat in the South Atlantic..
I found a few faults in the film but I decided to belay commenting..
Now you have placed it in its proper context..
We should thank the author and producer for showing a tragedy which was
experienced by many merchant seamen.
Most people are unaware of the services which the merchant navy provided
during the war and also they are unaware of the great sacrifices made.
We were involved in the longest battle during the war - it was the Battle of the
Atlantic and it lasted six long years...
We lost 32,000 seamen - that is one in three killed,of our total manpower. RIP.
Thankyou again Gilly,
Best regards
Stan

Treborvfr
10th January 2011, 10:03
Well said Gilly.
I hadn't heard of this story until this drama was aired.
Having since watched the documentry in which survivors recounted their experiences it would appear that the drama did follow pretty much what actually happened. Yes, holes can be picked in certain aspects of the programme, but I enjoyed watching it.

Bob

mikeg
10th January 2011, 12:07
Good post Gilly. Technical director/advisors try to assure technical accuracy as far as possible, historical dramas especially go to great lengths to achieve this.
It just shows the high standard we've now got used to and I'm sure 99 percent of folk with no maritime knowledge would be perfectly happy with the production with some other able to recognise the errors but to still enjoy the drama.

HinTFishy
10th January 2011, 12:53
Firstly, let me apologise if I'm repeating what other people have said - I don't have time to read through the thread right now and wanted to leave my two-penneth.

I was very disappointed with the BBC drama on the Laconia as a historical drama. It was well written (mostly) but not well researched and it gave no attention to the ship's crew at all. I was particularly incensed since my grandfather, George Steele, was one of the three officers we ever saw in the program but was not even named, nor was any effort made to represent him as he was. His children were not even contacted before the making of the program for any information about him.
It seemed to me that the attention was entirely on the, admittedly interesting, Germans and that the crew of the Laconia were merely an inconvenience that the writer couldn't completely ignore (though he tried his best).
It is a shame, but what was an entertaining drama was spoiled for me by it's lack of historical accuracy or respect for those involved.

Treborvfr
10th January 2011, 13:28
HinTFishy,
I can understand why you may get personally upset, however the program wasn't about your Grandfather or any other member of the crew of the ship. Whilst there was a bit of a build up prior to the sinking to set the stage, so to speak, the program was mainly about what happened after the sinking and the unusual compassion shown by the German Captain after the attack.
This was a story I'd never heard of before, I'd heard of U-boats machine gunning survivors but not going to the extremes this particular commander went to apparently save survivors.

To have tried to show more of the life and times of the officers and crew of the Laconia would have distracted from the main point, or story, of the drama and prolonged it by hours. To depict this aspect would, IMHO, require a seperate drama, or even a documentry, to be written.

Bob

M29
10th January 2011, 13:49
Hi All
Just slightly off the thread, that excellent three part doc on the "Battle of the Atlantic" is currently running on the "Yesterday" channel for those of you with Sky or Freeview.

With regard Larconia programme, I think we are like most professions when critising dramas about their field. My father for instance didn't like medical shows, he would say things like "that stethoscope design didn't come out until 1930" and "you never lift a patient like that" etc etc.

I think most people enjoyed the Drama and it was informative about an event many people didn't know about. I expect that without Camerons "Titanic" budget, they did their best in terms of the ship scenery, wardrobe, etc. As other members, I found the follow up documentary extemely interesting and moving.

Best wishes

Alan

HALLLINE
10th January 2011, 14:16
What was the U Boat that was used in the making of the program, could it have been an American boat converted ?.
Dave

Thegrandaughter
10th January 2011, 16:33
Gilly,
Many thanks for barging in with your comments - just what I needed to prompt
me into entering this thread..
I served in the merchant navy for 20 years from 1936 -including the war years..
I sailed as AB and Bosun in tramps and tankers of various companies.
I experienced being bombed and being torpedoed and having six days in a lifeboat in the South Atlantic..
I found a few faults in the film but I decided to belay commenting..
Now you have placed it in its proper context..
We should thank the author and producer for showing a tragedy which was
experienced by many merchant seamen.
Most people are unaware of the services which the merchant navy provided
during the war and also they are unaware of the great sacrifices made.
We were involved in the longest battle during the war - it was the Battle of the
Atlantic and it lasted six long years...
We lost 32,000 seamen - that is one in three killed,of our total manpower. RIP.
Thankyou again Gilly,
Best regards
Stan


Thanks all. for the replies, I'm enjoying the banter.(Thumb)


Hello Stan,

I agree that most people are unaware of what went on in the seas during the wars.

I don't know how you feel , but I feel that men like yourself who went through what you did don't get the recognition they deserve, that's why I think TV docs and dramas such as the Laconia are so important, even if it's just to remind people what actually went on back then.

I believe that television does broadcast war documentaries from time to time, but not at peak times and very rarely are they shown on the main 4 channels. And just like the Laconia drama they don't seem to be as well advertised as they could be, therefore I think that a lot of people who enjoy and want to watch such informative programmes sometimes miss out on the opportunity to do so.




Kind Regards

Gilly

John Cassels
10th January 2011, 18:10
This thread is starting to get a bit silly !.

Thegrandaughter
10th January 2011, 18:45
Sorry John for going off topic, perhaps I should of asked the questions via pm, I will take them off.

Regards

Gilly

stan mayes
10th January 2011, 18:46
Hello Gilly,
Of course I will answer your questions - you have a genuine interest..
I felt no enmity for the German people -only the Nazi regime..
Soldier fighting soldier - Seaman fighting seaman,that was a consequence of war.
As things were going in 1939 I feel that we had to declare war against Germany.Although America was very helpful and generous in supplying us
with all we needed -food,war materials etc. I was angry that they did not engage in the war themselves earlier..
With their colossal manpower and great industrial capabilities I am sure that
it would have shortened the war - it may also have deterred the Japanese
plans,but no doubt the Japanese as with Hitler had planned it for a long time..
As regards the begining of the war and my feelings about it - in 1939 I was 18
and it was the begining of an adventure - until I began losing pals in the conflicts.
I was in Viking Star and we loaded 6,000 tons of meat in Buenos Aires.
Then sailed independently for Freetown where we would join a convoy for UK.
A few hours after crossing the Equator we were hit by three torpedoes from
U 130 - it was 5.45pm on 25th August 1942.
Captain Mills and six crew were killed - 3 of the 4 lifeboats were demolished by
the explosions so only one boat and some rafts were launched.
Viking Star broke her back and sank in the shape of a huge V -it was a sad sight
to behold.
I was in the lifeboat with 35 other survivors and 17 men were on four rafts.
We remained with the rafts for two days then sailed to try and reach the land.
Six days and we were then capsized in heavy surf on coast of Sierra Leone.
A few days walking through the jungle escorted by natives and sleeping overnight in mud huts until we reached Sherbro and French traders living there.
They radioed Freetown and a RN launch came for us and took us to Freetown
where on arrival we all entered hospital suffering from malaria.
The survivors on rafts suffered terrible agonies of sunburn and salt water boils
and all were capsized in the surf on coast of Liberia -they had drifted for 12 days...Sadly a DEMS gunner was killed when his raft was capsized.
Complete details of my wartime career are in this great SN site- in Thread
WW2 Convoys Stan Mayes ...end December 2006 ..
Gilly - your last question is 'Would I change anything?' .....No!!
In 1949 in Hamburg I met a wonderful German lady Elsa....we later married
and were together for 55 memorable years....sadly she passed away in 2009.
Kind regards
Stan

Thegrandaughter
10th January 2011, 18:56
Stan thank you for taking the time out to answer my questions, a remarkable story I have to say. I won't go on about it too much here. I shall go over and read your thread.

Thanks again, it's very much appreciated.

Kind Regards

Gilly

stan mayes
10th January 2011, 19:02
Gilly -your questions should remain - if the Moderators think
differently they will remove them.
Regards
Stan

stan mayes
10th January 2011, 19:16
John Cassels -
Your opinion -'This thread is getting a bit silly'.
I think your comment is silly- if not insulting..
Gilly asked me questions pertaining to the subject of merchant seamen
at war..
Is'n't that what the 'Laconia' incident was about?

barnsey
10th January 2011, 21:03
The Laconia ... 'Documentary' has been the subject of much discussion amongst the Merchant Navy bretheren these last couple a weeks be it here in SN, 'Old Worcester's' or 'Old Salts'.

Just before Xmas I was over in Blenheim ( NZ ) in my usual haunt of the second hand book shop and there under a pile was a little yellow booklet ...'Atlantic Torpedo'. Thinking of 'Our Stan' I carefully picked it up and read the preface. No mention of the ships name ..... knew it needed a carefull home, took it to the desk and paid for it. It now rests with my collection on the subject of 'The Battle of the Atlantic', which a few people now know is extremely extensive and only special and detailed books go into it. This book is at home.

Yes, it is of course all about the sinking of the 'Laconia' from a survivors point of view and as you see from the preface the feelings run parallel to Stans.

I am no fan of Discovery or History channel productions as my view is they are produced for TV Ratings rather than correctness and this was my original view of what the 'Laconia' program would be like ... I was wrong it seems to be terrible. I will get to see it shortly and will then post my review but it sounds as though its a shambles so far as accuracy goes with ships, uniforms and scenes. If the content is as bad then its sad because it will propagate more myth's when we really need people to get the reality of what people such as Stan did, suffered and survived .... and that goes for both sides of the fence ...... read what Stan said in his post.

I attach the covers and preface from 'my little booklet'

NoR
10th January 2011, 21:05
....If they had a technical advisor they either weren't listening to him or he/she didn't know much. Mind you if you get someone like Bleasdale involved what do you expect , needless to say it got great review from the likes of the Independent. Just for the record I've pasted below Clay Blair's account of the incident from his book 'Hitler's U-Boat war, The Hunted 1942-1945'


On the morning of September 12, Werner Hartenstein in U-156, a Type IXC of group Eisbdr en route to Cape Town, spotted the second enemy ship of his patrol. She was a big one: the 19,700-ton British Cunard White Star passenger liner Laco- nia, serving as a troopship. Northbound from Cape Town to the British Isles, Laconia was sailing alone about nine hundred miles south of Freetown. There were about 2,700 people on board, including 1,800 Italian POWs, 268 British military personnel, 103 Free Poles who were guarding the Italians, and about 80 women and children.
Remaining hull-down beyond the horizon, Hartenstein tracked Laconia until dark, then ran in by the light of a full moon to make a surface attack. He fired two bow torpedoes. One hit forward, the other amidships. Laconia stopped dead in the water. The crew lowered lifeboats and threw over rafts. The radio operator sent out a submarine warning (SSS), giving the name of the ship and her position, adding that Laconia had been torpedoed. No Allied radio monitors picked up this warning or the distress message, or a second one Laconia broadcast four minutes later. But Hartenstein heard them and doubtless his pulse quickened. Counting confirmed claims on his two prior patrols to the Caribbean and the Clan Macwirter sunk in Sierra Leone 119, Laconia's 20,000 tons brought his sinkings to 100,000 tons and made him eligible for a Ritterkreuz.
Laconia had enough lifeboats and rafts to support all 2,700 persons aboard her, including the POWs. But owing to the sharp list of the ship, many boats and rafts could not be launched. Others were improperly launched and capsized or swamped. Chaos reigned on the boat decks. Many lifeboats entered the water and pulled away half full or less. Laconia's captain, Rudolph Sharp, brave and defiant to the end, chose to go down with his ship, which sank about an hour and a half after the torpedoes hit. The noise of her exploding boilers attracted scores of sharks to the scene. They attacked the hundreds of survivors who had jumped into the sea wearing life preservers.
Circling the sinking ship in the darkness at a safe distance, Hartenstein watched her lowering away lifeboats. Then he heard men shouting in Italian, "Aiuto! Aiuto!" ("Help! Help!"). He fished out several of the Italians and from them learned to his shock and dismay that they were survivors of a shipment of hundreds of Italian POWs from North Africa. They told Hartenstein that both torpedoes exploded in POW pens deep in the ship's hold, killing hundreds. The Poles who were assigned to guard the POWs refused to unbolt the doors on the pens and consequently hundreds of Italians who survived the torpedoes went down with the ship. Several hundred or more broke out of one pen and scrambled topside, but
they were refused places in lifeboats at gun and bayonet point.
According to the rules of war being observed by Axis and Allies alike, Harten- stein was in no way guilty of any infraction. Laconia was armed (two 4.7" naval guns, six 3" antiaircraft guns, and so on), zigzagging, and blacked out, hence a legitimate submarine target. Inasmuch as the U-boat rules discouraged—or even prohibited—rescue or capture of survivors of sunken ships (except captains and chief engineers), Hartenstein was free to resume his journey to Cape Town, leaving all the survivors, including the Italians, to fend for themselves. But he did not. Perhaps concerned that the accidental killing and stranding of so many Italian soldiers could cause a serious political rupture in the Axis high command, and/or deeply moved by humanitarian considerations, Hartenstein launched a rescue operation. In two hours, he fished out ninety Italians, many suffering from bayonet wounds or shark bites.
There were "hundreds" more Italians floating in the water, many without life jackets, clinging to wreckage. Hartenstein soon realized he could not take them all on board. Nor could he leave them behind. What they urgently needed were more U-boats. He therefore notified Donitz of the situation—that Laconia "unfortu- nately" carried "1,500 Italian POWs"—and requested instructions. Approving Hartenstein's rescue operation, Donitz immediately directed seven other U-boats to proceed at high speed to the disaster scene: the other four U-boats of group Eis- bdr, including the tanker U-459, plus Erich Wiirdemann's U-506, in the Gulf of Guinea, and Harro Schacht's U-507, homebound from a foray to Brazil, and the Italian submarine Cappellini, commanded by Marco Revedin. Donitz then notified Berlin of the situation, the action he had taken, and of a hastily concocted plan to have the eight rescue submarines land the survivors in the port of Bingerville, on the Vichy French Ivory Coast, about six hundred miles to the northeast.
Berlin had other ideas. Professing to be humiliated and outraged by the loss of Italian comrades, Hitler declared that Hartenstein should have said nothing, quietly submerged, and left the scene. He insisted that nothing was to interfere with Eisbar's surprise attack on Cape Town, which was designed to deliver a crippling blow to military supplies destined for the British in Egypt and the Soviets, via the Persian Gulf. In response to this tirade, Admiral Raeder directed Donitz to disen- gage all Eisbdr boats from the Laconia rescue, including Hartenstein's U-156, and send them onward to Cape Town, per the original plan. Wiedemann's U-506, Schacht's U-507, and Revedin's Cappellini were to take on Hartenstein's Italian survivors and to pick up other Italians if they could be rescued without endanger- ing the boats. No British or other Allied survivors were to be rescued, only Italians. In place of landing the survivors in Bingerville, Raeder was to request that the Vichy French send warships from Dakar and/or the Ivory Coast to meet the U-boats at sea and take off the survivors.
In the meantime, Hartenstein fished out about four hundred survivors. He took 193, including 172 Italians and twenty-one British men and women, on board U-156 and put the others in lifeboats. In response to queries from Donitz, he de- scribed the sinking and the scene in detail and suggested "a diplomatic neutralization" (i.e., a temporary cease-fire) in the area in order to effect a safe rescue of both Allied and Axis survivors. Donitz relayed this unusual proposal to Berlin, but Ad- miral Raeder and the OKM rejected it, in part because Hitler in his rage had di- rected that no word of the Laconia sinking or the proposed Axis rescue be transmitted to the Allies, and in part because Raeder did not think it wise to enter into a "deal" with the untrustworthy Allies.
No one told Hartenstein that his "neutralization" proposal had been rejected. In any case, he did not wait for approval. On his own initiative on the morning of Sep- tember 13, he broadcast this extraordinary message in plain English three times:
If any ship will assist the shipwrecked Laconia crew I will not attack her, pro- viding I am not attacked by ship or air force. I picked up 193 men. 4°-52" south. ll°-26" west. German Submarine.
The British in Freetown intercepted this message, but believing it might be a ruse de guerre, refused to credit it or to act. While waiting for a response, Hartenstein cruised about, rescuing and redistributing the survivors. To relieve the crowding on U-156, he transferred thirty-one English and Italians to lifeboats but kept four British women. To prevent lifeboats from swamping, h e redistributed about one hundred survivors from overloaded lifeboats to those with more space. Later in the day, Donitz canceled orders to the four oncoming Eisbdr boats to assist in the res- cue and specifically directed Hartenstein to turn over all survivors to the first U-boat to arrive at the scene—probably Wurdemann's U-506—and then head south to rejoin group Eisbdr for the attack on Cape Town. In response to Berlin's request, the 7,500-ton Vichy French cruiser Gloire sailed from Dakar, and two sloops, the fast 650-ton Annamite and the slower 2,000-ton Dumont d'Urville, sailed from Conakry, French Guinea, and Cotonou, Dahomey, respectively.
During September 14 Hartenstein continued to play the role of shepherd. He logged that in addition to the 162 survivors on board U-159, he was surrounded by "roughly twenty-two large fully filled boats and a large number of small rafts." He retrieved and righted swamped boats, doled out water and food to British and Ital- ians alike, and shifted survivors around to equalize the loads in the boats. He intercepted messages from Donitz to the four Eisbar boats ordering them to cancel res- cue operations, turn about, and go on to Cape Town, to Helmut Witte in U-159, alerting him to prepare to relieve Hartenstein for operations with group Eisbdr, and detailed instructions to Hartenstein and to Wurdemann in U-506 and Schacht in U-507 for conducting rescues and meeting the Vichy French ships. Donitz warned the three German rescue submarines: "All boats, including Hartenstein, only take as many men into the boat as will allow it to be fully ready for action when submerged."
On the following day, September 15, Wurdemann and Schacht arrived at the scene. By then Donitz had formally substituted Helmut Witte in U-159 for Harten- stein in group Eisbdr and had directed Hartenstein to continue the rescue opera- tions until the Vichy French ships arrived. In compliance with Donitz's order not to overcrowd the U-boats, Hartenstein transferred 132 Italians to Wurdemann's U-506, retaining 131, including five women. In addition, Wurdemann took in tow four lifeboats, containing, he logged, "about 250 people." Schacht took on board from the lifeboats or rafts 149 Italians, two English officers, and two women. In addition, he also took in tow four lifeboats containing, he logged, "eighty-six Englishmen and nine Poles."
After these rescues had been carried out, Wiirdemann and Schacht gave Donitz brief descriptions of their situations. In reporting that he had four lifeboats containing 250 people in tow, Wurdemann did not say the boats contained British and Poles. Donitz assumed they were some of the hundreds of Italian survivors. In reporting that he also had four lifeboats in tow, Schacht stated that they contained ninety-five British and Poles. Upon receipt of this message, Donitz directed Schacht but not Wurdemann to cut the lifeboats loose.
Unknown to Berlin and to all but a few Allied personnel, the Americans had only recently established an airfield on the British island of Ascension, 250 miles south- west of the Laconia sinking. Its primary purpose was to serve as a refueling stop for combat and transport aircraft en route to Africa via the Brazil-South Atlantic route. Its secondary purpose was to provide limited air escort and rescue for Allied shipping in this remote area of the South Atlantic. For the secondary task—and for self-defense against Axis air or sea attack—a squadron of twenty-three Air Force planes (eighteen P-39 fighters and five B-25 medium bombers) had recently arrived for permanent duty. Although the squadron had been supplied with the latest ASW depth charges and bombs, none of the airmen had been trained in ASW
On the morning of September 15, five transient aircraft en route from Ascen- sion to Accra, British Ghana, spotted two U-boats on the surface. When one of the aircraft descended for a closer look, one of the U-boats shot at it with flak guns, or so said the Americans. The plane evaded and resumed its flight to Accra. Another of the planes at a higher altitude radioed Ascension to report the U-boat sighting and the brief encounter. Within ten minutes of this notice, Ascension had two B-25s in the air on a search-and-destroy mission, but they could not find the U-boats. The records do not reveal which U-boats they were.
That same day—September 15—British authorities in Freetown for the first time notified Ascension of the Laconia sinking and of a plan to divert a British merchant ship, Empire Haven, to the scene to rescue the survivors. The garbled or poorly composed message gave the impression that Laconia had only just been sunk that day. It did not mention Hartenstein's ongoing rescue efforts or his pro- posal for a diplomatic "neutralization" (or cease-fire) in the rescue area or that Vichy French ships were en route to the scene. The heart of the message was a re- quest for Ascension to provide air cover during Empire Haven's rescue efforts. As- cension replied that the sinking site (as given in the message) was too far away for its twin-engine B-25 medium bombers to effectively assist, but that a transient B-24 Liberator would be pressed into service on the following day.
The next morning, September 16, Hartenstein reported to Donitz that he had turned over 132 survivors to Wiirdemann and that he was attempting to corral the lifeboats, which were drifting over a wide area. Per orders from Donitz, he in- tended to remain at the site until the arrival of the Vichy French ships. Beyond Hartenstein's ken, Wiirdemann fished out another twelve Italian survivors, bring- ing his total on board to 142. He also had nine women and children on board and the four lifeboats in tow. Schacht had transferred twenty-three Italians and one British officer from U-507 to the lifeboats, to make room to take on board thirteen more women and sixteen children, bringing the number of survivors on U-507 to an excessive 161 (129 Italians, sixteen children, fifteen women, one British offi- cer). Near U-507 were seven lifeboats containing about 330 people, including about 35 Italians.
That morning—September 16—the transient B-24 Liberator, commanded by James D. Harden, took off from Ascension laden with depth charges and bombs. Two and a half hours later, at 9:30 A.M., Harden sighted U-156. At that time Hartenstein had 115 survivors on board (fifty-five Italians, fifty-five British males, and five British females), and was towing four crowded lifeboats and preparing to tie on another. Upon seeing the plane, Hartenstein displayed a homemade isix-foot- by-six-foot Red Cross flag over his bridge and attempted to talk-to Harden by sig- nal lamp, but in vain. Harden flew off to a safe distance, described the situation to Ascension, and asked for instructions. Unaware of Hartenstein's proposal for a temporary cease-fire during the rescue, or anything about the ongoing rescues by U-506, U-507, and Cappellini, the squadron commander, Robert C. Richardson III,* replied: "Sink sub."
Harden returned to U-156 and circled to attack. He later reported officially that the "lifeboats had moved away from sub," and that on the first pass he dropped three depth charges. Two fell wide but one "hit ten feet astern." In his official report, Hartenstein stated that when the B-24 reappeared, the four lifeboats were still in tow. When he saw the plane's bomb-bay doors open, he ordered the towline cut so

that he could crash dive. One of the three bombs fell amid the lifeboats, Hartenstein wrote, capsizing one of them and flinging the survivors into the sea. Harden reported that he made four more runs at U-156. On the first three, the depth charges or bombs failed to release. On the fourth and last, Harden dropped two bombs that fell very close. "The sub rolled over and was last seen bottom up," Harden said, claiming a kill. "Crew had abandoned sub and taken to surrounding lifeboats."
During Harden's three abortive runs, Hartenstein concluded that the plane's "bomb racks were empty." Hence, he remained on the surface. On the last run, Hartenstein reported, one of the two bombs exploded "immediately below the control room." When the Germans below reported heavy flooding and chlorine gas, Hartenstein ordered all survivors (British and Italians alike) overboard and directed his crew to don life jackets and to prepare to abandon ship. He broadcast a U-boat "distress signal" three times on four different frequencies.
Fortunately for the Germans, the initial damage reports were exaggerated. The flooding was easily checked; no dangerous chlorine gas developed. Both periscopes were damaged but not seriously; seven battery cells were broken. Hartenstein pulled away and dived, furious at the American airmen for failing to honor the Red Cross flag and for bombing the lifeboats. Later he reported the at- tack to Donitz, concluding, "Am discontinuing help. All men [survivors] over- board. Am moving away to the west. Am repairing damage."
When Donitz learned of the attack on U-156 he, too, was furious. Some of his equally enraged staffers urged him to break off the rescue. In his memoirs, Donitz wrote that having set his hand to the task, he could not abandon it and put an end to all such discussion with these words: "I cannot put those people into the water. I shall carry on." He ordered Hartenstein to "take no further part in salvage operations." He directed Wiirdemann and Schacht not to rely on Red Cross flags, to transfer to the lifeboats all survivors except Italians, to keep their U-boats in "instant readiness" to dive and conduct submerged combat.
Not fully informed of what was going on, Revedin in Cappellini arrived at the scene that same day. He saw hundreds of "dots" in the water, which proved to be shark-bitten corpses. Later he found two lifeboats under sail. One contained fifty British males, the other, forty-one British males and forty-three British females and children. Revedin offered to take aboard all survivors in both boats, but all refused. In lieu of rescue, Revedin gave them food, water, cigarettes, and so on and directions to the African coast, six hundred miles away.
In the late afternoon, Revedin found other half-sunk lifeboats. These contained many Italians as well as British and others. He picked up forty-nine of the weakest Italians and put them belowdecks. He then brought aboard "a lot" of British and Poles, who remained topside on the deck while Revedin sought to find one of the Vichy French rescue ships. The Italian POWs told Revedin that the British had

These and other details of the event, as recorded at the time by Hartenstein, are taken from an English translation of the war diary of U-156, which was presented at Donitz's trial in Nuremberg and included as an appendix in the published record of the war crimes trial of Heinz Eck et al. (See bibliography listing for Cameron.)

treated them barbarically and that probably 1,400 of their number had gone down with the ship, still locked in the holding pens.
On the following day, September 17, Ascension reverberated with bellicose ac- tivity. The five B-25s of the permanent squadron and Harden's transient B-24 Lib- erator flew ASW missions from dawn to dusk. Squadron commander Richardson in a B-25 found a group of Laconia lifeboats and informed the British rescue ship Empire Haven of their position. Harden in the B-24 caught sight of Wiirdemann in U-506, who still had 142 Italians and nine women and children on board, and at- tacked. Wiirdemann belatedly crash-dived, but his conning tower was still exposed when Harden made his pass. Luckily for the Germans (and the 151 Laconia sur- vivors), Harden's depth charges or bombs again fouled and refused to fall. On a second pass, Harden dropped two 500-pound bombs and two 350-pound depth charges, but by then Wiirdemann was deep and the shallow-set missiles caused no serious damage.t Upon receiving another garbled or unclear message from the British at Freetown, advising that three Vichy French ships were en route from Dakar, Ascension wrongly assumed that these French intended to invade and seize Ascension Island. Therefore the entire garrison girded to repel invaders.
That same day—September 17—the three Vichy French ships arrived at the Laconia sinking site and began picking up the survivors, who had been in the lifeboats or water or U-boats for five days. Gloire rescued fifty-two British from a lifeboat and directed Wiirdemann and Schacht to put their three hundred-plus sur- vivors on board the sloop Annamite while she, Gloire, hunted for others. During that afternoon and the night of September 17-18, Gloire found 684 more survivors in lifeboats or on rafts or clinging to boards. On September 18, Gloire again met Annamite to take off her three hundred-plus survivors, bringing the number of sur- vivors on Gloire to 1,041, of which 597 were British (including 48 women and children), 373 were Italian, 70 were Poles, and one was a Greek. Gloire then set sail for Casablanca via Dakar, leaving the two sloops to conduct further rescues.
Revedin in Cappellini made contact with the sloop Dumont d'Urville on Sep- tember 19. He transferred forty-two Italians to the sloop, but as instructed, he re- tained two British officers (as POWs) and six Italian survivors to guard the British and went directly to Bordeaux. Later that day, Dumont transferred the forty-two Italian POWs to Annamite, who took them to Dakar. Dumont continued searching the area until September 21, in vain, then returned to Cotonou, Dahomey. Two Laconia lifeboats containing twenty survivors later reached the African coast. Thus, it
* The exact fate of the Italian POWs and the approximate number who drowned locked in hold- ing pens, if any, has not been established. The assertion here of callous inhumanity is taken from an excellent but incomplete account of the disaster, The Laconia Affair (1963), by a French author, Leonce Peillard. In several other places in his account, Peillard states (or quotes others as stating) that the Polish guards refused to unlock the pens. Elsewhere, he writes that hundreds of fear-crazed Italian POWs escaped by rushing the bars en masse and smashing them down. He depicts one Laconia officer leading a group of Italian POWs from the hold to the boat deck. Citing Italians, both Hartenstein and Schacht logged—and informed Donitz by radio—that the British had badly mistreated the Italian POWs.
Harden and crew were awarded Air Medals for the "destruction" of one submarine (U-156) and "probable destruction" of another (U-506).
was reckoned roughly, about 1,600 out of about 2,700 persons were lost in the dis- aster, including about 1,000 of the 1,800 Italian POWs.*
After transferring their survivors to Annamite, U-506 and U-507 reported same to Donitz. In addition, Schacht sent off several long-winded messages, passing on the Italian allegations of British mistreatment of the POWs and other information of no tactical urgency. In one message, Schacht described the help he had given the British and Polish survivors. That message drew a stern rebuke from Donitz:
Action was wrong. Boat was dispatched to rescue Italian Allies not for rescue and care of Englishmen and Poles.
At the conclusion of these rescue operations on September 17, Donitz was exasperated. He thought Hartenstein had shown poor judgment in assuming that a "tacit truce" existed. The Allies could not be trusted. All three German skippers involved in the rescue had unduly risked their U-boats by taking on too many survivors and by towing strings of lifeboats that interfered with crash dives. As a consequence, U-156 and U-506 were nearly lost to air attack. All three skippers likewise erred by showing excessive compassion and humanity to the British and Poles. Schacht erred by sending unnecessarily garrulous reports, which could be DFed.
Donitz had long since admonished his captains (in Standing Orders 154 and 173) not to put their boats at risk by attempting rescues of survivors. They were to suppress their natural humanitarian instincts and be as hard-hearted as the enemy. Feeling the need to again emphasize these points, that night—September 17— Donitz issued a more toughly worded repetition of the earlier admonitions:
1. No attempt of any kind must be made at rescuing members of ships sunk; and this includes picking up persons in the water and putting them in lifeboats, righting capsized lifeboats and handing over food and water. Rescue runs counter to the rudimentary demands of warfare for the destruction of enemy ships and crews.
2. Orders for bringing in captains and chief engineers still apply.
3. Rescue the shipwrecked only if their statements will be of importance to your boat.
4. Be harsh, having in mind that the enemy takes no regard of women and children in his bombing attacks on German cities.
This admonition was to achieve fleeting notoriety as the "Laconia Order." The British prosecutor at Donitz's trial in Nuremberg introduced it as the centerpiece in the catalog of "evidence" to prove the charge that Donitz encouraged inhumane naval warfare in violation of the Submarine Protocol. The prosecutor charged that the admonition was a thinly veiled order for U-boat skippers "deliberately to annihilate" merchant-ship survivors, as Hitler had proposed earlier in the year. But this "evidence" backfired. The introduction of the admonition at Nuremberg gave the Donitz defense team an opportunity to depict at length German submariners behaving with un- precedented humanity at great personal risk, while in the same event Allied forces behaved callously, or worse. Speaking with cool restraint, Donitz showed how the need for the "Laconia Order" arose in light of the Laconia experience and convincingly refuted the charge that it was designed to encourage his skippers to kill survivors.
Hartenstein repaired the damage to U-156 and continued his patrol in the Freetown area. To his delight, word came that he had been awarded a Ritterkreuz* On September 19, he sank by torpedo and gun his third ship of the patrol, the 4,700-ton British freighter Quebec City, sailing alone, but in the month of October he had no successes. When he returned to France, Donitz criticized his role in the Laconia affair—for assuming he could arrange a "tacit truce"—but otherwise praised him for conducting a "well-executed" patrol.
Wiirdemann in U-506, who had sunk four ships off Freetown and in the Gulf of Guinea before engaging in the Laconia rescue, obtained some fuel from Harten- stein and returned to patrol near Freetown. Like Hartenstein, he sank only one other ship before returning to France, but that one brought his bag for the patrol to five ships for 28,000 tons. Schacht in U-507 returned directly from the Laconia rescue to France without sinking any more ships. The confirmed aggregate returns of U-156, U-506, and U-507 came to thirteen ships sunk for 76,500 tons.

barnsey
10th January 2011, 21:29
HinTFishy,
I can understand why you may get personally upset, however the program wasn't about your Grandfather or any other member of the crew of the ship. Whilst there was a bit of a build up prior to the sinking to set the stage, so to speak, the program was mainly about what happened after the sinking and the unusual compassion shown by the German Captain after the attack.
This was a story I'd never heard of before, I'd heard of U-boats machine gunning survivors but not going to the extremes this particular commander went to apparently save survivors.

To have tried to show more of the life and times of the officers and crew of the Laconia would have distracted from the main point, or story, of the drama and prolonged it by hours. To depict this aspect would, IMHO, require a seperate drama, or even a documentry, to be written.

Bob

BOB.
Excellent comment on the subject of the program ..... the incident of the rescue had ongoing effects for the rest of the war and of course repercussions at Doenitz's trial.

As far as U-boats machine gunning survivors, there was only one case of this and the U-boat commander responsible was duly tried and executed. Initially there were many incidences of U-boats righting lifeboats, supplying some stores and pointing the boats in the right direction. As the war progressed and life swung more and more against the U-boat and particularly after the 'Laconia' rescue event these became less and less.

I have to admit that in the 1950's when many books were written by the participants on both sides I read a couple where machine gunning and beastiality took place and as most of my career has been on tankers I never read anything more AT ALL about 'The Battle of the Atlantic' until pretty much by accident I bought a copy of V.E.Tarrants book 'The U-Boat Offensive 1914 - 1945' ... It changed my whole perception and to the delight of many secondhand bookshops in the South island ...fuelled my thirst for books to give me a complete understanding and knowledge of the subject.

I also suggest those who want to get to understand reality from myth you also get Clay Blairs 'The Hunters' and 'The Hunted'.

Thanks Bob for the chance to comment...

John Cassels
11th January 2011, 09:04
John Cassels -
Your opinion -'This thread is getting a bit silly'.
I think your comment is silly- if not insulting..
Gilly asked me questions pertaining to the subject of merchant seamen
at war..
Is'n't that what the 'Laconia' incident was about?

Note the questions have been removed.

My "silly "comment remains valid.

Compass Rose
11th January 2011, 14:07
I for one enjoyed the program,and also would recommend Clay Blairs 'The Hunters' and 'The Hunted' and Frederick Grossmiths 'The Sinking of the Laconia
ISBN 1871615 682.

Reef Knot
11th January 2011, 14:28
Note the questions have been removed.Mmm... A bit silly, isn't it?

John Cassels
11th January 2011, 16:07
Mmm... A bit silly, isn't it?

Couldn't agree more.

Thegrandaughter
11th January 2011, 21:59
Interesting stuff there NoR, thanks for posting it.

I might just have a look on Amazon and see if I can grab a copy of the book you mention.

IAN M
12th January 2011, 00:30
Never heard of Ultra during the war, Chadburn. We listened for BAMS messages, but the only ones I copied were when we were in (neutral) Lourenco Marques shortly after VE-Day. These, very long messages, referred to the delineation of the areas where the war continued and the now peaceful west, and were decoded, as always, by the R/Os.

chadburn
12th January 2011, 13:03
Ian, I have never looked at her Crew list and just wondered whether (because of what she was) she carried R.N. Coder's and their Officer, this was the practise not only on "important" Merchant Vessel's like the Convoy Commodore's and H.M.T. but Warships that did not have British Crew's, Free French, R.N.N. Polish etc. They were specially trained and vetted for Ultra which was the information from Bletchley Park regarding U-Boat activities. Unlke the MN the RN did have a method of passing important personal message's through the system with a Senior Officer's permission, it had a name which at present I have forgotten but it did end up with a written note which was delivered by hand to the recipient or his Senior Officer.

R396040
12th January 2011, 15:04
Good debate on this . I agree with comments about braid,uniforms etc as my earlier posting. Since viewing the programmes (partly) and viewing the documentary that followed I have since been reading another fictionalized book on the same subect based on the sinking of The Lusitania in WW1 by David Butler. Its very good BUT as a seaman of thirty year years, half with Cunard, I found some things not creditable. The Master for example recognising individual stewards and other lowly crew members one who had only done one crossing. Petty I know but it does jump out at you especially as it was early twentieth century.

Very
good read though. STUART

Roger Bentley
12th January 2011, 20:03
Ian, I have never looked at her Crew list and just wondered whether (because of what she was) she carried R.N. Coder's and their Officer, this was the practise not only on "important" Merchant Vessel's like the Convoy Commodore's and H.M.T. but Warships that did not have British Crew's, Free French, R.N.N. Polish etc. They were specially trained and vetted for Ultra which was the information from Bletchley Park regarding U-Boat activities. Unlke the MN the RN did have a method of passing important personal message's through the system with a Senior Officer's permission, it had a name which at present I have forgotten but it did end up with a written note which was delivered by hand to the recipient or his Senior Officer.

Hi, Earlier you mentioned that coders were PV status, I doubt this as this check procedure was not introduced until 1952 with the Cold War. I underwent this several times in my later career. Surely servicemen who could be taken prisoner did not have ULTRA clearance in case of leaking the secret if interrogated. I agree with Ian also about MN signal books, and ROs doing the encoding and coding. We did this during the eary stages of the Korean War and also sailed under WW2 wireless silence conditions. I was 4th RO on the Lancashire troopship and remember a Naval Commander coming on board in Singapore to brief the Chief RO. Regards Roger.

sailingday
13th January 2011, 15:55
I think the suvivors' story following the 'play' was well worth watching, far more informative done by the people who were there, I feel as though I 've sailed with the liverpool butcher, a real character, buy him a pint any day of the week.

chadburn
13th January 2011, 17:00
Roger, I am sure you are aware of the importance of the highly Secret Ultra in the U-Boat War, Bletchley Park decoded the Enigma "traffic" which gave the position's of the U-Boat's and these were passed on to the Warship's and Convoy Commodore's that were in/approaching the area. The only people who were allowed to handle this "traffic" were vetted G.B. R.N. Communication's Staff (Coder's). How else would they get word to the ship's?, even on Foreign Crewed Warship's which came under Admiralty Control they carried R.N. Coder's (with a senior Officer) rather than use their own Comm's Staff. One of the reason's was that if the Foreign Comms Staff were captured (bearing in mind they might still have family in one of the overun Countries) it was thought that they might give up the Ultra information under pressure in regard's to their family connection more readily than the specially trained RN Comms Staff, that's not a slur on foreign crew's, it was judged to be in their best interest's that they knew nothing. Vetting has alway's as far as I am aware been a factor in Service Life, the "level" of vetting depending on your Role. Most R.N./M.N. Personnel were never aware of the use of "Hornbeam" but it existed for those who were "vetted"

Bob Murdoch
13th January 2011, 19:27
From the various books which I have read over the years, I do not think the coders, radio men etc of whatever nationality or service, were ever aware of where the information was coming from, ie Enigma.
In fact, when Enigma info was being used to attack enemy convoys, i.e. in the Med supplying N. Africa, great trouble was taken to 'find' the ships with aircraft from Malta before the attacks went in to cover the fact that it was known that a convoy would be running to N. africa at time/date.
Sometimes the powers that be got things right. (sometimes)
Cheers Bob

Roger Bentley
14th January 2011, 10:20
From the various books which I have read over the years, I do not think the coders, radio men etc of whatever nationality or service, were ever aware of where the information was coming from, ie Enigma.
In fact, when Enigma info was being used to attack enemy convoys, i.e. in the Med supplying N. Africa, great trouble was taken to 'find' the ships with aircraft from Malta before the attacks went in to cover the fact that it was known that a convoy would be running to N. africa at time/date.
Sometimes the powers that be got things right. (sometimes)
Cheers Bob

Bob, You are quite correct. Great care was taken to ensure that where the info came from was completely secret and usually disguised so that the enemy could not repeat not associate movements with the breaking of their code. One American commander of a carrier was severely disciplined for not playing by the rules and almost jeopardising the information.
I do not believe that coders or senior officers were really aware of the source via Enigma. It was completely secret to all but the highest levels of military and government. Regards, Roger

spongebob
7th January 2013, 04:37
I am a late comer to this thread having seen the first episode on our local TV last night.
It is an important record of yet another maritime event that needs to be preserved for posterity but why on earth don't film producers and directors put at least an once of effort into continuity accuracy and the like.
A junior third officer with previously unheard of braid and other insignia, the captain at least with four straight bars and a radio operator seemingly wearing the uniform and cap of a Royal Navy Lieutenant-Commander were just some of the anomalies that caught my eye.
The film was made in 2010 when a wealth of exact detail was available.
Then we had the shots of crew in a dry dock alongside a modern bulbous bowed ship alien to the era.
The continual pall of black smoke would have made any self respecting engineer or fireman cringe, was the FD or ID Damper stuck? Or were they burning Dogshit as the German submariner suggested.
The prop staging of this show is perhaps the biggest balls up since Charlton Heston drove his Roman Chariot while still wearing his Rolex!
Otherwise a good update on yet another truth of our naval history

Bob

barnsey
7th January 2013, 05:27
Hey up Bob ...... I cringed when I saw the trailer advert for the Laconia program come up the other night. No way could the film makers of this era get anywhere near making a factual documentary of the event so what chance did a film for entertaiment have? The result, as many of the replies to this thread illustrate that the film is as crass as they can possibly get.

I have a treasured small pamphlet book by Doris M. Hawkins SRN SCM "Atlantic Torpedo" It is the plain account of 27 days in an open boat following a U-boat sinking. The sinking was of course the Laconia. She was the only woman survivor. It was published in November 1943. (One or two 1943 originals still available and a reprint done in 1969 .. try BookFinder.com)

Having read that and the account in Clay Blairs 'The Hunted' plus one or two other similar authorative books, the trailer for the film on TV condemed watching the film as a pointless waste of time for me.

Most of the comments on this thread have confirmed it.

With the money available and spent no doubt an excellent TV documentary could have been made with the help of just a few SN members to point the way.

len mazza
7th January 2013, 08:01
The programme is showing here in NZ.didn't bother to watch it after reading such negative reports about it.
Len Mazza.

barnsey
7th January 2013, 09:15
You and me together Len .... by the way ...you say here in NZ? How come you have the flag of England on your heading???

Donald McGhee
7th January 2013, 18:35
We have this in NZ and I watched some of part one. I guess that I am a bot of a nitpicker at times, but the "junior" third mate had more gold braid on his shoulder than the old man just about! Who was the technical adviser for this show? He needs to smarten his ideas a bit, as the poor representation, although only a small part of the whole, spoilt what could have been a good showing.

Scelerat
8th January 2013, 10:22
We have this in NZ and I watched some of part one. I guess that I am a bot of a nitpicker at times, but the "junior" third mate had more gold braid on his shoulder than the old man just about! Who was the technical adviser for this show? He needs to smarten his ideas a bit, as the poor representation, although only a small part of the whole, spoilt what could have been a good showing.

The "technical advisor" was a retired RN admiral. The BBC told me when I told them what I thought when the programme first came out.

Scelerat
8th January 2013, 10:32
This is the BBC's "blog" about it.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tv/2011/01/the-sinking-of-the-laconia.shtml