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The Sinking of the Laconia and the U-Boat War: Disaster in the Mid-Atlantic Hardcover – 14 May 2009

4 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 129 pages
  • Publisher: Praeger Publishers Inc (14 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0275993647
  • ISBN-13: 978-0275993641
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 2.3 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,627,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Duffy is an author and military historian, and he documents the controversial 1942 sinking of the British liner Laconia and the rescue operations that were initiated by the same German U-Boat that fired the torpedoes. Written for military and history buffs, this book details the moral and procedural complexities of confrontations between military and merchant forces, especially in regards to ships such as the Laconia that were transporting POWs and operating under the flags of the Red Cross. The consequences of the sinking, which resulted in indictments at the Nuremburg Trials, are also analyzed." - Reference & Research Book News

About the Author

James P. Duffy is a writer who specializes in military history. His published works include Praeger's Target: America: Hitler's Plan to Attack the United States and Hitler's Secret Pirate Fleet: The Deadliest Ships of World War II .

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I read this book in less than a week - a good review of a very tragic event in which many people died , people who could have been saved.

Laconia has become a bye word for all that was wasteful in the Battle of the Atlantic , there were many "Laconias" - she was but one.

The failed rescue attempt , the order to attack , the failure of communications , the needless loss of lives - the far reaching effect of the order issued by Donitz.

Hindsight does create problems when looking back but the utter waste of life is what stays with me , amid an awful war the potential for some good was there and was lost.
That the Germans U-Boat Commanders and their crews were not all monsters is evident from what took place - this event proves that behind uniforms and orders the men were not the stereotypes which propaganda and national interests required them to be.
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Format: Hardcover
A recent television drama on the sinking of the Laconia during WW2 prompted me to obtain this book. With the aim of putting the already well-documented Laconia incident in context, it provides plenty of examples to show that Hartenstein, Captain of the U-boat U-156 which torpedoed the Laconia, was not alone in putting himself out in the attempt to rescure survivors once they had ceased any attempt to retaliate. German U-boat crews regularly pulled people out of the water, helped them into lifeboats or even on board the submarine, provided food, blankets, medical aid when needed and gave directions to the nearest coast, helped to repair lifeboats, even towed them to passing ships that would take them to safety.

What has made the Laconia incident so striking is the sheer number of survivors, meaning that Hartenstein did not have the capacity and enough supplies to meet their needs without calling for help. As photographs bear out, at one point the entire deck of the sub was crowded with some 200 survivors. There is also the issue of their composition: the Laconia was found to be carrying up to 1800 Italian prisoners of war. The fact that many were trapped below decks as the Laconia sunk was likely to cause diplomatic tension between the Germans and their Italian allies, so Hartenstein was under pressure to do what he could to save the rest.

If Hartenstein had been able to carry out his plan of calling on available U-boats and enemy "Allied" craft to relieve him of his human burden, virtually all those surviving the inital onslaught would have been saved. Sadly, an American bomber on the mid-Atlantic refuelling base of Ascension Island was given by officers who were probably not in full possession of the facts the terse and fateful order "Sink sub at once".
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