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The Sinking of the Laconia and the U-Boat War: Disaster in the Mid-Atlantic [Hardcover]

James P. Duffy
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

14 May 2009
Duffy discusses in rich detail the dire and dramatic true story of the sinking of the British Liner Laconia by the dreaded U-Boat 156, a vessel crowded with 1800 Italian POWs, 103 Polish soldiers, and 463 officers and crew. As Laconia went down, U-156 surfaced and sent a signal that brought two other U-boats, an Italian submarine, and three Vichy French warships to assist with rescue operations. But on the morning of September 16, a U.S. bomber flew over U-156, now packed with several hundred Laconia survivors. The crew unfurled a large Red Cross flag. Nevertheless, the submarine was attacked. The Laconia survivors were ordered over the side into lifeboats. Damaged, U-156 left the area as other U-boats commenced rescue operations. In the wake of the incident, German Admiral Karl Donitz issued the Laconia Order demanding that all attempts to rescue Allied survivors of merchant ships be ended. The order provoked an international outcry against inhumane treatment of survivors stranded at sea. In the aftermath of the war, Donitz was charged and acquitted of war crimes in connection with this order.

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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: 24 x 16 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,278,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good review of a tragic event. 14 Aug 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Case of Truth more Dramatic than Fiction 30 Aug 2011
By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER
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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