John Winner wrote:I can't remember reading any accounts of U-boats attacking survivors, but I do know that helping survivors was commonplace. That all changed when an American B-24 attacked U-156 on 12 Sept 1942. The U-boat was helping to rescue suvivors of the sunken converted liner "Laconia" when it was bombed, despite its flashing signals, radio messages and flying a red cross flag. As a result the bomber hit the sub as well as blowing up a lifeboat full of suvivors. Dönitz then ordered that U-boats no longer assist their victims. The passengers of the liner included Engilsh civilians, Italian prisoners and Polish guards.
Here is the Wikipedia article on the incident: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laconia_incident. It is a good jumping off point to learn about this incident.
THE 1942 LACONIA ORDER: THE MURDER OF SHIPWRECKED
SURVIVORS AND THE ALLIED PURSUIT OF JUSTICE 1945-46
G. H. Bennett1
Associate Professor (Reader) in History, University of Plymouth H.Bennettfirstname.lastname@example.org
In 1945-46 three German Naval officers stood trial in relation to a 1942 order issued to German submariners. One of those officers had issued it, one had transmitted it and one had apparently acted upon it. Ambiguously worded, the order could be interpreted as a directive to German U-boat crews to murder the survivors of Allied vessels whose ships had been sunk in combat. In 1946 Großadmiral Karl Dönitz, who had issued the order, denied the interpretation at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal (IMT) and was acquitted on a related charge. Before a British military tribunal in late 1945 Korvettenkapitän Karl-Heinz Moehle, who had transmitted the order to the 5th Submarine flotilla, accepted the illegal nature of the order and his wrong doing in transmitting it. He was given a jail term of five years. The one man who had seemingly acted upon it, Submarine Kapitänleutnant Heinz Eck, admitted his role in the 1944 murder of survivors from a Greek steamer named the Peleus, but denied flatly that he was acting under anyone.s orders other than his own. Convicted before a British military tribunal in 1945, Eck was given the death sentence along with two other members of the crew.
Remarkably, and uniquely in terms of the German submarine service in the Second World War, for the next five hours (until approximately 1am on the following morning) the submarine cruised through the debris field on the surface of the ocean. Machine gun fire and grenades were directed at liferafts and larger pieces of floating wreckage. In the process survivors were killed. Whether they, or the liferafts, were the primary target of the gunfire and grenades was uncertain. To practical effect they were one and the same. Four men survived the attack, although one was to die later as a result of his wounds.
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