http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airc ... lford.html
Now, Seenotdienst aircraft were painted white, with Red Cross markings on them. Prima facie, this makes them aerial ambulances, no? According to the article, a Seenotdienst He59 was downed on 11 July 1940. The pilot's log "noted positions and movements of British convoys." The Brits seem to have decided that humanitarian efforts and reconnaissance are mutually exclusive, resulting in Bulletin 1254 of 13 July 1940 stating that as of 20 July, air-sea rescue planes would be shot down.
Now, the footnote in this paragraph cites Churchill in his book Their Finest Hour, p. 332. If someone has this volume, please check it. It would seem that Churchill knew that what he was ordering was technically wrong, but was using semantics to justify it.Sir Winston Churchill presented a somewhat less legalistic and more sanguine interpretation of the issue when he wrote, "We did not recognize this means of rescuing enemy pilots so they could come and bomb our civil population again. . . all German air ambulances were forced down or shot down by our fighters on definite orders approved by the War Cabinet." It was Churchill's contention that since the 1929 Geneva Convention made no specific mention of rescue airplanes, such aircraft were not entitled to its protection.
From the German perspective, it would seem that the British were flat out wrong. A clearly marked flying ambulance, which incidentally picked up Allied pilots as well, should be a clear violation of the Geneva Convention.The Germans claimed that their rescue aircraft were protected by Articles 3, 6, and 17 of the Convention. According to Article 3, " . . . the belligerent who remains in possession of the field of battle shall take measures to search for the wounded." Article 6 provided that, "Mobile sanitary formations, i.e., those which are intended to accompany armies in the field, and the fixed establishments belonging to the sanitary service shall be protected and respected by the belligerents." Article 17 claimed that, "Vehicles equipped for sanitary evacuation, traveling singly or in convoy, shall be treated as mobile sanitary formations. . . . "
Now, are recon and air-sea rescue mutually exclusive? If the Germans were using the aerial ambulances specifically for recon missions, then they would be violating the Convention certainly. But, if a pilot is on a mission to rescue a downed flier, of any nation, and notes enemy shipping, what is he to do? Ignore it? Or take note?
My opinion right now is the Churchill screwed the pooch on this one. Shooting up an ambulance is at worst a violation, and just bad form at best. Had the Germans reacted a different way, how many Allied flyers would Churchill's act condemned to drowning if the Germans had decided just to not rescue any enemy aircrew?
I would point out that the author of this article seems to have no dog in the fight either way, and came across as fairly objective. For my own part, I'd just like to hear other people's opinion on this situation.