Sinking of the Laconia

Filming began last week on a new TV Docu-Dama series, based in the sinking of the Cunard Liner SS Laconia in the second world war.

SS Laconia

SS Laconia

On 12 September 1942, at 8:10pm, 130 miles north-northeast of Ascension Island, Laconia was hit by a torpedo on the starboard side, fired by U-boat U-156. There was an explosion in the hold and most of the 450 Italian prisoners the ship was carrying were killed instantly. The vessel immediately took a list to starboard. Captain Sharp, who had also commanded Lancastria when she was torpedoed, was beginning to control the situation when a second torpedo hit.

Captain Sharp ordered the ship abandoned and the women, children and injured taken into the lifeboats first. Some of the 32 lifeboats had been destroyed by the explosions and some surviving Italian prisoners tried to rush those that remained. The efforts of the Polish guards were instrumental in controlling the chaotic situation on board and saved many lives.

At 9:11pm Laconia sank with many Italian prisoners still on board. The prospects for those who escaped the ship were only slightly better; sharks were common in the area and the lifeboats were adrift in the mid-Atlantic with little hope of being rescued.

However, before Laconia went down, U-156 surfaced. The U-boat’s efforts to rescue survivors of its own attack began what came to be known as the Laconia incident. Realising who the passengers were, U-156 started rescue operations flying the Red Cross flag. The Laconia incident had far-reaching consequences. Until then, it was common for U-boats to assist torpedoed survivors with food, water, simple medical care for the wounded, and a compass bearing to the nearest landmass; it was extremely rare for survivors to be brought on board as space on a U-boat was barely enough for its own crew. Now Dönitz prohibited rescues; survivors were to be left in the sea. Even afterwards, U-boats would still occasionally provide aid for survivors. At the Nuremberg Trials held in 1946, Dönitz was indicted for war crimes, including the issuance of the “Laconia order”:

Although hardly known, more people perished when the Laconia was sunk than died on the Titanic. For such a far-reaching and destructive incident, it plays almost no part in the history of the second world war, or in peoples awareness.

Of course, I await the Sinking of the Laconia reaching the screen with interest, as my great-uncle Leading Stoker Thomas Daly was onboard the Laconia when she went down. He was transferring home after being promoted to Leading Stoker onboard HMS Enterprise. He died later in 1943 from illness he suffered while in French captivity in Morrocco, after being picked up by Vichy French Warships.

Leading Stoker Thomas Daly

Leading Stoker Thomas Daly

Brian Cox (Sharpe, Troy) will star as the Laconias Captain, Rudolph Sharp.

Click here for more on The Sinking of the Laconia

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26 Comments

Filed under Navy, News, On TV, World War Two

26 responses to “Sinking of the Laconia

  1. Jill Boucher

    My uncle cpo Horace Harwood was rescued from the Laconia by the German sub U152 and transfered to Japanese hands. He subsequently escaped and was on the run until after the war against Japan ended,not knowing that the war had in fact finished. He is now dec’d.

  2. Gillian

    Hi

    My dad, Charles Stanbridge was on the Laconia with his soldier father, mother, brother and sister. The children were separated from the parents. He thinks they were killed when the American planes attacked them. They were taken to an internment camp before returning to the UK.

    • SYLVIA LYONS

      Hello Gillian !Sgt.Charles Stanbridge was my uncle and I have been trying to trace my cousins Charles, Alice and Norman for many years . Norman stayed with us for a while after they returned to England . Will be watching the programme tonight. Please get in touch via my email if yiu can.
      Sylvia Lyons nee Stanbridge

      • Joy and David Cox

        Hi Sylvia,
        Me and my husband were best friends with Norman ‘Stan’ Stanbridge and his wife Margaret when they lived a few doors away from us in Anglesey Rd, Brownhills near Walsall in the early 60s. They emigrated to Australia in January 1964 and we wrote to each other for a few years. They had two little girls, Julie and (Susan?). Their address was 5 Claxtons Beach, near Adelaide, South Australia. We know he is your cousin because he told me all about being rescued as a young child from the sea after the sinking of the Laconia. I have a photograph of him with Julie aged 3 months if you would like a copy. We now live in Streetly, Sutton Coldfield.
        Best wishes,
        Joy Cox

      • Graham Stanbridge

        Sylvia,stumbled on your email re laconia my dad Charlie and Norman live here in South Australia.He would like to get in touch with you also.

      • Gillian Keightley

        Hi Sylvia, Sorry I missed your email. Norman now lives in Aldinga Beach SA with his second wife Yvonne. His children are Julie and Tracey. You may send the photo to my address if you like: 16 Figtree Crescent, Huntfield Heights SA 5163. My brother Graham put me onto this site and I dont know how I missed it. My dad Charlie lives at 1 Torr Street, Christies Beach SA 5162.
        Best wishes Gillian

  3. James Daly

    Hi Gillian, welcome and thank you for sharing your story. It really does show the impact that the Laconia incident had on so many families.

    Do you know which internment camp they were held in? My great-uncle was in Mediouna in Morrocco.

    James

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