The Sinking of the Laconia: the verdict

Well now we’ve finally seen the two-part Drama ‘The Sinking of the Laconia‘. If you haven’t already seen it, you can catch it on BBC iplayer here.

My impressions? I found it very gripping and very moving. I don’t mind admitting that I was choked in a few places. Historically, it seems to have captured the essence of the story and with no major embellishments or historical licence. From what I can tell, the writers used real events quite well, albeit changing some names and circumstances slightly. Perhaps there was a little too much time given to romance and flirting, but hey that’s just TV I guess. I’m not althogether sure that the character of Hilda Smith existed, perhaps someone can enlighten me.

I have a feeling that the actions of the American B-24 Liberator crew may come in for criticism now. The drama’s portrayal of them was as hapless, inexperienced trigger-happy young men. I have to say that from what I know, their actions were irresponsible and sadly added to the loss of life and suffering from the sinking. But on the other hand, they were by no means the only men in wartime to make a bad call in a difficult situation. It would be nice to think that it was simply a mistake.

Overall I’m glad that such a heart-rendering story of humanity amongst war has finally got the recognition that it deserved. For too long the Laconia has been virtually forgotten in the annals of history, quite why is hard to explain. Hopefully that will change now.

Thank you to everyone who has visited here in the past few days, visits to my blog have gone through the roof. My record for daily visits was smashed by three times the old record, and today’s total will be even more too.

Finally, to anyone who was on the Laconia, or has a family story connected with it, please keep in touch, I will try and write about the story from time to time here. I’ve really enjoyed all of your contributions. There is also a Laconia group on Facebook that is a great way to keep in touch and exchange news and stories. Let’s make sure that the story of the Laconia is remembered.



Filed under Family History, merchant navy, Navy, On TV, World War Two

21 responses to “The Sinking of the Laconia: the verdict

  1. I missed the broadcast. Thanks for this insight.

  2. Darren

    I just watched the film and really enjoyed it.Its a different story from the normal World war 2 movie you usually see. It had a excellent cast of actors. I will keep a eye on Ken Duken in the future as it was the first time i had seen him . Hollywood look out! ,he is made for it . This movie has made me do some research on the incident. ps great website !

  3. John Erickson

    James- As I mentioned in your previous thread, the description of the B-24 crew is not altogether wrong. (Easy, guys, let me explain myself! 🙂 ). As I mentioned before, the US was a recent entry to the war, the crews were inexperienced (albeit fairly well trained), and the communications between American and British forces was by no means foolproof. I’m not condemning the B-24 crews, far from it. It’s just that, in this modern era of instantaneous direct communication, laser-guided smart bombs, and reconnaissance drones and satellites, it’s hard to conceive of the level of the “fog of war” that ended up in inexperienced, but well-meaning bomber crews launching an air raid that ended up killing, directly or indirectly, so many innocent civilians. I am not condemning them for their actions – just trying to clarify, for the modern audience, how such a horrific situation could occur.

  4. Peter Christopherson

    IMHO The American episode was over-egged, probably with a view to a US TV sale. I once looked into raising finance to make a film of a different incident related to the Sinking of the Laconia and was told “to make this you need American studio money, and the US involvement in this story is minimal and negative – it’ll never happen”.

    Congratulations to Talkback Thames for raising finance through British and German sources, and presumably worldwide sales, and making a gripping drama.

    Tere were quite a lot of anomalies (sp?) for those who know their Laconia history. I presume Hilda Smith was a rewrite for Nurse Doris Hawkins, who was bringing a 14month old baby (Sally) back to the UK from Palestine. Sally was lost to the sea in a similar manner. However, making Hilda a German refugee was a good mechanical device for adding tension and some good ‘reading between the lines’ moments.

    The scene where Laura gave her wedding ring to be taken back to Scotland where her three sons were is an echo of Grizel Wolfe Murray, whose two sons were in Scotland, though in fact she died after 12 days in a lifeboat, not treading water.

    If anyone wants to read Doris Hawkins’ survivor’s acccount of the incident and its aftermath (her story of eventually making land after 27 days adrift, and the subsequent wedding ring plot, is eyewatering) you can download a copy from this link

    A version of the story written for the stage by David Hall, produced by myself at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2008 can be downloaded from his website at

    Tonight we’ll hear more of the survivors’ tales in the last programme.

  5. x

    Sorry but I thought it was awful. I don’t know where to start with it. And I think given my current frame of mind I could do without typing a 1000 diatribe. A sympathetic hour long documentary would have been much better value for the license fee payer.

    The sets were good though apart from the U-boat’s deck.

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