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  Captain Hartenstein and the Laconia incident

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Dirk Marinus
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PostSubject: Captain Hartenstein and the Laconia incident   Sun 27 May 2018, 15:33

Not many people know the full story about this incident but why is there so little attention given to what actually happened.

Did the American command on Ascension Island ignored the radio messages of the German submarine or were they just gun happy.

Did British command in the South Atlantic knew about this incident but did NOT advice the American air force command based on Ascension Island.



Dirk
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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Re: Captain Hartenstein and the Laconia incident   Sun 27 May 2018, 22:33

yes Dirk, that is a dramatic story that perhaps set the trend for not rescuing or even with Gustloff no merci to vessels with civil refugees. I saw a documentary about it and an interview with the Russian commander of the attacking submarine...
http://www.dw.com/en/70-years-on-little-known-about-the-wilhelm-gustloff-sinking/a-18226012

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laconia_incident
"Did British command in the South Atlantic knew about this incident but did NOT advice the American air force command based on Ascension Island."

according to the Wikipedia:
"The British in Freetown intercepted this message but, believing it might be a ruse of war, refused to credit it. Two days later, on 15 September, a message was passed to the Americans that Laconia had been torpedoed and the British merchant ship Empire Haven was en route to pick up survivors. The "poorly worded message" implied that Laconia had only been sunk that day and made no mention that the Germans were involved in a rescue attempt under a cease-fire or that neutral French ships were also en route.[2]"

Kind regards from Paul.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Captain Hartenstein and the Laconia incident   Mon 28 May 2018, 09:37

According to Chester Nimitz's own evidence at Nuremburg (which he made in Dönitz's defence!) it had been decided already by the US high command that any exposed U-Boat represented a legitimate target, regardless of what it was doing and even if it meant "collateral" casualties in the case of allied survivors in the vicinity. This rings true - the Americans weren't much into the "manners" of civilised warfare from the outset, as was evident in pretty much their entire military strategy in land, sea and air.

The British interception of the message and how it was misinterpreted is not a version supported much by British historians or in British memoirs of those involved. This therefore appears to have been originally an American interpretation, subsequently cited by American historians, of part of Nimitz's testimony at Nuremberg when he explained that it was immaterial what the British or anyone else might have sent the US Air Force regarding the status of the U-Boat as it was not the job of the Air Force to abide by any maritime conventions, and even if it had been a US Navy bomber the outcome would probably have been the same. The "extra two days" in this version seems designed purely to absolve the British of all complicity in the event, even through blundering or deliberate procrastination on their part, and to emphasise that it was their American ally therefore who had acted unilaterally and by its own rules. This hard-line approach at Nuremberg was possibly taken to forestall any possible war crime accusations against the same navy in its conduct of the Pacific War against Japan, which at that time was still being considered a very real possibility in the aftermath of VJ Day which was still only three months beforehand and where conduct assessments by several international bodies were still underway.

The "truth" - for what it's worth in these cases - is probably that Hartenstein indeed behaved honourably - the British at least had evidence that he did, so that much is pretty certain - but that once the coordinates were relayed to the US Air Force base the U-Boat was doomed. Nimitz made no secret of his disgust with Hartenstein during his evidence, stating that the commander had behaved naively and even stupidly in engaging in an activity indistinguishable from a ruse to entrap allied forces, and that Dönitz's subsequent decision to abandon rescue attempts afterwards simply brought Germany in line with American policy in this regard. The British, who still seemed to believe in a notion of "fair play", were therefore equally stupid by the same token - hence the convenient invention of a crucial time delay (largely from American historical accounts) on their part in relaying the message to absolve them from blame by their "friend". What doesn't add up in the American official account is just how they apparently received coordinates exact enough to dispatch a bomber with this specific task to perform two days before they allegedly received the intelligence from British sources. As far as I know that has never been "explained", even mendaciously.
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Dirk Marinus
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PostSubject: Re: Captain Hartenstein and the Laconia incident   Mon 28 May 2018, 21:39

Nordman,

 thanks for your additional information to this thread.

Dirk
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