Discussion in 'Submarines and ASW Technology' started by Kai-Petri, Jul 22, 2003.
U-852- Wilhelm Eck. Just read about him in a book called Battle Beneath the Waves- contrastly, an American submarine commander was discussed as sinking a Japanese troop ship in the Pacific. After the sinking the surviving Japanese soldiers, manning the landing craft that were able to be launched before the ship sank,were gunned down by machine gun and cannon fire. The commanders dicernment was that any surviving Japenese in these "type" of craft were still considered enemy ships to be dealt with. I wonder if it was a Japanese commander that did this if he would have been tried for attrocities.
I had known that Japanese submariners went after all and sundry (including stranded ship mates) as fair game, but I had only known of one instance of a German U-Boat commander machine-gunning survivors in the water....very disheartening piece...nevertheless very interesting and eye-opening...thanks immensely for posting Kai...
Nice controversial site. One I have to definately disagree with is the accusation made about Erich Topp.
The rest I can see as being possibilities or actually happening.
The incident with the sinking of the David H. Atwater by U 552 is factual. The David H. Atwater was sunk at night on 3 April 1942 (not March 1942). Topp first struck the Atwater with his 88mm and then strafed the ship with machinegun fire. Under the advice of Hardegen who recommended to save torpedoes while patrolling the US coast, Topp continued to fire with the 88mm and machine guns.
As the Atwater crew attempted to man their lifeboats, they were struck by machine gun fire. Coast Guard patrol vessel #218 arrived on the scene shortly after the sinking and found only 3 survivors and 3 bodies floating in the sea. The Coast Guard cutter Legare heard the gunfire and immediately rushed to the scene and found one lifeboat riddled with machine-gun bullets and one body. This incident helped promote the belief that u-boats would shoot survivors of torpedoed ships.
The incident is well documented. Sadly, it did occur.
I like to think that since the attack happened in the evening, Topp never saw the crew attempting to man the life boats. But, U 552 was only 600 yards away while she fired at the Atwater. It would seem nearly impossible that no one would have seen the crew on deck. Out of repect to Herr Topp, I have never asked him about this incident.
I am almost speechless on this one incident.
WOW--I don't doubt what is said and documented but--it's just really difficult for me to believe that this happened under his commnad.
I guess in the heat of combat--anything is possible?
Ivan--thanks for the story.
The truth is always the truth and we have to bear that even how tragic it is!
Thanx for confirming the story, Herr Kaleun!
And I am still in shock--as I do know Erich Topp through correspondance.
Susanne and I could have "dropped on by" to see him when we were near Remagen but--felt it would have been too rude to just "drop on by" having not made arrangements beforehand.
At least we did get to stay the day with Remy, and we accidently bumped into a few other RKTs having dinner with a Gebirgsjager RKT at Forsthaus Graseck.
Gentlemen, This was war, remember? Many allied ships were decoys disguised as merchant ships. When the sub would surface, out popped the big guns hidden on the deck, often in, or under, or around life boats. Who would take the chance on this fact, especially at night? I would have run to the other side of the ship that wasn't being fired upon had I been there. Then I would grab something that floats and jumped.
We can only speculate as to why things happened.
50 years later we learned that the Lutsatnia(sp)was indeed carring arms for use against Germany. Perhaps we will find out more later but I doubt it.
So why didnt every Uboat do the same in that case?
The Lusitania was carrying arms to fight Germany? I must admit I didnt know of this, but carrying arms to where, she was on an outward journey wasn't she to States if memory serves, where we in UK arming USA against Germany?
Ill put the whiskey bottle away now, indeed it was sailing out of the USA.
That incident about U-552 DID happen, as Herr Kaleun said. But the men David H. Atwater were still on board the ship. It would have been a war crime if once being in the weater or in life boats they would have been shot. I don't see any crime here.
But we have that in the other side if the world, many US Navy submarine commanders should be trailed as war criminals. And the evidence that proves that is a lot.
The perfect example is USS Wahoo which after sinking a Japanese troop cargo with over 9.000 Japanese soldiers on board, nearly 6.000 survivours were machine-gunned by orders of the captain. And there are not only witnesses and documents, but a complete colour film portraying the action and the smiling faces of the crew! There is even one image where a Japanese soldier has been able to swin some three metres away from the submarine and then he is shot. As a colour film you can clearly see the water turning red with blood.
Not very good work by the propaganda office of the US...
Was this on History channel or on some CD, I wonder? It would be "interesting" to see it some day though not very mind lifting...
Yes, Kai. You can watch this in a programme called "The colour of war" by History Channel. The episode was "The submariners" or something like that. I have in on tape. Really good and heart-breaking programme.
Also, in that programme there were photos and shots of some Lieutenant named George Bush being rescued by a submarine after he was shot down in the Pacific. Very interesting.
The Laconia troop-ship disaster.
In one of the saddest episodes of the war, on 12th September 1942 the German submarine U-156 sinks the British troopship Laconia in the South Atlantic. She is carrying 1,500 Italian prisoners of war, 180 Polish guards, and 811 British passengers and crew. The submarine surfaces and Captain Hartenstein starts to pick up survivors but is overwhelmed by the numbers. So he sends out a radio signal offering not to attack any ship that comes to the rescue. Two British and one French warship start the rescue work, but a US Army Liberator aircraft, flying from the newly established base on Ascension Island, attacks the submarine with bombs. As a result, Admiral Dönitz issues an order that ‘all attempts to rescue the crews of sunken ships will cease forthwith’. Capt. Hartenstein, who had done his best to help the survivors, was himself killed six months later when his submarine was sunk by US navy aircraft.
The attempt to save the survivors of Laconia
Contrary to Allied wartime propaganda that portrayed U-boat captains and crews as war criminals who gloatingly machine-gunned helpless merchant sailors, atrocities had in fact been extremely rare in World War II. In the early years, U-boat crews often actually helped their victims. One commander, Herbert Schultze of the U-48, consciously or unconsciously emulating one of his World War I predecessors, went so far as to send radio messages to the Admiralty in London asking that a ship be sent to pick up survivors of a freighter he had just sunk.
No one made a more heroic effort to give mercy than Lieutenant Commander Werner Hartenstein, the 32-year-old captain of the U-156. On the night of September 12, Hartenstein torpedoed the British troopship Laconia, which was evacuating British servicemen and their families, together with some prisoners of war, from British Africa. On board were 463 British crewmen, 286 British servicemen, 80 civilians (some of them women and children), 1,800 Italian prisoners of war and 103 Polish guards. Hartenstein no sooner heard shouts for help than he began to pick the victims out of the water, so far 90 rescued, he radioed to U-boat headquarters. request instructions. Donitz knew that torpedoing Italian soldiers could have a serious effect on Germany's relations with her Axis partner. He diverted two U-boats from off Freetown, Sierra Leone, to the scene; the Italians sent one of their own submarines, and the Vichy French in Dakar dispatched three warships to help pick up survivors.
For the moment, however, the U-156 was alone. All through the night the boat cruised about, fishing people from the sea without regard for their nationality. Submarines were woefully unequipped for coping with such situations: There was hardly enough room below to handle the crew, much less extra passengers; moreover, survivors placed on the deck would be drowned if the submarine was suddenly forced to dive. At 4 a.m. the next day, Hartenstein sent out a radio message in English on the 25-meter international shipping distress band and the 600-meter commercial wavelength: if any ship will assist the shipwrecked laconia
CREW, I WILL NOT ATTACK HER PROVIDED I AM NOT BEING ATTACKED BY SHIP OR AIR FORCES. I HAVE PICKED UP 193 MEN, 4° 52' S., 11° 26' W. GERMAN SUBMARINE. No ship came. But now the enemy knew the U-156's position.
For two days Hartenstein struggled to keep the boats and survivors together. As far as he was concerned, the rescue operation was not a matter of military expediency but of humanitarian service. By now, 310 people were jammed on the U-156—Germans, Italians, British and Poles. An Italian doctor treated the sick and wounded, using the Germans' bandages, medicines and opium. Some of the Italians had suffered bayonet wounds in fighting with their Polish guards to escape the prison holds of the Laconia. Other people had severe injuries from shark bites.
At last the Freetown boats, the U-506 and the 17-507, arrived. They took some of the survivors from the U-156 and removed others from lifeboats. Hartenstein now had 55 Italians and 55 British on board, including five women, and had saved the lives of some 400 people. The crews of the other boats behaved with equal concern, dispensing soup and coffee, giving up their berths to the women and the wounded. The U-boats began to gather lifeboats for the rendezvous with the Vichy French warships. While the 17-156 was thus engaged on the fourth day after the Laconia was torpedoed, disaster struck out of a clear blue sky.
At 11:25 a.m., while the U-156's decks were crowded with survivors and many more were in tow in four lifeboats, a lookout reported hearing aircraft. A four-engine B-24 Liberator bomber with American markings was sighted approaching from the northeast. Hartenstein, anxious to show his peaceful intentions to the pilot, ordered a large improvised Red Cross flag to be spread over the 105-mm. gun and told the German crew at the antiaircraft gun behind the bridge to lie flat. At the same time, he ordered a signalman to send a Morse message to the plane in English:
HERE GERMAN SUBMARINE WITH BRITISH SHIPWRECKED ON BOARD. IS THERE RESCUE SHIP in sight? When the pilot did not answer, a British officer asked Hartenstein if he could send a message with the signal lamp, since it might be understood better. The request was granted and the signal was duly flashed to the American pilot: raf officer speaking from german submarine.
LACONIA SURVIVORS ON BOARD, SOLDIERS, CIVILIANS, WOMEN, CHILDREN.
One British sailor recalled the scene with horror. "The most short-sighted of pilots could not have failed to appreciate the facts," he said. "Here was a submarine with four boats full of survivors in tow, the first about 20 yards from her." But again the pilot did not reply, and then flew away—as was learned later, to pick up depth charges in Freetown.
At 12:32 the Liberator returned and made a low approach. As it swooped down, Hartenstein was dumfounded to see the bomb bay open. Two bombs dropped into the sea close by. Germans, British, Italians and Poles, momentarily united by a common if unexpected enemy, shouted execrations at the American plane. On the Liberator's second approach, a German sailor severed the lifeboats' towrope with one blow of an axe. It was too late. A bomb blew up one of the boats, killing a number of passengers. By now German crewmen were making for the antiaircraft gun, but Hartenstein shouted: "Not a man goes near the gun!"
The plane was coming at them again. One depth charge exploded directly under the control room. Women and children were screaming, and the control room and bow compartment were said to be taking water. Hartenstein had no choice: He must save his boat. "All British to leave the submarine at once!" he shouted. Then it was reported that the batteries were giving off chlorine gas; to clear the vessel of all but crew who could handle the emergency, he had to order the Italians off as well.
By now the plane had spent all its bombs, and left the scene. The L7-156 was so badly damaged that Hartenstein decided he had to break off the rescue and head back to base. Not until September 17, five days after the sinking, when two of the Vichy French warships finally arrived at the rendezvous, were the last survivors picked up from all the lifeboats.
Thus ended one of the most remarkable episodes in the U-boat camXpaign of World War II. The final tally of survivors was 450 out of 1,800 Italians, 588 out of 829 British, and 73 out of 103 Poles. Of the U-boats that took part in the rescue, all were sunk by aircraft on later missions. Hartenstein was killed on the 17-156 east of Barbados in March 1943. Years later it was learned that the American pilot had correctly interpreted the rescue scene around the 17-156 but that the USAAF antisubmarine base on Ascension Island had ordered him to carry out the attack anyhow, on grounds that the U-boat remained a danger to ships in the area.
All too clearly, humaneness was no longer possible in the U-boat war. As a result of the Liberator attack on the 17-156, Donitz came to a far-reaching decision. "Never again," he vowed, "must submarines be exposed to the dangers of a rescue operation." To all U-boats he radioed an order that was to become notorious:
ALL ATTEMPTS TO RESCUE THE CREWS OF SUNKEN SHIPS WILL CEASE FORTHWITH. THIS PROHIBITION APPLIES EQUALLY TO THE PICKING UP OF MEN IN THE WATER AND PUTTING THEM ABOARD A LIFEBOAT. TO THE RIGHTING OF CAPSIZED LIFEBOATS AND TO THE SUPPLY OF FOOD AND WATER. SUCH ACTIVITIES ARE A CONTRADICTION OF THE PRIMARY OBJECT OF WAR, NAMELY. THE DESTRUCTION OF ENEMY SHIPS AND THEIR CREWS.
'The U-boats' - Botting
The Type IXC boat U-156 - German U-boats of WWII - uboat.net