Laconia incident

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The Duchess of Zeon
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Re: Laconia incident

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Because the submarine had to be disarmed for it to even possibly be validly flying the Red Cross, and if it sank another ship before heading home, it was not disarmed. Unless you think they could just teleport more torpedoes onboard.
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Re: Lacona incident

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Stuart wrote: Bad gun drill there. Sign of inferior training and a poor commander. It's beginning to look like this guy wasn't precisely the cream of the crop. More like one egg short of an omelette.
He was pretty good as far as his main task went (sank 97 000 tonnes worth of merchant shipping). Doesn't excuse the blunder with the deck gun, though Kriegsmarine gun training was...very substandard even at the start of the war. Doesn't help that U-156 was a new boat, having finished her training patrol barely two months before the attack on Aruba (so it was in fact her first combat patrol).

Even then, the torpedo attacks at Aruba were all well-executed.
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Re: Lacona incident

Post by Stuart »

PeZook wrote: Doesn't help that U-156 was a new boat, having finished her training patrol barely two months before the attack on Aruba (so it was in fact her first combat patrol). Even then, the torpedo attacks at Aruba were all well-executed.
She should have shaken down properly before going out; typically drill problems tend to occur a little later when the crew are experienced enough to think of short-cuts without the experience to know why taking them is a bad idea. That's a detail though.

What's interesting about this whole thread is how typical this faux-outrage is. In World War One, the Germans invented or used poison gas, flamethrowers, indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets, unrestricted submarine warfare, biological warfare and the deliberate murder of wounded allied soldiers. That's not to mention the appalling crimes committed in France and Belgium during 1914 culminating in the burning of the great library at Louvain (the fact that allied propaganda greatly exagerrated the extent of said crimes didn't mean they didn't happen). Yet their outrage is reserved for the Americans who issued their troops with pump-action shotguns for trench fighting (yes, they did try to bring an international war crimes case against the U.S. for using said shotguns; it was, of course, laughed out of court).
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Re: Laconia incident

Post by Simon_Jester »

There's a tendency for the sheer sense of moral disparity between the Western Allies and Nazi Germany in WWII to produce this kind of reaction whenever the US or British are shown to have done something like this. The entire narrative of the war in the Anglosphere revolves around that moral disparity*, and the Germans themselves have wound up absorbing that narrative: "our ancestors were EVIL."

Which, given the evidence, isn't something I'm inclined to condemn; it strikes me as true. But it does create a tendency to recoil and react intensely to a case of something like, say, a US Army bomber dropping bombs depth charges into a crowd of lifeboats. That's inevitable, and I don't think it should shock anyone that people can be shocked by this sort of thing.

*With reason, I'm not arguing that point and have absolutely zero desire to do so.
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Re: Laconia incident

Post by Stuart »

The point is though that is not a phenomenom reserved for today. The Germans have always behaved like this. You must admit there is something so twisted it is almost funny about the country that invented and deployed flamethrowers trying to claim that the use of shotguns is brutal and inhumane.

The same applies to the Laconia case; the fact is that despite all the mock outrage, the bomber crew did nothing wrong. (Well, actually they did, they went around and queried their orders and that might have made the difference that allowed the submarine to escape and subsequently sink another merchant ship. They should have done their job properly and attacked without warning.) It was the submarine crew who were committing war crimes (which we have already listed, the list extending every time more aspects of the situation come to light).
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Re: Laconia incident

Post by Simon_Jester »

Stuart wrote:The point is though that is not a phenomenom reserved for today. The Germans have always behaved like this. You must admit there is something so twisted it is almost funny about the country that invented and deployed flamethrowers trying to claim that the use of shotguns is brutal and inhumane.
I don't disagree.
The same applies to the Laconia case; the fact is that despite all the mock outrage, the bomber crew did nothing wrong. (Well, actually they did, they went around and queried their orders and that might have made the difference that allowed the submarine to escape and subsequently sink another merchant ship. They should have done their job properly and attacked without warning.) It was the submarine crew who were committing war crimes (which we have already listed, the list extending every time more aspects of the situation come to light).
I suppose the problem is that the general conception of the word "war crime" has to be twisted around so far it nears the breaking point to reach the outcome you're talking about here. I think anyone who takes a step back from the situation must admit there is a certain hideous perversity to a situation where a submarine that attempts to rescue survivors from the ship it sank has committed a war crime, while the people who dropped bombs on the aforementioned survivors have not.

Now, that may be fully in accordance with the laws of war as written. I do not dispute this point. But again, there is an undeniable perversity to the situation, just as there is when the nation that invented flamethrowers condemns shotguns. And for the side which finds itself the victim of the perversity (the ones whose POWs were bombed), it is a very natural and not unreasonable reaction to protest. Because this is not a one-sided case from an ethical standpoint even if it is a clearcut one by the standards the average military planner prefers to apply.

You may of course argue that ethics went out the window the moment people started throwing high explosives around, and I'm not going to dispute that point either. But bear in mind that one of the reasons people continue to care about the laws of war at all is because they are perceived as a safeguard against exactly this kind of thing happening: against the destruction of people who have no means of resistance, in this case the survivors in the water.

That persists even when, as written, the laws safeguard against no such thing. It would be far more difficult to convince people that "war crime" was a meaningful charge were it not for the tendency to identify "war crime" with the act of bombing people stranded in the water, rather than with the act of trying to rescue them. At which point the laws of war would become far harder to enforce reliably.

So I think there's a limit to how vehemently the "the Germans doth protest too much" angle should be pursued, when the thing they are protesting about is a damned shame. Even if the legalities didn't give the protest of the action a leg to stand on, the fact that it's a damned shame remains.
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Re: Laconia incident

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Simon_Jester wrote:I suppose the problem is that the general conception of the word "war crime" has to be twisted around so far it nears the breaking point to reach the outcome you're talking about here. I think anyone who takes a step back from the situation must admit there is a certain hideous perversity to a situation where a submarine that attempts to rescue survivors from the ship it sank has committed a war crime, while the people who dropped bombs on the aforementioned survivors have not.
This is indeed a problem although its one that comes up over and over again when dealing with warfare. Because the conditions of organized warfare are so different from those of normal life any analysis of alternatives applicable to a military situation tend to come up with answers that are counter-intuitive. This is becoming more and more commonplace as actual experience of the military environment becomes restricted to a smaller and smaller percentage of the population. Half a century ago, most people did have such experience and they understood enough to look at the complaints about Allied conduct here and sneer at them. Now, that degree of understanding has gone.

It's hard to think of a situation in civilian life that parallels this one. Probably the one that comes nearest is that of a group of (say) bank robbers who are cornered by the police and try to use the bank customers and hostages and human shields. Stripped of all the verbiage, that is what was happening here. The U-boat was using the survivors as a shield against attack (which is a very explicit war crime).
Now, that may be fully in accordance with the laws of war as written. I do not dispute this point. But again, there is an undeniable perversity to the situation, just as there is when the nation that invented flamethrowers condemns shotguns. And for the side which finds itself the victim of the perversity (the ones whose POWs were bombed), it is a very natural and not unreasonable reaction to protest. Because this is not a one-sided case from an ethical standpoint even if it is a clearcut one by the standards the average military planner prefers to apply. (snip) But bear in mind that one of the reasons people continue to care about the laws of war at all is because they are perceived as a safeguard against exactly this kind of thing happening: against the destruction of people who have no means of resistance, in this case the survivors in the water.
I think the problem here is that the identity of the victims and who/what they were victims of has been blurred. The Italian PoWs in the water weren't there because of the allied attack, they were there because the Germans torpedoed their transport without warning. had the Germans obeyed the rules, they would have stopped the ship, ascertained who she was and where she was going and then let her pass. Instead, the Germans had adopted the principle of unrestricted submarine warfare and torpedoed her. Also, the Germans were not rescuing survivors because it was a noble and humane thing to do; they were doing so because there was a serious danger of a rupture in political relations with their main ally. I ask again, suppose the Laconia had been a troopship and the people in the water had been British soldiers. Would the U-boat have gone to such lengths to rescue them?

The comparison with a bank robbery or hostage rescue becomes apposite here again. The police/HRT rescue the hostages by attacking the criminals. In the event, some of the hostages are killed. Does the blame therefore lay with the police who rescued them or the criminals who used them as hostages?

Again, it is worth repeating that the principle that rescuing survivors does not confer immunity from attack was established by the Germans themselves. The man who established that principle was treated as a hero then and still is. Why should U-9 be praised for sinking ships that were rescuing survivors and then the same people blame a B-24 for doing the same thing? The German attitude is that of a school bully who, after years of throwing his weight around, gets the thrashing he deserves and runs to the teachers wailing 'he started it, he hit me back."
So I think there's a limit to how vehemently the "the Germans doth protest too much" angle should be pursued, when the thing they are protesting about is a damned shame. Even if the legalities didn't give the protest of the action a leg to stand on, the fact that it's a damned shame remains.
As I said, this whole incident is just one more reason why, on the whole, it's not a good idea to start a war. Just remember who started WW2.
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Re: Laconia incident

Post by General Trelane (Retired) »

The Duchess of Zeon wrote:Because the submarine had to be disarmed for it to even possibly be validly flying the Red Cross, and if it sank another ship before heading home, it was not disarmed. Unless you think they could just teleport more torpedoes onboard.
Not in the least, but I do think that the sinking of the Quebec City was completely unrelated to displaying the Red Cross while trying to rescue survivors from the Laconia, so I still fail to see how this completes the "abuse of the Red Cross". Can you show that U-156 was displaying the distinctive emblem of the Red Cross with perfidity and/or treachery so as to dupe potential targets such as Quebec City?

Getting back to this incident as a whole, it seems to me that it is simply a case of competing priorities during wartime--nothing more, nothing less. The 1966 book The Trial of the Germans: An Account of the Twenty-two Defendants before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, by Eugene Davidson, has an informative summary of the Laconia incident. Relevant pages may be previewable on Google Books (pages 403-407).
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Re: Laconia incident

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General Trelane (Retired) wrote:
The Duchess of Zeon wrote:Because the submarine had to be disarmed for it to even possibly be validly flying the Red Cross, and if it sank another ship before heading home, it was not disarmed. Unless you think they could just teleport more torpedoes onboard.
Not in the least, but I do think that the sinking of the Quebec City was completely unrelated to displaying the Red Cross while trying to rescue survivors from the Laconia, so I still fail to see how this completes the "abuse of the Red Cross". Can you show that U-156 was displaying the distinctive emblem of the Red Cross with perfidity and/or treachery so as to dupe potential targets such as Quebec City?
It is my understanding that if you have any weapons aboard at all you can't legally display the Red Cross. The fact that they were able to later attack a ship after displaying the Red Cross flag, shows that they were in violation of the rules around displaying the flag.
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Re: Laconia incident

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Stuart wrote:...suppose the Laconia had been a troopship and the people in the water had been British soldiers. Would the U-boat have gone to such lengths to rescue them?
Would the Allies have bombed them if they did?
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Re: Laconia incident

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

The incident is mentioned in Wolfgang Hirschfeld's diaries- the oberfunkmaat of U-109, he kept a secret diary that was subsequently published; the bits in brackets are added by me to show who's who.
'Crazy'. Leibling (assistant radioman) said. 'There's never been anything like that before. That must be Hartenstein.'
When I showed Bleichrodt (KL Heinrich Bleichrodt, commander U-109) the signal log when he awoke, he said 'My God, that Hartenstein. I wouldn't want to be in his boots.' He passed it to Schramm (first watch officer, second in command of the boat) who said 'That's suicide for Hartenstein. They won't give two hoots for the survivors and their planes will go and shit all over him.'
So at least one senior U-boat commander, who had a better war record than Hartenstein, thought he was crazy. Bleichrodt himself was the man who sank the City of Benares which had been carrying evacuated children to Canada- she had been sailing in convoy, without lights, zig-zagging, and in general looked like a legitimate target. He was nearly tried for it after the war, but no specific evidence could be found or manufactured against him.

In general, cases of U-boats doing things like rounding up survivors in the water, putting them into lifeboats and pointing them towards the shore once the shooting had stopped are fairly common, but they tended to happen only once the shooting had stopped and they were no longer likely to be attacked in turn. They usually expected to receive no mercy in doing so, and an independently routed ship like the Laconia was much more likely to have this done for her than a ship in convoy, with angry escorts still buzzing around.

What else could Hartenstein have been doing, in fact, surfaced and proceeding at relatively slow speed towards the site of the torpedoing? Looking for the master and chief engineer to confirm the identity and tonnage of the victim, yes, but the other survivors would be rounded up and pointed to safety at the same time. If the people in the water had been British soldiers, any reasonably sane U-boat commander would have been a lot more reticent about bringing them on board- but if they had been, Laconia should have been escorted. The only troopships fit to be let out on their own were the thirty-knot Cunarders. Such lengths, no. Some lengths, probably.

There is only one confirmed case of a U-boat machinegunning survivors in the water, and the captain (Eck, U-853) was executed at Nuremberg for it. Richard H. O'Kane of USS Tang boasted in his memoirs about machinegunning Japanese survivors, and R.E 'Crap' Miers of the RN was whispered about as being also guilty of the same. Probably unjustly, I only know that it was rumoured, and he went on to become FOSM anyway.

There is another issue- several writers, Dudley Pope, Nicholas Monsarrat and Richard Woodman the loudest because they attract notice through being writers of fiction as well as writers of history, complain quite bitterly about the safety and lifesaving gear given to British merchant sailors, condemning it as dangerously ineffective. I would not hazard a guess as to how many crew and passengers survived the torpedoing only to die avoidable deaths before they could be picked up, but Dudley Pope did, and he reckoned about a third of those who were killed died by the penny pinching of the Board of Trade.

Weddigen- what else was he supposed to do, when two British cruisers practically offered themselves up in front of him? The 'live bait squadron' evidently had no idea there was a submarine in the vicinity, and after Aboukir was torpedoed, Cressy and Hogue pretty much wandered right into his sights and stopped. They were spectacularly cooperative accomplices in their own destruction, and also perfectly legitimate targets, being, theoretically, warships. The chief atrocity I see in that is their patrolling the Broad Fourteens in the first place, exposed to surface as well as submarine attack they were dangerously unfit to meet.
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Re: Laconia incident

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I have a different question; Thanas is normally a very thoughtful, intelligent poster... and yet this thread he started is almost kneejerk stupidity without any critical thinking. So... who the fuck has hijacked Thanas' account? :wink:


In all seriousness, however, Stuart's point that the bomber crew's only mistake was in not attacking immediately, is the correct point.
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Re: Laconia incident

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CJvR wrote:
Stuart wrote:...suppose the Laconia had been a troopship and the people in the water had been British soldiers. Would the U-boat have gone to such lengths to rescue them?
Would the Allies have bombed them if they did?
Of course they would. In unrestricted naval warfare, which was, even if that's an arguable point itself, deemed acceptable by the Nuremberg trials, warships would not be safe from destruction even if they fly whatever banners and do whatever things.

This incident is only slightly more ambigious than the sinking of German troopships which also carried refugees. You put military shit on board = you are a target. The rest matters not from a laws-of-war standpoint, although it does matter from a purely moral standpoint. Which indicates the laws of war are imperfect. But they were even more imperfect back in WWII.
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Re: Laconia incident

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Even if you accept that the bombing of the U-boats was justified legally and morally, it was still hypocritical of the Allies to charge, try, and convict Doenitz for the Laconia Order at Nuremberg (though they at least did not add to his sentence for it). If openly-broadcast announcements indicating that the submarines were engaged in humanitarian rescues, and indeed all the precautions they provided to indicate their desires, were to be met with calculated bombings, then why should he have ordered the submarines to risk themselves for a law that the Allies clearly would not uphold themselves?
SancheztheWhaler wrote:I have a different question; Thanas is normally a very thoughtful, intelligent poster... and yet this thread he started is almost kneejerk stupidity without any critical thinking. So... who the fuck has hijacked Thanas' account? :wink:


In all seriousness, however, Stuart's point that the bomber crew's only mistake was in not attacking immediately, is the correct point.
Legally, or morally? Morally, I'm not sure how slaughtering the survivors (as the depth-charges and bombs did) from the Laconia is really justifiable.
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Re: Laconia incident

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Except they didn't find he guilty on that count. They decided that it would be hypocritical to do so and didn't use it to increase his sentance. He went to prison for crimes against the peace (like urging the navy on even when he realized the war was lost) and war crimes (namely the commando order and using slave labor). The allies may have done may things wrong, but being hypocritical wasn't one of them. It is sort of depressing to go over all the evil shit the US, UK and USSR did and realize that the Axis managed to top them.

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Legally, or morally? Morally, I'm not sure how slaughtering the survivors (as the depth-charges and bombs did) from the Laconia is really justifiable.
Simple- it saves the lives of the people the submarine would kill if you let it get away.
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Re: Laconia incident

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Bakustra wrote:Even if you accept that the bombing of the U-boats was justified legally and morally, it was still hypocritical of the Allies to charge, try, and convict Doenitz for the Laconia Order at Nuremberg
They didn't convict Doenitz on this one, neither on any of his orders sanctioning unrestricted submarine warfare. He went to jail for upholding Hitler's order to give certain Allied POWs like e.g. torpedo boat crews, IIRC, over to the SD for execution. Now that's a direct order to slaughter survivors in any circumstances.
Samuel wrote:It is sort of depressing to go over all the evil shit the US, UK and USSR did and realize that the Axis managed to top them.
Why is this depressing? At least it gives the war (from the Allied standpoint) some justification, you know. Not like the pointless imperialist bloodbaths of the early XX century, which had little to no justification in the grand scheme of things.
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Re: Laconia incident

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Stas Bush wrote:
Bakustra wrote:Even if you accept that the bombing of the U-boats was justified legally and morally, it was still hypocritical of the Allies to charge, try, and convict Doenitz for the Laconia Order at Nuremberg
They didn't convict Doenitz on this one, neither on any of his orders sanctioning unrestricted submarine warfare. He went to jail for upholding Hitler's order to give certain Allied POWs like e.g. torpedo boat crews, IIRC, over to the SD for execution. Now that's a direct order to slaughter survivors in any circumstances.
I thought that they did convict him for unrestricted submarine warfare, it was just Nimitz's intervention that led them to not sentence him for it. Looking at the judgment, the tribunal condemned him on the Laconia order specifically, but didn't add it to the sentencing. Their condemnation of the order was still hypocritical either way, seeing as they violated the spirit of the Protocol.
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Legally, or morally? Morally, I'm not sure how slaughtering the survivors (as the depth-charges and bombs did) from the Laconia is really justifiable.
Simple- it saves the lives of the people the submarine would kill if you let it get away.
I'm not sure how tenable that really is, especially since that could be used to justify killing medics or surrendered prisoners on the grounds that they would themselves aid in killing more people if they manage to escape. Not to mention that it would have to sink 30-40 Liberty ships and not aid any of the crew at all to equal the potential slaughter of indiscriminately bombing the relief efforts.
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Re: Laconia incident

Post by Sarevok »

Quick question.

Did Hartenstein know before he torpedoed the Laconia that the ship was actually carrying nearly two thousand Italian POWs ?
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Re: Laconia incident

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Eleventh Century Remnant wrote: The incident is mentioned in Wolfgang Hirschfeld's diaries- the oberfunkmaat of U-109, he kept a secret diary that was subsequently published; the bits in brackets are added by me to show who's who.
'Crazy'. Leibling (assistant radioman) said. 'There's never been anything like that before. That must be Hartenstein.' When I showed Bleichrodt (KL Heinrich Bleichrodt, commander U-109) the signal log when he awoke, he said 'My God, that Hartenstein. I wouldn't want to be in his boots.' He passed it to Schramm (first watch officer, second in command of the boat) who said 'That's suicide for Hartenstein. They won't give two hoots for the survivors and their planes will go and shit all over him.'
As I said, one egg short of an omelette. It appears his fellow U-boat drivers agree.
Eleventh Century Remnant wrote: Weddigen- what else was he supposed to do, when two British cruisers practically offered themselves up in front of him? The 'live bait squadron' evidently had no idea there was a submarine in the vicinity, and after Aboukir was torpedoed, Cressy and Hogue pretty much wandered right into his sights and stopped. They were spectacularly cooperative accomplices in their own destruction, and also perfectly legitimate targets, being, theoretically, warships. The chief atrocity I see in that is their patrolling the Broad Fourteens in the first place, exposed to surface as well as submarine attack they were dangerously unfit to meet.
I wouldn't disgree with any of that. However, the point is that the Cressey and Hogue were picking up survivors and Weddigen knew it. So, he established the principle that picking up survivors does not confer immunity from attack and thus all the faux-outrage about bombing the U-boat in this case falls apart. I must admit that in the ACH case, I would have had a very itchy trigger finger as well but that doesn't change the precedent that was laid down.
Bakustra wrote:Legally, or morally? Morally, I'm not sure how slaughtering the survivors (as the depth-charges and bombs did) from the Laconia is really justifiable.
They didn't slaughter the survivors; they attacked the U-boat that was using the survivors as a human shield. The deaths of any of those survivors from the bombing are therefore the responsibility of the U-boat skipper.
I'm not sure how tenable that really is, especially since that could be used to justify killing medics or surrendered prisoners on the grounds that they would themselves aid in killing more people if they manage to escape. Not to mention that it would have to sink 30-40 Liberty ships and not aid any of the crew at all to equal the potential slaughter of indiscriminately bombing the relief efforts.
[/quote]

Again, its worth noting that this was not a humanitarian relief effort; it was a political operation designed to mitigate a possible political confrontation between Germany and Italy and to repair any possible damage to the alliance between those to. Therefore, it served a very specifically military purpose. The use of the Red Cross to cover that exercise is merely a deception. The bombing was not indiscriminate, saying so is a gross and reprehensible distortion on your part. It was aimed very specifically at the submarine that was, as we have already established, established as a permissible target by the Germans themselves. The importance of Liberty ships is not their crews but teh cargoes they carried that were desperately needed.

Your comment about medics and wounded is similarly unsupportable. Medics treat wounded from everybody, not just those whose survival is politically convenient. PoWs are out the war; the handful that escape are of no consequence. However, having said that one might note that a Russian soldier in WW2 had a better chance of survival as a front-line infantryman than he did as a German POW.
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Re: Laconia incident

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Ah, legalistic fictions. So the bombing was completely morally justifiable because there were political motives behind the effort put into the rescue... but you could say the same about any other rescue, unless there is clear evidence that the sub commander did so out of the goodness of their heart or some other purely moral imperative. This ignores that you're justifying Doenitz's Laconia order, since apparently signaling your intentions to conduct rescue efforts merits bombings and a mockery of the rules of war. But I forget that since they had Red Cross flags out, those Jerry bastards were obviously planning to attack under those flags and anyways we must violate the spirit to adhere to the letter of any law, am I correct?

You can make a legal case, I am sure. But this is but another reminder that legality and morality bear tenuous relationships in far too many cases. Saying the bombing was indiscriminate is incorrect, you are right. It was aimed squarely at the submarines and all the people being treated by the subs were just collateral damage that we should blame the captains for trying to rescue.

I'll also note that the U-Boats did treat the survivors indiscriminately.
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Re: Laconia incident

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Bakustra wrote:Ah, legalistic fictions. So the bombing was completely morally justifiable because there were political motives behind the effort put into the rescue... but you could say the same about any other rescue, unless there is clear evidence that the sub commander did so out of the goodness of their heart or some other purely moral imperative. This ignores that you're justifying Doenitz's Laconia order, since apparently signaling your intentions to conduct rescue efforts merits bombings and a mockery of the rules of war. But I forget that since they had Red Cross flags out, those Jerry bastards were obviously planning to attack under those flags and anyways we must violate the spirit to adhere to the letter of any law, am I correct?
I don't think so; your post is a bit confused and hard to understand at this point. The bombing was completely justified because the submarine was a warship. The fact it was picking up survivors was ruled irrelevent by the Germans themselves (it should be noted by the way that allied convoys in the North Atlantic originally included unarmed and clearly-marked rescue ships whose job was to pick up stranded mariners. The practice was abandoned due to the sinking of such ships by U-boats). Pretty much everything else is irrelevent. The U-boat was not entitled to fly the Red Cross yet it did so - war crime. It was using the survivors as a human shield - war crime. It torpedoed a merchant ship without warning and without checking the ship was a legitimate target - war crime (although in honestly I would let that one pass since by WW2 everybody did that). As far as I can see the bomber crew didn't violate any laws at all.

By the way, let's be clear what the aircraft in question was. It was a B-24 used for maritime patrol which means it was a standard B-24 bomber that had been stripped of its armor and self-sealing fuel tanks and had its turbochargers removed. It was big, clumsy, sluggish and extremely vulnerable. The U-boat was equipped with a quadruple 20mm anti-aircraft mount, probably the most effective piece of close-range anti-aircraft ordnance in WW2. By making a dummy pass and not attacking, the crew of that B-24 were putting their lives and their aircraft at very serious risk. They shouldn't have done it.
You can make a legal case, I am sure. But this is but another reminder that legality and morality bear tenuous relationships in far too many cases. Saying the bombing was indiscriminate is incorrect, you are right. It was aimed squarely at the submarines and all the people being treated by the subs were just collateral damage that we should blame the captains for trying to rescue.
I think that sums the situation up very well. The ultimate blame lies upon the U-boats who were abusing the protections offered by the Red Cross. It's not nice but war is hell. I'll say this again, at risk of boring everybody, its situations like this that are the reason why it is better not to go to war in the first place.
I'll also note that the U-Boats did treat the survivors indiscriminately.
Yes, they used them all as human shields. This isn't a good thing.
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Re: Laconia incident

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Stuart wrote:Yes, they used them all as human shields. This isn't a good thing.
This argument is completely wrong. They were carrying them. Using them as human shield would mean that they were commencing an attack while having them on board or to ease their retreat. Both did not happen. If the sub just dived and went away, it would have been perfectly safe, and the fact that they even made an 'open call' giving their position away and towing boats on the surface shows that they definitively weren't going to go happy hunting with their passengers.

This is the same as saying that someone carrying a wounded away from the battlefield in a firemen's carry is using him as shield against bullets from above or behind.

Everything else you said is a legit argument, but 'hur-hur-human shieldorz' is ridiculous.
Last edited by LaCroix on 2011-01-26 10:37am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Laconia incident

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More fictions! Why would they need human shields? Why did they call in Vichy warships and broadcast openly their intentions to rescue survivors from the water and invite other vessels to help them? What exactly were they doing that required human shields? Were they making repairs? Conducting some dastardly plot? This is what I meant by legalistic fictions. You use the letter of the law to construct a version of events in which the U-Boat crew were all clones of Snidely Whiplash lead by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. They could have simply sailed away, like many other submarines before and after did in the war. But they chose to conduct rescues, and Doenitz ordered other submarines into the area. Your version simply makes no sense except as a post hoc justification to avoid any of that queasy moral responsibility for atrocities.

The spirit of the law is to protect the crews of merchant vessels, not to force submarines to make themselves targets. Bombing a rescue effort is therefore violating the spirit even though the letter is preserved intact. This ties into the larger point, about legality being distinct from morality. The Germans took illegal yet moral actions, the Americans immoral yet legal actions, in this instance (and certainly not in others). It can be as simple as that.

I'm not sure how you can say that they were abusing the protection of the Red Cross anyhow, seeing as they got depth-charged for it. (Or, if I were like you, I would conjure up some fantasy about the American Officer of the Day being horribly, virulently, genocidally racist against Italians and ordering the bomber to attack the subs to kill as many "eyties" as possible. But I am not.)
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Re: Laconia incident

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LaCroix wrote: This argument is completely wrong. They were carrying them. Using them as human shield would mean that they were commencing an attack while having them on board or to ease their retreat. Both did not happen. If the sub just dived and went away, it would have been perfectly safe, and the fact that they even made an 'open call' giving their position away and towing boats on the surface shows that they definitively weren't going to go happy hunting with their passengers. This is the same as saying that someone carrying a wounded away from the battlefield in a firemen's carry is using him as shield against bullets from above or behind.
Is it? I would agree that this is a gray area, but the crux of the matter to me is that the U-boat was claiming immunity because it was rescuing survivors despite the fact that the Germans themselves had established that ships rescuing survivors were not entitled to such immunity. Therefore, the German argument appears to boil down to the statement "The submarine is not entitled to immunity and could be attacked but you shouldn't do so because it has survivors all over its decks." That appears to fall into the category of using said survivors as a shield against attack. In this case it falls into the category you specify of "easing their retreat". Much here depends on the motivations in question which is why they count so strongly in considering the rights and wrongs of the case. We can extend your analogy of someone carrying a wounded away from the battlefield in a firemen's carry. Is he, in fact, removing a wounded man from the battlefield or is he using him as shield against bullets from above or behind (or in front)? Here, we know what the German motivation was; the fact they had just put 1,800 Italian PoWs into the water threatened to disrupt or destroy the Italian-German alliance so the rescue effort was intended to ameliorate that potential development. The German motivation was not a humanitarian effort to save lives at sea. This being the case, I would argue (as counsel for the prosecution) that the self-interested motivation places the use of the survivors into the category of being human shields. I do, however, accept that perceptions and opinions may well differ on this and would respect opinions to the contrary.
Bakustra wrote:Why would they need human shields? Why did they call in Vichy warships and broadcast openly their intentions to rescue survivors from the water and invite other vessels to help them? What exactly were they doing that required human shields? Were they making repairs? Conducting some dastardly plot? This is what I meant by legalistic fictions. You use the letter of the law to construct a version of events in which the U-Boat crew were all clones of Snidely Whiplash lead by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. They could have simply sailed away, like many other submarines before and after did in the war. But they chose to conduct rescues, and Doenitz ordered other submarines into the area. Your version simply makes no sense except as a post hoc justification to avoid any of that queasy moral responsibility for atrocities.
The reasoning behind the German acts is no secret. They feared serious, perhaps fatal, political damage to their alliance with Italy. So, they conducted rescue operations to ameliorate the political damage caused by the sinking and publicized it in an effort to use the survivors as a tool for buying immunity for the submarines. Immunity to which they were not entitled. Depending on how one views acts intended to maintain the Italian-German alliance, the whole set of events could well be defined as a dastardly plot. I wouldn't, however, define the U-Boat crew were all clones of Snidely Whiplash lead by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. My preferred description wiould be the three stooges led by S Baldrick Esq.

Political considerations and political considerations only led to the U-boat staying in the locality. Under any other circumstances, they would have sailed away. They were unable to do so due to those political requirements so they used the PoWs in the water as a shield against attacks. By the way, I have no sense of queasy moral responsibility at all about the conduct of the B-24 crew and my only criticism of them is that they endangered their aircraft for no good reason. They didn't even strafe the submarines as they made their run.
The spirit of the law is to protect the crews of merchant vessels, not to force submarines to make themselves targets. Bombing a rescue effort is therefore violating the spirit even though the letter is preserved intact. This ties into the larger point, about legality being distinct from morality. The Germans took illegal yet moral actions, the Americans immoral yet legal actions, in this instance (and certainly not in others). It can be as simple as that.
It can only be that simple if you ignore all of the surrounding events and the relevent circumstances. A wider perspective that takes into account the circumstances comes to a different conclusion. That would dictate the German actions as being both immoral and illegal. The American actions were entirely legal and there is no moral aspect to worry about. The sub was there, it was a legitimate target, bye-bye.
I'm not sure how you can say that they were abusing the protection of the Red Cross anyhow, seeing as they got depth-charged for it. (Or, if I were like you, I would conjure up some fantasy about the American Officer of the Day being horribly, virulently, genocidally racist against Italians and ordering the bomber to attack the subs to kill as many "eyties" as possible. But I am not.)
They were attempting to use the Red Cross to assert an immunity to which they were not entitled. Thus, they were making teh Red Cross party to a deliberate deception and that is abusing it. Nothing being made up here, we're just looking at the situation as a whole, not cherry-picking aspects of it to suit a pre-determined agenda. Conjuring up a fantasy is actually what you are doing by suggesting this was anything other than a perfectly legitimate attack.
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Re: Laconia incident

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Thank you for once again hearing what you want to hear. You see, I am arguing from the moral perspective. While I know that you and morality had a falling-out a long time ago, reach into the depths of whatever replaced your heart and consider that I agree that it was a perfectly legal attack. My dispute is with the morality of the attack, unless you are legitimately a Legalist in your beliefs and so conflate legality/legitimacy with morality.

What I find most interesting is that you assert that German actions elsewhere in the war prevent this from possibly being immoral. So, Slade, when exactly do you think that Germans became Untermenschen scum? 1933? 1939? 1940? Inquiring minds want to know, mainly so that they can come to terms with such blatant, overt demonization and figure out a restrained response to it.
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