…yet, another suppressed story of individual German heroism during the war years.
12 September 1942, RMS Laconia carrying 2,732 people was torpedoed by German U-boat U-156.
When Werner Hartenstein, commander of U-156, realized civilians and prisoners of war were on board, he surfaced to rescue the passengers. Hartenstein requested help from U-boat command in Germany. Several U-Boats were dispatched; all flew Red Cross flags, and signalled by radio that a rescue operation was underway.
All that night, Hartenstein’s men worked tirelessly, pulling people from the sea and shepherding the flotilla of lifeboats and rafts. The U-156 remained on the surface for the next two and a half days.
There was not to be a fairytale ending to Hartenstein’s mission of mercy, however. On the 16th, a U.S. B-24 Liberator plane sighted the rescue efforts. Hartenstein signaled the pilot for assistance. A British officer also messaged the aircraft: “RAF officer speaking from German submarine, Laconia survivors on board, soldiers, civilians, women, children.”
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