September 12

This Day in History

World War II

Sep 12, 1942:

The Laconia is sunk

On this day in 1942, a German U-boat sinks a British troop ship, the Laconia, killing more than 1,400 men. The commander of the German sub, Capt. Werner Hartenstein, realizing that Italians POWs were among the passengers, strove to aid in their rescue.

The Laconia, a former Cunard White Star ship put to use to transport troops, including prisoners of war, was in the South Atlantic bound for England when it encountered U-156, a German sub. The sub attacked, sinking the troop ship and imperiling the lives of more than 2,200 passengers. But as Hartenstein, the sub commander, was to learn from survivors he began taking onboard, among those passengers were 1,500 Italians POWs. Realizing that he had just endangered the lives of so many of his fellow Axis members, he put out a call to an Italian submarine and two other German U-boats in the area to help rescue the survivors.

In the meantime, one French and two British warships sped to the scene to aid in the rescue. The German subs immediately informed the Allied ships that they had surfaced for humanitarian reasons. The Allies assumed it was a trap. Suddenly, an American B-24 bomber, the Liberator, flying from its South Atlantic base on Ascension Island, saw the German sub and bombed it—despite the fact that Hartenstein had draped a Red Cross flag prominently on the hull of the surfaced sub. The U-156, damaged by the air attack, immediately submerged. Admiral Karl Donitz, supreme commander of the German U-boat forces, had been monitoring the rescue efforts. He ordered that "all attempts to rescue the crews of sunken ships...cease forthwith." Consequently, more than 1,400 of the Laconia's passengers, which included Polish guards and British crewmen, drowned.

Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

This Week in History, Sep 12 - Sep 18

Sep 12, 1942
The Laconia is sunk
Sep 13, 1940
Italy invades Egypt
Sep 14, 1944
Americans launch Operation Stalemate—at extraordinary cost
Sep 15, 1935
Nuremberg race laws imposed
Sep 16, 1940
United States imposes the draft
Sep 17, 1939
Soviet Union invades Poland
Sep 18, 1945
MacArthur in Tokyo

What Happened on Your Birthday?

Pick a Date

Shop HISTORY