Sometimes Doing the Right Thing is Dangerous
|Werner Hartenstein, Commander of U-156.|
- 80 civilians,
- 286 British Army soldiers,
- 103 Polish soldiers guarding the prisoners, and
|Kapitänleutnant Werner Hartenstein of U-156, unsung hero of World War II.|
|The Laconia at Southhampton in 1922.|
|Interior of the Laconia.|
|Media reports simply said the liner was sunk, as were so many others.|
Sunk by Hartenstein British "Laconia". Grid FF 7721 310 degrees. Unfortunately with 1500 Italian prisoners of war. So far 90 fished. 157 cubic metres [of oil]. 19 eels [torpedoes], trade wind 3, request orders.Perhaps even more remarkably, Admiral Dönitz sprang into action to help. Dönitz, the inventor of the wolf pack and not yet in charge of the entire Kriegsmarine, was not particularly known as having a soft heart. He ordered seven nearby U-boats to break off operations around Cape Town and proceed to the Laconia location in order to assist with rescue operations.
|Captain Hartenstein on the U-156.|
|Hartenstein and the crew of U-156.|
Uncoded message (sent on Sept 13, 0600 hours on 25 meters-frequency) : If any ship will assist the ship-wrecked 'Laconia'-crew, I will not attack providing I am not being attacked by ship or air forces. I picked up 193 men. 4, 53 South, 11, 26 West. - German submarine U-156".In the entire annals of the Kriegsmarine, that is one of its most honorable messages. In actuality, Hartenstein had some 400 people either onboard or in tow in lifeboats, and he was continuing to pick up more than he could handle.
|Shuttle service between U156 (foreground) and U507 (background) on the 15th of September 1942. They are ferrying supplies in this shot. Picture was taken by Oblt. z. S. Leopold Schuhmacher.|
"RAF officer speaking from German submarine, Laconia survivors on board, soldiers, civilians, women, children."The plane turned and headed off. Hartenstein assumed that it was aware of the situation.
|A B-24 Liberator.|
The sub rolled over and was last seen bottom up. Crew had abandoned ship and taken to surrounding lifeboats.Score one for the USAAF! And also for the career of Lt. Harden, who was awarded a medal for his pains.
|A B-25 Mitchell bomber.|
|U-156 in a photo taken from the Gloire by passenger "Roland."|
We the undersigned officers of His Majesty’s Navy, Army and Air Force and of the Merchant Navy, and also on behalf of the Polish detachment, the prisoners of war, the women and children, wish to express to you our deepest and sincerest gratitude for all you have done, at the cost of very great difficulties for your ship and her crew, in welcoming us, the survivors of His Majesty’s transport-ship, the Laconia.And thus stands one of the most peculiar and most humane events of World War II. How many can say that they personally saved over 1,000 souls? Werner Hartenstein could. He was no Saint, but for a few days, he came as close as a U-boat commander ever could.
|Werner Hartenstein (February 27, 1908 – March 8, 1943). He and the entire crew of U-156 were killed in action by depth charges from a US Catalina east of Barbados.|