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Jeff Thorpe
Posts: 330
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 3:54 pm


Post by Jeff Thorpe » Sat Jan 07, 2017 2:50 pm


Jeff Thorpe © 02 January 2017

Atrocities in wartime are quite often committed,
acts of compassion nigh impossible to find
but, now and then a bulletin of humanity is transmitted,
restoring to a degree, one’s faith in humankind.

One such deed occurred on 12 September 1942,
RMS Laconia sunk by U Boat One Five Six
off the coast of West Africa, remote Atlantic avenue,
twenty-seven hundred souls faced the River Styx.

U Boat Captain Hartenstein showed kindness to survivors,
surfacing his boat, plucking them from the sea,
radioing other possible rescue providers
including Allied forces in the vicinity.

Other German U Boats responded to his call
though Allies thought the signal was a ruse,
consequently, aid on hand hastened to a crawl
with Hartenstein assigned to the role of mother goose.

Near three days he stayed surfaced, two hundred crammed upon his boat,
two hundred more in lifeboats daisy-chained,
all fed and treated with respect, importantly afloat,
orders from German High Command disdained.

A patrolling US bomber sighted the group on September 16
and was ordered by its base to sink U One Five Six
no notice taken of Red Cross marks on the submarine,
humanitarian concepts clearly nowhere in the mix.

The U Boat suffered little damage but, not so those in tow,
direct hits to the lifeboats saw dozens maimed and killed.
Safety of his boat caused Hartenstein to dive below
his brave compassionate mission unfulfilled.

Those on the sub’s deck were cast into the water
to sink or swim or reach remaining lifeboats,
not the best odds though hardly cruel manslaughter,
once again prime players as World War II scapegoats.

Ultimately, rescue ships did find the castaways
while one lifeboat rowed 600 miles to land.
Eleven hundred from Laconia survived the whole malaise
while to one thousand six hundred the death toll did expand.

If any “feel good” stories come from wartime this is one,
Captain Hartenstein a beacon in dark times,
an extraordinary episode, not about who lost or won,
but a breath of freshness amid so many crimes.

Hartenstein and his crew did not survive the war,
U 156 depth charged and sunk on 8 March, ‘43,
all hands were lost, east of Barbados shore
the complement having made their mark in history.

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Post by Shelley » Mon Jan 09, 2017 3:42 pm

An interesting chronicle indeed, Jeff - no doubt one of many lesser known events in the dark days of war.

Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

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