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The Sinking of the Laconia, 1942

Posted by Jean Hood, on September 16th, 2014

Abstract

The RMS Laconia was a Cunard-White Star liner which had been requisitioned by the British government and converted to a troop transport in 1941. She was returning to Britain from Egypt in the late summer of 1942 when, off the coast of West Africa, Laconia was torpedoed by U-156, a Type IX U-Boat under the command of Korvettenkapitän Werner Hartenstein. Onboard along with the crew was a disparate group of passengers, which included servicemen’s families, walking wounded and several hundred Italian prisoners of war. Altogether, there were 2,800 people crowded into the ship’s compartments, with hundreds trapped below decks as the ship sank in to the shark-infested waters of the Atlantic. The audio account of one of the passengers, Molly Davidson, provides the basis of this article, and tells a desperate story of survival and rescue by the crew of the U-Boat and other Axis vessels. Aged just nineteen at the time, her lively and detailed first-hand account of what became known as the ‘Laconia Incident’ encompasses abandoning ship, rescue by the Germans, transfer to the Vichy French Navy, time spent in a Moroccan POW camp, liberation following Operation Torch, and her return to England. What is particularly interesting is that she was one of very few women to see the inside of a U-Boat on patrol and that she had personal experience of the humanity displayed by the enemy towards women, children and the wounded.

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