The artist writes:
I confess that I have compressed events slightly in this painting. But
the story is still a fascinating one, and certainly not without tragedy.
On September 12 1942, U-156 under the command of
torpedoed the Cunard liner/troopship Laconia in the South Atlantic.
Surfacing to confirm the sinking and inspect
wreckage, the U-Boat skipper
was appalled to realize that the ship had been carrying more than 1800
Italian POW's along with 800 British and 100 Polish military personnel,
some British civilians including women and children.
Feeling obligated to rescue as many of his
Italian allies as possible, Hartenstein called upon other submarines in
the area to assist, and also radioed Vichy French
surface ships to come to his aid.
Joined by the U-506, U-507 and the Italian boat
"Capellini", Hartenstein's little act of humanitarianism got
under way. But all was not to be well..
With four submarines towing lifeboats and their
casings crowded with survivors, everyone was horrified to see the approach
of an American B24 bomber. Hastily, a red cross flag was improvised,
gun-crews were ordered away from their weapons, and an RAF officer on
U-156 assisted in sending a message to the aircraft. But to no avail.
The aircraft disappeared, but shortly after,
returned with bomb doors open. Having assessed the
situation, the pilot had requested advice on what he should do - but the
temptation of four enemy submarines on the surface was just too great.
Depth charges were dropped.
None of the submarines was damaged by the attack.
The survivors had been handed back to the mercy of the sea, and the
resulting death toll of the whole incident was large; the greatest
casualties being the 1300+ Italians who perished.
Such a rescue was never attempted, or even