The Sinking of the Laconia and the U-Boat War
Disaster in the Mid-Atlantic
by James P. Duffy
May 2009, 129pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-275-99364-1
$75, £58, 66€, A103
eBook Available: 978-1-57356-751-0
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

In early 1942, the Cunard luxury liner Laconia had been converted into a troopship. On September, 12 1942, she was hit by two torpedoes fired by the German U-boat, U-156. Laconia’s captain ordered the vessel abandoned and, within an hour, she sunk by the head. Adrift far off the coast of West Africa, there was little possibility of rescue by friendly ships for those in her lifeboats or in the water.

Packed with rich detail and analysis, this exciting tale of war at sea relates the dramatic and moving true story of the sinking of the British liner Laconia and its consequences for the conduct of marine warfare.

Duffy discusses in rich detail the dire and dramatic true story of the sinking of the British Liner Laconia by the dreaded U-Boat 156, a vessel crowded with 1800 Italian POWs, 103 Polish soldiers, and 463 officers and crew. As Laconia went down, U-156 surfaced and sent a signal that brought two other U-boats, an Italian submarine, and three Vichy French warships to assist with rescue operations. But on the morning of September 16, a U.S. bomber flew over U-156, now packed with several hundred Laconia survivors. The crew unfurled a large Red Cross flag. Nevertheless, the submarine was attacked. The Laconia survivors were ordered over the side into lifeboats. Damaged, U-156 left the area as other U-boats commenced rescue operations.

In the wake of the incident, German Admiral Karl Donitz issued the Laconia Order demanding that all attempts to rescue Allied survivors of merchant ships be ended. The order provoked an international outcry against inhumane treatment of survivors stranded at sea. In the aftermath of the war, Donitz was charged and acquitted of war crimes in connection with this order.


  • 19 illustrations
James P. Duffy is a writer who specializes in military history. His published works include Praeger's Target: America: Hitler's Plan to Attack the United States and Hitler's Secret Pirate Fleet: The Deadliest Ships of World War II .


"Duffy is an author and military historian, and he documents the controversial 1942 sinking of the British liner Laconia and the rescue operations that were initiated by the same German U-Boat that fired the torpedoes. Written for military and history buffs, this book details the moral and procedural complexities of confrontations between military and merchant forces, especially in regards to ships such as the Laconia that were transporting POWs and operating under the flags of the Red Cross. The consequences of the sinking, which resulted in indictments at the Nuremburg Trials, are also analyzed."—Reference & Research Book News, August 1, 2009
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