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Canadian hospital ship Llandovery Castle sunk June 27th, 1918

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  • Canadian hospital ship Llandovery Castle sunk June 27th, 1918

    The worst war atrocity committed by the Germans against Canadians occurred 100 years ago with the sinking of the clearly marked Canadian hospital ship Llandovery Castle. 258 were aboard, 234 died and 24 survived. After sinking the ship the captain Lieutenant Helmut Patzig ordered the men below and he proceeded to machine gun the survivers in life boats to get rid of witnesses. Only one lifeboat got away. The atrocity produced outrage across the world, even the Kaiser was said to have lost sleep over the incident. The official report described the incident as " a crime surpassing in savagery an already formidable array of murders of Non-combatants by the Germans" . On August 8th, 1918 Canadians would spearhead the first battle of the 100 days that would end the war. The code word for the start of the battle of Amiens was " Llandovery Castle", it was revenge time and because of the incident many Canadian soldiers were not particularly interested in taking prisoners.



  • #2
    Your account is not quite correct although essentially covers the incident. After the sinking the U boat took several survivors on board. It would seem that they had thought the ship was carrying American flying officers and ammunition. On discovering their mistake then they tried to cover the evidence. This was not done by the U boat commander alone as many of the life boats were rammed by the U boat and the crew used small arms to fire on them ( a machine gun was not normally carried by U boats of the time). 'Canadian Nurse. carried a good account of the incident a few years ago. The account of the commander ordering the crew below and alone machine gunning the survivors may have been an attempt by crew members to avoid sharing in the guilt as the incident was treated as a war crime after the Armiistice
    Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
    Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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    • #3
      Thanks for the corrections.

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      • #4
        Too bad that this forum has gone all to ****, we could have had an interesting discussion about German atrocities of WW1, oh well.

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        • #5
          A small number of junior officers and NCOs were out and helped the commander in committing the crime.

          The lasting effect of this war crime is that it enshrined the principle that "just obeying orders" is no excuse.

          Interestingly, the whole thing was handled by a German court in Leipzig; the winners of WWI had allowed the losers to police their own war criminals. The commander was a wanted man, but he had influential protection, senior officers of the German military, and did not show up for the trial - nor did the police attempt to apprehend him.
          The junior officers and NCOs did show up because they thought they'd just get away by saying they were acting on orders. Instead, the court found them guilty. The principle stated on that occasion (which had already been in the German military code) was that if an order is evidently illegal, a soldier's duty is not to obey the order, but on the contrary to report the illegal order up the chain of command.

          Military codes that had not included such a principle before, gradually introduced it in the inter-war period. Fast forward to 1945, and lots of war criminals tried to use the same excuse. But it was a precedent established in a German court that destroyed that line of defense, the Llandovery Castle case.

          The other significant detail about this case is that it's a clear example of why after WWII, the winners did not trust again the losers to clean up their act.

          Just as of now, in the WWII section of the forum, there's a discussion about submarine commanders' behavior patterns. A detail that should not be forgotten is that if the commanders who sank the Llandovery Castle in WWI and the Peleus in WWII had been fully successful at their crimes, i.e. had killed all survivors, we'd not know anything about those crimes. It's only because somebody did survive, notwithstanding the criminals' best efforts, that we're in the know (and that at least some of the criminals went on trial). So one has to wonder how often the submarine commanders actually succeeded at this sort of behavior, thus denying us knowledge of what they did.
          Michele

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Michele View Post
            A small number of junior officers and NCOs were out and helped the commander in committing the crime.

            The lasting effect of this war crime is that it enshrined the principle that "just obeying orders" is no excuse.

            Interestingly, the whole thing was handled by a German court in Leipzig; the winners of WWI had allowed the losers to police their own war criminals. The commander was a wanted man, but he had influential protection, senior officers of the German military, and did not show up for the trial - nor did the police attempt to apprehend him.
            The junior officers and NCOs did show up because they thought they'd just get away by saying they were acting on orders. Instead, the court found them guilty. The principle stated on that occasion (which had already been in the German military code) was that if an order is evidently illegal, a soldier's duty is not to obey the order, but on the contrary to report the illegal order up the chain of command.

            Military codes that had not included such a principle before, gradually introduced it in the inter-war period. Fast forward to 1945, and lots of war criminals tried to use the same excuse. But it was a precedent established in a German court that destroyed that line of defense, the Llandovery Castle case.

            The other significant detail about this case is that it's a clear example of why after WWII, the winners did not trust again the losers to clean up their act.

            Just as of now, in the WWII section of the forum, there's a discussion about submarine commanders' behavior patterns. A detail that should not be forgotten is that if the commanders who sank the Llandovery Castle in WWI and the Peleus in WWII had been fully successful at their crimes, i.e. had killed all survivors, we'd not know anything about those crimes. It's only because somebody did survive, notwithstanding the criminals' best efforts, that we're in the know (and that at least some of the criminals went on trial). So one has to wonder how often the submarine commanders actually succeeded at this sort of behavior, thus denying us knowledge of what they did.
            The major difference between 1918 and 1945 was that in the former case Germany asked for an armistice on terms followed by a peace treaty which ended the war. In 1945 the Allies in the shape of the United Nations demanded total and unconditional surrender. In 1918 there was no national surrender and the German government remained in place (albeit changed from a monarchy to a republic) throughout with a functioning judiciary and legal system. Thus there was no legal basis for the Allies to impose their own courts and trials. Because there was no German government post May 1945 there was no effective judiciary or legal system and this function became the responsibility of the occupying powers which under international law could legally apply their own judicial process

            A number of people were indited in Germany post 1918 as war criminals. not just U boat crews but prison camp personnel etc. but the whole thing degenerated into farce. Some just quietly vanished (and reappeared post 1933) Some trials effectively petered out and some who were convicted and were jailed soon escaped suspiciously easily and no great effort seems to have been made to recapture them. Very few received their just deserts.

            Wilhelminian Germany was highly bureaucratic and it is highly likely that there would have been some documentation of the incident. Whilst there were some attempts to destroy records post armistice this was in the main to remove information that would assist the Allied Commissioners overseeing disarmament (for example almost all the records pertaining to the Prussian Flying Corps were burnt but the Bavarian ones remained intact) and there was no managed attempt to conceal documents that might reveal war crimes. On the other hand there was such a comprehensive attempt made in Nazi Germany starting as early as late 1943 (which may indicate when the possibility of defeat first became apparent to some of the top brass) and it is acknowledged that there must be instances of crimes from which there were no survivors of which little or nothing is known other than by the perpetrators.
            Last edited by MarkV; 13 Jul 18, 08:46.
            Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
            Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Michele View Post
              The junior officers and NCOs did show up because they thought they'd just get away by saying they were acting on orders. Instead, the court found them guilty. The principle stated on that occasion (which had already been in the German military code) was that if an order is evidently illegal, a soldier's duty is not to obey the order, but on the contrary to report the illegal order up the chain of command.

              Military codes that had not included such a principle before, gradually introduced it in the inter-war period. .
              Later than that. British military law wasn't changed until April 1942 when the Manual of Military Law was amended to remove the defence.

              The German problem was what was an illegal command? German military doctrine tended to argue that military necessity (kriegsraison) overrode most civil and humanitarian law
              Last edited by MarkV; 13 Jul 18, 12:10.
              Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
              Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by MarkV View Post

                Later than that. British military law wasn't changed until April 1942 when the Manual of Military Law was amended to remove the defence.

                The German problem was what was an illegal command? German military doctrine tended to argue that military necessity (kriegsraison) overrode most civil and humanitarian law
                Interesting Mark, thanks. I did read through an account of the trial which I found interesting, I've posted the link below. Here is the judgement:

                If Patzig had been faced by refusal on the part of his subordinates, he would have been obliged to desist from his purpose, as then it would have been impossible for him to attain his object, namely, the concealment of the torpedoing of the "Llandovery Castle." This was also quite well known to the accused.

                In assessing the sentence the Court considered as follows:

                In estimating the punishment, it has , in the first place, to be borne in mind that the principal guilt rests with Commander Patzig, under whose orders the accused acted. They should certainly have refused to obey the order. This would have required a specially high degree of resolution. A refusal to obey the commander on a submarine would have been something so unusual, that it is humanly possible to understand that the accused could not bring themselves to disobey. That certainly does not make them innocent. They had acquired the habit of obedience to military authority and could not rid themselves of it. This justifies the recognition of mitigating circumstances.

                A severe sentence must, however, be passed. The killing of defenceless shipwrecked people is an act in the highest degree contrary to ethical principles. It must also not be left out of consideration that he deed throws a dark shadow on the German fleet, and specially on the submarine weapon which did so much in the fight for the Fatherland. For this reason a sentence of four years' imprisonment on both the accused men had been considered appropriate.

                Further, the accused Dithmar is ordered to be dismissed the service, and the accused Bolt is deprived of the right to wear officer's uniform.

                The behaviour of the accused during the proceedings has not been such as to justify reducing the period of imprisonment by the comparatively short period, during which they have already been detained.

                The decisions of the Court in this trial give rise to many important considerations, and these will be discussed later.

                http://www.gwpda.org/naval/lcastl12.htm

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by MarkV View Post

                  Later than that. British military law wasn't changed until April 1942 when the Manual of Military Law was amended to remove the defence.
                  Thanks.

                  The German problem was what was an illegal command? German military doctrine tended to argue that military necessity (kriegsraison) overrode most civil and humanitarian law
                  Sure, as a general philosophy and way of thinking. Yet some orders that the German soldiers were routinely issued with during WWII didn't simply violate civil and international laws: they violated the German military code itself. The military paybook every German soldier was issued with and which was probably his most important document contained a summarized version of what one could and could not do with enemy POWs according to the German military laws.

                  The general standard was, or should have been, an evidently illegal order. "Shoot these prisoners" or "Lock these civilians in the barn and burn it" was such an order. Note that we have known instances of German soldiers who called out such orders and stated they could not fulfill them. Generally, they were not disciplined officially, or court-martialed. They were simply moved to some other task or post.
                  Michele

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Michele View Post

                    Thanks.



                    Sure, as a general philosophy and way of thinking. Yet some orders that the German soldiers were routinely issued with during WWII didn't simply violate civil and international laws: they violated the German military code itself. The military paybook every German soldier was issued with and which was probably his most important document contained a summarized version of what one could and could not do with enemy POWs according to the German military laws.

                    The general standard was, or should have been, an evidently illegal order. "Shoot these prisoners" or "Lock these civilians in the barn and burn it" was such an order. Note that we have known instances of German soldiers who called out such orders and stated they could not fulfill them. Generally, they were not disciplined officially, or court-martialed. They were simply moved to some other task or post.
                    But military necessity was still sometimes used to justify plainly illegal commands. For example when a U-boat surfaced near a small Icelandic fishing boat. It was clearly marked as Icelandic and neutral,and it was unarmed with a crew of seven so clearly no direct threat to the submarine. The U-boat commander ordered that the gun crew open fire on it and it was sunk with all hands. The only reason that the incident became known was that it was included in the U-boat's log. It was justified on the grounds that the fishing boat might have reported the presence of a U-boat in the area to someone and it was necessary to eliminate it and its crew.
                    Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                    Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by MarkV View Post

                      But military necessity was still sometimes used to justify plainly illegal commands. For example when a U-boat surfaced near a small Icelandic fishing boat. It was clearly marked as Icelandic and neutral,and it was unarmed with a crew of seven so clearly no direct threat to the submarine. The U-boat commander ordered that the gun crew open fire on it and it was sunk with all hands. The only reason that the incident became known was that it was included in the U-boat's log. It was justified on the grounds that the fishing boat might have reported the presence of a U-boat in the area to someone and it was necessary to eliminate it and its crew.
                      Hmmm. I agree with everything you wrote, but I suppose a case could be made that the status of the Icelandic fishing boat - if it was the Holmstein - was not entirely clear. The sinking of that boat, with 4 crewmen, took place on May 24 1941, right after Britain had occupied Iceland. When one of the belligerents invaded a neutral, the other side generally tended to consider that neutral' s stuff as fair game.
                      Naturally the case is horribly complicated, because while the Germans and the Icelanders considered Iceland as an independent and neutral country up until the British occupation, the British considered it as part of the Danish King's territory, and therefore already, in turn, fair game since the Germans had that King and its mainland in chains.

                      An interesting legal problem, but above my head I'm afraid. An elegant solution might be to say just that since the Germans were indeed, at the time, protesting that the British had invaded a neutral country, then for them the Icelandic fishing boat should have been a neutral vessel.

                      All that said, had it been a British fishing boat, sinking it for that reason would have been a war crime too, yes. The U-204 was sunk with all hands, thus the German submarine arm avoided another embarrassing trial.

                      I did not know about the Holmstein, so thank you for mentioning it.
                      Michele

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Michele View Post

                        Hmmm. I agree with everything you wrote, but I suppose a case could be made that the status of the Icelandic fishing boat - if it was the Holmstein - was not entirely clear. The sinking of that boat, with 4 crewmen, took place on May 24 1941, right after Britain had occupied Iceland. When one of the belligerents invaded a neutral, the other side generally tended to consider that neutral' s stuff as fair game.
                        Naturally the case is horribly complicated, because while the Germans and the Icelanders considered Iceland as an independent and neutral country up until the British occupation, the British considered it as part of the Danish King's territory, and therefore already, in turn, fair game since the Germans had that King and its mainland in chains.

                        An interesting legal problem, but above my head I'm afraid. An elegant solution might be to say just that since the Germans were indeed, at the time, protesting that the British had invaded a neutral country, then for them the Icelandic fishing boat should have been a neutral vessel.

                        All that said, had it been a British fishing boat, sinking it for that reason would have been a war crime too, yes. The U-204 was sunk with all hands, thus the German submarine arm avoided another embarrassing trial.

                        I did not know about the Holmstein, so thank you for mentioning it.
                        he Holmstein had a crew of seven. The Kriegsmarine had been sinking Icelandic trawlers some time before then, I think on the grounds that some might sell their fish to Britain but the sinking of the Holmstein was done on the basis of military necessity. Before 1914 fishing boats were generally exempted from wars and Breton trawlers used to come in to Brixham during the Napoleonic wars to land their catches. Dutch and German fishermen later did the same and an invasion scare was triggered in August 1914 by someone hearing German being spoken there as initially German fishermen had seen no reason why a war should stop them continuing to land their fish in Brixham
                        Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                        Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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