Girl in a Lifeboat
Artist: JOHN MEEKS
Original picture is oil on canvas measuring approx 20 x 30        
Original artwork only - no prints produced
Subject: U-156 takes on board survivors from the torpedoed Cunard liner Laconia - 1942


The story behind the painting...

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 Werner Hartenstein
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, and
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 allowed again.


ORIGINAL PAINTING

 

Original painting to remain in the collection of the artist.

 

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