HMT Laconia and my "lost" RAF uncle

Discussion in 'Searching for Someone & Military Genealogy' started by Gwynne Lloyd, Sep 29, 2009.

  1. Gwynne Lloyd

    Gwynne Lloyd Junior Member

    I am looking for my "lost" great uncle, Thomas H. G. Lloyd. He was an optician prior to the war and those family members that can remember him remember him joining the RAF because of his optical training. They think he died on reconnaissance mission. I have found only two possible connections on GenesReunited's war record search and one record says he was a Leading Aircrftsman and his Squadron is given as MHT "Laconia" which I think is strange. Not much comes up on this reference, so, can anyone shed any light on this vessel and why would his squadron be given as this one?

    Thank you anyone


    Gwynne Lloyd
  2. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Hi Gwynne and welcome to the forum.

    I've looked on the Commonwealth War Graves Comission site and his exact details are not listed. Are you sure about the initials and do you have a date (rough the year would help) of death?

    The only thing I can find on google at the mo to Laconia is a place in new Hampshire, USA.

  3. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Geoff's search engine returns zero results using just Laconia.
  4. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    The Laconia was requisitioned by the Admiralty and was converted into a troopship.She was lost on 12 September 1942 when she was torpedoed by a U Boat, north of Ascension Island when on route to Freetown from South Africa.She had been involved in Middle East transfers but on the date lost was on the South Africa run with a large number of Italian POWs on board.

    There was a RAF flying scheme set up in Rhodesia and a rank of LAC seems appropriate for aircrew under training,eg such as LAC Pilot U/T and RAF personnel being on board would fit.Furthermore, RAF personnel would pass through Capetown for transit to and fro Rhodesia.

    CWGC records do not carry such detail as transfer or location losses and the record is normally restricted to the casualty's parent unit and even so sometimes this information is missing.If Thomas H.G Lloyd was lost on the Laconia,then he would be remembered at Runnymede.

    Looking at the case,there is no reason to think that the GenesReunited information is incorrect and it might point to the fate of ThomaS H.G Lloyd on the Laconia.

    *Yes just drawn a blank on a search for 12 September 1942.However the casualty should be there even if a search across three services is required.
  5. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    There is only one T. Lloyd rememebered on Runnymede but he's called Trevor and died in 1940.

    I thought I recognised Laconia before...I think there is a thread on here about her.

    Infact there is 4 threads about her.
  6. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    Hi Gwynne,

    Welcome to the forum.

    HMT Laconia was lost on 12 September 1942 - Middle east to the UK with 1,793 Italian POWs on board, she was sunk by U 156. U-boats were ordered to help in the rescue but were attacked by US aircraft. Over 2,200 people on board died.

    In some cases it can be a little difficult to research lost servicemen. I think your first objective will be to obtain your great uncles service record, all the info you will need is posted below.



    The ease of tracing Second World War airmen depends very much on two things: whether the person survived the war, and whether you are related to them.

    If you are related, the process is very straightforward. A letter to the RAF Personnel Management Agency will, after proof of identity and a fee being produced, procure you a copy of the individual's record of service. This contains a lot of information, including addresses at the time of enlistment, next of kin, basic physical description, and any details on commendations or disciplinary actions. However, the meat of the record is a list of dates, units and places. Everywhere that someone went will be recorded here, and this creates a comprehensive, if not daunting, document. RAF records are difficult for several reasons, but perhaps highest on the list is that the RAF is a far more fluid organisation than most. Soldiers join a battalion and sailors a ship, and they tend to stay there for years at a time, if not their whole service. Airmen tend to move around a lot, and can be attached to either units or stations. Squadrons generally don't have the age-old traditions and staunch identities of regiments and ships for just this reason. Airmen can be sent wherever men of their trade (airmen, riggers, fitters, clerks, drivers, etc.) are needed. This can lead to some pretty densely packed records, with much more jargon than the other services
    Armed with this mass of abbreviations and numbers, you can seek aid from several sources. Probably the best is the Royal Air Force Museum (RAFM) at Hendon, who have the necessary sources to turn the list into meaningful English. Abbreviations and acronyms can be expanded and explained, and unit locations and duties uncovered. It is unlikely that the details will go into any great depth, but a general picture will be drawn up. For the finer points, you will need to turn to the official records held at The National Archives (TNA) at Kew. These, in particular the Operations Record Books are in the form of a daily diary of the unit's or station's activities. The level of information given varies drastically. At best, postings in or out of the unit, accidents and sickness, or minute details of operations and crews will appear; at worst a brief description of the day's events. Even this can be of help. While the service record (with the help of the RAFM) can provide the dates served with, say, a Lancaster squadron, the ORBs can give details on individual raids that unit was involved in. There is also an immense range of books on the RAF or units histories out there that could provide further information to lay on the basic framework as well.

    Of course the best way to trace the operational service of a member of aircrew is through their flying log book. These were kept by individuals and are particular to them; even members of the same crew will have different entries. They can also vary greatly in their detail, from bland lists of flights (aircraft, crew, target/purpose, duration) to some which read more like diaries. The bad news is that these were kept by each airman after discharge, and if they are not held by the family anymore the chances of finding them are very slim. For casualties, log books were sent to the Central Depository at Gloucester and returned to the families after the war (the delay so as to avoid revealing any sensitive operational details that they may have contained). In many cases, the addresses for the next of kin were out of date, and by 1960 there was still about 2km (6,400ft) of shelf space being used for unclaimed log books. At this point The National Archives were called in to take a representative sample (plus any famous ones, like Wing Commander Guy Gibson's) of 249, or about 6m (20ft). The rest were burned.

    Records of service are only open to next of kin, but there are avenues to try if you are not related. If the individual was an officer you can trace their promotions and trades through the Air Force Lists. These were published monthly from 1918, quarterly from 1945, twice a year from 1963, and finally annually since 1980. Medals can also be easily traced. All citations for all awards appear in the London Gazette, much of which is now available on line. These do not always give the full citation, though, and you really need a rough date to find the award you are looking for. Therefore, you may also like to try either a superb series of books listing the citations for the Distinguished Flying Cross and Distinguished Flying Medal published by Savannah, or try the Air Ministry Bulletin. The latter, available at TNA or RAFM, is indexed by name, and often gives more information on all awards than the Gazette. However, citations do not always exist for medals. There were two types of awards during the war: Immediate awards for a specific action, which usually have a citation, and Non-immediate awards for conspicuous behaviour over an extended period, which usually do not.

    It is one of the more ironic facts of service life that the dead are far easier to trace than the living. The central casualty files of the RAF are still closely guarded. A letter to the Air Historical Branch, again with proof of kinship, should gain you some of the details from the old Air Ministry files on the person and their cause of death. These include details obtained by the MRES in their investigations, and to a certain degree the evidence to support their conclusions. However, most MRES records are not accessible by the public. Investigation and exhumation reports do not make very pleasant reading, and are almost certain to cause distress to family members. They are, after all, essentially autopsy reports.

    Therefore the best place to start is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Although they do not hold records on how or even where a service person was killed (their interest and records begin the instant the body was handed into their care, and not a moment before), the database on their website is still very useful. A name entered will provide a very rough place and date of death, and with luck a unit too. The cause of death can then be discovered through several avenues. If a body is buried in a combat zone, say France or Germany, it is likely to have been through enemy action. More details can be found through a range of books produced by Midland Publishing, which give chronological lists of Bomber, Fighter and Coastal Command losses. Further information can then usually be found through general reference books as to what the operation was, and what it achieved. Some deaths, particularly those in this country, are harder to pin down as being combat losses, accidents, or even illness. Again, ORBs can be consulted, as can the details on the record of service. An airman serving at a Flying Training School, for example, is more likely to have been killed in an accident. If you believe that the cause was an accident involving an aircraft, try the Form 1180 Accident Cards held at the RAFM. You will need a date and preferably a type involved (this can be guessed at judging by the unit they were in). The Accident Card will report in full the conditions and circumstances surrounding an accident, as well as the conclusions of any inquiries.

    ‘Missing Believed Killed’ - Stuart Hadaway.

    A few useful links…….

    Service records - RAF

    Air Historical Branch - AHB homepage

    The National Archives

    London aircraft museum offers historic family days out - RAF Hendon

    :: CWGC ::
  7. James S

    James S Very Senior Member

  8. ADM199

    ADM199 Well-Known Member

    Hi and welcome to the Forum,
    if your not sure about Laconia it could be that he was a Survivor of the Sinking and is noted as such.

  9. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin


    Hello and Welcome to the forum.

  10. James Daly

    James Daly Senior Member

    My great-uncle was onboard the Laconia when it was torpedoed. He died of illness he contracted while in Vichy French internment.

    We had a similar riddle to solve when it came to looking at his headstone. It turned out that the 'HMS Laconia' he was credited with serving on was actually the troopship liner. He was being transferred home after promotion to Leading Stoker.

    There is an interesting book on the sinking written by a survivor, One Common Enemy by Jim Mcloughlin
  11. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    The attempt to save the survivors of Laconia

    Contrary to Allied wartime propaganda that portrayed U-boat captains and crews as war criminals who gloatingly machine-gunned helpless merchant sailors, atrocities had in fact been extremely rare in World War II. In the early years, U-boat crews often actually helped their victims. One commander, Herbert Schultze of the U-48, consciously or unconsciously emulating one of his World War I predecessors, went so far as to send radio messages to the Admiralty in London asking that a ship be sent to pick up survivors of a freighter he had just sunk.

    No one made a more heroic effort to give mercy than Lieutenant Commander Werner Hartenstein, the 32-year-old captain of the U-156. On the night of September 12, Hartenstein torpedoed the British troopship Laconia, which was evacuating British servicemen and their families, together with some prisoners of war, from British Africa. On board were 463 British crewmen, 286 British servicemen, 80 civilians (some of them women and children), 1,800 Italian prisoners of war and 103 Polish guards. Hartenstein no sooner heard shouts for help than he began to pick the victims out of the water, so far 90 rescued, he radioed to U-boat headquarters. request instructions. Donitz knew that torpedoing Italian soldiers could have a serious effect on Germany's relations with her Axis partner. He diverted two U-boats from off Freetown, Sierra Leone, to the scene; the Italians sent one of their own submarines, and the Vichy French in Dakar dispatched three warships to help pick up survivors.
    For the moment, however, the U-156 was alone. All through the night the boat cruised about, fishing people from the sea without regard for their nationality. Submarines were woefully unequipped for coping with such situations: There was hardly enough room below to handle the crew, much less extra passengers; moreover, survivors placed on the deck would be drowned if the submarine was suddenly forced to dive. At 4 a.m. the next day, Hartenstein sent out a radio message in English on the 25-meter international shipping distress band and the 600-meter commercial wavelength: if any ship will assist the shipwrecked laconia
    CREW, I WILL NOT ATTACK HER PROVIDED I AM NOT BEING ATTACKED BY SHIP OR AIR FORCES. I HAVE PICKED UP 193 MEN, 4° 52' S., 11° 26' W. GERMAN SUBMARINE. No ship came. But now the enemy knew the U-156's position.
    For two days Hartenstein struggled to keep the boats and survivors together. As far as he was concerned, the rescue operation was not a matter of military expediency but of humanitarian service. By now, 310 people were jammed on the U-156—Germans, Italians, British and Poles. An Italian doctor treated the sick and wounded, using the Germans' bandages, medicines and opium. Some of the Italians had suffered bayonet wounds in fighting with their Polish guards to escape the prison holds of the Laconia. Other people had severe injuries from shark bites.

    At last the Freetown boats, the U-506 and the 17-507, arrived. They took some of the survivors from the U-156 and removed others from lifeboats. Hartenstein now had 55 Italians and 55 British on board, including five women, and had saved the lives of some 400 people. The crews of the other boats behaved with equal concern, dispensing soup and coffee, giving up their berths to the women and the wounded. The U-boats began to gather lifeboats for the rendezvous with the Vichy French warships. While the 17-156 was thus engaged on the fourth day after the Laconia was torpedoed, disaster struck out of a clear blue sky.
    At 11:25 a.m., while the U-156's decks were crowded with survivors and many more were in tow in four lifeboats, a lookout reported hearing aircraft. A four-engine B-24 Liberator bomber with American markings was sighted approaching from the northeast. Hartenstein, anxious to show his peaceful intentions to the pilot, ordered a large improvised Red Cross flag to be spread over the 105-mm. gun and told the German crew at the antiaircraft gun behind the bridge to lie flat. At the same time, he ordered a signalman to send a Morse message to the plane in English:
    HERE GERMAN SUBMARINE WITH BRITISH SHIPWRECKED ON BOARD. IS THERE RESCUE SHIP in sight? When the pilot did not answer, a British officer asked Hartenstein if he could send a message with the signal lamp, since it might be understood better. The request was granted and the signal was duly flashed to the American pilot: raf officer speaking from german submarine.

    One British sailor recalled the scene with horror. "The most short-sighted of pilots could not have failed to appreciate the facts," he said. "Here was a submarine with four boats full of survivors in tow, the first about 20 yards from her." But again the pilot did not reply, and then flew away—as was learned later, to pick up depth charges in Freetown.

    At 12:32 the Liberator returned and made a low approach. As it swooped down, Hartenstein was dumfounded to see the bomb bay open. Two bombs dropped into the sea close by. Germans, British, Italians and Poles, momentarily united by a common if unexpected enemy, shouted execrations at the American plane. On the Liberator's second approach, a German sailor severed the lifeboats' towrope with one blow of an axe. It was too late. A bomb blew up one of the boats, killing a number of passengers. By now German crewmen were making for the antiaircraft gun, but Hartenstein shouted: "Not a man goes near the gun!"
    The plane was coming at them again. One depth charge exploded directly under the control room. Women and children were screaming, and the control room and bow compartment were said to be taking water. Hartenstein had no choice: He must save his boat. "All British to leave the submarine at once!" he shouted. Then it was reported that the batterXies were giving off chlorine gas; to clear the vessel of all but crew who could handle the emergency, he had to order the Italians off as well.
    By now the plane had spent all its bombs, and left the scene. The L7-156 was so badly damaged that Hartenstein decided he had to break off the rescue and head back to base. Not until September 17, five days after the sinking, when two of the Vichy French warships finally arrived at the rendezvous, were the last survivors picked up from all the lifeboats.
    Thus ended one of the most remarkable episodes in the U-boat camXpaign of World War II. The final tally of survivors was 450 out of 1,800 Italians, 588 out of 829 British, and 73 out of 103 Poles. Of the U-boats that took part in the rescue, all were sunk by aircraft on later missions. HarXtenstein was killed on the 17-156 east of Barbados in March 1943. Years later it was learned that the American pilot had correctly interpreted the rescue scene around the 17-156 but that the USAAF antisubmarine base on Ascension Island had ordered him to carry out the attack anyhow, on grounds that the U-boat remained a danger to ships in the area.
    All too clearly, humaneness was no longer possible in the U-boat war. As a result of the Liberator attack on the 17-156, Donitz came to a far-reaching decision. "Never again," he vowed, "must submarines be exXposed to the dangers of a rescue operation." To all U-boats he radioed an order that was to become notorious:


    'The U-boats' - Botting

    The Type IXC boat U-156 - German U-boats of WWII -

    16 Sep 1942
    An American B-24 bomber from Ascension Island, piloted by James D. Harden, found the U-156 on the surface carrying out rescue operations of over thousand survivors from the sunken (by U-156) HMS Laconia. U-156, having radioed earlier that she would not attack any ship assisting, displayed a large Red Cross in hopes of making the Americans cancel an attack. Harden described the situation to base and was told "Sink sub" and then commenced an attack which damaged the boat. The boat radioed home about the attack and sailed west to repair damages. (Sources: Blair, vol 2, page 62.)
  12. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

    The Sinking of the Laconia

    Four U-boats with experienced commanders and the tanker U.459, forming the Eisbar group, left Lorient in mid-August, and when west of Spain operated temporarily against SL 119, which had been pursued by the Blucher group (Diagram 18, Point 28). The boats then headed south in formation, sweeping as far as the Cape Verde Islands, after which they continued independently. When nearing the Equator they were ordered to complete refuelling by 20th September. The Naval Staff now modified their earlier attitude by permitting attacks up to 5 degrees South latitude. While on this parallel on 12th September U.156 torpedoed the British liner Laconia.

    As well as normal passengers and crew, this vessel carried about 1,800 Italian prisoners of war. The radio report by her Captain led to a decision which must be unique in the naval history of the war. In order to help the survivors, P.O. U-boats ordered all the boats of Eisbar, together with U.506 and 507 and the Italian U-boat Cagellini, to hurry to the scene of the sinking. To embark all the survivors in U-boats was out of the question, so an attempt had to be made to tow the life-boats towards the Ivory coast. The German Naval Staff proposed to the Vichy Government that French ships should leave Bingerville and Dakar to pick up the survivors. Meanwhile Hitler had informed F.O. U-boats that he did not wish the operations of the Eisbar group to be hampered, or the U-boats to be endangered by any rescue measures.
    While negotiations with the Vichy Government were proceeding, U.156 alone started the rescue work in darkness, embarking 193 survivors, including 21 British. At 0600 she broadcast her position in plain language on 600 metres announcing that she would not attack any ship assisting the Laconiasurvivors. After daylight on 13th September another 200 survivors were picked up and distributed among the crowded life-boats.

    The Vichy Government agreed to the German Naval Staff's suggestion and promised to send a French cruiser to the place of sinking. Consequently on 14th September the Eisbar group was instructed to continue its southward journey, provided they carried no survivors. U.504, 159, 172 and 68, who had not yet arrived at the scene of the sinking, therefore continued south. U.156 was to turn over her survivors to the U-boats coming from Freetown and then proceed according to previous instructions. U.506 and 507 arrived on the scene on the night of 14th/15th September, and assisted in towing the life-boats and rafts, and shepherding the scattered boats. U.156 remained on the scene in order to transfer her 260 survivors. On the morning of the 16th a U.S. four-engined aircraft sighted this U-boat and circled several times. An hour later another aircraft of the same type flew past, very low, dropping two bombs, although the U-boat was flying a large square Red-Cross flag. One of two further bombs fell into a life-boat, which capsized. Another exploded very close to the U-boat, causing some damage, and all survivors were ordered out of her. Resulting from all this, instructions were received during the night of the 16th to discontinue all rescue operations. Despite these further instructions the Commanding Officers continued their work.

    On 17th September the French ships Annamite and Gloire arrived to take over survivors from U-boats and life-boats. A further air attack was made on U.506, which managed to escape by diving with 142 survivors on board.

    The U-boats engaged in these rescue operations had been greatly imperilled by the efforts of the enemy aircraft to sink them. The situation required immediate clarification, for whereas the conduct of the enemy under the harsh conditions of war was understandable, Donitz's rescue directive had gravely endangered his boats. On the evening of the 17th therefore the following radio message (referred to in the post-war Nurnberg proceedings as the LaconiaOrder) was sent to all U-boat commanders :—

    " 1924/17.9

    1.All attempts at rescuing members of ships that have been sunk, including attempts to pick
    up persons swimming, or to place them in life-boats, or attempts to upright capsized boats,
    or to supply provisions or water, are to cease. The rescue of survivors contradicts the
    elementary necessity of war for the destruction of enemy ships and crews.

    2.The order for the seizure of Commanding Officers and Chief Engineers remains in force.

    3.Survivors are only to be picked up in cases when their interrogation would be of value to
    the U-boat.

    4.Be severe. Remember that in his bombing attacks on German cities the enemy has no
    regard for women and children.

    F.O. U-boats."

    In the major trials at Nurnberg the prosecution failed to prove that this directive by F.O. U-boats constituted a clear order to U-boat commanders to kill survivors from torpedoed ships. Neither was there any condemnation of Donitz as regards his conduct of the U-boat war or of the naval war in general. Moreover, the thousands of U-boat actions in the Second World War produced only one case (Kapitdnleutnant Eck in U.852) where a commander shot up survivors.

    Statements by the prosecution at Nurnberg were much publicised at the time, yet the fact that these allegations were not upheld by the Court received no corresponding publicity, so that false ideas as to the conduct of U-boat personnel still persist today.* The German U-boat service claims to have fought hard but decently and chivalrously until the end.


    * In pronouncing judgment, the Tribunal considered that although the evidence (which included the Laconia Order) did not establish with the certainty required that Donitz deliberately ordered the killing of survivors, the orders were undoubtedly ambiguous, and deserved the strongest censure. Moreover, the rescue provisions of the Protocol of 1936 had not been carried out, and Donitz had ordered that they should not be carried out. The Defence argued that the security of the submarine was paramount to rescue, and that the development of aircraft made rescue impossible. But the Tribunal maintained that the Protocol was explicit. If the commander (of a submarine) could not rescue, then under its terms he could not sink a merchant vessel. The orders therefore proved Donitz guilty of a violation of the Protocol.

    MoD Navy. German Naval History. The U-boat War In The Atlantic
  13. hayton

    hayton Junior Member

    My Fathers friend, an RAF Pilot, went down with the Laconia and was buried in El Alemein, they had been serving in Malta and were therefore in the Middle East Campaign. Hope this is of some help.
  14. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    My Fathers friend, an RAF Pilot, went down with the Laconia and was buried in El Alemein, they had been serving in Malta and were therefore in the Middle East Campaign. Hope this is of some help.

    Hello and welcome to the forum.

    Do you know his name etc? It seems strange that someone on the Laconia that was sunk off the West Coast of Africa in the Atlantic would be buried thousands of miles away in North Africa.

  15. andy338

    andy338 Junior Member

    My great uncle, Arnold Seymour Stevens dies aboard the Laconia when it was torpedoed. I am trying to find out more about the history of this incident.
  16. Graham Mark

    Graham Mark Junior Member

    My great uncle, Arnold Seymour Stevens dies aboard the Laconia when it was torpedoed. I am trying to find out more about the history of this incident.
    MY geat uncle was on the laconia(S/L H.R.K. Wells) when it sank, he died in a life boat days later . He is also remembered at the ALAMEIN MEMORIAL although he was buried at sea. The full story of the sinking and the 27 days in a lifeboat which reached the African shore is written in a book by a surviver MISS DORIS HAWKINS, called "ATLANTIC TORPEDO" Her life was saved by my relative and this is the only record I have of his bravery. there is a lot of info on the internet now of the incident. hope this helps Graham
  17. Assam

    Assam Senior Member

    Wish I had seen this earlier, the mini series on the "sinking of the Laconia" was on catch up TV in Australai & on catch up last week.

  18. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin


    In my opinion the film is excellently made and presented.


    ROD MILLS Member

    Hi I'm also interested in the Laconia sinking as it MAY have had my uncle on board?
    Percy Mills, Royal Sussex Regiment, !st Battalion. No. 6398054.he embarked for UK 30 July 1942.
    Missing at sea 12 Sept 1942.
    Any help much appreciated. Passenger list???
    Regards Rod.

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