The Sinking of the Laconia (2010): Part 01


The Sinking of the Laconia is a two-part television film, first aired on 06 and 07 January 2011 on BBC Two, about the Laconia incident; the sinking of the British ocean liner RMS Laconia during World War II by a German U-boat, which then, together with three other U-boats and an Italian submarine, rescued the passengers but was in turn attacked by an American bomber.

Outline (General)

In September 1942, 650 nautical miles from the west coast of Africa, the German U-boat U-156 sinks the British troopship Laconia, which is en route from Cape Town to the United Kingdom.

On realising that there are Italian POWs and civilians amongst the shipwrecked, who face certain death without rescue, U-boat Commander Werner Hartenstein (Duken) makes a decision that goes against the orders of German High Command. The U-boat surfaces and Hartenstein instructs his men to save as many survivors as they can. U-156 crams 200 people on board the surfaced submarine, takes another 200 in tow in four lifeboats, and tries to give relief to the remaining shipwrecked who surround the U-boat in lifeboats and small rafts. Hartenstein attempts to dive with all survivors on board and, although this puts the submarine into a crash dive, control is regained and it resurfaces. He has a Red Cross flag displayed and a message sent to the Allies to organise rescue of the survivors. The Italian prisoners are taken off U-156 by another U-boat and an Italian submarine.

The British requested the Americans to look for Laconia survivors, but did not inform them of the submarine’s rescue effort; when a B-24 Liberator finds the submarine, it is ordered to attack. Soon after the bomber attack, U-156 resumes her hunting duties, leaving behind the lifeboats with the British survivors to be picked up by a Vichy naval surface ship sent by Admiral Dönitz. While admiring Hartenstein’s actions, Dönitz also reluctantly composes the Laconia Order to other U-boat commanders not to rescue survivors in future. The French ship arrives; one lifeboat leaves the others to make for the coast of west Africa, which it eventually reaches. One British merchant officer is injured in the American attack and remains with U-156 until it reaches port, where he is taken prisoner. Dönitz awards Hartenstein the Ritterkreuz and proposes to repost him to a desk job at naval command. Preferring to remain with his men, Hartenstein refuses the post and a final on screen message reports U-156’s later sinking with no survivors.

Outline (Part 01)

September 1942. While onboard the RMS Laconia, Junior Third Officer Thomas Mortimer befriends the enigmatic Hilda Smith. Beneath the sea, a German U-boat captained by Werner Hartenstein looks for targets.

Part 02 here.


  • RMS Laconia:
    • Andrew Buchan – Junior Third Officer Thomas Mortimer, RMS Laconia.
    • Franka Potente – Hilda Smith, passenger, RMS Laconia.
    • Lindsay Duncan – Elisabeth Fullwood, passenger, RMS Laconia.
    • Brian Cox – Captain Rudolph Sharp, RMS Laconia.
    • David Butler – First Officer George Steel, RMS Laconia.
    • Morven Christie – Laura Ferguson, passenger, RMS Laconia.
    • Jodi Balfour – Sarah Fullwood, passenger, RMS Laconia.
    • Nicholas Burns – Captain Benjamin Coutts, British Army.
    • Ciarán McMenamin – Declan McDermott, wine steward, RMS Laconia.
    • Lenny Wood – Billy Hardacre, trimmer, RMS Laconia.
    • Ben Crompton – Harry Townes, acting leading seaman, RMS Laconia.
    • Matthew Aubrey – Corporal William Williams, cook, British Army.
    • Ludovico Fremont – Vincenzo Di Giovanni, Italian POW.
    • Paul Hilton – Henry Bates, passenger, RMS Laconia.
    • Louise Barnes – Mary Bates, passenger, RMS Laconia.
    • Josef du Plessis – Anthony Bates, passenger, RMS Laconia.
    • Rebekah Nathan – Charlotte Bates, passenger, RMS Laconia.
    • Richard Firth – Quartermaster John Royle, RMS Laconia.
    • Tom Fairfoot – William Donan, wireless operator, RMS Laconia.
    • Lawrence Joffe – Sergeant Ludwik Rudziński, jailor, Free Polish Army.
  • U-156:
    • Ken Duken – Korvettenkapitän Werner Hartenstein, captain, U-156.
    • Jacob Matschenz – Oberleutnant zur See Gert Mannesmann, 1st watch officer, U-156.
    • Matthias Koeberlin – Oberleutnant (Ing.) Wilhelm Rostau, chief engineer, U-156.
    • Jörg Malkow – Leutnant zur See Max Weber, 2nd watch officer, U-156.
    • Oskar Brown – Maschinistgefreiter Waldemar Müller, look-out, U-156.
    • Frederick Lau – Funkgast Gerhard Fiedler, wireless operator, U-156.
    • Stefan Rudolf – Funkmaat Walter Remmert, wireless operator, U-156.
    • Hermanus Pieters – Matrosenobergefreiter Hans Dengler, cook, U-156.
  • Sierra Leone:
    • Danny Keogh – Captain Hathaway, Royal Navy.
    • James Alexander – Lieutenant Lincoln, Royal Navy.
    • Ian van der Heyden – Lieutenant Jackson, Royal Navy.
  • U-boat command:
    • Thomas Kretschmann – Admiral Karl Dönitz, Befehlshaber der U-Boote.
    • Nikolai Kinski – Korvettenkapitän Walter Drexler, Dönitz’s aide.
  • Ascension Island:
    • Jannes Eiselen – Captain Robert C. Richardson III, senior operations officer, USAAF.
    • Grant Swanby – Colonel Robert E. Ronin, air base commander, USAAF.
    • Darron Meyer – Lieutenant James D. Harrower, pilot, USAAF Liberator.
    • Nicholas Pauling – First Sergeant Jerome Perlman, navigator, USAAF Liberator.
    • Charlie Keegan – Private Ches Chambers, gunner, USAAF Liberator.
    • Justin Shaw – Technician Fourth Grade Buck Bannister, gunner, USAAF Liberator.
    • Marius Botha – Private First Class Edgar Coleman, bombardier, USAAF Liberator.
  • Other:
    • Simon Verhoeven – Korvettenkapitän Harro Schacht, captain, U-507.
    • Paul Savage – Egyptian Customs Officer.


The production is a cooperation of the British BBC with the German ARD Degeto and SWR Fernsehen, executed by TalkbackThames and Teamworx. It was shot in Cape Town, South Africa. The idea to bring the story of the Laconia to screen was conceived in 2004 by the Talkback Thames head of drama Johnathan Young.


  • It was shot in Cape Town, South Africa.
  • On 09 January 2011, BBC Two broadcast a half-hour documentary, The Sinking of the Laconia: Survivors’ Stories, featuring testimonies from the actual survivors of Laconia.
    • Beginning 14 April 2012, Ovation television aired The Sinking of the Laconia in the United States.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Uwe Janson.
  • Producer(s):
    • Hilary Norrish … producer (2 episodes, 2011).
    • Sebastian Werninger … executive producer (2 episodes, 2011).
    • Carl Bergengren … executive producer: ARD (2 episodes, 2011).
    • Sara Geater … executive producer: talkback Thames (2 episodes, 2011).
    • Manfred Hattendorf … executive producer: ARD (2 episodes, 2011).
    • Lorraine Heggessey … executive producer: talkback Thames (2 episodes, 2011).
    • Oliver Lüer … line producer (2 episodes, 2011).
    • Jan Mojto … co-producer (2 episodes, 2011).
    • David Oldfield … associate producer (2 episodes, 2011).
    • Stefan Sasse … producer (2 episodes, 2011).
    • Katrin Weigel … assistant producer (2 episodes, 2011).
    • Johnathan Young … producer (2 episodes, 2011).
    • Matthew Read … executive producer: BBC (1 episode, 2011).
    • Nico Hofmann … executive producer (unknown episodes).
    • Jürgen Schuster … executive producer (unknown episodes).
    • Klaus Zimmermann … executive producer (unknown episodes).
  • Writer(s):
    • Alan Bleasdale.
  • Music:
    • Adrian Johnston.
  • Cinematography:
    • Michael Schreitel.
  • Editor(s):
    • Tobias Haas.
    • Matthew Newman.
  • Production:
    • Talkback Thames.
    • Two Oceans Production (TOP).
    • teamWorx Television & Film.
  • Distributor(s):
    • ARD (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland) (2010) (Germany) (TV).
    • British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) (2010) (UK) (TV).
    • Cinemax (2011) (Hungary) (TV).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Albania) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Bosnia & Herzegovina) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Bulgaria) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Croatia) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Czechia) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Estonia) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Germany) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Hungary) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Kosovo) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Latvia) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Lithuania) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Montenegro) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Poland) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Romania) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Serbia) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Slovakia) (TV) (cable).
    • Home Box Office (HBO) (2011) (Slovenia) (TV) (cable).
    • WOWOW Prime (2013) (Japan) (TV).
    • Warner Home Video (2011) (Germany) (DVD).
  • Release Date: 06 and 07 January 2010.
  • Rating: 12.
  • Running Time: 60 minutes.
  • Country: UK and Germany.
  • Language: English and German.

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