Legitmate Act of War or Warcrime? You decide.




 
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September 4th, 2008  
mmarsh
 
 

Topic: Legitmate Act of War or Warcrime? You decide.


Time to play a little game.

I have been reading a book of submarine operations. In it the author mentions 2 known episodes of Submarines machine-gunning survivors after a sinking.
To avoid BIAS, I am purposely leaving out the Nationalities and any other relevant information. Both episodes are real and happened during WWII, and incidentally both Submarines were later sunk.
This is not trivial, I am just curious to see what people opinions are. If you know the incidents involved please do NOT post it. Ill give the answers at the end. The goal of this thread is to discuss whether this was a legitimate act of war or was a war crime.

The reason I ask this is I have a great uncle (now 84 years old, someone I am very close to) who was sunk by British Swordfish in WWII and then strafed by the RAF Bleinheim as he and his comrades were swimming in the water. He doesn't blame the British for the sinking (which may have a friendly fire accident or mistaken idenitity) but he has never forgiven them for machine-gunning them in the Med which killed his comrades in the water.

Scenario 1

A Submarine sinks 4 ships in a large convoy including a Troopship carrying an entire infantry division that is scheduled to participate in a landing. Because the ship carried the soldiers plus all their landing equipment (boats, landing craft, etc) the soldiers/sailors used these as makeshift lifeboats. The Submarine surfaces after the convoy has left and uses guns to destroy all the craft and and kill all survivors in the water. The number of enemy killed is unknown during this but probably high.

Scenario 2

In enemy waters where several friendly submarines have been sunk a Submarine Torpedoes a Merchant ship. Afraid that the wreckage would give away his position the Captain orders that all wreckage be sunk, including the full lifeboats, and wreckage survivors were clinging to. Its possible that the Captain did not purposely target the survivors specifically, but this is unimportant as there were no survivors from the ship. The captain later justified this action as necessary for the security of his boat.
September 4th, 2008  
The Other Guy
 
 
Scenario 1 is a war crime. I'd have to think for a bit about scenario 2.
September 4th, 2008  
MontyB
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mmarsh
Time to play a little game.

I have been reading a book of submarine operations. In it the author mentions 2 known episodes of Submarines machine-gunning survivors after a sinking.
To avoid BIAS, I am purposely leaving out the Nationalities and any other relevant information. Both episodes are real and happened during WWII, and incidentally both Submarines were later sunk.
This is not trivial, I am just curious to see what people opinions are. If you know the incidents involved please do NOT post it. Ill give the answers at the end. The goal of this thread is to discuss whether this was a legitimate act of war or was a war crime.

The reason I ask this is I have a great uncle (now 84 years old, someone I am very close to) who was sunk by British Swordfish in WWII and then strafed by the RAF Bleinheim as he and his comrades were swimming in the water. He doesn't blame the British for the sinking (which may have a friendly fire accident or mistaken idenitity) but he has never forgiven them for machine-gunning them in the Med which killed his comrades in the water.

Scenario 1

A Submarine sinks 4 ships in a large convoy including a Troopship carrying an entire infantry division that is scheduled to participate in a landing. Because the ship carried the soldiers plus all their landing equipment (boats, landing craft, etc) the soldiers/sailors used these as makeshift lifeboats. The Submarine surfaces after the convoy has left and uses guns to destroy all the craft and and kill all survivors in the water. The number of enemy killed is unknown during this but probably high.

Scenario 2

In enemy waters where several friendly submarines have been sunk a Submarine Torpedoes a Merchant ship. Afraid that the wreckage would give away his position the Captain orders that all wreckage be sunk, including the full lifeboats, and wreckage survivors were clinging to. Its possible that the Captain did not purposely target the survivors specifically, but this is unimportant as there were no survivors from the ship. The captain later justified this action as necessary for the security of his boat.

My personal belief is that Scenario 1 is a crime and Scenario 2 is probably and excuse to justify Scenario 1.

During WW2 there was incident where U-156 sank the liner Laconia (which had been armed and was being used as a naval auxillery), the UBoat surfaced to capture the ships Captain and discovered about 2000 survivors.

After radioing for orders he began rescue operations and two other Uboats joined in rescuing hundreds but as a result they could not submerge, the following morning they were spotted by allied aircraft which were notified of what the submarines were doing however they were still attacked, the submarines dived and escaped.

Now that is the background information, this action lead Donitz to issue the Laconia Order which stated:
  1. All efforts to save survivors of sunken ships, such as the fishing out of swimming men and putting them on board lifeboats, the righting of overturned lifeboats, or the handing over of food and water, must stop. Rescue contradicts the most basic demands of the war: the destruction of hostile ships and their crews.
  2. The orders concerning the bringing-in of skippers and chief engineers stay in effect.
  3. Survivors are to be saved only if their statements are important for the boat.
  4. Stay firm. Remember that the enemy has no regard for women and children when bombing German cities!
He also enforced an order called War Order 154 that had been issued in 1939 that stated:

Quote:
Do not rescue any men; do not take them along; and do not take care of any boats of the ship. Weather conditions and proximity of land are of no consequence. Concern yourself only with the safety of your own boat and with efforts to achieve additional successes as soon as possible. We must be hard in this war. The enemy started the war in order to destroy us, and thus nothing else matters
These orders were used as part of the charges against Donitz at the end of the war because they were interpreted by the allies as allowing the killing of a ships crew while in the water or lifeboats after a sinking.

Therefore I would suggest in both cases you have provided the action in a neutral court would have been seen as a warcrime (although I am a little hazey on the second scenario as at first you say the captain ordered the sinking of full lifeboats (I am assuming full of people abandoning ship) and then you say there were no survivors.

I would recommend reading this as it is a little unrelated but it does offer a bit more of an insight into what was allowed and what wasn't.

http://www.uboat.net/articles/index.html?article=55
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September 5th, 2008  
Topmaul
 
 
A war crime was leaving the majority crew of the BISMARK in the water after the ship sunk.
September 5th, 2008  
perseus
 
 
From a utilitarian moral viewpoint once you decide on war you must have accepted that a minority of people are going to have to die for the greater good of the majority. Therefore, I find it rather bizarre to legitimise the killing of men in one case yet not in another where in both situations their continued survival can contribute to the enemies war effort. The difference I suppose is that in one case they are unarmed and cannot fight back, but this makes war into a strange sort of game with arbitrary rules. What happens if one side is armed with bows and arrows or knives does that count? Perhaps having seemingly 'humane' rules in war makes war itself more tolerable and therefore is less humane overall.

Perhaps this sounds a rather brutal conclusion, but take the following hypothetical scenario. What happens if you are a small force and take a very large number of the enemy prisoner. Do you kill them or severely compromise your mission/safety by guarding them? Something similar happened at Crecy didn't it?

Let's take it a greater extreme. Perhaps by not killing them you subject your own country to genocide. This demonstrates how silly it is to have contrived moral rules in war, other than an overarching principle such as utilitarianism.

Incidentally since my Grandfather was taken prisoner by the Germans in WW1, I would not be here if the above rules were obeyed. Of course in practise taking the enemy prisoner can make logical sense if you think it encourages the enemy to surrender or they might do the same with your men and compromise his own war effort in the process. Perhaps it may make life more tolerable for both sides in the long run, however in the genocide scenario above this doesn't apply.
September 7th, 2008  
A Can of Man
 
 
It all depends.
Truth is that a lot of these rules will run into problems because you will run into all kinds of circumstances that would mean that machine gunning the enemy was the best viable option.
If you send them back, they will be able to rearm and bring their combat experience back onto the battlefield.
If you're a platoon and you've got two companies that are apparently surrendering and you've got no backup and you have a mission to complete, what do you do? What if the enemy decides to change its mind? You have two hours to an objective, you're short on time, the terrain is bad and you've now got over 200 potential prisoners to deal with.
It's just never simple.
September 7th, 2008  
perseus
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by the_13th_redneck
It all depends.
Truth is that a lot of these rules will run into problems because you will run into all kinds of circumstances that would mean that machine gunning the enemy was the best viable option.
If you send them back, they will be able to rearm and bring their combat experience back onto the battlefield.
If you're a platoon and you've got two companies that are apparently surrendering and you've got no backup and you have a mission to complete, what do you do? What if the enemy decides to change its mind? You have two hours to an objective, you're short on time, the terrain is bad and you've now got over 200 potential prisoners to deal with.
It's just never simple.
13th I'm not sure who you are answering, if it is my post then that is one of the points I was trying to make. There can be contradictions between the expected rules of engagement/war and the ultimate objective of war whether you judge the objective either from a utilitarian (best net outcome for everyone) or pure selfish (for your side to win at all costs) point of view.
September 7th, 2008  
A Can of Man
 
 
If your ass is out fighting, I'd think you'd best pick the "your side wins at all costs" route. Because dicking around will get a lot of your own folks killed and can turn the tide of battles or engagements. That's the way I see it. Because if you or your guys die, you don't have the luxury of hitting the reset button.
Then again if the word gets around that your side has been machine gunning people attempting to surrender, the enemy will be very reluctant to do so in future.
It's just going to depend on the situation.
The laws are just messed up... and I don't see why we have to legally stick with them even if our enemies in recent times haven't even made an attempt to do so.
September 9th, 2008  
mmarsh
 
 
I have let a few days pass I'll fill in the answers now

Scenario 1

C/LT Dudley Bush Morton, the USN top sub ace. The incident occurred aboard USS WAHOO when she torpedoed the Bayo Maru on January 16 1943. The bayu Maru was tranporting an entire Japanese Division that was schedualed to participate on the Island of New Genea. USS Wahoo was sunk with all hands on October 11 1943.

Scenario 2

Was CaptainLutentant Wilhem-Heinz Eck. Commander of U-852. Eck sank the Greek Steamer PELEUS (the ship in question) off the coast of South Africa. Despite the loss of U-852 Eck and his crew survived the war as a POW. He and his XO were tried as a war criminals and shot in 1946.

So one died a war hero the other a war criminal. Although its doubtful to think Morton would have been court martialed, his own death was probably what stopped a official USN investigation.
October 20th, 2008  
BritinAfrica
 
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Topmaul
A war crime was leaving the majority crew of the BISMARK in the water after the ship sunk.
What utter rubbish.

Dorsetshire and Maori stopped to rescue survivors, but a U-boat alarm caused them to leave the scene after rescuing only 110 Bismarck sailors, abandoning the surviving crew in the water. The next morning U-74, which had heard sinking noises from a distance, and the German weather ship Sachsenwald picked up 5 survivors. In all of the 2,200 crew, 1,995 German sailors had lost their lives
After the sinking John Tovey wrote in his memoirs, "The Bismarck had put up a most gallant fight against impossible odds worthy of the old days of the Imperial German Navy, and she went down with her colours flying". The Admiral had wanted to say this publicly but the Admiralty replied: "For political reasons it is essential that nothing of the nature of the sentiments expressed by you should be given publicity, however much we admire a gallant fight".
 


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