Laconia Order

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The Laconia Order (Laconia-Befehl) was issued by German Grand Admiral (Großadmiral) Karl Dönitz during World War II as a result of the Laconia incident.

Prior to this incident, vessels of the Kriegsmarine customarily picked up survivors of a sunk allied vessel. In September 1942, off the coast of west Africa in the Atlantic Ocean, the German vessels (among them the German submarines "U 156", "U 506" and "U 507") attempting to rescue survivors of the ocean liner RMS Laconia were indiscriminately attacked by American aircraft despite having informed the allies of the rescued allied soldiers on board (among them many women and children) beforehand.

The order[edit]

The order was as follows:

  1. Jegliche Rettungsversuche von Angehörigen versenkter Schiffe, also auch das Auffischen Schwimmender und Anbordgabe auf Rettungsboote, Aufrichten gekenterter Rettungsboote, Abgabe von Nahrungsmitteln und Wasser haben zu unterbleiben. Rettung widerspricht den primitivsten Forderungen der Kriegsführung nach Vernichtung feindlicher Schiffe und deren Besatzungen.
  2. Die Befehle über das Mitbringen von Kapitänen und Chefingenieuren bleiben bestehen.
  3. Schiffbrüchige nur dann retten, wenn ihre Aussagen für das Boot von Wichtigkeit sind.
  4. Bleibt hart. Denkt daran, daß der Gegner bei seinen Bombenangriffen auf deutsche Städte keine Rücksicht auf Frauen und Kinder nimmt!


  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 captains 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!


Nuremberg trial[edit]

This order, along with War Order No. 154 of 1939, were introduced by the prosecution at the post-war Nuremberg Trial of Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz at which Dönitz was indicted for "war crimes", including the issuance of the "Laconia order":

The prosecution has introduced much evidence surrounding two orders of Dönitz, War Order No. 154, issued in 1939, and the so-called Laconia Order of 1942. The defense argues that these orders and the evidence supporting them do not show such a policy and introduced much evidence to the contrary. The Tribunal is of the opinion that the evidence does not establish with the certainty required that Dönitz deliberately ordered the killing of shipwrecked survivors. The orders were undoubtedly ambiguous and deserve the strongest censure.

The evidence further shows that the rescue provisions were not carried out and that the defendant ordered that they should not be carried out. The argument of the defence is that the security of the submarine is, as the first rule of the sea, paramount to rescue and that the development of aircraft made rescue impossible. This may be so, but the Protocol is explicit. If the commander cannot rescue, then under its terms he cannot sink a merchant vessel and should allow it to pass harmless before his periscope. The orders, then, prove Dönitz is guilty of a violation of the Protocol. (Emphasis added)

In view of all the facts proved and in particular of an order of the British Admiralty announced on 8 May 1940, according to which all vessels should be sunk at sight in the Skagerrak, and the answers to interrogatories by Admiral Chester Nimitz stating unrestricted submarine warfare was carried on in the Pacific Ocean by the United States from the first day of the Pacific War, the sentence of Dönitz is not assessed on the ground of his breaches of the international law of submarine warfare.[1]

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