Daily Event for September 28, 2014

The freighter Tourneur started her career in 1919 at Ateliers & Chantiers de St. Nazaire, S.A. in St. Nazaire, France for the French Government. She was soon sold to a private company and sailed under the Tri-color until 1923. She was then sold to the Bay Line in Montreal and renamed Ashbay. Sold again in 1925 and again in 1935. The last sale was to Manoel Leonidas de Albuquerque, Belém, Pará, Brazil and she was renamed Antonico.

On September 28, 1942 she was under charter to Pan American Airways and was en route from Belém to Paramaribo, Suriname, a voyage of about 1,000 sea miles. She was carrying 2,000 tons of cement and asphalt (presumably for runway construction). At 0630 hours (zone time) when they were about 95 miles north by east of Cayenne, French Guiana, a submarine surfaced about 150 feet off the starboard side of the ship. The submarine had sighted them in the moonlight almost two hours earlier from 6,000 meters. The submarine submerged and manuevered into an attack position. A torpedo was fired, but it ran too deep and went under the ship. Eight miutes later the submarine came to the surface.

Soon after the submarine surfaced her deck gun was brought to bear on the unarmed Antonico, the submarine fired 42 rounds and twenty minutes after the first shell was fired Antonico slipped under the waves. According to the War Diary of the submarine no attempt was made to contact the survivors and the submarine moved off before the ship sank.

Fourteen men had been lost, but twenty-six took to three lifeboats, however one of the boats was sunk by the submarine while the ship was being abandoned. The survivors were on their own as their ship was not equipped with a wireless and no distress signal had been sent. All twenty-six men made land at Paramaribo about 31 hours later, however two of the survivors later died of their wounds. It was how they received these wounds which caused some concern.

According to the survivors they began to abandon the ship immediately after the ship came under fire, if this is correct then they were leaving the ship while it was still under fire. However the survivors would later claim that they were deliberately machine-gunned in the lifeboats and that one, the captain's boat, was sunk. This incident was brought up at the trial of Karl Dönitz at Nürnberg as proof that he had ordered the annihilation of merchant crews after the Laconia Incident, which had happened only 16 days earlier.

The submarine, U-516 and her commanding officer, Kapitänleutnant Gerhard Wiebe, had left Kristiansand, Norway on Aug. 15, a full month before the Laconia Incident, but had probably received the order of Sept. 17 sent by Dönitz (showing below).

1. No attempt of any kind must be made at rescuing members of ships sunk, and this includes picking up persons in the water and putting them in lifeboats, righting capsized lifeboats, and handing over food and water. Rescue runs counter to the rudimentary demands of warfare for the destruction of enemy ships and crews.

2. Orders for bringing in Captains and Chief Engineers still apply.

3. Rescue the shipwrecked only if their statements will be of importance for your boat.

4. Be harsh, having in mind that the enemy takes no regard of women and children in his bombing attacks on German cities.

This was known as the Laconia Order and it was argued by the Allied powers at the Nürnberg trials that this order was Dönitz' approval for U-boat commanders to annihilate the survivors of ships they had sunk. This may well have been the case (and probably was), but not all (or even most) U-boat commanders used this order to kill survivors. Apparently only the most ardent Nazis in the U-boat service shot men in the water, and only one, Heinz-Wilhelm Eck of U-852, was convicted and executed for shooting survivors.

There were other instances of U-boat commanders firing at survivors, but not nearly as many as is generally thought, and it appears this is another case of false accusations. If the survivors were leaving the ship while Wiebe was still firing at it, they may very well have thought he was shooting at them, but looking through the accounts of other ships sunk by Wiebe there is no pattern of shooting survivors. And no other accusations were made against him by men whose ships he had sunk. In fact in two cases after the ships were sunk he questioned survivors, and once it was reported that he said he was sorry to have torpedoed the ship, but this was war.

The KTB for U-516 makes no mention of sighting survivors attempting to abandon the ship, and of course there is no admission of shooting them in the lifeboats (of course there would not be any such entry). While I can make no concrete conclusion about what happened to the crew of Antonico, it is my belief that this was a case of mistaken impressions on the part of the survivors.
© 2014 Michael W. Pocock

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