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Plot Synopsis: The Sinking of the Laconia

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: N/A
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1942
Word count: 1,240
Spoilers: Spoilers galore
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: Should have written a plot synopsis for this show long ago but never got around to it. So this was written for danae_b who inquired about the plot.



The story begins in 1942 in South Africa where people are boarding the Cunard liner Laconia including a few hundred Italian prisoners with their Polish guards who ill-treat them. A woman by the name of Hilda Smith with a baby also boards and various other characters it would take me too long to describe.

A reference is made to the captain, Captain Sharpe, with the line,"You know what happened to his last ship." Well, no, actually you don't know unless you look up the actual real life story of the sinking of another Cunard liner, Lancastria. The what? Most people think Titanic was the worst ever sea disaster. However, Lancastria was far worse and very few know about it although there is a doco on youtube. It was sunk during WWII off the coast of France shortly after the evacuation of Dunkirk when the Allied forces were retreating. The ship was overcrowded and still loading escaping British forces when it was strafed by German planes and as a consequence capsized. No one even knows how many went down on it - the captain was told to ignore the rules and board as many as possible - but at least 2,000 were lost. So you could say that the captain of the Laconia's luck had run out.

The ship's Third Officer is a young Englishman by the name of Thomas Mortimer. During the voyage in the South Atlantic the captain calls him to his quarters to say that they've had a wire and his whole family, wife and two young daughters, have been killed when their house in London was bombed. Mortimer is brokenhearted. He subsequently becomes friendly with Hilda Smith but then discovers that, although masquerading as an Englishwoman, she is actually German.

Meantime the captain is railing about all the black smoke coming out of the funnel. "Poor quality fuel and the boilers need a service, sir." Of course the black smoke is exactly what the U-boat lookout spots. That night U-156 puts two torpedoes into the ship as they have it listed as a troop carrier therefore making it a legitimate target. After it's sunk the U-boat comes over looking for any officers to take prisoner. Instead they find women and children. The captain does the right thing and takes all the survivors aboard with the rest in lifeboats tied up to the U-boat. It's pretty chaotic. Others including Mortimer have floated off in the night clinging to wreckage. Captain Sharpe and his first officer have gone down with the ship.

The German U-boat captain, Werner Hartenstein, contacts headquarters about his predicament. They send other U-boats to take the survivors including an Italian one to take what's left of the Italian prisoners - not many escaped as the Polish guards wouldn't set them free when the ship was sinking. Meantime the German captain has a novel idea; he sends a message out on the Allied frequency identifying himself and saying that he has the survivors of the Laconia and if any Allied vessel will come to their rescue he guarantees not to fire on them. They subsequently put a large sheet on the deck with a big red cross on it.

Well the British forces in Africa receive the message and are in a quandary as to what to do about it. If it's real then it's an act of genuine compassion; on the other hand it could be a trick and there might be a whole wolf pack of U-boats out there waiting to pounce on any ship that goes to the rescue. What do do? They decide to contact the secret US base on Ascension Island, a dot of land in the South Atlantic. However, all they tell them is that the Laconia is missing and would they be good enough to search for it, not a word about the message from the U-boat.

Meantime the U-boat is still finding stragglers and picking them up. Mortimer, clinging to a piece of wreckage, spots one of the ship's lifeboats and manages to swim to it. All are eventually picked up by the U-boat. When he comes aboard Hilda Smith tries to speak to him once more to explain her circumstances but he doesn't want to know. Meantime the captain finds out that she is German and she tells him the story of her family and how they were arrested by the Nazis. She has lost the baby in the sinking when one of the lifeboats is upended while being lowered. The child was her niece. The captain is very troubled by her words and clearly begins to wonder about just what he's fighting for. Meantime he speaks to Mortimer and discovers that he tried to do his best for the Italian prisoners of war.

Other U-boats come to the rescue including an Italian one and take away many of the survivors.

Meantime the US base on Ascension Island has sent out search planes and along comes an American bomber, sees the survivors waving, sees the red cross on the deck, can't read the signals from the U-boat which are in English, asks what to do and is told to "Sink the sub." It drops a couple of bombs and this is when Mortimer shoves the captain out of the way thereby saving his life and badly gashing his leg in the process. The captain, who had refused to ready the guns, is very angry. He helps Mortimer below and orders that everyone be put into the lifeboats as he has to dive. Hilda Smith says goodbye to Mortimer who by now understands her situation, but no goodbye kiss. One of the crew helps Mortimer on deck but knows that he won't survive in a lifeboat and signals as much to the captain who therefore has no choice but to keep Mortimer as a prisoner of war.

There's a lovely scene in the radio room where they're alone together and there's a close-up of the captain's eyes in the dim lighting watching Mortimer as he's playing music. There is also a massively awkward scene on deck when the two men are forced to acknowledge their friendship and there's so much unspoken that they can't bear to look at each other. When the U-boat docks at L'Orient on the coast of France, Mortimer is driven away, a prisoner of war.

Text explains what happened to the U-boat and how it was lost with all hands a few months later.

Go ahead and look up the real life sinking. There are also photos of the real life incident and the deck of the U-boat is far, far more crowded than what you see on TV. Captain Hartenstein was clearly very humane. Even when he had to abandon what was left of the Laconia survivors he ordered that the U-boat submerge slowly in order not to capsize the boats.

All in all it’s quite a tale especially when you consider that it really happened and there are people still alive today that survived the sinking and subsequent bombing. They all have nothing but praise for the German U-boat commander and for the fact that they were decently treated.

The incident is also reminiscent of the Christmas Truce of 1914 in WWI in scenes where you see the German crew looking after the survivors and the latter on deck with the crew fishing together, their legs dangling over the side of the U-boat.

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
bethia
Feb. 23rd, 2017 03:10 pm (UTC)
I haven't watched this in ages, but you've reminded me how much I liked it. Can't think why there isn't more Mortimer/Hartenstein out there, it seems so obvious watching them together!
clonesgirl
Feb. 23rd, 2017 03:47 pm (UTC)
I agree there should be far more Hartenstein/Mortimer slash but I think somehow not many slash fans/writers watched it and most people just haven't heard of it.

When I sat down to watch it for the first time it never occurred to me that there might be anything remotely slashy in it so I was very surprised when it turned up in spades in the second episode and I was quite emotional at the end when the two men had to part.

Subsequently I had a fruitless hunt for any slash with this pairing and was very disappointed when I couldn't find even one fic. So this is how I came to write it myself.

Thanks for commenting. :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )