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Fic: A Case of Mistaken Identity

Author: clonesgirl
Fandom: The Sinking of the Laconia
Rating: PG-13 for mild violence and suggestiveness
Pairing: hartenstein/mortimer
Timeline: 1943 A/U
Word count: 4,130
Warnings: Historic and fictional characters, some violence
Spoilers: None
Disclaimer: Characters borrowed from BBC strictly for playing with, not profit. No offence intended. This is purely a work of fiction.
Summary: A liner has been attacked and is on fire
Beta: None. If you find goofs please let me know.
A/N: Sequel to "A Day in Port". Suggest you read it first.

The radio message received by U-156 was dire: The Oronsay had been surrounded by no less than three U-boats from the Third Realm and been hit by a torpedo one had managed to successfully fire. In addition, she was also under fire from their guns, taking on water and listing. All vessels in the area were ordered to assist.

Captain Werner Hartestein ordered full speed to her given coordinates transmitting the message to Titanic. Two other U-boats, also in the area, were also speeding to the stricken vessel’s assistance. Her U-boat escort, U-289, had also been damaged in the surprise attack.

“How long?” First Officer Thomas Mortimer inquired.

“Just over two hours,” Hartenstein replied, putting aside his charts, his face grim, “and we’re the closest.”



Both men climbed up to the conning tower, Mortimer shivering a little as he took in their surroundings. It was early afternoon but the sky was leaden, a cold, stiff wind was blowing and the sea was choppy. To their stern Titanic’s bow ploughed smoothly through the ocean, her passengers travelling in comfort and warmth, far from the biting wind hitting her much smaller companion.

Sound travelled a long way on water and from some twenty miles away they heard the shots. They could also see the smoke. Hartenstein ordered Titanic to come no closer than fourteen miles in order to keep it beyond the range of a U-boat’s guns. However, this brought the expected protest from her master, Thomas Andrews.

“Look here, Hartenstein, if Oronsay is badly damaged Titanic will be needed to rescue survivors. She can take her chances.”

“Absolutely not. If the situation is dire that is all the more reason for Titanic to remain at fourteen miles distance. I will not have her also under attack. When the situation is under control I will let you know and then - and only then - will I allow your vessel to approach. Is that clear?”

“Quite. We will begin slowing now. Titanic out.”

The huge liner soon began to drop further and further astern as U-156 sped the remaining miles to the stricken Oronsay.

“I wonder...” Hartenstein mused. Mortimer looked at him expectantly. “Oronsay was once a troop carrier.”

“But she was sunk a year ago and came here,” Mortimer said.

“Mm. But I wonder how up to date are their records. Remember, she was sunk by the Italians. If German records still show that she’s a troop carrier...”

“You think it’s possible they didn’t know?”

“Anything is possible in wartime and records are never up to date. It’s possible they have no record of her destruction.”

“But when she was a troop carrier she would have been painted grey and now she’s back in her P&O livery,” Mortimer protested.

“It’s possible the U-boat commanders thought she was a troop ship disguised as a liner but perhaps carrying troops below decks.”

Mortimer appeared glum and shook his head. The more he thought about it the more he realized that it was just possible. It that was indeed the case, then poor Oronsay just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Smoke could be seen on the water, the ship plainly on fire, her crew no doubt battling it, Hartenstein realized as he watched keenly through binoculars.

Mortimer, standing close beside him in the conning tower, squeezed his arm. For a moment he covered the hand with his own gloved one.

“Not looking good, sir,” Mannesmann decided, also gazing through binoculars.

“Mannesmann, order the gun crews on deck. Both guns to be prepared for action.”

Mortimer found himself praying that things would not come to that. He glanced to their stern at the now-distant Titanic. At least she would be safe, he thought.

As the gun crews scrambled on deck and began to prepare the guns, others brought up the large shells.

“At least we will have the element of surprise on our side,” Mortimer ventured.

“Indeed. They will not be expecting an attack from one of their own, and their radar and radios will not be working. Let us see how they react to a warning shot.” He shouted down to Webber who was at the radar.

“What are they doing?”

“Sir, it looks like one is stationary at the ship’s stern.”

“Boarding,” Hartenstein muttered, his lips a thin line.

“The others are both to port.”

“Where is her escort? Why have we not heard from her?”

“She’s there, sir,” Mannesmann replied, indicating the direction of a U-boat on its own some yards off Oronsay’s bow.

“Sheisse, she’s listing,” Hartenstein exclaimed after studying it with his binoculars. “No radio communication from her?”

“No, sir. Nothing.”

“Very well then. Let us give these upstart newcomers a little surprise,” Hartenstein decided. “Clearly, they need to be taught a lesson in Fourth Realm etiquette. Slow to one half speed and ready the forward gun. One quarter charge and aim it so it falls close but does not hit the two to port.”

Mortimer covered his ears as the gun was fired and they waited, watching keenly. The explosion was quite close to the two U-boats but, as ordered, did not damage them, merely gave them a drenching.

“Sehr gutt. Now let us see.”

As U-156 drew closer they could clearly see the two U-boats close to Oronsay. One broke away, turning in their direction. The unknown U-boat was listing somewhat but still manoeuvrable.

“Let’s hope he doesn’t have torpedoes,” Mortimer muttered.

“If he’s managed to repair his boat to the stage it can move at all then I have to admire their engineer’s skill,” Hartenstein decided.

The two U-boats, one from the International Admiralty, the other from the Third Realm, slowly drew closer, the former’s signal lamp now giving their identity and requesting that of the newcomer.

“U-394 Erich Branstedt.”

“Send this,” Hartenstein ordered. “By order of the International Admiralty I order you to cease all hostilities towards the unarmed liner. If you do not comply within three minutes I will not hesitate to blow you out of the water.”

They waited for the reply.

“I take orders from the Kriegsmarine. I do not recognize your authority,” was the reply.
“Last chance. Order the other boats to cease all aggression against the civilian liner. For all of you the war is over and you have no choice but to surrender. I do not wish to fire on you but I will if I have to have no doubt.”

Hartenstein watched as the message was sent, hoping that Branstedt would comply. He waited.

Finally, the signal light on U-394 was seen turning toward the other boats, Fiedler reading aloud as the message was conveyed.

“By order of Hartenstein U-156 with immediate effect cease all aggression against the ship. Acknowledge.”

They waited. Finally, there was a signal from first U-boat, then the other.

Hartenstein then ordered them to stand away from the liner and await further orders. It took some time but all three complied, the one at the stern being last.

“Looks like you put the wind up them, sir,” a bemused Mortimer remarked as they watched the three decidedly damaged U-boats slowly manoeuvring away from Oronsay.

“Ja, but have they left crew members aboard the ship? And what damage have they done? That is what we need to know.”

Meanwhile the ship itself was still billowing smoke. She was also listing somewhat to port. It was also apparent her radio was out but she signalled that there were intruders aboard and they were holding passengers hostage and demanding to know where were the troops.

Hartenstein swore.

“Well that answers that question,” Mortimer remarked.

In the meantime Oronsay’s escort, the damaged U-289, managed to get under way and a short time later both Admiralty U-boats pulled alongside the stricken Oronsay. However, as they approached Mortimer was alarmed to hear the sound of gunshots.

Oronsay’s captain reported that two watertight compartments had been breached by a torpedo but the watertight doors were holding, the pumps were working and the fires were mostly out. The wounded so far numbered seventeen - fourteen killed in the initial torpedo strike and three more in gunfire.

The boarding party, led by Hartenstein, Mortimer and the commander of U-289, had been taken to the first class dining room where more than twenty passengers were being held hostage by five intruders.

Hartenstein was in no mood to concede anything as he entered the room. However, as the men entered they immediately found four guns trained on them.

“Halt!” one of the men cried. “No further.”

“What is the meaning of this?” Hartenstein demanded. “I am Werner Hartenstein U-156. This vessel is not a designated troop ship and is therefore not a military target. As you can see she carries only civilians.”

“Captain, we believe she is a troop ship,” one of the armed men answered. “Our records show...”

“How dare you!” Hartenstein declared, standing to his full height and glaring at the man. “Is that any way to address a senior officer? You - all of you - will drop your weapons, stand to attention and show respect or I will see you in irons!”

Three of the men immediately complied, their weapons gathered by members of the boarding party who handcuffed them before leading them away. However, one hesitated, his gun still in his hand.

“Nein. Nein, I will not surrender. This ship is designated a troop ship therefore she is ours! She may also be carrying supplies for the Allies.”

He grabbed a woman passenger, holding her in front of him, his gun digging in to her ribs.

To his everlasting surprise, Werner Hartenstein recognized the woman immediately as their counsellor Dr Cora Benson. Briefly, he wondered what on earth she was doing on a rescue mission, but he had no time to think about that now. His first priority was the safety of the passengers and this man was armed.

It was at that point that music began to play from several speakers around the room. To the strains of ‘In the Mood’ the armed man appeared momentarily startled.

“Turn that music off!” he shouted.

“I didn’t turn it on,” Hartenstein replied mildly.

“Turn if off schnell!” the intruder demanded, beginning to panic. “Is everyone on this damned ship mad?”

Out of the corner of his eye Hartenstein saw a shadow over a skylight directly behind where the man was standing holding Dr Benson.

“You are on your own. Your companions have surrendered and it’s high time you did too. Your crew will not be coming to your aid. They have new orders. If you would look out the window there you will see not only your boat but the others as well. They will be departing shortly. So you are now alone. Do you expect to capture this vessel singlehandedly?”

“The captain wouldn’t leave us. He wouldn’t abandon us on an Allied ship.”

“He had some friendly persuasion,” Hartenstein responded, tapping his foot.

“Come on, Martha, let’s dance,” one of the hostages exclaimed.

“Sit!” the one with the gun ordered. However, it was too late and before he knew it everyone in the room was on their feet dancing to the fast-paced melody.
“Nein, nein, sit, sit! You will sit!” the armed intruder shouted over the loud music, a distressed Dr Benson still in his clutches.

At that point, a figure jumped from the now-open skylight to land amongst the throng of dancers out of sight of the armed man.

Mortimer! Hartenstein realized. And he was armed!

“Put down your weapon,” Hartenstein ordered, aware of Mortimer stealthily moving closer through the dancers. “You will not be hurt, I guarantee it.”

“Surrender and be executed? Nein, Captain. You want to save this ship? It is you who are a traitor to the Reich. The Reich will last a thousand years and they know what to do with traitors like you. I will never surrender, never! We will win this war and we will take as many Allies with us as possible.”

Dr Benson caught Hartenstein’s eye and as the muzzle was now pushed into her neck she stamped hard on the man’s foot with a stiletto heel causing him to yelp in pain and momentarily loosen his grip on her. At that moment Mortimer, seeing his chance, hit the man over the head with the butt of his gun while Hartenstein simultaneously disarmed him, the man crumpling to the deck.

Hartenstein gave a sigh of relief that the tense situation was over and he was not the only one. Over the strains of ‘Chattanooga Chu-Chu’ the rest of the room did too including Cora Benson.

Hartenstein was beaming at his first officer.

“Mr Mortimer, I congratulate you on your timely appearance.”

Mortimer was smiling. “My pleasure, Captain.”

“Captain Hartenstein...” Dr Benson began.

“Sit down, Doctor.” A solicitous Hartenstein led her to a chair which she gratefully sank into.

“Captain Hartenstein, I must thank you and your colleagues for my rescue; for everyone’s rescue. The situation was most fraught and I can only express my gratitude that we are all still alive thanks to your timely intervention.”

“Pleased to be of assistance, Doctor,” Hartenstein replied graciously.

“And you, Mr Mortimer,” she continued. “I have both of you to thank.”

Hartenstein introduced her to the commander of U-289.

“We owe all of you a debt of gratitude,” Dr Benson said with heartfelt sincerity.

There was a general murmur of assent all around the room. Someone began to clap and there was loud applause.

Hartenstein returned her relieved smile. “And I have to thank you for your assistance in creating a diversion. However, I have to admit I was surprised to see you here.”

“The Admiralty has decided for the present to send counsellors on rescue missions to assist newly-arrived survivors with the transition to this realm - and I can see I am going to have my work cut out. I was assigned to Oronsay but little did I realize...” She shook her head. “You have both told me how dangerous these rescue missions can be, but I never quite realized...” Again she trailed off. “I also have to commend you both for your minimum use of force. It will be noted in your files.” She smiled warmly at both of them.

Some four hours later, temporary repairs complete, Oronsay’s four hundred passengers and all non-essential crew had been transferred to Titanic. The partly-flooded vessel then began the long, slow voyage back to Homeport, her food preparation, laundry, utilities and many of her electrical systems out of action. As her captain said, they had been incredibly lucky that her engine was virtually undamaged. Also, as her escort was also damaged, two more U-boats were on their way to see her safely home.

In the meantime Werner Hartenstein ordered all three U-boat commanders to a meeting on Titanic.

Titanic always had the required effect, Werner Hartenstein reflected. The expressions on the faces of the newcomers said it all - shock that this really was the real Titanic; awe at her size; amazement that they would be boarding her; awkwardness as they were greeted warmly by her ever-gracious master and taken for a decent meal.

Over four courses and several convivial glasses of excellent wine the three newly-arrived U-boat commanders could not help but feel relaxed.

“Tell me - you were hit badly, were you not?” Hartenstein inquired.

All three reluctantly agreed.

“A depth charge hit us very close. Water was pouring in through a breach in the hull.”

“The same.”

“I was torpedoed by an American destroyer.”

“Then how came you all to be on the surface?”

All three frowned and scratched their heads.

“I... I am not sure. I... I cannot seem to remember. I had thought we were finished.” He shook his head.

“One of the ballast tanks was badly damaged and I remember thinking that we’d never be able to surface and water was pouring in and we were sinking... and then I don’t remember.”

“I... I wish I could remember. I remember thinking it was some kind of miracle that we were on the surface, but as to how we got there...” He shrugged and shook his head. “We had Oronsay listed as a liner converted to a troop carrier, but it seems that our information was incorrect.”

The other two agreed. “Yes, I also had her listed as a troop carrier.”

“And I.”

Hartenstein shook his head.

“She was a troop carrier in the war. She was also sunk off Africa in 1942. Did you not know this?”

All three commanders shook their heads.

“But... But how could she have been sunk if she’s here now? That’s impossible.”

“Ja. Plainly she was not sunk. The records are wrong.”

“She cannot have been sunk,” the third one said most vehemently. “Anyway there are so many ships sunk now I can’t remember them all and our records are no longer accurate.”

The other two agreed.

“She was sunk by the Italians.”

“Ah. In that case we might not know of it at all. The Italians are not... well not...”

“You mean they’re slapdash when it comes to record-keeping,” Mortimer suggested.

All three men nodded.

“But she couldn’t have been really sunk. I mean she is here now,” the first one protested.

Captain Andrews spoke up.

“Gentlemen, you can take Captain Hartenstein’s word for it - Oronsay was sunk in October 1942 which is how she came to be here in the first place.”

“What...? What do you mean ‘here’?” one of them asked somewhat uncertainly.

“Why here in the Fourth Realm, gentlemen, which is where you are now and where you’ll stay - at least for the time being,” Andrews replied.

“But... I don’t understand...” one of them said. “How...?”

“You know,” Hartenstein said, gazing into the man’s eyes. “You all know.” He looked at the other two.

There was silence while all three digested the implications of his words.

“You don’t mean that we... that we...?”

“You all thought you were done for, didn’t you?” Mortimer asked.
Reluctantly, one by one, they nodded.

“And that is how you came to be here,” he continued.

“Cheer up. You’ll have good lives here,” Andrews said with a smile.

“You ship...” one began.

“What about her?”

“She sank... thirty years ago, did she not? An iceberg?”

“Thirty-one to be exact, and that is precisely how she came to be here.”

“Meine gott,” one muttered.

“And our U-boats?”

“The same,” Mortimer answered. “But don’t worry, we make good use of them here.”

“I was confused when I saw a U-boat with Oronsay.”

“She was escorting the liner,” Hartenstein answered. “That is what they do here. They don’t sink ships, they escort and protect them.”

“They make excellent escorts,” Andrews added, the warmth of his smile directed at Hartenstein and Mortimer.

“And that is precisely what you will be doing - if it’s your wish,” Hartenstein continued. “If not, you may do anything you like; the choice is yours. Unlike the old realm this world is at peace. U-boats are needed to protect liners on rescue missions from newly arrived U-boats such as yours who don’t realize that, for them, the war in the Third Realm is over.”

“I... believe I understand,” one muttered quietly, “but if I may ask...?” He gazed at Hartenstein. “Do I not know your name?”

“Ja!” another said. “I’m sure I know it too.”

“Captain Hartenstein was awarded the Knight’s Cross,” Mortimer said.

“Ja! I remember now. You were involved in a big rescue.”

“The Laconia! That was it, was it not?”

“Captain Hartenstein saved as many lives as he could,” Mortimer said.

“You are not German,” one of the newcomers said, staring at Mortimer.

“I’m English,” Mortimer said with a smile. “I was on the Laconia when Captain Hartenstein decided to sink it.”

“And yet you serve on Captain Hartenstein’s boat?” another asked.

“I came to respect him and we became friends.”

“Even though you were enemies?” another asked.

“Even though we were enemies.”

“When we were attacked by an American bomber Mr Mortimer saved my life, injuring himself badly in the process,” Hartenstein explained.

“Then... perhaps there is hope for when the war is over,” one suggested.

“There is,” Andrews answered sincerely. “Believe me, gentlemen, there is.” He raised his glass. “To a peaceful future in the Third Realm and happiness in the Fourth!”

They drained their glasses.

Hartenstein beamed at them. “And now, meine colleagues, if you will summon your crews they will have a most pleasant voyage aboard Titanic.”

“Where accommodation has already been arranged for all of you,” Andrews added. “And we should add that there will be relatives and friends to meet you when we dock as well as counsellors to guide you in your new world.”

“Then... is this heaven?” one asked rather doubtfully.

“Compared to war it is!” Mortimer quipped.

For the first time the men’s faces looked hopeful and they found themselves returning the smiles of those around them.

Later, all three U-boat crews, having given their word to take no aggressive action while aboard and having been checked for weapons, were duly transferred to Titanic. Seagoing tugs were on their way to take the damaged U-boats in tow and Titanic, now carrying just over one thousand passengers, and her escort were able to once more get under way.

The night was very dark now, the sky over the South Atlantic still overcast and hiding the stars. The wind had died down somewhat but in the conning tower of U-156 you would never have known it as the breeze from their speed created its own chill.

Gloved and wearing heavy clothing, the captain and first officer took their turn outdoors as the crew dined below. This time it was Hartenstein who was at the helm, Mortimer standing beside him while Titanic loomed large at their stern.

“The band would be playing,” Mortimer mused.

Hartenstein smiled. “They would.”

“We could be dancing now.”

Hartenstein grinned. “Who with?”

Mortimer elbowed him. “Together of course!”

Hartenstein chuckled.

Mortimer leaned close to whisper in his ear. “I’d like to hold you in my arms and dance with you.”

Hartenstein checked their direction before turning enough so that he could place both arms around the slim body of the one who meant the world to him. The wind was blowing at a forty degree angle against the hull and he reached out with one hand to make another small correction while a cold, smooth cheek rested against his own bearded one.

“What was that song we heard recently on the radio?” he whispered.

“‘You’ll Never Know’,” was the reply.

“Will you hum it?”

As Mortimer hummed it softly in his ear the captain of U-156 made another small correction.

“How good you feel,” he whispered as Mortimer continued to hum the song and he kept an eye on their course, their bodies swaying a little.

Finally, they stilled, Mortimer’s lips pressing softly against his ear.

“You make me warm,” Hartenstein found himself whispering. “You always make me warm.”

“Hmm. We did well today.”

Hartenstein made another correction. “At least we were able to prevent poor Oronsay from being sunk a second time.”

“Lucky for her she’s stronger now and wouldn’t sink anyway.”

“Fools! If she had been a troop carrier as she once was she’d have been painted grey. They should have known by her black hull and her colours.”

“Shh,” Mortimer whispered into a cold ear. “We sorted it out.”

Hartenstein smiled, making another small course correction. “Your entrance was quite spectacular.”

Mortimer grinned. “I thought you’d appreciate it.”

Hartenstein chuckled. “You hit the man quite hard.”

“I wasn’t taking any chances he’d start shooting.”

“Whose idea was it to play music so the crewman would not hear you?”

“The second officer.”

“Good man.”

“And the dancing?”

“Mine. And am I a ‘good man’?”

“Das beste.”

A glimmer of light on the horizon caught Mortimer’s eye.

“Look! There’s the moon!”

Both looked to the south-east where a full moon was rising, reflecting briefly on the rough waters before promptly disappearing behind heavy clouds.

“We will not see much of it tonight.”

“And here comes the rain,” Mortimer muttered, the first fat drops hitting them in the face.

He found himself kissing a bearded cheek as the words, “Later, meine liebe, when we are dry and warm in our bed,” were whispered into his ear.

Hartenstein fully intended to reward his loyal and brave first officer when they were alone together.

Once more the two men faced forward.

U-156 sailed on into the night, her slim bow cutting through the ocean swell. To her stern Titanic illuminated the rough waters as the faint strains of a melody drifted across the bleak and empty ocean to fall on the ears of the two men in the conning tower, lifting their spirits as the rain began to hit them in earnest.

* * *