Bombing of hospital ships

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CvD
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Bombing of hospital ships

Post by CvD » 18 May 2005 18:19

While searching information on the net and among my books I found some information that suggested that the Luftwaffe had bombed clearly marked hospital ships during Operation Dynamo (i.e. the Dunkirk evacuations)

Hela dagen låg ett lasarettfartyg, med stora röda kors på sidorna, för ankar utanför stranden. Det klarade sig undan flyganfallen. Anderson kunde inte säga om det var för att störtbombarna respekterade de röda korsen. Men sent på eftermiddagen anfölls fartyget. En bomb föll i skorstenen. ett ögonblick trodde Anderson att bomben hade missat, och sedan smulades de övre däcken sönder. Resten av fartyget exploderade i eld... Lasarettfartyget fortsatte att brinna hela natten...


I will try to translate it:
During the whole day a hospital ship, with large red crosses on the sides, laid at anchor outside the beach. It escaped the air raids. Anderson (an eyewitness) couldnt say if was because the dive bombers respected the red crosses. But later in the afternoon the ship was attacked. A bomb fell into the stack, for a moment Anderson thought that the bomb had missed, and then the upper decks disintergrated. The rest of the ship exploded into flames... The hospital ship continued to burn during the whole night...


Blixtkrig (page 157)
ISBN 91-0-043130-3
Bonniers bokförlag


Orginal title: Blitzkrieg
Time Life Books


A quote from Churchills famous "We Shall Fight on the Beaches"-speach, June 4, 1940:
The hospital ships, which brought off many thousands of British and French wounded, being so plainly marked were a special target for Nazi bombs; but the men and women on board them never faltered in their duty.

http://www.winstonchurchill.org/i4a/pag ... pageid=393

Do anyone know anything more about this attack against the hospital ship??

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Post by David Thompson » 18 May 2005 19:34

The attacks are mentioned in footnote 32 of this article:

Hospital Ships in the War on Terror: Sanctuaries or Targets?
http://www.nwc.navy.mil/press/Review/20 ... t5-w05.htm

without much detail for follow-up research.

CvD
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Post by CvD » 18 May 2005 19:47

David Thompson wrote:The attacks are mentioned in footnote 32 of this article:

Hospital Ships in the War on Terror: Sanctuaries or Targets?
http://www.nwc.navy.mil/press/Review/20 ... t5-w05.htm

without much detail for follow-up research.


Thanks

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Post by Narrative » 19 May 2005 14:54

It's interesting to note that other contributors to this forum believe that the killing of say sailors in the water or airmen-parachutists still in the air is a legitimate act of war yet the very mention of an attack on a red cross vehicle or ship as in this case causes deep offence.

Frankly, I have no idea where the line in the sand should be drawn but it seems to me that successful treatment of any wounded service personell must have ultimately meant that many of them would return to fray in which case the other side would be justified in attacking them. Believe me I am not condoning such treatment but trying to establish a sensible rationale.

On a similar vein, I was quite staggered to read that it was not uncommon after a particularly bloody encounter between two warring sides that both sets of stretcher bearers and medical staff would be allowed free and total access to the battlefield. I believe that there were several instances at Arnhem when after tacit agreement both sides left the protection of their defensive positions to tend to their wounded.

Narrative.

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Post by David Thompson » 19 May 2005 16:08

Narrative -- You wrote:
Frankly, I have no idea where the line in the sand should be drawn but it seems to me that successful treatment of any wounded service personell must have ultimately meant that many of them would return to fray in which case the other side would be justified in attacking them. Believe me I am not condoning such treatment but trying to establish a sensible rationale.

In war crimes cases the bases for any discussion are the laws and customs of war which existed when the conflict began. In regard to hospital ships, during WWII they received special protection pursuant to the provisions of two Hague Conventions in 1899 and 1907:

Hague III - Adaptation to Maritime Warfare of Principles of Geneva Convention of 1864: July 29, 1899
http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/hague993.htm

Hague X - Adaptation to Maritime War of the Principles of the Geneva Convention: 18 October 1907
http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/hague10.htm

Dissatisfaction with the adequacy of these provisions led to the clarifications of the Geneva Convention of 1949:

1949 - Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea, August 12
http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/geneva06.htm

There were no international treaties in effect during WWII which specifically addressed aerial warfare. Consequently, strategic and tactical air warfare was governed by the same rules as those for land warfare, set forth in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907:

Hague II - Laws and Customs of War on Land: 29 July 1899
http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/hague02.htm
Hague IV - Laws and Customs of War on Land: 18 October 1907
http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/hague04.htm

These treaties (and pre-existing customs of war) made it a crime to refuse to give quarter to an enemy who requested it (see Article 23 of the Annexes to both treaties). It is an open (and therefore arguable) question as to whether the relatively chivalrous practices of aerial warfare in WWI created a new custom of war in regard to shooting parachuting pilots.

You also said:
On a similar vein, I was quite staggered to read that it was not uncommon after a particularly bloody encounter between two warring sides that both sets of stretcher bearers and medical staff would be allowed free and total access to the battlefield. I believe that there were several instances at Arnhem when after tacit agreement both sides left the protection of their defensive positions to tend to their wounded.

Practices like these had been a part of the laws and customs of war for some time prior to WWII. See, for example:

1864 - Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded on the Field of Battle; August 22
http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/geneva04.htm

I've tried to collect links to the international treaties and learned monographs relating to the laws and customs of war, and posted them as a research announcement at viewtopic.php?t=26829

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Post by Vikki » 20 May 2005 06:41

Narrative wrote:It's interesting to note that other contributors to this forum believe that the killing of say sailors in the water or airmen-parachutists still in the air is a legitimate act of war yet the very mention of an attack on a red cross vehicle or ship as in this case causes deep offence.

Frankly, I have no idea where the line in the sand should be drawn but it seems to me that successful treatment of any wounded service personell must have ultimately meant that many of them would return to fray in which case the other side would be justified in attacking them. Believe me I am not condoning such treatment but trying to establish a sensible rationale.

On a similar vein, I was quite staggered to read that it was not uncommon after a particularly bloody encounter between two warring sides that both sets of stretcher bearers and medical staff would be allowed free and total access to the battlefield. I believe that there were several instances at Arnhem when after tacit agreement both sides left the protection of their defensive positions to tend to their wounded.

Narrative.




“Airmen-parachutists still in the air” are, in spite of their vulnerable position, perfectly viable soldiers. In fact, they are soldiers en route to their mission: to kill the enemy (the very people who are shooting at them), once they hit the ground.

On the other hand, sailors in the water, after their ships have been disabled or destroyed, present a different ethical question---one with which I’m also not comfortable.

True, “successful treatment of any wounded service personell must have ultimately meant that many of them would return to fray”. However, the reaction, both in David’s “laws and customs of war” and on the instinctual level of the example you’ve cited from Arnhem, is a reaction to them as they were at that moment: unviable soldiers---but also as helpless wounded individual men who filled those Red Cross ambulances and ships.

There are personal instinctual reasons, certainly felt by the men whose actions you’ve described (“What if that wounded man were me?”), and larger ethical reasons resulting from them, for denoting wounded as “out of bounds”. And for the subsequent protests that most civilized nations lodge in the aftermath of attacks on hospital vehicles. Perhaps neither the framers of the “laws and customs of wars” nor the individual medics, on whatever side in many instances, were as great butchers as their sides have been made out to be.

~FV

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Post by David Thompson » 24 May 2005 01:29

Here are some other recorded attacks on hospital ships during WWII:

(1)
During the day on 20 April [1941] Eleusis was almost under constant attack but in the afternoon there was a pause in activity, which allowed a little time for the ground crews to bring the maximum possible number of Hurricanes up to readiness state. Squadron Leader 'Tap' Jones decided that if no further attack had developed by 18:00, all available Hurricanes would undertake an offensive sweep in an effort to raise morale amongst the civilian population of Athens and the surrounding areas, and as a boost to the defenders of Eleusis as well as to the pilots themselves.

However at about 16:45 a formation of 100 plus Ju88s and Do17s, escorted by Bf109s and Bf110s was reported approaching Athens. The Ju88s (from I/LG 1) peeled off to make low-flying attacks on shipping at Piraeus, while individual Bf110s of II/ZG 26 scoured the area, shooting up likely targets. One appeared over Eleusis just as the Hurricanes (nine of 33 Squadron and six of 80 Squadron) were preparing to take off. Fortunately, none were hit, and all took to the air individually, climbed to 20 000 feet and headed for Piraeus, forming sections of two or three en route.

The first trio to arrive over the port, flown by Flying Officers Peter Wickham, Flight Lieutenant Henry John Starrett (RAF no. 40188) and Percival ‘Ping’ Newton (a Rhodesian), caught 15 Ju88s dive-bombing ships in the harbour (the Greek hospital ship Ellenis was sunk during the attack). The three Hurricanes followed them down and attacked as they pulled out of their dives; Wickham claimed one shot down, whilst Newton claimed two more. Just then Pilot Officer William Vale arrived on the scene, reporting seeing some 30 Ju88s:

“I carried out eight attacks on the Ju88s. One caught fire and started going down, so I left him and attacked another. Big chunks broke away from his wings and fuselage, and smoke poured from his engines. He went down vertically. I was then attacked by a 109, but I easily outmanoeuvred him, had a crack at some more, and came home when my ammo was exhausted.”

http://surfcity.kund.dalnet.se/commonwealth_hewett.htm


(2)
The Defence of Crete – 14- 26 May [1941]

The Mediterranean Fleet was tasked with stopping any seaborne invasion of the island. Cunningham’s plan was that, because of the lack of friendly air cover, he would keep the battle fleet at sea to the west of Crete (in case the Italian Navy intervened) while cruiser and destroyer forces would deploy north of Crete by night, to intercept German troop convoys.

On 18 May the hospital ship Aba, sailing from Suda Bay, was deliberately attacked. Phoebe along with two other cruisers, went to its aid, fighting off the Stukas. New Zealander Joe Brewer, an Army Gunner and a patient on board the Aba, described the incident in a letter home:

Suddenly the cruisers opened up at the bombers overhead with, it seemed, every gun blazing. I was looking out of an open doorway on the maindeck watching the Navy in action. Suddenly I heard the familiar swish of a bomb falling at tremendous speed. It landed very close to our hospital ship and the concussion scattered our group at the doorway. I felt a stinging feeling on my face but that was all. I, like the ship, had a providential escape from injury.

http://www.navy.mil.nz/rnzn/article.cfm?Article_ID=717

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Post by Zebedee » 24 May 2005 04:16

Churchill makes mention of attacks on boats bearing the Red Cross symbol in the channel around the time of the Battle of Britain. He does not specify any particular case, nor overly complain, as the boats were intended to pick up downed airmen.

He also mentions that he refused to recognise German planes trying to fulfill a similar function as the British boats and thus not listening to German complaints about them being fired upon. Again, he does not specify any particular case.

source: Churchill, Vol 2.

Even Churchill uses the "pot and kettle" argument in this context to strengthen his case that shooting at the marked planes was not against the letter of the law.

I will not comment on whether it is a breach of the 'spirit of the law' or not ;)

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Post by David Thompson » 24 May 2005 05:30

It seems to me that there are conceptual and legal differences between hospital ships and air-sea rescue craft.

The conceptual differences are that hospital ships carry a number of injured patients who are presently incapable of combat and are under medical care for their wounds or illnesses. They are also staffed with doctors, nurses, medical equipment and supplies. They are in a position to provide care for the injured of both sides. Furthermore, the ship is not armed, and is distinctively marked to signal its status.

By contrast, an air-sea rescue craft does not necessarily carry a permanent medical staff, and may have neither nurse nor medic on board. Its function is transient rescues, not the provision of medical care. The craft may well be carrying someone who is not injured at all, and who may be quite capable of combat. Such an aircraft or vessel is under no obligation to provide rescue for enemy combatants or medical care for enemy wounded. Finally, they are usually unmarked and often times they are armed.

The legal difference is that hospital ships were and are provided for by international agreement (see the citations to the 1899 and 1907 Hague Conventions, and to the 1949 Geneva Convention above). In WWII, an air-sea rescue craft was not.

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Post by redcoat » 24 May 2005 22:58

Zebedee wrote:
He also mentions that he refused to recognise German planes trying to fulfill a similar function as the British boats and thus not listening to German complaints about them being fired upon. Again, he does not specify any particular case.

source: Churchill, Vol 2.

Even Churchill uses the "pot and kettle" argument in this context to strengthen his case that shooting at the marked planes was not against the letter of the law.

I will not comment on whether it is a breach of the 'spirit of the law' or not ;)


The Luftwaffe was mis-using the Red Cross symbol when it painted them on its SAR aircraft, because the 1929 Geneva Convention, Art. 18 states that Aircraft used as means of medical transport shall enjoy the protection of the Convention during the period in which they are reserved exclusively for the evacuation of wounded and sick and the transport of medical personnel and material.
Seeing that they were being used to rescue unwounded aircrew, the convention doesn't apply to these aircraft.

Also the convention states that,
In the absence of special and express permission, flying over the firing line, and over the zone situated in front of clearing or dressing stations, and generally over all enemy territory or territory occupied by the enemy, is prohibited.
They were flying over disputed territory, they needed the RAF's express permission , but they never applied for that permission.
In fact, the British government gave official warning to the Luftwaffe in a Communiqué issued by the Royal Air Force on July 14th 1940

"Enemy aircraft bearing civil markings and marked with the Red Cross have recently flown over British ships at sea and in the vicinity of the British coast, and they are being employed for purposes which His Majesty's Government cannot regard as being consistent with the privileges generally accorded to the Red Cross.
His Majesty's Government desire to accord to ambulance aircraft reasonable facilities for the transportation of the sick and wounded, in accordance with the Red Cross Convention, and aircraft engaged in the direct evacuation of the sick and wounded will be respected, provided that they comply with the relevant provisions of the Convention.
His Majesty's Government are unable, however, to grant immunity to such aircraft flying over areas in which operations are in progress on land or at sea, or approaching British or Allied territory, or territory in British occupation, or British or Allied ships.
Ambulance aircraft which do not comply with the above requirements will do so at their own risk and peril. "

So the use of the Red Cross by the Luftwaffe in the SAR role was an illegal use of the symbol, and the RAF was fully within its rights according to the terms of the 1929 Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armies in the Field, to shoot down these aircraft.

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Post by JeffreyF » 25 May 2005 04:04


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Post by David Thompson » 25 May 2005 05:46

The link provided above by JeffreyF has information on attacks on 11 Italian hospital ships, of which 6 were sunk, as well as attacks on German hospital ships.

Note that Article 1 of both the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 permit marked hospital ships to assist the shipwrecked:

Hague III - Adaptation to Maritime Warfare of Principles of Geneva Convention of 1864: July 29, 1899
http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/hague993.htm

Hague X - Adaptation to Maritime War of the Principles of the Geneva Convention: 18 October 1907
http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/hague10.htm

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Post by redcoat » 25 May 2005 10:57

Zebedee wrote:Churchill makes mention of attacks on boats bearing the Red Cross symbol in the channel around the time of the Battle of Britain. He does not specify any particular case, nor overly complain, as the boats were intended to pick up downed airmen.


At no point in WW2 did any British aircraft or boat which was being employed in the Search And Rescue role carry Red Cross markings.

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Post by Zebedee » 25 May 2005 13:09

Thank you for clarifying the aircraft position Redcoat.

According to my great-uncle's diary, the two Red Crosses were painted off his 35 ft motor boat (Frederick Angus out of Aberystwyth) in early May 1940 (first week, but no definite date given, the passage of text only mentions it in passing as a side effect of painting the boat in less bright colours than white with a red stripe), on orders from above. (Presumably the orders came as a result of the Admiralty taking control of the coast guard, but that is my speculation).

My error in the Churchill quote, he does not specifically say that the small boats were carrying the Red Cross.

[about Red Cross marked planes]There was no mention of such a contingency in the Geneva Convention, which had not contemplated this form of warfare.The Germans were not in a strong position to complain , in view of all the treaties, laws of war, and solemn agreements which they had violated without compunction whenever it suited them. They soon abandoned the experiment, and the work of sea rescue for both sides was carried out by our small craft, on which of course the Germans fired on every occasion. p.284, Their Finest Hour, Penguin, 1985


This is going OT of the strict topic of hospital ships, but I'd assumed that unarmed boats bearing the Red Cross designed specifically for the rescue of the shipwrecked were totally within Art. 2 of Hague X and so qualified under this category (assuming the procedures had been followed - evidently they were not). My apologies if the practices of an obscure port in Wales were not common place throughout Britain ;)

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Post by Narrative » 26 May 2005 14:08

My apologies for straying even further off topic but is there an argument that civil airliners as well as passenger ships, clearly designated as such should also enjoy the protection of such conventions. The Lusitania was torpedoed by in 1915 causing many of its passengers to be drowned. The United States ( most of the stricken passengers were US citizens) believed the attack on her "was contrary to international law and the conventions of all civilized nations" (Simpson, Colin. The Lusitania, Pages 8-9 - 1972).

No action was taken against the U boat commander, Kapitän-leutnant Schwieger despite the protests of The USA. The Germans agreed later to only target military ships- a practise that was presumably dispensed with in WW2

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