Part One:- In 1942, the Laconia, an old British cruise liner turned troop ship, is returning to Liverpool from Egypt with civilian passengers and Italian prisoners. Its guns are outdated, its captain, Sharp, lost his last ship and the Italians, unhappy at being caged below the water line, are tormented by their Polish guards. Third officer Mortimer learns that his family have been killed in an air raid and seeks comfort with Hilda Smith, a mysterious widow who seems to have visited Germany recently. At that moment the ship is torpedoed by a German U-boat, whose humane captain, Kapitanleutnant Werner Hartenstein, learning that the Laconia was not a warship, decides to rescue the survivors, bringing some into the submarine and towing others in life-boats.
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Did You Know?
There is a passing reference to Captain Sharp's poor luck, but without explanation. His previous command was the HMT Lancastria. Like the Laconia, this was another civilian liner commandeered by the British Admiralty for use as a troop ship. She was sunk in June 1940 in the Loire estuary by the Luftwaffe while participating in Operation Aerial, the rescue of British troops and civilians from the west coast of France after the country had fallen to the Germans. Although the exact number of people who died in the sinking will never be known, estimates are between 4,000 and 9,000 people, making the sinking of the Lancastria the single worst loss of life on any British ship in history. This is the incident the British officers are referring to. See more
Although the Polish guards are shown shooting prisoners as they try to escape from below decks after the torpedoing, historically they were carrying unloaded rifles and were not even issued with any ammunition. However they were issued bayonets for their rifles and therefore most of the many Italian prisoners killed by guards were bayoneted. See more
This British-German co-production exists in two versions. The British cut focuses more on the British side, the German one focusing more on the German side. This is mainly done by a different arrangement of the scenes. See more