"What happened next was unimaginable. U-86 surfaced and attacked the lifeboats"
On June 27 1918, the Canadian hospital ship His Majesty’s Hospital Ship (HMHS) LLANDOVERY CASTLE was sunk by the German submarine, U-86.
The sinking violated international law protecting hospital ships from attack. LLANDOVERY CASTLE was attacked off the Irish coast while returning to England from Halifax, Nova Scotia after delivering over 600 wounded and sick Canadian soldiers. The torpedo hit the engine room and knocked out the radio preventing a distress call. The ship sank in less than ten minutes. The crew of 258 included 97 Canadian medical personnel of whom 14 were nursing sisters directed by Matron Margaret Marjory Fraser.
Hospital ships were protected by international law if the hull was painted white with Red Cross markings, the ship did not travel in convoys and at night illuminated its bright red and green running lights indicating its protected status. According to survivors, LLANDOVERY CASTLE was alone and the running lights were on.
The torpedo killed and injured an untold number, but the survivors launched as many as five lifeboats. One lifeboat was sucked into the sinking ship’s whirlpool but at least three got away. What happened next was unimaginable. U-86 surfaced and attacked the lifeboats. Only one boat escaped carrying the Captain and 23 crew members who were rescued two days later. The British navy search of the area recovered only corpses.
After the war, the U-boat commander and two officers were indicted for war crimes. The commander, Helmut Patzig escaped prosecution but Ludwig Dithmar and Johann Boldt were found guilty and sentenced to prison.