Legality of measures to prevent scuttling

General naval discussions that don't fit within any specific time period or cover several issues.
andrewuk184
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Legality of measures to prevent scuttling

Post by andrewuk184 » Tue Jul 09, 2019 1:16 pm

Hi everyone,

I am researching an incident during World War Two and would appreciate some opinions on the legalty of the actions taken by the British crew.

Here is the scenario:
  • In May 1941, a Royal Navy Ocean Boarding Vessel spots and identifies an Italian tanker. A boarding party is dispatched to seize her as a prize. The crew of the tanker open the Kingston valve to flood the ship, set fire to the bridge, and begin to abandon ship. The OBV opens fire in an attempt to prevent the boats from being launched. The radio room is hit, one person is killed.

    One boat was successfully launched, the OBV then opened fire on the boat with the Hotchkiss gun, killing two men.

    The tanker did not sink in the end because the door in the engine room was left closed by mistake, thus containing the flooding. The ship was therefore never in danger of sinking.
Opening fire on a boat (described in the log as a "cutter") that has left a sinking ship would seem highly questionable behaviour to me. Are their any laws government such a situation?

Any opinions would be much appreciated.

Best,
Andrew

paul.mercer
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Re: Legality of measures to prevent scuttling

Post by paul.mercer » Wed Jul 10, 2019 9:11 am

If the case in question is definitely proven and not just a story made up by the survivors of the tanker, then it is totally unacceptable to open fire on a boat that has survivors aboard,this was proven by the conviction for murder of one or two U boat captains after WW2, I believe that this sort of behaviour was also occasionally practiced by the Japanese.
However, in this particular incident perhaps we should know if there was any reason given for opening fire -other than possibly losing a prize and was the captain prosecuted for doing so?
I wonder if there are any details or ships logs in the RN archives about this -or were they quietly destroyed?

andrewuk184
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Re: Legality of measures to prevent scuttling

Post by andrewuk184 » Wed Jul 10, 2019 11:31 am

Hi Paul,

Thanks for you input. The sequence of events that I describe is taken directly from the ship's own log book, which I find quite extraordinory. It states that the sailors set a fire on deck (as part of their efforts to scuttle the ship) and then took to a boat. The next line says that the boat was fired on by a Hotchkiss crew. A few lines later it says the survivors were brought on board the RN ship and that one of them was already dead, another seriously injured. About one and a half hours later, this other sailor died of his wounds. Both were buried at sea that same day.

No justification is given for opening fire on a boat of ununiformed merchant sailors who had just abandoned a ship that was on fire and sinking (the RN crew wouldn't have known that it was sinking at the time, however).

I came upon these details the other day. I am researching for my book about the later sinking of the tanker and the RN vessel which relieved this first one in order to escort the prize ship home. The captain of this second ship was told by the captain of the first that he had used machine gun fire to force the life boat back. It's now clear that he did more than that!

andrewuk184
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Re: Legality of measures to prevent scuttling

Post by andrewuk184 » Wed Jul 10, 2019 11:56 am

I should say that this incident happening during the seizure of the Italian tanker Sangro by HMS Cavina.

Cavina was relieved by HMS Camito, which my grandfather was on, and the two ships began their journey home. Both the Camito and Sangro were torpedoed and sank on the way, however. An inquiry was held into the sinking but the circumstances of the capture itself were never investigated.

paul.mercer
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Re: Legality of measures to prevent scuttling

Post by paul.mercer » Wed Jul 17, 2019 10:14 pm

andrewuk184 wrote:
Wed Jul 10, 2019 11:56 am
I should say that this incident happening during the seizure of the Italian tanker Sangro by HMS Cavina.

Cavina was relieved by HMS Camito, which my grandfather was on, and the two ships began their journey home. Both the Camito and Sangro were torpedoed and sank on the way, however. An inquiry was held into the sinking but the circumstances of the capture itself were never investigated.
H1andrewuk,
It would seem from this incident that it wasn't only the Germans and Japanese that committed murder, you may recall and instance when US troops were attacking Japanese islands a commander was reported to have said something on the lines of 'If you have trouble taking prisoners, well, don't take them' I believe this was said because of the habit of some surrendering soldiers suddenly producing a grenade, but my point is that the allies we not all squeaky clean in some matters, which we are often led to believe in films and books.

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