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Thursday 27 Nov 2014

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The Sinking Of The Laconia – introduction

Ken Duken plays Commander Werner Hartenstein

The Sinking Of The Laconia is a new two-part drama for BBC Two by Alan Bleasdale.

It marks Bleasdale's (Boys From The Blackstuff, GBH, Jake's Progress, Oliver Twist) return to British television after 10 years. It is inspired by the true story of unexpected gallantry and inexplicable stupidity in the fog of war. It's a story in which one man's instinctive humanity really does make a difference.

Andrew Buchan (Party Animals), Franka Potente (Bourne Supremacy) and rising German star Ken Duken (Inglorious Basterds) are joined by Brian Cox (The Day Of The Triffids), Thomas Kretschmann (Downfall, Eichmann, King Kong) and Lindsay Duncan (GBH, Rome, Oliver Twist).

On the night of 12 September 1942, the RMS Laconia, a converted liner on its way back to Britain from Egypt, was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat 156.

The Laconia was 600 miles from the coast of Africa, and on board were a mixture of English civilians, Allied soldiers and Italian prisoners of war. They faced almost certain death until the U-boat's Commander, Werner Hartenstein, went against the orders of Nazi High Command and took an astonishing decision.

The U-boat surfaced and Hartenstein instructed his men to save as many of the shipwrecked survivors as they could.

Over the next few days, U-156 saved 400 people, with 200 crammed on board the submarine at surface-level and another 200 in lifeboats.

Hartenstein gave orders for messages to be sent to the Allies to organise a rescue of the survivors. Instead, they were spotted by an American B-24 bomber who proceeded to attack.

The Sinking Of The Laconia examines the human side of the remarkable events that took place: the friendships that developed, the small acts of heroism and the triumph of the human spirit in the most incredible of situations.

The Laconia was carrying 2,725 passengers: 463 officers and crew, 286 British military personnel, 103 Polish Guards, 80 civilians – mainly women and children – and 1,793 Italian prisoners of war.

1,621 died; 1,104 survived.

The Sinking Of The Laconia is written by Alan Bleasdale and directed by Uwe Janson. It is a TalkbackThames Production in association with TeamWorx for the ARD and BBC Two.

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