17th April 1917 Tuesday
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“The hospital ship “Lanfranc” was torpedoed off Havre on the 17th April. She had 400 German prisoners on board. Next day some of her lifeboats and the bodies of several nurses were washed ashore at Havre.”
Douglas’s figure of 400 German prisoners seems to be inaccurate as reports following the sinking at 8pm on the 17th April speak of 167 wounded German prisoners, 234 wounded British soldiers, 52 medical staff and 123 crew. The discrepancy in casualties is probably official propaganda. It would have been normal to exaggerate the figures of casualties to whip up anti-German sympathies.
Of the 576 persons onboard that evening only 34 lost their lives, 14 British wounded, 15 German wounded and 5 crew, the ship sank in just over 1 hour.
HMHS Lanfranc would have been flying the Red Cross flag and sporting green, red and white livery with a red cross on its sides as stipulated by the Hague Convention which was brought into effect in 1907. Hospital ships were required to pick up casualties of all nationalities and were supposed to be immune from attack. The fact that the ship was hit by a torpedo means that its sinking was intentional. In January 1917 the German Government had accused the Allies of using hospital ships to transport troops and medical supplies, adding that no Allied hospital ships would be tolerated within certain areas.
A pamphlet entitled “The War on Hospital Ships” published in 1917 from eyewitness accounts has more information about these terrible incidents including much about HMHS Lanfranc and SS Donegal which was lost on the same day.
An eyewitness account of the sinking from one of the British officers on board (page 13 on the above link) was published in the Daily Telegraph on 23 April 1917. That edition of the Telegraph will be available to view on the following link on 23 April 2017. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/ww1-archive/
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