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James Skelton

James Raymond Skelton was born in the first quarter of 1919 and his birth registered in the Malton area. Jim was the son of Thomas and Laura (nee Medd) Skelton who married in the Scarborough area in the first quarter of 1918. Jim was the eldest of five children born between 1919 and 1926, and the family lived opposite the Memorial Hall on Town Street.

Jim joined the Navy when he was called up and in 1942 was part of the establishment at HMS Drake IV. HMS Drake is the shore establishment at Devonport, and HMS Drake would have been a ship attached to it.  This was probably HMS Marshal Ney , constructed in the opening years of the First World War. After service in World War I she became a depot ship from 1920. Renamed Vivid in June 1922, she then served as a stoker training ship until 1957. She was renamed Drake in January 1934.

ON 12 September 1942, Jim was aboard the Laconia , a troop transport ship, as a passenger en route from Capetown to Canada with eight other men from HMS Drake, when at 22.07 hours, the unescorted Laconia (Master Rudolph Sharp, OBE) was hit by two torpedoes from U-156 about 360 miles northeast of Ascension Island and sank at 23.23 hours. The master, 97 crew members, 133 passengers, 33 Polish guards and 1394 prisoners were lost. He was among the 1,658 who were lost out of the 2,741 on board, despite the heroic efforts of the U-boat itself to rescue survivors once they realised that the majority of the victims were actually Italian PoWs.

  They were joined by the crews of other U-boats in the area. Heading to a rendezvous with Vichy French ships under Red Cross banners, the U-boats were attacked by a U.S. Army B-24 Liberator bomber.

This event affected the operations of the German fleet, whose commanders were ordered (the "Laconia Order") by Admiral Karl Dönitz to stop trying to rescue civilian survivors, ushering in the subsequent unrestricted submarine warfare for the German Navy (U.S. Admiral Nimitz testified at Admiral Dönitz's trial that the US had practiced unrestricted warfare from day one). The controversy over the incident concerns the assistance and protection that military forces must afford non-combatants at sea during wartime. One international bestseller and numerous articles on the subject have been published, and a 2011 television film produced, about the incident.

The photos below show the efforts of the crew of the U-156 in rescuing survivors from the Laconia.