Yes, the Nazis make this list twice.
"Compared to those other mass-murdering, genocidal lunatics, you guys are alright."
In World War II, German U-boats were tasked with sinking freighters and other supply ships based on the theory that countries with no food, supplies or fuel tend to surrender quickly. So, one night in 1943, the captain of U-156 noticed a rather large ship, and knowing he wasn't there to watch ships go by, ordered it torpedoed.
He was he surprised to find out it was not a freighter or a military ship, but a civilian ocean liner called the Laconia. It was full of civilians and Italian POWs.
Picture taken by Oblt. z. S. Leopold Schuhmacher
A little difficult to explain to the PR department, even for Nazis.
The crew of U-156 then did something extraordinary: They surfaced and began picking up survivors. They were soon joined by U-506 and, at the order of Admiral Karl Donitz, two additional U-boats. Even with all these subs, there were still plenty of people in the water. So the Germans did something even more amazing: They offered safe passage to Allied merchants who came to pick up survivors. Indeed, the Brits were even sending ships to pick up folks.
Nobody bothered telling that to one of the U.S. anti-submarine bomber squadrons that regularly patrolled the area. When one of the pilots radioed back about U-boats on the surface towing lifeboats crowded with people, the squadron commander figured it must be either a trick or yet another party he wasn't invited to. Accordingly he told the pilot to bomb the subs, which the pilot attempted unsuccessfully. We like to think it's because he knew his commander was probably wrong and missed on purpose. The U-boats submerged, having significantly assisted in the rescue of the Laconia survivors.
"We can't start killing Nazis the one time they aren't acting like dicks."
This sort of thing wasn't an isolated incident. In the time that the German Admiral Donitz served (he would eventually become the German Navy Commander-in-Chief), it wasn't unusual for the U-boats to surface near any surviving lifeboats and pass out food, water and nautical maps. Though they'd specifically been ordered not to do this kind of thing by their government, they did it anyway, and Donitz unofficially sanctioned it.
After the war, Donitz was brought up on charges at the Nuremberg trials, along with his comrades. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz was sitting in with the good guys, and had also been a submariner. Though Nimitz didn't particularly like Donitz, he wasn't gonna just sit by and watch his opposite number get hanged simply for being good at his job.
Even Nazis who look like your math teacher aren't necessarily evil.
When guilt was determined and sentences were handed down, Donitz received 10 years in prison rather than the customary death penalty. As far as defendants went at the trials, he got off with the least punishment because his former enemy was able to show that Donitz had been doing a legitimate military job. And though the "I was just following orders" excuses given by folks like Adolf Eichmann didn't fly, Donitz's compassionate U-boat rescue policy earned him a few brownie points in the end.
Would you ever shoot someone, even if it meant not doing so would lead to some of the worst bloodshed of the century?
"It's the end of the road for you, Bob Saget."
We previously mentioned this event in passing; the story takes place during World War I, near the occupied French town of Marcoing. British soldier Henry Tandey, who was just a private, found himself and his regiment under heavy machine gun fire from German forces. Tandey, not being one to let such little things as being heavily fired upon bog him down, made his way forward and secured the machine gun nest for the Brits.
Pushing on, they came upon a bridge that had been somewhat disassembled, making vehicle traffic over it impossible. On the other side was, of course, more enemy soldiers with machine guns. The only way out was with major reinforcements or a miracle. Or failing either of those, an incredibly brave soldier with a death wish. Tandey crawled up to the bridge, and with Germans firing upon him, he managed to replace the missing planks to allow passage. Despite being hit a couple of times himself, he continued to advance into the town.
"How many bullets could nerdy old Germany possibly have?"
With the battle winding down, he stopped long enough to notice a wounded German soldier suddenly emerging from some bushes. Tandey raised his rifle to drop the guy like a bad habit. Being injured in the presence of one's enemy usually meant death or imprisonment, and the German seemed to know it.
However, by then Tandey decided he'd shot enough people, so he lowered his weapon and motioned the wounded and mustachioed German to get out of there. The soldier nodded his thanks and took off. Of course, that soldier was a young Adolf Hitler.
A random act of mercy ended up leading indirectly to the next world war and the Holocaust. Not only did Tandey let the man who would become one of humanity's worst monsters go, but also he kind of enabled him. See, some men would have taken that act of mercy to heart and paid it forward to others in need of mercy themselves.
In an alternate reality, this man did a term as head of a very different Salvation Army.
But Hitler, being a shithead, liked to tell the story as proof that providence had saved him for a bigger future. He told himself that after every near-death experience, be it on the battlefield, in an explosive meeting or whenever he almost slipped in the tub.
Yes, the moral of this article is, "KILL EVERYONE YOU SEE IN CASE THEY ARE HITLER." You're welcome.
For more extraordinary acts during times of war, check out The 6 Most Insane Underdog Stories in the History of Battle and 6 Inspiring Tales of Friendship in the Middle of Brutal Wars.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see Michael Swaim and David Wong set aside their murderous impulses toward each other.
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