In the trailer for the upcoming movie Dunkirk, a scene implies the Axis forces struck and sunk a medical ship carrying the red cross. Can anyone tell me if this was considered unlawful engagement of war for the time and if so, was it covered in the Nuremberg trials as a formal charge?


Part of this question still seems unaddressed; Is an attack on a hospital ship a war crime. Yes, attacking a Hospital ship is a war crime.

Hospital ships were covered under the Hague Convention X of 1907.[11]

But there are restrictions that must be followed:

Article four of the Hague Convention X outlined the restrictions for a hospital ship:

-Ship must be clearly marked and lighted as a hospital ship

  • The ship should give medical assistance to wounded personnel of all nationalities
  • The ship must not be used for any military purpose
  • The ship must not interfere with or hamper enemy combatant vessels
  • Belligerents, as designated by the Hague Convention, can search any hospital ship to investigate violations of the above restrictions
  • Belligerents will establish the location of a hospital ship

So there are rules that must be followed by a hospital ship to be under protection. To play devil's advocate (and not my personal opinion, so don't yell at me) if the Paris could be considered ,acting at that moment, not in its role as a hospital ship, but as a military troop transport, then it would no longer be under protection...

The first link provided by Mark's answer bears a closer look:

The fact that there is a LIST indicates this happened way to often (and note ships on both sides were sunk).

Back on topic (sorry), the casualties on the sinking of the HMHS Paris appear to be amazingly low (from Naval History.Net):

Hospital ship PARIS (1790grt), on passage to Dunkirk, was badly damaged at 1915 by German bombing near Dunkirk in 51‑11N, 02‑07E. Two crew were killed. PARIS sank on the 3rd.

So, if this is the ship being shown in the trailer for the movie, it appears to be a misrepresentation of the facts, as the movie shows a fully laden ship.

There was another Hospital ship which was also sunk just prior to the Dunkirk evacuation. the Maid of Kent was sunk on may 21, 1940 at Dieppe, and with many more casualties(54), during the events leading up to Dunkirk. Without more info on the movie, it is possible this could be the ship shown sinking as a lead-in part of the story.

BBC story about the Paris

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    Note that the HMS Paris was damaged at about 7:00 pm on June 2, and didn't sink until sometime on June 3. This clearly gave plenty of time (something above 5 hours) for a proper evacuation, further suggesting that the attack was incidental and not intentional. – Pieter Geerkens May 13 '17 at 16:31
  • I noticed the time lag also. I hadn't thought about it, but a dive bomber attacking, if he didn't do a side pass first, would have difficulty seeing the markings on the side of the ship. I do believe there were mast flags also, however. – justCal May 13 '17 at 16:40
  • I do appreciate this discussion. This is very educational. I believe one of the things that I do now know because of this discussion, is that the USNS Mercy and Comfort has red cross on the fight deck. I believe now this will avoid the mis-identification from the sky. The other half of my question was weather or not there was a formal hearing against the German government regarding the attack on the hospital ship. – arcee123 May 14 '17 at 18:17
  • The List of persons charged with war crimes is extensive, but doesn't list individual charges. I find no indication of a trial directly because of this event. – justCal May 14 '17 at 19:14
  • I'd say it was an accident too, either mistaken identity and/or a bomb or rocket striking it that was aimed at something else. Had the Germans been intent on sinking her, they would likely have been fully capable of doing so more quickly, seeing the amount of damage that was inflicted on the British shipping off Dunkirk. – jwenting May 16 '17 at 6:41

Wikipedia answers that the HMS Paris flying the red cross was sunk off Dunkirk.

Hat tip to @user2448131 for a Naval History page that discusses the sinking in more detail; I'm including the link here because comments frequently get deleted.

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    This page discusses the sinking. The ship was on return trip so only two casualties. Still not excusable, and technically still a war crime, but difficult to prosecute over two deaths in the overall picture. – justCal May 13 '17 at 3:13
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    "The Nuremberg trials focused mainly on the Holocaust" - BS. The main topic was preparing and unleashing the War. E.g., Dönitz, Funk, Jodl, Keitel, Krupp, Raeder, Schacht &c &c had nothing to do with the Shoah. – sds May 15 '17 at 18:55
  • And the prosecution would have to prove the sinking was deliberate, not a case of mistaken identity, AND that the ship was not carrying weapons and other combat related goods at the time. – jwenting May 16 '17 at 6:38

My mother, Michelle Carey was a QA on board HMHC Worthing, I believe the sister ship to Paris, and she writes to her mother on June 4th :

‘ I expect you have read all about us in the Papers. Actually, The Paris wasn’t hit but being a much older ship than the Worthing, her plates couldn’t stand up to the shock of the concussion from the bombs.’

Later in the same letter she writes:-

‘ I was very upset about The Paris. I have had such a good time on her. Blake, my friend is in hospital, as far as I know she is alright, though Matron was wounded in the arm by shrapnel. Poor things they have lost all their kit and clothes. It must have been pretty grim. I don’t suppose I shall see Colonel Hurst again either. He was such a pet and game. We had a good time.


I wish I had more detail on this but I do know that my great Uncle was on HMHS Paris when it was damaged. He survived but unfortunately he was never able to live the life he would have if the world had been a different place and we hadn’t gone to war.

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    Hi Claire and welcome to History SE. This ship was mentioned in justCal's answer. It was sunk on 02 June 1940 on its sixth trip. Perhaps, by 'damaged' you are referring to one of its earlier trips? – Lars Bosteen Mar 31 '19 at 12:16

Having seen the movie, the incident as depicted shows the hospital ship loading not just wounded but soldiers in uniform who were quite fit. Under these fictional conditions, the ship would have forfeited any protection it was due. The Luftwaffe did intentionally attack several hospital ships in the Mediterranean. The US also attacked some Japanese hospital ships, although the circumstances would appear to excuse those attacks.

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    Sources to support your assertions would improve this answer. – sempaiscuba Jul 24 '17 at 21:19

She was not a troop ship she was under the redcross as a humanitarian taking injurd and survivors from a stat of death.the french had surrendered so the British expeditionary forces where retreating and not fighting.this gives the redcross full wavoe to act under humanitarian and germany brok all the laws of engagement of war.let us never forget dunkirk.s my grandfather use to say we gave them back what for...for dunkirk.

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    Sources to support your assertions would improve this answer. – sempaiscuba Jul 26 '17 at 20:30
  • What exactly is a "stat of death" and how does one survive it? Also I've no idea what a "wavoe" is. I also didn't know that there were "laws of engagement of war", who enforces these laws? – KillingTime Jul 26 '17 at 20:48
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    This looks like a comment on an earlier answer - it would benefit from some editing and the addition of sources. – Steve Bird Jul 26 '17 at 21:59

The HMHS, (His Majesty's Hospital Ship) Paris was sunk by German bombing off Dunkirk 02/06/1940. The HMHS Maid of Kent was also bombed and sunk while leaving Dieppe Harbour on 21/05/1940

  • This doesn't seem to add anything to existing answers. – Lars Bosteen Jan 19 '20 at 0:56

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