Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The sinking of The Laconia & 4711 Cologne.

I like thousand of others I am sure watched with interest the BBC  two part dramatisation of the tragic sinking of SS Laconia by a German U Boat U – 156.   
The Laconia

The Laconia sailed from Cape Town in August 1942, carrying Italian prisoners of war, serviceman returning home and civilians.
Somewhere north of Ascencion Island in the South Atlantic, she was hit by torpedoes fired from U-156 at 8pm on 12 September. By 9.11pm the ship had sank, with many still on-board. Even those who survived faced grim prospects, as sharks were numerous in the tropical waters.
 However, shortly after the Laconia sank, the U-Boat surfaced unexpectedly. Remarkably, the U-boat then attempted to rescue survivors, something that was not official German policy at the time. When Werner Hartenstein, the Commander of U-156, realised that POW’s and civilians were on-board, he broadcast over the radio requesting assistance. Several more U-Boats arrived to assist in the rescue. Unfortunately a flight of US B-24 Liberator bombers was not aware of what was going on, and attacked the U-boats. The U-boats then dived, leading to more loss of life. In total, 3,254 people died. The commander of the German Navy, Admiral Karl Donitz, gave his infamous Laconia order, that in future U-boats were not to rescue survivors. This order was part of the case against Donitz at the Nuremberg war crime trials.

Whilst watching I noticed a German sub- marina offer one of the female survivors a bottle of 4711 Cologne in the original clock face style bottle.
This intrigued me so I went looking for answers and what did I find.....
Morven Christie as Laura Ferguson with Franka Potente as Hilda Smith, holding baby Ella

That the German Navy during World War II issued vast amounts of 4711 perfume to the submariners of the U-Boat fleet. As there were limited facilities and few opportunities for bathing the perfume would be used in an attempt to improve the odour aboard the vessel.  However the sailors typically didn't use much of the perfume and would take home bottles as presents for mothers, wives, or girlfriends.
I found that most interesting and never realised that 4711 Cologne was in fact at that time a German owned company.
Records show Napoleon used a bottle a day. The emperor is said to have had special boots in which he could stash a bottle of Farina cologne for dabbing on the go. Other regular customers of yester year, included Queen Victoria, Empress Maria Theresa, Mozart, Voltaire, Louis XV and XVI.
More recently Princess Diana and an alful lot of ladies from the late 1940's on wards .........

I have a  part filled bottle with rubber stopper from the mid 1950's which I treasure and takes pride of place on my dreessing table.

I still wear 4711 Cologne , it is now also done in a shower gel, so even us vintage gals can have the convince of shower.

Hope you have enjoyed my little piece of vintage related trivia.



  1. Wow, how unusual. I never knew cologne had a military connection! I love the round bottle- currently I use Woods Of Windsor but I may well try the original now!

  2. if you ever want to see the officers 4711 hip flasks issued also by same company. however the flask was made in france. I also have another french made 4711 from 1832 in the blog as well.
    I enjoyed your piece very much.