On the afternoon of May 2 and the morning of May 3, two pieces of intelligence were handed to British commanders. The first was handed to the liberating forces of Lübeck, the 11th Armoured Division, by an International Committee Red Cross delegate (ICRC). The second was presented to British forces by a Swedish Red Cross (SRC) delegate.
Both informed the British that camp prisoners were being held aboard ships in Neustadt Bay. But the warning arrived too late.
As the German Reich contracted, British forces remained heavily engaged in an important battle to reach their objective on Germany’s north coast. But while the German retreat was often marked by disorder, Britain’s military campaign also became frantic and chaotic, particularly in the final weeks. A breakdown of efficient communication and intelligence sharing meant that frontline forces were often ill-prepared for the actual situation ahead of them.
In this case, the latest intelligence on the ships in Neustadt Bay never reached the pilots who attacked them. So as they made their final descent, the airmen likely believed they were attacking bona fide hostile targets.
Ultimately, the fate of the Cap Arcona and its passengers was a tragic consequence of the fog of war.