Wilhelm Gustloff

The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff was the greatest naval tragedy in history. Six times more people died than on the Titanic

On 30 January 1945, Wilhelm Gustloff was torpedoed by a Soviet submarine S-13 while ferrying refugees from East Prussia. Approximately 9,000 passengers and crew members lost their lives. This was the largest number of casualties from the sinking of a single ship in the history of seafaring.

The Wilhelm Gustloff (25,484 GRT) was built in 1937 as the most valuable Kraft durch Freude (KdF) ship.
Wilhelm Gustloff was named after the leader of the NSDAP in Switzerland, who was
assassinated in 1936. His name was chosen for the largest in-line ship
of the KdF fleet. It was christened in 1937 by the widow of
of the murdered man. Wilhelm Gustloff became the flagship of the KdF. From
it was initially used as an „entertainment tool“ for the working class,
just as the NSDAP imagined. On the Wilhelm Gustloff.
cruises, concerts and various other cultural activities. Two
for two years, the Wilhelm Gustloff sailed on Atlantic cruises,
Mediterranean and the coast of the USA. In May 1939, however, Wilhelm Gustloff began
…to other tasks. Together with the ships Robert Ley, Deutsche, Stuttgart, Sierra
Cordoba and Oceania, he took part in the transport of the Condor Legion from Spain to
Germany. Wilhelm Gustloff and the other ships arrived on 24 May
On May 26, 1939, they sailed to Vigam, where they unloaded medical supplies.
ships with members of the Condor Legion from Viggo and headed for Hamburg. Wilhelm
Gustloff had 1,405 passengers on board.

On 22 September 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Wilhelm Gustloff was assigned to the Kriegsmarine as a hospital ship – Lazaretschiff D. Hospital ships served in the German armed forces as in other countries according to strictly defined international rules. They were required to be painted all white and have a clearly visible red cross on them. It was also forbidden for a ship to have any offensive weapon on board. Wilhelm Gustloff’s first service as a hospital ship was in Danzig-Neufahrwasser at the end of the German-Polish War. The first 685 wounded were soldiers from the defeated Polish army. Wilhelm Gustloff then served in the Gulf of Danzig for several more weeks.

From May 1940 to July 1940, Wilhelm Gustloff worked in Oslo as a floating hospital for wounded from the German-Norwegian War. In July 1940, Wilhelm Gustloff headed for Germany with 563 wounded on board.

During August and September 1940, Wilhelm Gustloff prepared to be
to serve in the planned invasion of Great Britain, which was eventually
cancelled. On 20 October 1940, he sailed again to Oslo to take aboard 414
wounded and take them back to Germany. Shortly after this voyage, Wilhelm
Gustloff ended his service as a hospital ship and was transferred to the
Gotenhafen to serve as a Kriegsmarine submarine barracks ship.

From 22 September 1939 to 20 November 1940 Wilhelm Gustloff took on his
on board 3,151 wounded and sick and during four voyages carried 1,961
wounded back to Germany.

As a Wohnschiff (barracks ship), the Wilhelm Gustloff was under
control of the 1. Unterseeboots-Lehrdivision, and later 2.
The Wilhelm Gustloff docked at Gotenhafen more
for more than four years.

Wilhelm Gustloff was deployed once more. In January 1945 he was part of the largest evacuation in history to rescue millions of refugees, soldiers, sick, wounded and other refugees from the surging Red Army. Almost all seaworthy ships in the Baltic were deployed, including large ocean-going ships used as barracks and accommodation ships in Danzig, Pilava or Gdynia, such as Cap Arcona (27,561 gross tons), Robert Ley (27,288 gross tons), Hamburg (22,117 gross tons), Hansa (21 131 grt), Deutschland (21 046 grt), Potsdam (17 528 grt), Pretoria (16 662 grt), Berlin (15 286 grt), General Steuben (14 660 grt), Monte Rosa (13 882 grt), Antonio Delfino (13 589 grt), Winrich von Kniprode (10 123 grt), Ubena (9 554 grt) and Goya (5 230 grt).

When Wilhelm Gustloff left Gdynia on 30 January 1945, the weather was very bad. The wind was force 7, it was snowing and the temperature was -10°C. Under such conditions, survival in the water was almost impossible. Wilhelm Gustloff had several anti-aircraft guns on board and sailed accompanied by the torpedo boat Löwe. Against the submarine, the Wilhelm Gustloff was completely defenceless.

According to the ship’s records, the passenger list numbered 918 sailors and officers, 173 crew members, 373 members of the Women’s Naval Auxiliary, 162 wounded, and 4,424 refugees, for a total of 6,050 people on board. This is the official list of people on board, but in fact new research has shown that there were not 6,050 people on board, but 10,582. According to the research, there were 918 officers and sailors of the 2nd Unterseeboot-Lehrdivision, 373 members of the Women’s Naval Auxiliary, 173 crew members, 162 seriously wounded soldiers, and 8,956 refugees, for a total of 10,582 people on board on the critical day of sailing, 30 January 1945.

At 21:08 on 30 January 1945, the Soviet submarine S-13 of Commander Alexander
Marinesek struck near Stolp Shoal with three Wilhelm torpedoes
Gustloff. The latter immediately banked to starboard, then back and again to
starboard. The captain immediately fired life flares and sent out an SOS.
According to the eyewitness account of Karl Hoffman, one torpedo hit the ship
at the stern just below the helm, well below the waterline. The second torpedo
hit the ship in the area where the swimming pool was located. The third torpedo
hit the ship amidships in the forward engine room area and destroyed the machinery.

Soon after the attack, the forward superstructure was under water and the stern was beginning to rise above the waterline. Fifty minutes later, the Wilhelm Gustloff disappeared beneath the surface, and with 9,343 men, women and children. Thanks to the brave work of the German ships in the area.…1,239 people were rescued. A T-36 torpedo boat rescued 564 people,
the torpedo boat Löwe saved 472 people, the minelayer M-387 saved 98 people,
M-375 minelayer saved 43 people, M-341 minelayer saved 37 people,
the steamer Gottingen saved 28 people, the torpedo boat TF-19 saved 7 people,
the freighter Gotland rescued 2 people and the guard boat 1 703 rescued
a one-year-old child.

The Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy was the greatest tragedy in naval history. But it was not the last during the evacuation. More than six times more people died on the Wilhelm Gustloff than in the largest maritime disaster up to that time – the sinking of the Titanic.
*** Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version) ***


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