November 20th, 1940  finds the once showcase cruise ship being gutted again for another conversion into a “floating Barracks” with her crew cut down to only a few of her engine maintenance men and her captain. She was built as “Volksgemeinschaft” meaning only one class, one ship for one people. The MV Wilhelm Gustloff was a German ship which was sunk on 30 January 1945 by a Soviet submarine in the Baltic Sea while evacuating German civilians, officials and military personnel from Gdynia (Gotenhafen), occupied Poland, as the Red Army advanced. Once under way he opens his orders and finds he is to patrol along the coast of Memel and to “sink the fascists”. The second torpedo ("For Soviet people") hit just ahead of midships. Ahead of the advancing Red army refugees by the hundreds then by the thousands flooded the Gulf cities. The most prolific German author and historian on the subject of the Wilhelm Gustloff is Heinz Schön, one of the shipwreck's survivors, whose books (in German) include: Recent years have seen increased interest in the Wilhelm Gustloff disaster in countries outside of Germany, with various books either written in or translated into English, including: A film set for the German 2008 TV movie "Die Gustloff", Coordinates: 55°04′22″N 17°25′17″E / 55.0729°N 17.4213°E / 55.0729; 17.4213, This article does not contain any citations or references. World Wars Magazine is a completely free online war history magazine covering all majors wars from Revolutionary Wars, WW1, WW2, to the more recent Gulf Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also at port is the Wilhelm Gustloff, once the legendary cruise liner. Because the Wilhelm Gustloff had been fitted with anti-aircraft guns it was not marked as a hospital ship (unlike the Soviet hospital ship Armenia incident in 1941), no notification of it operating in a hospital capacity had been given and, as it was transporting combat troops, it did not have any protection as a hospital ship under international accords.[7]. This is where the Wilhelm Gustloff begins her last chapter… she was now designated a “Military Transport” by the Soviet military and therefore a target to be sunk on sight. She has been lying there silent since January 30. , 1939 she was requisitioned in to the Kriegsmarine… for the war effort a hospital ship for the Third Reich. One word of hope came through, an unexpected ray of hope that over two million refugees laid their life on. The ship had been hit by three Soviet torpedoes within an hour; the temperature outside was minus 18 degrees Celsius. During the summer of 1939, she was pressed into service to bring the Condor Legion back from Spain after the victory of the Nationalist forces under General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Also at port is the Wilhelm Gustloff, once the legendary cruise liner. The Wilhelm Gustloff was the first purpose-built cruise liner for the German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront, DAF) and used by subsidiary organisation Kraft durch Freude (KdF) (Strength Through Joy). [13] However, based on the latest estimates of passenger numbers and those known to be saved, the Wilhelm Gustloff remains the largest loss of life resulting from the sinking of one vessel in maritime history. The true number of those on board that day will never be known. By one estimate 9,400 people died, which would make it the largest loss of life in a single ship sinking in history. She has been lying there silent since January 30th, 1945 a rusting hulk forgotten by most. The solace offered by the Wilhelm Gustloff was enormous for the passengers who boarded the ship at Gotenhafen. For information about how to add references, see Template:Citation. Harbored in the Bay of Danzig are ships carrying military equipment, soldiers and civilians. | Owned by VeteranWebDesign LLC, At 55 degrees 07 minutes north, 17 degrees 41 minutes east lies the broken and dead body of a once proud and majestic ship. [citation needed], German forces were able to rescue some (a total of 1,252) of the survivors from the attack: torpedo boat T-36 rescued 564 people; torpedo boat Löwe, 472; Minesweeper M387, 98; Minesweeper M375, 43; Minesweeper M341, 37; the steamer Göttingen saved 28; torpedo-recovery boat (Torpedofangboot) TF19, seven; the freighter Gotland, two; and Patrol boat (Vorpostenboot) V1703 was able to save one baby. Her crew except for the Captain and several officers and of the black gang was released. Listen Now The sinking of Nazi ship the Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945 was the worst maritime disaster in history – but it is also an incident that most of us have never heard of, not least because it doesn’t really fit the conventional western narrative of World War Two. She no longer wears her hospital white with green stripe, but instead she is painted in navy camouflage since the Gustloff is now a legitimate military target. The majority of those who perished succumbed to exposure in the freezing water. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. Some facts related to the sinking of MV Wilhelm Gustloff. German soldiers wounded at Narvik being transported back to Germany on the Wilhelm Gustloff in July 1940. Join the History Discussion with 38,000+ followers on Facebook. It wasn’t. Thousands of people were trapped inside on the promenade deck. She immediately lost power and went dead in the water. Millions of Germans attempt to flee. The idea was the ship would provide recreation and cultural activities for German functionaries and workers. The word Hannibal also was an order for the German ships in Danzig harbor to take aboard as many refugees as they could and flee to safety, again west. The women on board the ship at the time of the sinking were inaccurately described by Soviet propaganda as "SS personnel from the German concentration camps". When he was informed by a mysterious radio message of an oncoming German minesweeper convoy, he decided to activate his ship's red and green navigation lights so as to avoid a collision in the dark, making the Wilhelm Gustloff easy to spot in the night. Note: there are various. Air temperature at time of loss: 0 F. (-17.7°C), Loss of Life: 9,343 – 9,400 dead {of these 9,400, circa 5,000-6,000 were children}. One word of hope came through, an unexpected ray of hope that over two million refugees laid their life on. [8], Less than 40 minutes after being struck, the Wilhelm Gustloff was lying on her side and sank bow-first, in 44 m (144 ft) of water. By one estimate 9,400 people died, which would make it the largest loss of life in a single ship sinking in history. Wilhelm Gustloff's final voyage was to evacuate German refugees and military personnel as well as technicians who worked at advanced weapon bases in the Baltic[4] from Gdynia, then known to the Germans as Gotenhafen, to Kiel. Once under way he opens his orders and finds he is to patrol along the coast of Memel and to “sink the fascists”. From first rate military hospital ship, the Kriegsmarine required the services of the Gustloff in a different way now. In the controversial. This single most important word orders his submariner’s west toward the allied lines for safety. This analysis considered the passenger density based on witness reports and a simulation of escape routes and survivability with the timeline of the sinking. Nach Beginn des Zweiten Weltkrieges am 1. She is to be used by the Second submarine training division to house about 1,000 sailors which will be her duty for the next four years. At about 9:12pm with the crew tense at battle stations Captain Marinesko checks and takes the final bearings of his target and gives the order “FIRE TUBES 1-2-3-4!” With the men of the forward torpedo room working desperately to disarm and unload a hot torpedo 3 great explosions are heard and felt one after another. Making her ready for passengers was not as difficult as was getting her engines ready for sea. !” Once there Marinesko sees for himself an enormous target and orders a shadowing course be set, tubes one through 4 to be loaded and the crew called to battle stations. }} Ahead of the advancing Red army refugees by the hundreds then by the thousands flooded the Gulf cities. Constructed as a cruise ship for the Nazi Strength Through Joy organisation in 1937, she had been requisitioned by the Kriegsmarine (German Navy) in 1939. [citation needed], In the panic that followed, many of the passengers were trampled in the rush to the lifeboats and life jackets. By October 1944 the Russian army began to fight its way west across the eastern front toward Germany. MV Wilhelm Gustloff was the first purpose-built ship for the German Labor Front. Not to mention would there be enough fuel of proper quality to take the ship and her precious cargo of humanity to freedom? This tragedy truly began about seven years earlier with her delivery on March 15, 1938. By October 1944 the Russian army began to fight its way west across the eastern front toward Germany. From first rate military hospital ship, the Kriegsmarine required the services of the Gustloff in a different way now. The Soviet army has surrounded East Prussia. Wilhelm Gustloff was assassinated by a Jewish medical student in 1936. Against the advice of the military commander, Lieutenant Commander Wilhelm Zahn (a submariner who argued for a course in shallow waters close to shore and without lights), the senior civilian captain—Friedrich Petersen—decided to head for deep water. While loading the tubes, the crew writes messages on the torpedos “For the motherland” “For Stalin” “For the Soviet people” and the “For Leningrad” all dedicated to their home land for a successful hunt. Its purposes were to provide recreational and cultural activities for German functionaries and workers, including concerts, cruises, and other holiday trips, and as a public relations tool, to present "a more acceptable image of the Third Reich. Operation Hannibal was the naval evacuation of German troops and civilians from Courland, East Prussia and the Polish Corridor as the Red Army advanced. [17], In 2006, a bell recovered from the wreck and subsequently used as decoration in a Polish fish restaurant was lent to a privately funded "Forced Paths" exhibition in Berlin.[18]. The Wilhelm Gustloff was constructed by the Blohm & Voss shipyards. The Soviet army has surrounded East Prussia. Christopher Dobson, John Miller, and Ronald Payne: John Ries: "History's Greatest Naval Disasters. It was terrible, but it was a result of war, a terrible result of war."[14]. But due to lack of enemy ships pickings were quite few and far in between. A model of the Wilhelm Gustloff at the Laboe Naval Memorial, Noted as "Obstacle No. Please improve this article by adding a reference. In the end, the only remaining escape route is the Baltic Sea. to house about 1,000 sailors which will be her duty for the next four years. She was to obtain minor repairs and replenishments and return to Oslo but her Captain received orders to proceed to Stettin and await further directives. From Gross Admiral Karl Donitz came a one word coded message… “Hannibal”. When in port last he remembers hearing reports of German shipping action in the Gulf of Danzig he then makes the decision without informing his command and heads his submarine toward Danzig with hopes of finding some fat targets. 73" on Polish navigation charts,[16] and classified as a war grave, Gustloff rests at 55°04′22″N 17°25′17″E / 55.0729°N 17.4213°E / 55.0729; 17.4213, about 30 km (16 nmi; 19 mi) offshore, east of Łeba (17.33E) and west of Władysławowo (18.24E). Now completely unaware the Wilhelm Gustloff and S-13 are headed on a rendezvous with destiny. The water temperature in the Baltic Sea at this time of year is usually around 4 °C (39 °F); however, this was a particularly cold night, with an air temperature of −18 to −10 °C (0 to 14 °F) and ice floes covering the surface. Das Motorschiff wurde vom Amt für Reisen, Wandern und Urlaub (RWU) der DAF-Unterorganisation NS-Gemeinschaft „Kraft durch Freude“ (KdF) für Kreuzfahrten eingesetzt. His degree of responsibility was never resolved, however, because of Nazi Germany's collapse in 1945. In this fascinating episode, he discusses the worst maritime disaster in history: the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945. )[5] The first torpedo (with sign onboard — "For Motherland") struck near the port bow. Heinz Schön's more recent research is backed up by estimates made by a different method. !” Once there Marinesko sees for himself an enormous target and orders a shadowing course be set, tubes one through 4 to be loaded and the crew called to battle stations. Men, women, children, soldiers and wounded were all in the fight for their life but for most, a losing fight. [citation needed], All four captains on the Gustloff survived its sinking, but an official naval inquiry was started only against Wilhelm Zahn. On September 1st, 1939 she was requisitioned in to the Kriegsmarine… for the war effort a hospital ship for the Third Reich. (Marinesko intended to fire four torpedoes but the fourth misfired and the crew had to disarm it. By January 1945 Danzig was crammed with hundreds of thousands of fleeing German men, women, children, retreating soldiers and high ranking German officials with their families trying to escape west. © 2020 All rights reserved​.
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