KdF Ship Wilhelm Gustloff

From Academic Kids

The Wilhelm Gustloff was a ship built by Blohm + Voss and named after the assassinated leader of the Nazi party in Switzerland, Wilhelm Gustloff. It was launched on May 5, 1937, and was sunk on January 30, 1945. The sinking remains the worst disaster in shipping history, in terms of loss of life in a single vessel.



Its original purpose was to target the low-cost cruise market. The German KdF organization provided cultural activities to German workers, including concerts, cruises and other holidays. The Wilhelm Gustloff was the flagship of the KdF cruise fleet until 1939.

From September, 1939 to November, 1940, it served as a hospital ship. During the majority of the Second World War, Wilhelm Gustloff was used primarily as a barracks ship for U-boat trainees.


The ship's final voyage was an evacuation of civilians and wounded German soldiers and sailors from Gotenhafen (also known as Gdynia) to Kiel.

The ship left Gdynia early on January 30, 1945. That evening, escorted by only a small minesweeper, Wilhelm Gustloff was attacked by the Soviet submarine S-13. Thirty (30) kilometres off shore and somewhere between Wladyslawowo and Leba it was torpedoed, taking three direct hits soon after 9.00 p.m. It sank over an hour later and plunged to a depth of 45 meters (150 feet).

An eyewitness account claimed that 400 members of the Women's Auxiliary of the German Navy, died almost instantly after the second torpedo hit almost directly under the empty swimming pool in which they were sitting. The mass panic that followed the torpedo hits resulted in an increased loss of life, as many of the refugees ignored orders in the rapidly sinking ship, to allow women and children to disembark first, and many were trampled in a rush for access to the lifeboats and life jackets available. Some equipment was lost as a further result of the panic. The Gustloff slipped below the surface at approximately the 70 minute mark. Water temperature in the Baltic at this time of year is usually around 4 degrees Celsius; however, this was a particularly cold day with air temperature of minus 10 to minus 18 degrees, with ice floes covering the surface.

The ship was built for fewer than 2,000 passengers. However because of its original recreational purpose it actually had capacity to board much more. Unfortunately it was carrying less than 50% of the rescue equipment necessary for the significantly increased number of passengers.

It is estimated that of the approximately 5,000 to 7,000 refugees and over 1,000 soldiers and sailors on board at the time, only 1,239 passengers survived (other sources: 966 survivors), saved by German vessels in the vicinity. According to the ship's own records, the official total was 6,050 people. However taking into an account those who sneaked on board the ship unaccounted, the death toll was almost certainly much higher. Today one may find reports of 9,000, 10,000 and more. Of course, these numbers are only estimates made by different methods. For example, the Discovery Channel program "Unsolved History" has undertaken an extensive computer analysis of the sinking of the Gustloff, which in particular supported an estimate of 9,400 dead (among over 10,600 on board). The analysis considered: load density based on eye-witness reports and simulation of escape routes and survivability in conjunction with the timeline of sinking.

There were many other refugees transport ships sunk by the Soviets and the British (like the Cap Arcona). However the Gustloff remains the worst disaster in shipping history, in terms of loss of life in a single vessel.

55.07N, 17.41E is the resting place of Gustloff. This is 30 km off shore, east of Leba (17.33E) and west of Wladyslawowo (18.24E). It has been designated as a war memorial site (off-limits to salvage crews). On Polish navigation charts it is noted as "Obstacle No. 73".


The novel Im Krebsgang (2002) (English translation: Crabwalk), by Danzig-born German author Gnter Grass, is based on the story of the disaster.

See also

External links

de:Wilhelm Gustloff (Schiff) fr:Wilhelm Gustloff ja:ヴィルヘルム・グストロフ号 nl:Wilhelm Gustloff pl:Wilhelm Gustloff


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