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Naufrage du WILHELM GUSTLOFF le 30 janvier 1945

Summary : The MV Wilhelm Gustloff was a German KdF flagship during 1937–1945, constructed by the Blohm & Voss shipyards. It sank after being torpedoed by the Soviet submarine S-13 on 30 January 1945. The Wilhelm Gustloff′s final voyage was during Operation Hannibal in January 1945, when it was sunk while participating in the evacuation of civilians, military personnel, and Nazi officials who were surrounded by the Red Army in East Prussia. The Gustloff was hit by three torpedoes from the S-13 in the Baltic Sea under the command of Alexander Marinesko on the night of 30 January 1945 and sank in less than 45 minutes. An estimated 9,400 people were killed in the sinking, possibly the largest known loss of life occurring during a single ship sinking in recorded maritime history.


Vessel & Interveners 


1 - IMO NUMBER N/A. Yard number : 511 (Blöhm & Voss) 2- NAME OF SHIP WILHEM JUSTLOFF
3 - Call Sign DJVZ 4 - MMSI N/A
5 - Tonnage Brut

25 484 (GRT)

7 - DWT
8 - Type de navire Passenger Ship 9 - Status of Ship Sunken
9 - Flag Germany 9- Year of build 1937
10 - Propriétaire déclaré German State (Kraft durch Freude) 10-1 Address


11 - Ship Manager

11-1 Address



12 - ISM Manager





13 - Classification Society

14 - P&I


15 - Hull Insurers


16 - Salvors




Location of the casualty






Story (Wikipédia)


The Wilhelm Gustloff was constructed by the Blohm & Voss shipyards. Measuring 208.50 m (684 ft 1 in) long by 23.59 m (77 ft 5 in) wide with a capacity of 25,484 gross register tons, she was launched on 5 May 1937.

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). 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." She was the flagship of the KdF cruise fleet, last civilian role, until the spring of 1939. From then on, she served the needs of the German military.

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.

From September 1939 to November 1940, she served as a hospital ship, with her official designation being Lazarettschiff D.

Beginning on 20 November 1940, the medical equipment was removed from the ship and it was repainted from the hospital ship colors of white with a green stripe to standard naval grey. As a consequence of the British blockade of the German coastline, she was used as an accommodations ship (barracks) for approximately 1,000 U-boat trainees of the 2nd Submarine Training Division (2. Unterseeboot-Lehrdivision) in the Polish port of (Gdynia) which was occupied by Nazis and renamed to Gotenhafen, located near Gdańsk] The Wilhelm Gustloff sat dockside for over four years, until she was put back in service to transport civilians and military personnel as part of Operation Hannibal.

The ship's final voyage was to evacuate German refugees and military personnel as well as technicians who worked at advanced weapon bases in Baltic from Gdynia, then known to the Germans as Gotenhafen, to Kiel.

The ship's complement and passenger lists cited 6,050 people on board, but this did not include many civilians who boarded the ship without being recorded in the ship's official embarkation records. Heinz Schön, who carried out extensive research into the sinking during the 1980s and 1990s, concluded that the Wilhelm Gustloff was carrying a crew of 173 (naval armed forces auxiliaries), 918 officers, NCOs, and men of the 2. Unterseeboot-Lehrdivision, 373 female naval auxiliary helpers, 162 wounded soldiers, and 8,956 civilians, among them an estimated 4,000 children, for a total of 10,582 passengers and crew.

The ship left Gotenhafen early on 30 January 1945, accompanied by the passenger liner Hansa, also filled with civilians and military personnel, and two torpedo boats. The Hansa and one torpedo boat developed mechanical problems and could not continue, leaving the Wilhelm Gustloff with one torpedo boat escort, the Löwe. The ship had four captains (three civilian and one military) on board, and they could not agree on the best course of action to guard against submarine attacks. 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. 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. The source or authenticity of this radio message was never confirmed and there was no oncoming German minesweeper convoy as it later turned out.

Because the Wilhelm Gustloff had been fitted with anti-aircraft guns it was not marked as a hospital ship, 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.

The ship was soon sighted by the Soviet submarine S-13, under the command of Captain Alexander Marinesko, which launched three torpedoes at the Wilhelm Gustloff′s port side about 30 km (16 nmi; 19 mi) offshore between Władysławowo and Łeba soon after 21:00 (CET), hitting it with all three. (Marinesko intended to fire four torpedoes but the fourth misfired and the crew had to disarm it.) The first torpedo (with sign onboard — "For Motherland") struck near the port bow. The second torpedo ("For Soviet people") hit just ahead of midships. The third torpedo ("For Leningrad") struck the engine room in the area below the ship's funnel, cutting off electrical power to the ship. The Gustloff took a light list to port and settled rapidly by the head. The fourth torpedo (disarmed) was named "For Stalin".

In the panic that followed, many of the passengers were trampled in the rush to the lifeboats and life jackets. Some equipment was lost as a result of the panic. 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. Many deaths were caused either directly by the torpedoes or by drowning in the onrushing water. Others were crushed in the initial panic on the stairs and decks, and many jumped into the icy Baltic. But the majority of those who perished succumbed to exposure in the freezing water.

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. Thousands of people were trapped inside on the promenade deck.

German forces were able to rescue some 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.

All four captains on the Gustloff survived its sinking, but an official naval inquiry was started only against Wilhelm Zahn. His degree of responsibility was never resolved, however, because of Nazi Germany's collapse in 1945.[9]

The figures from the research of Heinz Schön make the total lost in the sinking to be about 9,343 men, women, and children. This would make it the largest loss of life in a single sinking in maritime history.

In an article in the popular magazine Sea Classics, Irwin Kappes mentions that "there were over 6,000 passengers on board." He also states that the escort ship Löwe was alongside within 15 minutes, taking off as many survivors as she could carry, and that when Captain Henigst of the cruiser Admiral Hipper, herself carrying 1,500 evacuees, received reports from her lookouts that she was under torpedo attack, he chose not to stop to pick up survivors. Kappes gives a precise total of those lost in the sinking as 5,348. The source of this information was the German book Die Gustloff Katastrophe written by Heinz Schön, who later revised his original numbers.

Heinz Schön's more recent research is backed up by estimates made by a different method. The Discovery Channel program Unsolved History undertook a computer analysis of the sinking, using software called maritime EXODUS, which estimated 9,400 dead of over 10,600 on board. This analysis considered the passenger density based on witness reports and a simulation of escape routes and survivability with the timeline of the sinking.

Many ships carrying civilians were sunk during the war by both the Allies and Axis.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. Günter Grass, in an interview published in The New York Times on Tuesday 8 April 2003 said, "One of the many reasons I wrote Crabwalk was to take the subject away from the extreme Right...They said the tragedy of the Gustloff was a war crime. It wasn't. It was terrible, but it was a result of war, a terrible result of war."

About 1,000 German naval officers and men, were aboard and died in the sinking of the Gustloff. 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".There were however a number of female naval auxiliaries among the passengers.

Noted as "Obstacle No. 73" on Polish navigation charts, and classified as a war grave, Gustloff rests at 55°04′22″N 17°25′17″E, about 30 km (16 nmi; 19 mi) offshore, east of Łeba (17.33E) and west of Władysławowo (18.24E). It is one of the largest shipwrecks on the Baltic Sea floor. In order to protect the property on board the war grave-wreck of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff and to protect the environment the Polish Maritime Office in Gdynia has forbidden diving within a 500 m (1,600 ft) radius of the wreck.

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.



1 - Hull & Machinery

25 M Reichmarks (building cost)

2 - Cargo USD 
3 - Salvage USD 0 4 - Costs




Liabilty Limits


1- LLMC 1976 DTS XX 2 -LLMC 1996 DTS XX

3 -CLC PROT 1992

5 - PAL 1974 DTS XXX 6 - PAL PROT 2000 DTS XXX


Cause of the casualty


 Russian Torpedoes. Act of War or War Crime ?. Still difficult to say, even 65 years after.


Sources - Links - Reports


 Wilhelm Gustloff Museum (personal website)

 Article Revue Herodote

 Wikipédia (English)

 Wilhelm Gustloff website

 Wilhem Gustloff website




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