30 Jan 1945


The worst sea disaster in history, occurred on this date, 30 Jan 1945…. This defenceless German hospital ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, overflowing with refugees fleeing the Red Army, was torpedoed, in the Baltic Sea, by a Soviet Russian submarine, 30 Jan 1945….. Fleeing from the brutal Soviet Red Army onslaught, the Wilhelm Gustloff civilian hospital ship is ready to leave port jammed with over 10,000 German refugees, naval personnel and wounded. The vessel is designed to hold a maximum of 1,880 passengers and crew. Of the refugees, a staggering four thousand are infants, children and youths on their way to promising safety in the West. Minus 18° Celsius (0° Fahrenheit) weather grips the Oxhöft Pier in Gotenhafen (Gdynia) on Tuesday the 30th day of January 1945.
Soviet submarine captain Alexander Marinesko slips into the Gulf of Danzig… Sometime before 8PM , the first officer on the S-13 spots lights in the distance. Marinesko promptly makes his way to the conning tower. When the snow clears for a moment he spots in his words “the silhouette of an [enormous] ocean liner, even [with its] lights showing”. Marinesko, around 9PM, gives the command to fire all four of the torpedoes of the S-13’s tubes.
At 9:16PM , the first torpedo strikes the front of the ship, blowing a gaping hole in the port bow. Moments later, the second hits further astern where the swimming pool is located. Finally, the third scores a direct hit in the engine room below the funnel. Passengers and crew are thrown off their feet with the thunderous booms. Those near direct points of impact are practically vapourised… People slide off the icy decks and into the freezing water. The ship lists more and more with each passing minute. Lifeboats are frozen to their davits. People claw and smash at them with bare hands trying to free them. Seventy minutes after the first torpedo has struck the Gustloff plunges to the depths, below the surface of the icy Baltic, taking thousands of trapped souls with it. All of its lights come on in a final blaze of farewell. Wailing sirens drown with the ship as it descends into the depths.
The Löwe, first on the scene, continues to pluck survivors (in total 472) out of lifeboats and the water using nets. It is no easy task – waves can be metres high. Another torpedo boat T-36 arrives just in time to see the liner go under. It gets to work rescuing survivors (total of 564). Three minesweepers eventually arrive to assist in a desperate race against time and the cold waters of the Baltic, saving a total of 179 survivors between them. By the time freighters Göttingen and Gotenland and other smaller boats arrive to assist, they are plucking mostly frozen lifeless bodies from the water.
In any tragedy however, miracles can happen. Seven hours after the ship went down, a small patrol boat VP-1703 arrives to a sea of floating bodies. Its onboard searchlight finds a lifeboat. When Petty Officer Werner Fick jumps in to inspect it, he discovers an infant wrapped tightly in a wool blanket – astonishingly alive among the frozen corpses. This is the last official survivor of the Wilhelm Gustloff.
The total number of survivors rescued number approximately 1,230. Over 9,000 go to their deaths – trapped at the bottom of the Baltic or floating frozen on its icy surface.
The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff was a war crime & the worst loss of life at sea ever…. dwarfting even the Titanic’s loss of life…

Published in: on January 30, 2018 at 8:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

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