lest we forget
The Worst Sea Disaster of All Time
Everyone has heard of the Titanic, in which 1,513 souls went down to a watery grave in the north Atlantic in 1912.
Most have heard about the Lusitania, the converted World War I passenger liner carrying munitions for Allied cause, which was hit and sunk by an enemy submarine in 1915, with the loss of 1,198 lives.
Others have heard of the sinkings of the Empress of Ireland (1,100 dead), the Athenia (112), and the Andrea Doria (51).
But how many have ever heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff,* a hospital ship carrying wounded German soldiers and refugees in the closing days of World War II, which was torpedoed and sunk without warning on January 30, 1945, by a submarine in the service of America's Communist ally, the Soviet Union?
In that disaster, over 9,000** persons lost their lives,over six (6) times as many as perished aboard the Titanic! Indeed, more lives were lost on this one single ship than on the Titanic, the Lusitania, the Athenia, the Andrea Doria and the Empress of Ireland combined (less than 4,000).
The Gustloff was not the only vessel, however, to earn the dubious distinction of being a worse-than-the-Titanic sea disaster. Second and third place go to two other German hospital ships, the Goya and the General Steuben, respectively.
A companion ship to the Wilhelm Gustloff, the Goya, with fewer passengers on board — "a mere" 6,000 to 7,000! — was sunk by still another Soviet sub on April 16, 1945.
On February 10, 1945, the other vessel, the Steuben — named after the German general who helped America gain its independence — was attacked by the same submarine which earlier sank the Gustloff, with the loss of nearly 5,000 women, children and wounded men.
In total, up to 20,000 perished in these never-punished war crimes.
But some of those who committed these horrendous atrocities were later awarded medals by the victorious Allies of World War II — the same gallant Allies who were to sit in judgment of National Socialist soldiers and leaders at Nuremberg!
* The Wilhelm Gustloff was launched as a cruise ship for German workers and their families under the Kraft durch Freude ("Strength Through Joy") program in 1937. Named for the famous Swiss National Socialist hero and martyr, it was converted to use as a hospital ship during the Second World War.
** Reconstructed computer models, factoring in every conceivable detail, have placed the number of those who perished at over 9,600. One analysis suggested the number ran to 10,613!
The Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff: The Deadliest Sea Disaster This 44-minute documentary tells the little-known story of how this German vessel, packed with women and children refugees, was sunk by a Soviet submarine on Jan. 30, 1945. Reliable estimates put the number of victims at over 9,000, making it a disaster much greater than the Titanic and Lusitania sinkings combined.
(WARNING: This otherwise excellent account is marred by some de rigueur anti-NS bias and a weak attempt to excuse Communist atrocities by suggesting a moral equivalence between this war crime and fictional German "brutality.")
On April 3, 1938, a furious spring storm caused the 1,826-ton English cargo ship Pegaway to founder 20 miles off the Dutch island of Terschelling. Responding to its plight, the Wilhelm Gustloff — sailing nearby under the command of Captain Karl Lübbe — abandoned its scheduled course and headed straight for the stricken vessel, which was heavily damaged in the storm, where the German liner rescued the 19 crew members of the Pegaway. England showed its appreciation by later making common cause with the bloody Bolshevik regime which was to sink the very ship that had earlier rescued Britannia's men!