The Greatest Maritime Disaster Of All Time Was Not The Titanic

…When the German ship, Wilhelm Gustloff, went down, on the other hand, with the loss of more than 6,000 lives, the controlled media adopted the deliberate policy that it was a non-event, not to be commented on or even reported. The Wilhelm Gustloff, like the Titanic, was a big passenger liner and was reasonably new and luxurious…


Don’t expect to ever see a Hollywood movie about this maritime war crime!

JANUARY 30, 1945



Artist’s rendition of the Wilhelm Gustloff sinking. 10,000 souls lost at sea!
By January of 1945, Germany’s days are numbered. General Patton wants to take Berlin but Allied Commander Eisenhower won’t allow it. Eisenhower’s deliberate delaying tactics in the Western front allow Stalin’s raping and murdering Soviet hordes to push eastward into Germany.

As the Red Army and the cruel Jewish NKVD units advance, millions of terrified German civilians flee westward by land and sea. On land, the refugees face cruel bombardment and aerial strafing from American, British and Soviet jets. The sea based refugees face a different kind of threat.

The luxury liner MV Wilhelm Gustloff  is packed shoulder-to-shoulder with an estimated 10,000 -12,000 people 10 times as many as the Titanic!   Soon after leaving its Baltic Sea port, the doomed ship is sighted by Soviet Submarine commander Alexander Marinesko. After tracking his human prey for several hours, the Soviet killer fires three torpedoes into the ship’s port side. In the panic that follows, many passengers are trampled to death as they flee to the decks.

The Wilhelm Gustloff sinks in just 45 minutes. German ships arrive quickly and pluck about 1000 survivors from the frigid waters. The freezing water claims the lives of all the rest. It is the greatest disaster at sea in world history, and not 1 in 1,000 people has ever heard about it!


The Luxury Liner “Wilhelm Gustloff” before the war.



The preceding text is an abridged version of the American Dissident Voices broadcast of February 14, 1998.

The Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff

by Dr. William Pierce

What’s said to be the most expensive motion picture ever made was released a few weeks ago and has been earning record money at the box office. The film, of course, is “Titanic” and it’s about the sinking of the ocean liner RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912, with the loss of 1,513 lives, after the ship struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic. There are many superlatives in the film. The Titanic was the largest ship ever built at the time. It also was the most luxurious ship, intended to provide high-speed trans-Atlantic transportation in comfort for the rich and pampered. The implication of the film is that the sinking of the Titanic was the greatest maritime disaster of all time. I’m sure that the great majority of the American public believes that to be the case, but it isn’t. Everyone has heard about the sinking of the Titanic, and very few have heard about the sinking of the S.S. Wilhelm Gustloff, which was the greatest maritime disaster in all human history.

Wilhelm Gustloff

It is easy to understand why everyone has heard about the Titanic: it was a very big, very expensive ship, claimed to be virtually “unsinkable,” which went down on its maiden voyage with a record number of celebrities and tycoons aboard. The irony of the sinking helped generate public interest and an enormous media coverage. When the Wilhelm Gustloff went down, on the other hand, with the loss of more than 6,000 lives, the controlled media adopted the deliberate policy that it was a non-event, not to be commented on or even reported. The Wilhelm Gustloff, like the Titanic, was a big passenger liner and was reasonably new and luxurious. But it was a German passenger liner. It was sunk in the Baltic Sea on the night of January 30, 1945, by a Soviet submarine. It was packed with nearly 8,000 Germans, most of them women and children escaping from the advancing Soviet Army.

German Refugees of the East

Many of these German refugees lived in East Prussia, a part of Germany that the Communist and democratic Allies had agreed would be taken from Germany and given to the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. Others lived in Danzig and the surrounding area, which the democrats and Communists had decided would be taken from Germany and given to Poland. All of these refugees were fleeing in terror from the Reds, who already had demonstrated in East Prussia what was in store for any German unfortunate enough to fall into their hands.


As Soviet military units overtook columns of German civilian refugees fleeing to the west, they behaved in a way which has not been seen in Europe since the Mongol invasions of the Middle Ages. Often the men, most of them farmers or Germans who had been engaged in other essential occupations and thus exempted from military service, were simply murdered on the spot. The women were, almost without exception, gang-raped. This was the fate of girls as young as eight years old and old women in their eighties, as well as women in the advanced stages of pregnancy. Women who resisted rape had their throats cut or were shot. Very often women were murdered after being gang-raped. Many women and girls were raped so often and so brutally that they died from this abuse alone.

Sometimes Soviet tank columns simply rolled right over the fleeing refugees, grinding them into the mud with their tank treads. When Soviet Army units occupied East Prussian villages, they engaged in orgies of torture, rape, and murder so bestial that they cannot be described fully on this program. Sometimes they castrated the men and boys before killing them. Sometimes they gouged their eyes out. Sometimes they burned them alive. Some women after being gang-raped were crucified by being nailed to barn doors while still alive and then used for target practice.

This atrocious behavior on the part of the Communist troops was due in part to the nature of the Communist system, which had succeeded in overthrowing Russian society and the Russian government in the first place by organizing the scum of Russian society — the losers and ne’er-do-wells, the criminals, the resentful and the envious — under the Jews and setting them against the successful, the accomplished, the refined, and the prosperous, promising the rabble that if they pulled down their betters then they could take the place of the latter: the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

It was the members of this rabble, this scum of Russian society, who became the bosses of local soviets and collectives and workers’ councils — when the positions had not already been taken by Jews. The Soviet soldiers of 1945 had grown up under this system of rule by the worst; for 25 years they had lived under commissars chosen from the dregs of Russian society. Any tendency toward nobility or gentility had been weeded out ruthlessly. Stalin had ordered the butchering of 35,000 Red Army officers, half of the old Russian officers’ corps, in 1937, just two years before the war, because he did not trust gentlemen. The officers who replaced those shot in the 1937 purge were not much more civilized in their behavior than the commissars.

An even more specific and immediate cause of the atrocities committed against the German population of East Prussia was the Soviet hate propaganda which deliberately incited the Soviet troops to rape and murder — even to murder German infants. The chief of the Soviet propaganda commissars was a hate-filled Jew named Ilya Ehrenburg. One of his directives to the Soviet troops read:

Kill! Kill! In the German race there is nothing but evil; not one among the living, not one among the yet unborn but is evil! Follow the precepts of Comrade Stalin. Stamp out the fascist beast once and for all in its lair! Use force and break the racial pride of these Germanic women. Take them as your lawful booty. Kill! As you storm
onward, kill, you gallant soldiers of the Red Army.

Not every Russian soldier was a butcher or a rapist, of course: just most of them. A few of them still had a sense of morality and decency which even Jewish Communism had not destroyed. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was one of these. He was a young captain in the Red Army when it entered East Prussia in January 1945. He wrote later in his “Gulag Archipelago”: “All of us knew very well that if the girls were German they could be raped and then shot. This was almost a combat distinction.”

In one of his poems, “Prussian Nights”, he describes a scene he witnessed in a house in the East Prussian town of Neidenburg:

Twenty-two Hoeringstrasse.
It’s not been burned, just looted, rifled.
A moaning by the walls, half muffled:
The mother’s wounded, half alive.
The little daughter’s on the mattress,
Dead. How many have been on it?
A platoon? A company perhaps?
A girl’s been turned into a woman,
A woman turned into a corpse …
The mother begs, ‘Soldier, kill me!’

And so, German civilians were fleeing in terror from East Prussia, and for many of them the only route of escape was across the icy Baltic Sea. They packed the port of Gotenhafen, near Danzig, hoping to find passage to the west. Hitler ordered all available civilian ships into the rescue effort. The Wilhelm Gustloff was one of these. A 25,000-ton passenger liner, it had been used before the war by the “Strength through Joy” organization to take German workers on low-cost vacation excursions. On January 30, 1945, when it steamed out of Gotenhafen, it carried a crew of just under 1,100 officers and men, 73 critically wounded soldiers, 373 young women of the Women’s Naval Auxiliary, equivalent to our WAVES, and more than 6,000 desperate refugees, most of them women and children.

Soviet submarines and aircraft were a constant menace to this rescue effort. They regarded the refugee ships in the light of Ehrenburg’s genocidal propaganda: the more Germans they could kill the better, and it didn’t make any difference to them whether their victims were soldiers or women and children. At just after 9:00 PM, when the Wilhelm Gustloff was 13 miles off the coast of Pomerania, three torpedoes from the Soviet submarine S-13, under the command of Captain A.I. Marinesko, struck the ship. Ninety minutes later it sank beneath the icy waves of the Baltic. Although a heroic effort to pick up survivors was made by other German ships, barely 1,100 were saved. The rest, more than 7,000 Germans, died in the frigid water that night.

A few days later, on February 10, 1945, the same Soviet submarine sank the German hospital ship, the General von Steuben, and 3,500 wounded soldiers aboard the ship, who were being evacuated from East Prussia, drowned. To the Soviets, inflamed by Jewish hate propaganda, the sign of the Red Cross meant nothing. On May 6, 1945, the German freighter Goya, also part of the rescue fleet, was torpedoed by another Soviet submarine, and more than 6,000 refugees fleeing from East Prussia died.

The lack of knowledge in the United States about any of these terrible maritime disasters of 1945 is profound, even among people who consider themselves knowledgeable on naval matters. [Admin: Of course they knew about it. They worked with the Russian Communist Jews!!!] And this ignorance stems from the deliberate policy of the controlled media, a policy which has relegated these disasters to the category of non-events. The reason for this media policy originally was the same reason which led the Jewish media bosses to blame the slaughter of 15,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in the Katyn woods in 1940 on the Germans. They knew that the Soviets had done it, as part of their effort to “proletarianize” Poland and make the Poles more amenable to Communist rule, but they didn’t want to tarnish the image of our “gallant Soviet ally,” as the Reds were called by the controlled U.S. media during the war. They wanted Americans to think that the Germans were the bad guys and the Soviets were the good guys, so they simply lied about the Katyn massacre.

Likewise, even in the last months of the war, they didn’t want Americans alerted to the fact that our “gallant Soviet ally” was butchering and raping the civilian population of East Prussia and deliberately sinking the civilian refugee ships which were helping the East Prussians escape across the Baltic Sea. That might damage America’s enthusiasm for continuing the destruction of Germany with the help of our “gallant Soviet ally.” So the controlled media simply didn’t report these things.

After the triumph of the democratic and Communist Allies and the unconditional surrender of Germany this reason no longer was valid, of course. But by then another motive had taken its place. The Jews were beginning to build their “Holocaust” story and were demanding sympathy from the world — and reparations money from anyone they could get it from. As they began wailing about the supposed extermination of six million of their kinsmen in “gas ovens” by the “wicked” Germans and portraying themselves as the innocent and inoffensive victims of the greatest crime in history, they didn’t want any facts getting in the way — and they certainly didn’t want Americans to see both sides of the conflict; they didn’t want the Germans seen as victims too. All Germans were evil, just like Comrade Ehrenburg had said; all Jews were good; and that was it. The Jews suffered, and the Germans didn’t, and so now the world owed the Jews a living for not stopping the “Holocaust.”

It really wouldn’t help their “Holocaust” propaganda at all to have the American public learn about what had happened in East Prussia or in the Baltic Sea — or to learn that our “gallant Soviet ally” had deliberately murdered the leadership stratum of the Polish nation in the Katyn woods, and that some of the murderers involved in that horrendous act were Jews. And so there has been a conspiracy of silence in America on the part of the Jewish media bosses.

That’s why Hollywood was willing to spend $200 million producing the film Titanic but would never consider any film dealing with the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. It’s not that such a film couldn’t make money — I think that a film about East Prussia and the Wilhelm Gustloff could be a real blockbuster — it’s that there must be no sympathy for the Germans. There must be no rethinking of America’s reasons for waging war against Germany, no questioning of whether or not we did the right thing in allying ourselves with Communism on behalf of the Jews. And beside these considerations, the truth simply doesn’t count — at least, not to the Jews who control our mass media.

This bit of history — America’s motivations for engaging in the war in Europe, which really was something altogether separate from the war in the Pacific, despite the alliance between Germany and Japan — this bit of history always has fascinated me. And one of the interesting aspects about it is the unwillingness of so many Americans to examine it. I understand the sentiments of the Clintonista elements. To the kind of people who voted for Clinton, the Soviets were the good guys and the Germans were the bad guys on ideological grounds. Gang-rape, mass murder, and the sinking of refugee ships are not really crimes in the eyes of the Bill-and-Hillary types when they’re done by Communists against “Nazis.”

But there also were a lot of decent Americans who fought in the war in Europe, anti-Communist Americans, and many of them don’t want to think about the fact that they fought on the wrong side. These American Legion and VFW types don’t want to hear about who really killed all of those Polish intellectuals and leaders in the Katyn woods. They don’t want to know what happened in East Prussia in 1945. They hate it when I ask them, why did we fight Germany in the name of freedom and then turn half of Europe over to Communist slavery at the end of the war?

I was far too young for military service in the Second World War, but I am sure that if I had fought in that war, I’d be even more interested in understanding what was behind it. I believe that knowing the truth about these things is far more important than protecting our carefully nurtured belief that we were on the side of righteousness. I believe that understanding how we were deceived in the past is necessary, if we are to avoid being deceived in the future.



History’s Greatest Naval Disasters

The Little-Known Story of the “Wilhelm Gustloff,” the “General Steuben” and the “Goya”

By John M. Ries

Published: 1992-10-01

This document is part of a periodical (Journal of Historical Review).

For many people, the image of a great maritime disaster calls to mind the well-known sinking of the Titanic, which went down in April 1912 after striking an iceberg, taking the lives of 1,503 men, women and children. Others may think of the Lusitania, which sank on May 7, 1915, after being hit by a German submarine torpedo, taking 1,198 lives.[1]

Less well known is the fate of the American packet steamer Sultana, which suddenly exploded and sank in the Mississippi River near Memphis on April 27, 1865. Estimates of the loss of life range from 1,450 to 2,200. Almost all of the victims were exchanged federal prisoners of war on their way home from Confederate camps. A recent article in The Washington Times called the Sultana sinking “the most staggering and appalling marine disaster in history.”[2]

But the scale of even the Sultana disaster is dwarfed by the little-known sinkings of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the General Steuben and the Goya – converted German liners crowded with refugees and wounded soldiers that were sunk by Soviet submarines during the final months of the Second World War. In each case, more lives were lost than in the sinkings of either the Sultana, the Lusitania or the Titanic.

Ignorance and even suppression of the facts of these marine disasters is part of the general ignorance in the United States about the great loss of life and terrible suffering endured by the German people during the Second World War, above all in the conflict’s grim final months. For the story of the unparalleled loss of life in the sinkings of these three German ships can be understood only within the context of the general situation during the final months of the war, when the advancing Soviet forces, eager to take terrible vengeance against the Germans, set in motion one of the greatest mass migrations in history.

It began in mid-October 1944, when Red Army forces first broke into German East Prussia. Spurred on by the hate filled calls to violence against Germans by Soviet Jewish propagandist Ilya Ehrenburg, Red Army troops systematically [admin: raped, tortured, and~gv] plundered and murdered Germans unfortunate enough to fall into their hands.[3]

One of the first towns taken by the Soviets was Nemmersdorf, in the Gumbinnen district of East Prussia. It was only because German forces succeeded in recapturing this town a short time later that the world was able to learn how Soviet troops had set about brutally raping females of all ages, and slaughtering the old men, women and children there. The fortunate ones were shot out of hand. Many were clubbed or hacked to death. After being raped, naked women were nailed to doors in crucifix positions. In one case, a group of refugees was crushed under Soviet tanks.[4]  

German authorities lost no time in publicizing the horrifying results of the brief Soviet occupation. Journalists, including some from neutral Sweden, Switzerland and Spain, were quickly brought in to report on what had happened. Shocking newsreel footage from Nemmersdorf was shown in German motion picture theaters.

Panic-stricken civilians now desperately sought to escape falling into the hands of the advancing Soviets. As a result, during the final months of 1944 and early 1945, long columns of terrified refugees streamed into the towns and villages along the Bay of Danzig, all frantically waiting for boats that would take them to at least temporary refuge further to the west.

In light of all this, it was quickly decided in Berlin to organize a mass evacuation of civilians. As a result, between January 1945 and the capitulation on May 8, 1945, more than two million people – the great majority of them German civilians – were safely transported to the West. This second “Dunkirk,” which dwarfed many times over the British evacuation in 1940, was organized by Rear Admiral Konrad Engelhardt under the direction of Admiral Karl Dönitz, Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy.

The “Wilhelm Gustloff,” shown here before the war when it served as a luxury liner, was overloaded with desperate civilian refugees when it was sank on January 30, 1945, with the loss of at least 5,700 and possibly 7,000 lives.

Astonishingly, only about 25,000 lives were lost in what one historian has called “the greatest evacuation operation in history,” a figure that is all the more remarkable in light of the fact that by this time the remnants of the German air force were almost powerless to fend off attacks by enemy fighter planes and submarines.[5]  [admin: 45,000 German lives were lost by the sinking of many refugee ships during the end of the war. Americans and English always play the numbers down.~gv]

This record of success masks human catastrophes of almost inutterable horror – including the three most terrible ship sinkings, in terms of lives lost, in history. The first of the great German evacuation ships to go down, the Wilhelm Gustloff, was hit by three torpedoes from Soviet submarine S-13 on the night of January 30th. It sank after 70 minutes, taking with it at least 5,700 lives, and perhaps as many as 7,000. Only about 900 could be rescued from the sub-freezing waters of the Baltic by convoy vessels.[6]

In many ways the fate of the Wilhelm Gustloff was symbolic of the fortunes of the Third Reich. Named by Hitler himself in honor of the National Socialist party leader in Switzerland who had been murdered by Jewish assassin David Frankfurter in 1936, the 25,484-ton liner was christened by the slain man’s widow in an elaborate ceremony the following year. It served as the proud flagship of the “Strength through Joy” (Kraft durch Freude) movement, a well publicized and highly successful program that provided inexpensive luxury vacations for German workers. Over the next two years, the Wilhelm Gustloff routinely brought German tourists to the fjords of Norway and the seaside resorts of Portugal and Italy. Many of the grateful working class passengers who strolled the ship’s decks had never before ventured outside of their own towns and villages.[7]

Soon after the outbreak of the war, the great liner was repainted for use as a hospital ship. But in early 1940 it was instead sent to Gdynia (Gotenhafen) where it served as the floating headquarters of the elite 2nd Submarine Training Division, the pride of the German U-boat fleet. By late January 1945, with the safety of Dönitz’s submariners threatened by the Soviet advance, the Wilhelm Gustloff was quickly reactivated after almost five years of idleness. Originally designed to comfortably accommodate 1,465 passengers and a crew of 417, it set out for Mecklenburg on January 30th crammed with as many as 8,000 crew and passengers – most of them refugees.[8]

The much-traveled convoy route on which the Wilhelm Gustloff (and its sister ship, the 23,000 ton Hansa, with 3,000 refugees on board) had set out skirted the Stolpe Bank off the coast of Pomerania. Although this area was known to be a favorite haunt of Soviet submarines lying in wait to attack crowded convoys as they slowly steamed to safer havens in the West, so far there had been relatively few successful attacks. Indeed, the Soviet “Red Banner” fleet had failed to make much of an impact on the war, having spent most of the time trapped in the Gulf of Finland by a very effective German blockade. Although the Soviet submarine fleet was the world’s largest, the German blockade had resulted in Soviet naval forces sinking far fewer German ships than those of any of the major Allied powers. The German naval command considered Britain’s Royal Air Force, which had sunk as many as 18 German ships in the Baltic during the month of January 1945 alone, to be a greater threat to the success of the mass evacuation.[9]

The Germans had little esteem for the Soviet submarine fleet. As Admiral Engelhardt commented after the war, the Germans were grateful that the Soviets utilized only speed boats and submarines in the Baltic during the final months of the war. “Except for the Goya, Steuben and Wilhelm Gustloff, their submarines scarcely had any effect, despite the fact that they had as many as 15 operating in the Baltic at the same time,” he recalled. “If they had as few as three modern destroyers and one cruiser of the Gorki class between Pillau and Hela, our entire transport operation would have come to a standstill.”[10]

The German submarine command based in Gdynia not only had a low regard for the capabilities of the Soviet submarines, it underestimated the potential danger they posed. The submarine command was so confident of German security measures that it failed to inform the 9th Escort Division in Gydnia – which was responsible for providing security for departing convoys in the area – of the Gustloff’s imminent departure.[11]

Among German submariners a feeling of confidence bordering on arrogance prevailed. [Admin: Sure, blame it on the Germans. What else could they have done. They had to flee or be raped, tortured, and murdered! There could have been sabotage involved!~gv] They regarded the Baltic theater as little more than a “training field” where skills could be perfected for the “real” war in the North Atlantic against heavily defended Allied convoys. Thus, when the passenger-crammed Wilhelm Gustloff set out for the open sea on January 30th – its first voyage in almost four years – only a single poorly equipped torpedo boat provided escort protection. (Two other escort vessels had been obliged to stay behind because of engine problems.)

Poor escort protection was not the only problem that beset the Gustloff as it set out into enemy-infested waters. Now crammed with as many as 8,000 people, the ship had emergency lifeboats and rafts sufficient for only 5,060. Moreover, the machinery that lowered the life boats into the water had frozen solid in the bitter cold, rendering the life boats virtually useless. And although each passenger had a life jacket, the temperature of the Baltic had fallen to well below freezing. No one could survive long in the frigid waters.[12]

As if these ingredients for disaster were not enough, when Soviet torpedoes finally struck the ill-fated liner, the ship’s command somehow sent out the customary “SOS” emergency signal not on the frequency of the nearby 9th Escort Division, but on a different wavelength. [admin: Sabotage!] Precious time was lost, resulting in the deaths of many who might otherwise have been rescued.[13]

The “General Steuben” was overloaded with wounded soldiers and refugees when it was sunk on February 10, 1945, with a loss of 3,500 lives.

* * * * *

Eleven days later, shortly after midnight on February 10th, the General Steuben sank with a loss of 3,500 lives, making this the third worst maritime disaster in history. The same Soviet submarine that had attacked the Gustloff, and in almost the same location, sank the Steuben with two torpedoes. Crammed with as many as 5,000 wounded soldiers and refugees, the converted passenger liner sank in just seven minutes.[14]

Built in 1922, and owned and operated by North German Lloyd, the 17,500-ton luxury liner was named after the Prussian general who offerd invaluable assistance in training the army of the insurgent American colonists during their struggle for independence. When it sank, the Steuben was serving as a transport ship for wounded soldiers.[15]

Although hospital ships are internationally considered to be off limits from military attack during wartime, the Soviet government categorically regarded German hospital ships as legitimate military targets. In an official note delivered in July 1941, the Soviet government brusquely rejected a German request to abide by international law regarding the immunity of hospital ships: “… The Soviet government gives notice that it will not recognize and respect German hospital ships according to the Hague Convention.” Accordingly, Soviet planes and submarines sank four of the 13 German hospital ships employed in the Baltic evacuation operation, and eight of 21 German transport ships used to carry wounded soldiers.[16]

* * * * *

The sinking of the Goya on April 16, 1945, just three weeks before the end of the war in Europe, is acknowledged as almost certainly the greatest maritime disaster, in terms of lives lost, of all time.[17]

Indeed, when the 5,230-ton transport ship set out from Hela near Danzig (Gdansk) with its human cargo of some 7,000 refugees and wounded soldiers, the Soviets were pressing into Berlin itself, and the Bay of Danzig, with the exception of the narrow Hela peninsula, had become virtually a Soviet lake. In spite of the merciless blows that were bringing Germany to its knees, what was left of its once mighty military continued to evacuate civilian refugees to the west. Under almost constant fire from Soviet artillery, ships, and planes, German authorities were still able to evacuate 264,887 people to relative safety during the month of April 1945.[18]

German ports in the western Baltic were by now so overcrowded with shipping and refugees that when the already badly mauled Goya weighed anchor on its final voyage, it set out with five other ships for the Danish capital of Copenhagen. As the convoy made its way along the treacherous Stolpe Bank, it was spotted by Captain Konovalov, commander of the minelayer submarine L-3. Considered to be the most successful submarine in the entire Soviet fleet, the L-3 was credited with sinking four ships in 1941, six in 1942, and three in 1943, including U-boat U-416, by mining.[19]

The “Goya,” shown here with camouflage paint, was attacked by Soviet submarine L-3 on April 16, 1945, taking almost 7,000 lives. This little-known sinking is the greatest naval disaster in history.

At precisely four minutes to midnight, the L-3 fired two torpedoes at the Goya, which found their marks amidship and stern. Almost immediately the ship broke in half, her masts crashing down upon the passengers crowding the decks. Before anyone could escape from the holds, the onrushing sea quickly drowned out the anguished screams of the refugees below. The vessel sank in just four minutes, resulting in the loss of almost 7,000 lives. There were only 183 survivors.[20]

“The special tragedy of the Goya,” American historian Alfred de Zayas has commented, “was that it happened so close to the end of the war, at a time when the German surrender was within grasp.” These deaths failed to hasten the end of the war in any way. At a time when the Soviets had already begun the actual expulsion of Germans from the entire Baltic region, he asked rhetorically, “Why then send so many thousands of refugees to the bottom of the sea?”[21]

At the time, the loss of the Goya was hardly noticed in Germany, which had grown accustomed to similar catastrophes on a daily basis. All the same, it was cited in the report of the Führer Naval Conference of April 18, the last conference of which there is any archival record. It is written in language that characterized the cool professionalism that the German Naval High Command had shown throughout the entire period of the evacuation:[22]

In connection with the loss of several hundred persons in the sinking of the steamship Goya, the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy points out that personnel losses in the transports in the Eastern areas up to this time have been extremely small, that is, 0.49 percent. These unfortunate losses seem very large every time a ship is sunk, and it is easy to forget that at the time a large number of ships with numerous wounded and refugees reach port safely.

Although the estimate of losses given here is understated, the mass evacuation operation did, indeed, prove to be an overall success. Under terrible conditions, the German navy and merchant marine succeeded in saving many hundreds of thousands of civilians from horrible mistreatment and almost certain death at Soviet hands.

* * * * *

Although little known, the sinkings of the Wilhelm Gustloff and the Goya – with a combined loss of more than 12,000 lives – remain the greatest maritime catastrophes of all time. Moreover, the deliberate and unnecessary killing of thousands of innocent civilian refugees and helpless wounded men aboard the Gustloff, the Steuben and the Goya – as well as many other smaller and lesser-known vessels – is unquestionably one of the great atrocities of the Second World War.


[1] These figures are taken from The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1987 edition (New York: 1986), p. 754.; In May 1941, the battleship Bismarck went down with nearly 3,000 men. See: Alfred de Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam (University of Nebraska Press, 1989), p. 75.
[2] The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1987 edition, p. 754.; “Union Survivor Recalls Loss of Sultana with 2,200 Aboard,” The Washington Times, May 16, 1992.
[3] Alfred de Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam (University of Nebraska Press, 1989), pp. 61-66, 201.
[4] A. de Zayas, Nemesis, pp. 61-65.
[5] Karl Dönitz, Memoirs: Ten Years and Twenty Days, (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1990), p. 465.; C. Dobson, et al., The Cruelest Night (Boston: 1979), pp. 67-71, 187-188.; A. de Zayas, Nemesis, p. 74.
[6] Estimates vary of the number of persons aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff on the night of January 30, 1945, and of the number of those who perished. According to one German reference work, there were 4,974 refugees and 1,626 military service personnel on board. Of this total of 6,600, only 900 could be rescued, and 5,700 perished. Source: W. Schötz, ed., Lexikon: Deutsche Geschichte im 20. Jahrhundert (Rosenheim: DVG, 1990), p. 497. A 223-page English-language work on the sinking of the Gustloff reports that in addition to the 6,050 people (including 4,424 refugees) officially recorded as being on board, another 2,000 desperate refugees were hastily let on from small boats as the ship was leaving the harbor. This would have meant that about 8,000 people were aboard the Gustloff when it sank. Of this number, 964 were rescued from the icy sea, some of whom died later. “It is likely, therefore, that at least 7,000 people perished.” Source: Christopher Dobson, John Miller and Thomas Payne, The Cruelest Night: Germany’s Dunkirk and the Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff (Boston: Little Brown, 1979), pp. 83-84, 140-141.
[7] C. Dobson, et al., The Cruelest Night (1979), pp. 29-32.; W. Schötz, ed., Lexikon (1990), p. 497.
[8] C. Dobson, et al., The Cruelest Night (1979), pp. 32-33, 50-57.; W. Schötz, ed., Lexikon (1990), p. 497.
[9] C. Dobson, et al., Cruelest Night, pp. 34, 35, 52, 65, 68.
[10] Fritz Brustat-Naval, Unternehmen Rettung (Herford: Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft, 1970), p. 147.
[11] Cajus Bekker, La Ultima Odisea: Danzig 1945 (Barcelona: Bruguera, pb., 1976), pp. 243-247. This is a Spanish-language edition of Flucht übers Meer (Oldenburg: G. Stalling, 1976).; C. Dobson, et al., Cruelest Night, pp. 75-77.
[12] C. Dobson, et al., Cruelest Night, pp. 83-85.; C. Bekker, La Ultima Odisea (Barcelona: 1976), pp. 246-250.
[13] C. Bekker, La Ultima Odisea (Flucht übers Meer), p. 249.
[14] C. Dobson, et al., Cruelest Night, pp. 153-156.; F. Brustat-Naval, Unternehmen Rettung, pp. 48-49.; A. de Zayas, Nemesis, p. 75-76.
[15] C. Dobson, Cruelest Night, pp. 150-151.
[16] Alfred de Zayas, The Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, 1939-1945 (University of Nebraska Press, 1990), p. 261.; A. de Zayas, Nemesis, p. 76.
[17] A. de Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam, p. 75.; W. Schötz, ed., Lexikon (1990), p. 154.
[18] C. Dobson, Cruelest Night, pp. 163, 165-169.
[19] C. Dobson, Cruelest Night, pp. 166-167.
[20] C. Dobson, et al., Cruelest Night, pp. 167-168; W. Schötz, ed., Lexikon, p. 154.; F. Brustat-Naval, Unternehmen Rettung, p. 146.
[21] A. de Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam, p. 75.
[22] C. Dobson, et al., Cruelest Night, pp. 168-169.
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