Shades of Grey is
the section about vessels which belong to the domain of the world's
coastguard vessels, for example, and their crews.
Aye Sir will focus on the military navies of the
Guard will look at coastguards and life-boatmen,
customs patrols and other locally-based vessels.
Periscope will take us down to new depths...
While we wait to see what input is
forthcoming on the various topics listed above, we were saddened and
fascinated to hear the tragic story of the ' Wilhelm Gustloff ',
the vessel still counted, to this day, as the scene of the greatest
naval tragedy of all time. Our thanks to Ulrich Liebermann for the
Launched on 5th May
1937, the Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) ship 'Wilhelm
Gustloff ' (25484 BRT) was owned by the Deutsche ArbeitsFront (the
German Labour Front ).
This ship's purpose was to give working class people the opportunity of
enjoying the cruising pleasures previously reserved for the rich, and
thus help to persuade workers to be more productive.
She was commissioned on 15th March 1938, starting her maiden voyage on
2nd April 1938 under the management of the Hamburg-South America
On her second day out, the Wilhelm Gustloff responded to a distress call
from the British cargo ship Pegaway, sinking off Terschelling.
Arriving at the storm-wracked scene on 4th April, the crew of the
Wilhelm Gustloff managed to rescue all 19 of the Pegaway's crew.
Over the next few years, the 'Wilhelm Gustloff' performed a variety of
duties, working in concert with a fleet of other KdF ships to transport
the Legion Condor back to Germany from Spain in May 1939, after Franco's
Nationalists had crushed the Republicans; joining the Kriegsmarine as
Lazarettschiffe "D" (Hospital Ship "D") on 22nd
September 1939 and being used as a polling station in April 1940 for
British-based Germans wishing to vote on the question of Austrian
annexation, by moving her outside British territorial waters and
ferrying voters to and from her via Tilbury Harbour.
After transporting the sick and wounded from Oslo, Norway, in mid-June
of 1940, the ship was used as a barracks by the 2
Unterseeboote-Lehr-Division in Gotenhafen from the November of 1940
For four years, between late 1940 and early 1945, the 'Wilhelm Gustloff'
served as an accommodation ship for various units in Gotenhafen Harbour
until on 30th January 1945 when she left Gotenhafen Harbour carrying a
large number of German refugees to be transported to the relative safety
of the West.
The exact number is unknown, but it was between six and eight thousand
people that were aboard, including nearly fifteen hundred naval
personnel, of whom 173 were listed as the crew of the 'Wilhelm Gustloff
It was bitterly cold that day, there was a Force 7 blowing snow across
her decks and the sea was quite choppy.
Whilst the ship was carrying a few anti-aircraft guns on board, to
protect her passengers from air-attack, nothing could have prepared, or
saved, her from an attack, just after nine o'clock in the evening by the
Soviet submarine S-13, which hit the ' Wilhelm Gustloff ' with three
torpedoes along her length.
In less than 50 minutes the ship was gone, sunk beneath the freezing,
dark, Baltic seas. The total figures were never confirmed but between 5,000 and
7,000 men, women and children perished with the ship.
Nearly 1000 lives were saved by the heroic efforts of the crews of small
German ships in the area who risked their lives to help as many of the
hapless refugees as they could.
Only two days earlier, the 'Cap Arcona', a luxury liner carrying several
thousand evacuees from Stutthof concentration camp, near Danzig had been
bombed and gone down with all hands. The British Royal Air Force Command
managed to prevent the news of its' shocking action from becoming public
knowledge at the time. The 'Steuben' and the 'Goya' were also casualties
of that epoch and another ship filled with refugees was also sunk
during the same attack as that which brought about the demise of the
'Wilhelm Gustloff'. It was the 'Thielbek'. Between them, the ships
carried some 15,000 prisoners and only 1,600 among them survived.
There is, apparently, a website devoted to the history of this and other
ships involved in the second world war, many of which perished with
great loss of lives, though none so numerous as the 'Wilhelm Gustloff '.
Unfortunately we do not know the name of the site. Ulrich was a
gentleman we met in our travels and when giving us the story he
didn't give us an e-mail address so that we might contact him and ask
him for the information.
If anyone can give us the URL (website address - e.g.: www.
nameofthesite.com ) we will be glad to place a link to the site on this
page, and/or the naval history page.
Do you have a story to
We will be glad to hear from anyone with a story involving
any marine topic. We can help with the editing, not that we're
particularly brilliant at it ourselves but we worry less about it!
Don't be put off writing by the belief that you are not talented as an
author. We will respect any requests to use changed names etc.
Have you tried our In-Quiz-ition
No.1 on the InQuizitive page? Ten questions and links to the
answers so that you can see whether you answered them correctly!