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KdF Ship Wilhelm Gustloff

The Wilhelm Gustloff was a ship built originally by Blohm and Voss for the cheap cruise market during the early years of the Nazi Reich, named after the assassinated Swiss Nazi Wilhelm Gustloff.

The German KdF organization provided cultural activities to German workers, including concerts, cruises and other holidays. The Wilhelm Gustloff was the flagship of the KdF cruise fleet. From its launch in 1937 until 1939 it served its original purpose.

During the majority of the Second World War, Wilhelm Gustloff was used primarily as a recreation ship for German troops. By mid-1945, however, it was also used to house U-boat trainees.

Its final voyage was an evacuation of civilians and wounded German soldiers from Gotenhafen (now and before the war known as Gdynia), the major port north-west of Danzig, shortly before it would be captured by the Russians. For the trip, it was equipped fore and aft with anti-aircraft guns.

Heavily overloaded and carrying only about 50% of the rescue equipment necessary to rescue its passengers if need be, the ship left Gotenhafen early on January 30, 1945. That evening, escorted by only a small minesweeper, Wilhelm Gustloff was attacked. Somewhere between Danzig and the Danish island of Bornholm it was torpedoed by the Soviet submarine S-13[?], commanded by Aleksandr Marinesko[?], taking three direct hits at around 9.00 p.m.

An eyewitness account claimed that 400 members of the Women's Auxiliary of the German Navy, died almost instantly after the second torpedo hit almost directly under the empty swimming pool in which they were sitting. The mass panic that followed the torpedo hits resulted in an increased loss of life, as many of the refugees ignored orders to allow women and children to disembark first, instead trampling each other in a mad rush for access to the few lifeboats and life jackets available. Some equipment was lost as a further result of the panic. It is estimated that of the approximately 5000 to 7000 refugees and over 1000 soldiers on board at the time, only about 1000 passengers survived, saved by German vessels in the vicinity.

It remains the worst disaster in shipping history, in terms of loss of life in a single vessel.

The GŁnter Grass novel Im Krebsgang (ISBN 3882438002, 2002) (English translation: Crabwalk, ISBN 0571216501) is based on the story of the disaster.

Outside link to website [[1] (http://www.feldgrau.com/wilhelmgustloff)]

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