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Deadliest Maritime Disaster In History
In the dying months of the second world war in Europe, German refugees were struggling to flee Western Europe ahead of the advancing Russian army. Tales of atrocities, rape and death made the need for escape desperate. In an effort to escape refugees crowded onto the former cruise ship (turned troop transport and hospital ship), Wilhelm Gustloff. The ship had a capacity of 1,850 passengers and crew, but was massively overcrowded with several times that number.
After leaving the port in Gotenhafen, East Prussia the Gustloff made it 20 miles out into the Baltic Sea on January 30, 1945, before it was struck by three Russian torpedoes at 9:00 p.m. on the port side of the ship. The ship sank in only 50 minutes. Only 996 people survived the sinking.
Official military sources pegged the numbers on board at just over 6,000 people at the time, but because so many people had crammed onto the ship before it departed the official passenger list was well short of the numbers actually on board. Though the actual number will never be known, estimates based on eye witness accounts and computer modeling place the actual number of passengers at just over 10,600 people. This puts the death toll at just over 9,600 men, women and children.
The disaster is not well documented or remembered by the world, because it came at the end of a war where Germany had been guilty of horrific atrocities. At the time many felt the Germans got what they deserved. Even most Germans did not want to talk about the disaster, instead hoping to put the war behind them.
Source: Discovery Channel
Posted: 2004-07-08 6:03:46 PM
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