Tag Archives: MV Wilhelm Gustloff

Titanic News: Wilhelm Gustloff disaster,RNLI Needs Funds, Bruce Ismay after Titanic

 

Wilhelm Gustloff in Danzig, September 1939.
Photo: German Federal Archives (Bild 183-H27992 )

Largest Maritime Disaster Neither Lusitania, Nor Titanic
Montana Standard, 2 May 2021

Neither the Lusitania nor the Titanic was the largest maritime disaster, not by a long shot. Yet somehow, their fateful journeys remain a source of intrigue for both researchers and curiosity seekers. The largest loss of lives occurred during World War II in the frigid Baltic Sea. On Jan. 30, 1945, a Soviet submarine sunk Germany’s Wilhelm Gustloff. On board the transport ship were thousands of German civilians. It is estimated that 6,000 to 9,000 people perished.

RNLI Launches Mayday Call For Funds As Rescue Figures Highlight Crew’s Lifesaving Work In Pandemic
Belfast Live, 30 April 2021

Funds are needed to ensure the lifesaving service is able to keep everyone safe and the RNLI is asking people to come down to the Maritime Mile and take part in the wonderful experience and complete their very own mile and donate to help raise those vital funds. RNLI lifeboats in Northern Ireland launched 234 times last year and their volunteer lifeboat crews brought 253 people to safety. Eighty-nine of those launches were carried out in the hours of darkness. The charity’s lifeguards responded to 225 incidents last summer on beaches, helping 285 people and saving the lives of six people.

Titanic-Linked Train Carriages Discovered In Yard
BBC, 30 April 2021

Members of the British Titanic Society think the wooden carriages, found in a yard in South Wales, formed part of a train that carried passengers from London to Southampton on 10 April 1912. Five days later the Southampton-based liner sank in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is hoped the carriages, which are due to be scrapped, can be restored.

J. Bruce Ismay, president of the White Star Line, in 1912
Public Domain(Wikipedia)

After The Titanic Sank, The Ship’s Owner Hid Away In Ireland
Irish Central, 29 April 2021

Ismay fully co-operated with the congressional inquiry, but nothing could stop the jeering on the streets in both the US and the UK. London society would have nothing more to do with him and he resigned from all his company positions, hoping to disappear, as the media continued to label him as the biggest coward in history.

With his wife Julia, Ismay was to find comfort in Costello Lodge, however, and among the local people who looked upon the pair as a solid source of employment, although the locals referred to Ismay in Irish as “Brú síos mé” (‘lower me down’ i.e. into a lifeboat ). He was said by the locals to be a kind, warm-hearted man, even inquiring of the fisherman he’d fish with on a Sunday if they had had time to go to Mass. Casla Lodge was burned down by the IRA in 1922, but the home was rebuilt on an even grander scale. Ismay remained a Connemara resident for 25 years before moving back to England after he was diagnosed with diabetes. He died in London in 1937, aged 74.

How DNA Testing Helped Solve One Of The Titanic’s Lingering Mysteries
Irish Central, 26 April 2021

One of the last great mysteries of the Titanic was solved in 2013 thanks to a DNA test which proved a woman who claimed she was a child survivor of the tragic Titanic sinking was a fraud. Two-year-old Loraine Allison is believed to have been the only child from first or second class who died during the sinking of the Titanic. However, in 1940, Helen Loraine Kramer, now styling herself Loraine Kramer, claimed to be the missing child. She told a radio show that she had been saved at the last moment when her father placed her in a lifeboat with a man whom she had always thought was her father.Kramer launched a legal bid to be considered part of the wealthy Allison family and entitled to part of their fortune. Before her death in 1992, she contended that she was entitled to the vast majority of the Allison family’s wealth in Canada. The dispute led to the founding of The Loraine Allison Identification Project by Tracy Oost, a forensic scientist at Laurentian University, Ontario, and Titanic expert. While Woods declined to participate, Oost obtained DNA samples from Deanne Jennings, Woods’ half-sister, and Sally Kirkelie, the great-niece of Bess Allison, Loraine Allison’s mother. No genetic link was found between descendants from both sides of the dispute. The results proved that Helen Loraine Kramer was not the little girl who was lost on the Titanic.

 

Titanic Memorial Lighthouse,South Street Seaport Museum, New York (2008)
Image: Andy C (Wikipedia)

Effort Continues To Restore New York’s Titanic Memorial Lighthouse To Its Original 1913 Condition
6sqft.com, 26 April 2021

The campaign to landmark and restore the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse, a monument in New York City built in 1913 to honor those who died aboard the Titanic, continues. Designed by Warren and Wetmore, the architecture firm behind Grand Central Terminal, the 60-foot-tall lighthouse originally sat atop the roof of the Seamen’s Church Institute and featured a working time ball that dropped down the pole each day, along with a green light. Preservationists are now raising funds that would help restore the lighthouse, currently located at the entrance to the South Street Seaport, to its original condition.

 


A Forgotten Maritime Tragedy: MV Wilhelm Gustloff (30 Jan 1945)

Wilhelm Gustloff in Danzig, September 1939. Photo: German Federal Archives (Bild 183-H27992 )
Wilhelm Gustloff in Danzig, September 1939.
Photo: German Federal Archives (Bild 183-H27992 )

The German military transport ship Wilhelm Gustloff carrying German civilians with their families along with Nazi government and military personnel, was sunk by a Soviet submarine on 30 Jan 1945 after it had departed Gotenhafen (Gdynia) in the Baltic Sea. The loss of life is estimated to be around 9,400, the largest loss of life to date in a maritime tragedy.

Originally designed as a cruise ship for the Nazi Strength Through Joy (Kraft durch Freude) organization, it was requisitioned by the German navy (Kriegsmarine) in 1939. She served as a hospital ship from 1939-1940. She then served as a floating barracks before pulled into use as an evacuation vessel due to the Red Army advances in Poland. The ship early on was being escorted two torpedo boats and another liner, the Hansa. Mechanical problems beset that liner and one of the torpedo boats so they did not continue the journey. Though fitted out with anti-aircraft guns, they were inoperable due to freezing conditions. The accompanying torpedo boat was not much help either as its submarine sensor had frozen over.

The Gustloff’s captain, Friedrich Petersen was advised to stick to shallow water and run without lights on but opted to head into deeper water. A mysterious message–possibly sent by either Soviet agents or the Soviet submarine–said a German minesweeper convoy was nearby so Peterson turned on the navigation lights making the ship visible in the night. It was spotted by Soviet submarine S-13 commanded by Captain Alexander Marinesko who fired torpedoes that sank the Gustloff. The initial deaths were from the torpedoes themselves and later from the extremely cold sea (estimated to be between 0-14F) that had ice floes on it. In less than forty minutes, the ship was lying on its side and sank bow-first in 144 feet of water. German forces rescued 1,252.

The German Navy did convene a board of inquiry and Lieutenant Commander Wilhelm Zahn, the commander of the U-Boat unit and a well regarded submariner, was asked to justify his actions. He blamed both Croatian crew members and the ship captain for what happened. However the war ended before any formal resolution of the matter occurred. The Soviet submariner captain Marinesko though fared worse. He was already facing a court martial for his excessive drinking and not considered a suitable person to be a hero and got the lessor award Order of the Red Banner. He was demoted and dishonorably discharged in October 1945 though he was considered an excellent submariner and commander. Stalin’s death and other things led to re-evaluations of many officers denied awards and promotions got him reinstated as a captain third class (a rank that equals a major in the Soviet army) and a full pension. In 1963 just three weeks prior to his death he was given the traditional ceremony due to a captain upon a successful return from a mission. He was awarded posthumously Hero of the Soviet Union in 1990 by Mikhail Gorbachev.

The wreck lies in Polish waters and is classified as war grave. To prevent scavengers and treasure hunters diving to it, it is forbidden to dive within 1,600 feet of the wreck radius.

The question many ask is why this has gotten so little notice. The simple and most compelling answers are that it took place during World War II and the casualties were  Germans fleeing home to escape being captured by the Russians. There is not a lot of sympathy for Germans after the war and especially when the horrors of the holocaust were revealed. So despite the large loss of life, the sinking has become a footnote and sometimes not even referenced at all.