Americans are not taught much history anymore. …and it’s been that way for as long as I remember. When we think of the greatest disaster on the sea, we think of the Titanic…and then we have visions of the end of the movie when everyone in the audience watched”Rose” as an old lady, throw that massive diamond back into the ocean and all of us started shouting, “For God’s sake! Don’t do it! “
But the Titanic was nothing compared to the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.
To make a long story short: During WWII…at the end when Hitler was hiding in his bunker, thousands of Germans were trying to get out of the country because the Russians were not exactly kind to the German women. The Germans had killed enough Russians and they were coming for revenge.
So, in a very cold, minus 15 degree ice and snow weather, thousands poured to the Baltic sea to try to get boats out to the East…and on January 30, 1945, the Wilhelm Gustloff was stuffed with over 9,393 people.
The Titanic, you remember, only had 2,224.
By the time the people got to this boat, many of their homes had been destroyed, and they were starving. If they had children, they were let on first, so many children loss their lives due to the fact that people were throwing “kids” to other relatives onshore to get them on the boat…FROM the boat, and sometimes the kid ended up dropping into the sea from a bad throw.
Once they could fit no more on the boat…they set sail.
Here’s a short description from Wikipedia:
The Wilhelm Gustloff′s final voyage was during Operation Hannibal in January 1945, when it was sunk while participating in the evacuation of civilians, military personnel, and Nazi officials who were surrounded by the Red Army in East Prussia. The Gustloff was hit by three torpedoes from the S-13 in the Baltic Sea under the command of Alexander Marinesko on the night of 30 January 1945 and sank in less than 45 minutes. An estimated 9,400 people were killed in the sinking, possibly the largest known loss of life occurring during a single ship sinking in recorded maritime history.
I just got finished reading about this in a book called “The Cruelest Night.” and one small story sticks out in my mind.
One woman…in one of the lifeboats, kept trying to jump into the water and kill herself. The other people in the boat (not many escaped…maybe 900 at best..and all four captains) were trying desperately to keep her from killing herself…and then they found out her reason.
Her oldest son’s head had been smashed by a suitcase and killed instantly when the first torpedo hit. He was eight. As she took her two other children with her to try to get to the top of the boat, her NEXT youngest boy, who was four, was stampeded to death by the crowd. When she fell overboard she lost her last child, her young baby girl who was less than a year, and it drowned in the water.
And here I sit, comfy in my computer room, with all my books, my computer, my radio and television…having just had a glass of milk…watching the Olympics, and looking at an old Beatles Album cover.
It’s almost surreal…who can even imagine so much horror?
Captain Alexander Marinesko, the U-boat Russian Captain who sank the boat…was sent away to prison in Russia. It wasn’t until years later that he was even rewarded for sinking the Gustloff and many other ships that year.
But, in all this sad story there was a hero. German Admiral Doenitz, was responsible for the evacuation of over 2 million Germans by boats to the East, he got them out, and their descendants make up the Germany of today. He did this behind Hitler’s back….in other words, he LIED about what he was doing with all those boats.
So the next time you hear of the Titanic, remember, there was an even more horrible disaster at sea…you just didn’t hear about it.
But now, you know.