Wilhelm Gustloff: Were 9,000 People on ‘Nazi Titanic’ Sunk by Soviet Sub Casualties of ‘Total War’?

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, which still sits at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The huge ship was sunk by a Soviet submarine as it carried thousands of refugees from the Eastern Front.

In January 1945 the Second World War – known as the Great Patriotic War in Russia – was entering its final act with Nazi Germany embracing “total war” as its armed forces struggles to fend off the Red Army in the east and the British and US forces in the west.

The Baltic port of Gotenhafen (now Gdynia in Poland) had been encircled by the Red Army during the Vistula-Oder offensive.

It was that same offensive which liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp, as well as the Polish capital Warsaw and the historic city of Krakow.

On 30 January 1945, just after 9pm, the commander of a Soviet submarine let loose four torpedoes as he tracked a huge ship which was travelling west, away from the Eastern Front and back towards Germany.

Three of the torpedoes struck the ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, on the port side, causing devastating damage which sent it down within 40 minutes.

​There were up to 10,000 people on board, including 5,000 children and around 1,000 Kriegsmarine (Germany Navy) personnel, and all but 500 of them perished in the icy waters of the Baltic.

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