Maritime Disasters - Wilhelm Gustloff & General Steuben

It is easy to understand why everyone has heard about the Titanic: it was a very big, very expensive ship, claimed to be virtually "unsinkable," which went down on its maiden voyage with a record number of celebrities and tycoons aboard. The irony of the sinking helped generate public interest and an enormous media coverage.

When the Wilhelm Gustloff went down, on the other hand, with the loss of more than 6,000 lives, the controlled media adopted the deliberate policy that it was a non-event, not to be commented on or even reported.

The Wilhelm Gustloff, like the Titanic, was a big passenger liner and was reasonably new and luxurious. But it was a German passenger liner. It was sunk in the Baltic Sea on the night of January 30, 1945, by a Soviet submarine. It was packed with nearly 8,000 Germans, most of them women and children escaping from the advancing Soviet Army.

Many of these German refugees lived in East Prussia, a part of Germany that the Communist and democratic Allies had agreed would be taken from Germany and given to the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. Others lived in Danzig and the surrounding area, which the democrats and Communists had decided would be taken from Germany and given to Poland.

All of these refugees were fleeing in terror from the Reds, who already had demonstrated in East Prussia what was in store for the German unfortunates that fell into their hands.
Information taken from: http://library.flawlesslogic.com/gustloff.htm

General Steuben (1945)

It took 20 minutes for the German liner "General Steuben" to sink with 4,500 souls after Russian torpedoes split its hull in 1945. It took 60 years to find the ship's remains in the Baltic Sea.

The Baltic Sea was as gray as storm clouds when the four of us jumped into the water. We each had several tanks filled with different mixtures of gases for breathing at depths up to 235 feet (71 meters)?more than twice as deep as conventional scuba diving. The waves kicked us around as we swam, so when we reached the marker buoy, we submerged as quickly as possible, and the weight of our equipment seemed to lighten.

We were on our way to examine the recently discovered remains of "Steuben," a German ship sunk during World War II with the loss of perhaps 4,500 lives?three times the death toll of Titanic. A private Swedish team and later the Polish Navy had both scanned the ghostly wreck with sonar. But only a handful of divers had seen it since it was hit by two torpedoes from a Soviet submarine on February 10, 1945.

Built in 1923, Steuben had been converted in 1944 to transport wounded soldiers. Armed with antiaircraft guns, the 550-foot-long (170-meter-long) vessel was jammed with more than 5,000 people, including at least 1,000 civilian refugees, when it was attacked 40 miles (60 kilometers) off the German coast. Only 659 people were rescued from the icy water.

For more information: go to National Geographic at http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0502/feature2/?fs=www7.natio.