Wilhelm Gustloff – sunk by Soviet Sub 30 January 1945

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PETER HANSEN (251-LIFE-1987) spent time working for the Abwehr (the German Secret Service) during World War II.  His information is known to a mere handful of people.  He gives this secret information only to Sharkhunters.

 

The following by Peter Hansen was presented in Sharkhunters, International eKTB186 and eKTB187, the electronic version of their fine newsletter.  The KTB Magazine is named after the log book carried by each U-Boat during WW II, the Kriegs Tage Buch, and is kept as a reference in many archives.

 

Editor’s Comments are by Harry Cooper, (1-LIFE-1983), http://sharkhunters.com

 

WILHELM GUSTLOFF

 

Since we have already read a bit about the GUSTLOFF on a previous page, let’s continue here with the factual and tragic story of this worst-ever sea loss as reported by PETER HANSEN.  He is without question, one of the world’s foremost experts on this phase of history and we are pleased to publish his research here.

____________________________

 

Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Zahn, transferred on the GUSTLOFF as Military Transport Director, needs to be illuminated a bit more although Captain Petersen had the final word on everything.

 

Zahn had joined the U-Boat Command in 1936 and was executive officer on both U-33 and U-35 until October of 1938 when Zahn became the commissioning Commander of U-56, a Type II-C coastal U-Boat that had only three bow torpedo tubes plus two spare torpedoes for reloading.  Due to the small size, the operational range was limited of these type of U-Boats.  Eventually they were all withdrawn from operations and transferred to the school and training flotillas in the Baltic once the war developed.

 

U-56 made four shorter war patrols, mostly in the North Sea and engaged in mine laying operations on some of them when torpedoes were replaced by mines.

 

Zahn attacked the British battleships HMS NELSON, HMS RODNEY and HMS HOOD in the North Sea, hitting NELSON with a fan of three torpedoes.  The clicks were heard when they struck the hull of NELSON – where Winston Churchill happened to be aboard as the British Secretary of the Navy – but all three were duds because their magnetic exploders malfunctioned.

 

Dönitz decided to relieve Zahn as Commander of U-56 when he returned to base, as he was so shook up over this torpedo failure that Dönitz felt he could not continue at sea successfully.  Thus, Zahn became an instructor at the torpedo school in Flensburg Mürwik until July of 1941 when Dönitz tested him to see if he would be able to take command of a U-Boat again.

 

This was U-69, a Type VII-C U-Boat, whose Commander had fallen ill at sea and needed to be replaced.  U-69 operated from St. Nazaire, France and Zahn made four war patrols with her, some rather short ones amongst them and he did not accomplish much except to fire the final follow-up shot on the 6,325 ton Norwegian steamer BARBRO that had previously been twice torpedoed by U-552, commanded by ERICH TOPP (118-LIFE-1985) pictured here.

 

However, even that coup de grace shot turned out again to be a dud and failed to explode.

 

Dönitz once more removed Zahn as Front U-Boat Commander and he was transferred to the Staff of Admiral von Friedeburg in Kiel in April of 1942 where he served until transferred to the 2.ULD (2nd U-Boot-Lehr-Division or 2nd Submarine Training Division) in Gotenhafen as detailed before. No doubt Zahn was an unlucky man which was often the last thing sailors expected from their Skippers.

 

Orders arrived to sail, but were countermanded quickly several times.  This gave Friederich Petersen time to request some experienced additions to the crew of the GUSTLOFF, many of them Croatians such as the Captains Heinz Weller and Karl-Heinz Köhler, and to reactivate the radio shack staff plus to obtain some engineering assistants as the remaining staff was really insufficient to operate the GUSTLOFF for any length of time at sea.

 

When the order to depart was finally given by Viktor Schütze, a civilian crew of 173 persons was aboard, the majority working in the kitchens and in passenger service.

 

From the 2.ULD, 918 naval U-Bootfahrer had been placed aboard and 373 female Naval auxiliaries from several naval units in the Danzig area.  The GUSTLOFF also received 162 severely wounded soldiers in her hospital, and soon had to look after pregnant women too.

 

Another reason for the sailing delays was the sorry fact that Leonhardt simply had no escorting ships available and was unsure when they could be provided due to unexpected repairs and bombing damages, while those that accompanied the 1.ULD ships to Kiel had not returned as yet and had also refueling problems.

 

Schütze got increasingly sour on the 9th Security Flotilla and the refugees on the GUSTLOFF needed to be fed and cared for, so that supplies on board dwindled rapidly.  Finally, Schütze called Admiral von Friedeburg in Kiel and suggested to use some of the ships used by the U-Boat Training Command as escorters – two torpedo catching boats and the torpedoboat LÖWE (Lion) of 780 tons which had been captured in Norway where it had been previously named GYLLER.  The exercise torpedo catchers were 381 tons each, but were not constructed for operations in heavy seas and lousy weather.

 

Leonhardt was horrified when he was informed about this decision by the U-Boat Command…..but protested in vain, although still being unable to furnish suitable escorting ships for the HANSA, OCEANA, ANTONIO delFINO, WALTER RAU and WILHELM GUSTLOFF that were scheduled to sail in convoy to Flensburg and Kiel.

 

The torpedo catcher #1 had engine problems, but #7 departed with the GUSTLOFF and the LÖWE was to meet the ships off Hela roadsted.  The HANSA sailed earlier, but had to anchor off Hela due to engine trouble.Schütze authorized GUSTLOFF to sail alone in order to get her moving.  However, when GUSTLOFF reached the Hela roadstead, the torpedo catcher #7 developed a leak and had to return to port so only the torpedo boat LÖWE was fueled and ready to escort the GUSTLOFF, while it was uncertain when the HANSA and the other ships would be able to move, as all had engine problems because their engines had not been used for a long time, and spare parts were rare.

 

The LÖWE was commanded by wartime officer Kapitänleutnant (K. O.) Paul Prüfe, a former non-commissioned officer who had served on destroyers and had been the Executive Officer of the LÖWE before becoming her Commander.  The LÖWE did not have the latest model of sonar and radar equipment aboard and the still dropping temperatures froze up her equipment eventually so that it was useless when needed.

 

Zahn commented to Petersen when the two ships left Hela in the dark on 30 January 1945 sailing into the Baltic during a heavy snowstorm and with ice floats everywhere,
       “This looks like a dog leading an elephant into the night!”

 

While waiting in Hela, 250 refugees were taken aboard LÖWE!

 

There were two different routes that could be used, both constantly checked by minesweeping units – the coastal way, secured by mine barriers at its start and at its end where the water depth averaged 10 meters (33 feet) which runs quite closely along the Pomeranian Coast, so that the GUSTLOFF could be beached if attacked.  It was also somewhat broader for two way traffic while the deep water way #58 was narrower, allowing no maneuvering room for large ships but averaged 30 meters (99 feet) depth.

 

Highest Speed Essential

Zahn told Petersen that the GUSTLOFF must travel at her highest speed possible, originally 16 miles but now a maximum of 15 miles but Petersen and his Chief Engineer refused to proceed at any higher speed than 12 miles because otherwise the welded over damage would reopen again.  Zahn told Petersen that speed is now the only protective factor the GUSTLOFF has, even though anti-aircraft guns had been installed in Gotenhafen during the last few days as the U-Boat Command considered air attacks by Soviet Russian planes as the greatest danger if the ship sticks to the mine swept routes rigidly.

 

High Speed Impossible!

Zahn can’t persuade Petersen to increase speed to 15 miles, which would permit the ship to bypass any submarines, but this is rejected as impossible.  The lifeboats were removed and had been replaced with only floats without power sources.  No tests or boat exercises were arranged and with way below freezing temperature, they would be hard to be made with such a crowded ship and an operating crew short of seamen.

 

30 January 1945 being the 12th Anniversary of Hitler’s taking power in Germany, some sermons and speeches are obligatory including one by Hitler that were broadcast on the GUSTLOFF too.  Both Petersen and Zahn finally agreed to travel on the deep water way rather than the coastal way as the weather grows worse and worse and visibility is now almost down to zero.

 

A radio signal is received that is somewhat garbled, advising that a group of minesweepers is proceeding on the deep water way #58 but in an easterly direction, which was a misinterpretation of this message.  Nonetheless, Petersen ordered that the position lights of the GUSTLOFF ought to be lighted up to obviate some possible collision.  The Navigation Officer Paul Vollrath argued strongly with Petersen on the bridge about such idiocy, which might be suicidal.  Vollrath had also highly recommended to travel on the low water coastal route which was rejected by both Petersen and Zahn.  Zahn also objected strongly to the lighting up of the positioning lights, yet Petersen insisted to do so until these alleged minesweepers passed the GUSTLOFF although they never existed

 

At 2100 hours (9pm) Petersen, Zahn, the Emergency Captain Köhler and First Officer Reese moved into the Captain’s cabin for a serving of hot pea soup by the Chief Steward while the Emergency Captain Weller and Vollrath were on the bridge.

 

The GUSTLOFF has only 16 more minutes to travel before she is hit by a fan of three torpedoes and GUSTLOFF is already in the attacking approach of the Soviet Russian submarine S-13 for a while – ever since the position lights were put on.

 

The GUSTLOFF had received a warning message that three Soviet Russian submarines were operating as a group off the Bay of Danzig, but outside the mine cleared shipping channels.  However, S-13 had separated from this group earlier and had proceeded alone towards the Pomeranian Coast while the other two Soviet Russian submarines SCH-307 and SCH-310 remained off the north coast of East Prussia in waiting positions.

 

S-13 had departed from her base of Hangö, Finland on 11 January 1945 and was commanded by Captain Third Class (Lt. Cdr in the US Navy or Kapitänleutnant in the Kriegsmarine) Alexander U. Marinesko who had held that position for three years already.  The political commissioner (Politruk) aboard was Lt. Cdr Wladimir Krylow.  S-13 had twelve torpedoes aboard and 120 shells for her 10.5 cm (Four inch) gun.

 

The storm increased and the waves became bigger and ever higher and as a consequence, making for rough sailing.  The constant snow showers would have prevented the GUSTLOFF from being discovered by the submarine S-13………except for the lighting up of her position lamps.

 

Escorts not needed in the Baltic

 

One of the main reasons why there existed such a shortage of suitable escorting ships in the Baltic was the fact that Dönitz had declared the Baltic as a fairly safe area, not needing such ships, and had ordered a lot of them elsewhere, such as France, Norway, Denmark or Holland where convoys were frequently attacked by British aircraft and surface ships too.  While increasingly, airmines were dropped by the British Bomber Command which soon extended these mine laying operations into the Western and Central Baltic Sea and in the fall of 1944, also into the Eastern Baltic where these activities greatly hampered U-Boat training operations.  Furthermore, maintenance delays developed and the few competent shipyards in the Baltic fell behind with repairs and faced a growing shortage of spare parts.

 

To at least partially reduce this growing shortage of escorting ships, the German Navy had been forced to utilize second rate auxiliary ships of small size and really only suitable in close to the coast and port areas such as so-called Siebel ferries and motorized floating gun platforms with low draft and limited seaworthiness.  None of these small ships could be used in heavy weather and seldom in the open sea unless it was fairly calm.  Something that rarely was the case in the Baltic during the long winter season.  In addition, such auxiliary ships were only able to move rather slowly and could not be used to escort and protect fast passenger liners or even freighters.

 

On the Soviet Russian submarine S-13, petty officer Anatoli Winogradow is on watch duty on the bridge.  He sees the position lights of the GUSTLOFF first and points them out to the Watch Officer Lew Jefremenkow immediately.  Jefremenkow is puzzled where such type of lights might originate from and initially believed they might be those generated by one of the coastal lighthouses like Heisternest or Rixhöft however, when consulting the sea charts, this assumption is rejected as geographically impossible.  Marinesko is then called to come up to the bridge and soon it turns out these are position lamps of a big ship.

 

Battle station is sounded and Marinesko orders a change of course to get closer to the dark silhouette, which is becoming slowly clearer between snow showers and low storm clouds.

 

Only 15 Minutes Left for GUSTLOFF

 

Marinesko decided upon a surface attack because the speed of S-13 if diving would be too slow to move into an attack position.  He estimated the ship at 20,000 tons but could not say exactly which ship it happened to be.  Marinesko maneuvered S-13 into an attack position on the coastal side of the ship’s track as he felt most of the lookouts would be watching the outer seaward side more closely and this would improve the chances for S-13 to get close enough for firing her torpedoes.  When S-13 approaches the ship closer, the torpedoboat LÖWE, leading the way about 300 meters (990 feet) ahead of the big ship.

 

The political commissioner (Politruk) Krylow informs the men under deck periodically about the situation on the surface.  The ship has been measured to travel at a speed of 12 miles and on a straight course of 280º without zickzacking because that is impossible in the very narrow deepwater channel without drifting into minefields.

 

The End of a Liner

When S-13 is 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) away from the ship, the outer doors or her torpedo tubes are opened and S-13 increases her speed to get even closer for a sure firing of her four bow torpedoes that have been set for a depth of 3 meters (10 feet).  Once S-13, hidden by the constant snowdrifts and being low in the water is 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) away, Marinesko gives the firing order.

 

The political commissioner Krylow has ordered torpedo mechanic Andrej Pichut to decorate the torpedoes in the bow tubes with political and Communist slogans as follows:

Torpedo in tube #1 – “For Mother Russia”

Torpedo in tube #2 – “For Stalin”

Torpedo in tube #3 – “For the Soviet People”

Torpedo in tube #4 – “For Leningrad”

Political indoctrination at sea………..indeed!

 

It Is Bitter Cold!

The navigator of the GUSTLOFF has calculated her position at 2110 hours (9:10pm) as 55º 7.5 North and 17º 42 East.  From the GUSTLOFF’s bridge, the stern directional light of the LÖWE can just be observed when the snowdrifts ease up.  The radar and sonar equipment of the LÖWE is not in workable order, frozen firmly.  Temperature is at MINUS 17º Celsius (5º Fahrenheit) and dropping even further due to the icy and gusty wind.

 

Marinesko and his watch officers are unable to determine if the ship they intend to attack is a warship or a merchant marine ship, lacking shipshape recognition charts.  Marinesko yells,

“What does it matter?  It is a huge target, no doubt full of Fascists and Hitlerites by the thousands!  Probably all Nazi soldiers!”

 

At 2115 hours (9:15 pm) the firing order is given for a four torpedo fan but only three torpedoes are on their way while the torpedo in tube #2 marked for Stalin turns out to be a tube runner.  That is, its engine started however it was not properly expelled and thus did not leave the torpedo tube at all but used up the obligatory safety distance programmed in it while the engine turned.

 

A very serious accident that could blow up the submarine!  Marinesko decided to dive S-13 and to make her dip heavily forward by the bow in order to reach a position where the malfunctioning torpedo could be pushed out of the tube to drop to the sea bottom.

 

But those other three torpedoes hit the GUSTLOFF broadside at 2116 hours (9:16pm) within a few seconds of one another.  The GUSTLOFF’s electricity supply got cut off instantly and a few emergency lights light up here and there, yet they are only kind of dim.  Kapitän Weller jerks the engineroom telegraph right away back to emergency stop.  At first Weller assumed that the GUSTLOFF had hit a drifting mine however, when two additional detonations followed in short order, Weller realized that the GUSTLOFF had been hit by a fan of three torpedoes.

 

Petersen, Reese, Zahn and Köhler immediately jumped up from their pea soup dinner, the first warm meal they’d had since leaving Gotenhafen.  Weller’s voice came through the voice tube,

“Ship is sinking and turning towards the bow and starts to tilt!”

 

The 4 men in the Captain’s sea cabin jumped up.  The emergency fire bells sounded and for seconds they looked at each other.  Then Petersen said,

“Now we have the worst!”

 

The four men rushed to the bridge and for Zahn it was instantly clear that the GUSTLOFF’s fate had been settled by three torpedo hits within seconds.  After only two minutes the GUSTLOFF dips heavily towards the bow and portside in quickly increasing angles.  The engines have stopped, the telephones are dead and the ship’s tilt increases rapidly.  This means lifeboats and floats on only one side of the ship will be useable for the passengers.

 

Zahn contacts the LÖWE by signaling with a spotlight because the radio shack is completely disconnected and no circuits work any more.  This means the GUSTLOFF can’t even send an S.O.S. message or other radio signal reporting her sinking fast.

 

The LÖWE now realizes what has taken place and immediately dispatches on her radio circuit an emergency signal:

KR     KR     KR

(for utmost urgency)

 

“GUSTLOFF hit by three mines…..sinking!”

 

then corrected the signal to:

“GUSTLOFF torpedoed!  Sinking after three torpedo hits on position 55º 7.5 “ N and 17º 42” E.  Ship is sinking fast!  LÖWE for GUSTLOFF!”

 

After some confusion, the radio signal is acknowledged and repeated by several of the more powerful radio stations ashore.  Within five minutes the air is filled with questions and repeated information while the LÖWE immediately starts to turn around and begin to pick up people in the water, where a tremendous chaos develops due to lack of lifeboats and the ability to handle those that actually are dropping into the rough sea.

 

Neitzel, the Commander of the 2nd U-Bootlehrdivision aboard the HANSA orders immediately that this loss of the GUSTLOFF MUST BE KEPT SECRET…an idiocy, with thousands of people involved and now in the know.

 

All available ships are directed to rush to the GUSTLOFF to rescue any survivors in the icy water.  Korvettenkapitän Leonhardt gets informed only some hours later because the 9th Security Flotilla uses different radio circuits from the U-Boat Command’s signal circuits and he is furious and orders all ships at sea within a given radius from the last position of GUSTLOFF to try to rescue anybody still in the water.  Many people have already drowned in the ice cold water where few people can survive for more than ten minutes and even those on floats or in lifeboats die fast in the awful weather.

 

After a sudden return of lights on GUSTLOFF, she turns over and dips below the waves, sinking to the bottom of the Baltic, here only about 60 meters (198 feet) deep, almost exactly one hour after the torpedoes hit her.  Petersen, Zahn, Weller, Köhler, Vollrath and the navigator Geiss remained on the bridge to the very last minute even though the ship by then had a 30º list to the side and it was almost impossible to stand up anywhere.  Zahn now yells into the bridegroom support area where some members still hang around:

“High time to get off the ship now…..everybody out right away!”

 

The Torpedoboat LÖWE ended up with 472 survivors aboard, with standing room only everywhere.  The Torpedoboat T-36, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Robert Hering (Class on 1937-A), which was ordered to the sinking area, rescued 564 people.  T-36 had only been commissioned a few weeks before and was in some respects, till on her trials, yet the pressure of events forced Hering to work T-36 to her very limits.

 

The minesweeper M-387, commanded by Oberleutnant z.S. d.R. Karl Brinkmann rescued 98 persons.  The minesweeper M-375, commanded by Oberleutnant z.S. d.R. Walter Weichel, picked up 43 people.  The minesweeper M-341, commanded by Oberleutnant z.S. d.R. Henry Rickmers rescued 37 people.  The freighter GÖTTINGEN commanded by Merchant Marine Captain Friedrich Segelken rescued 28 persons.  The freighter GOTENLAND, commanded by Merchant Marine Captain Heinz Vollmers, picked up 2 people.  The exercise torpedo catcher TF-19, commanded by Oberleutnant z.S. d.R. Walter Schick, picked up 7 people and the harbor patrol boat VP-1703, commanded by Kapitänleutnant d.R. Helmut Hanefeld, a single person.

 

On several ships involved in the rescue operation, a number of people hauled out of the Baltic Sea died due to exposure to the cold, once aboard.  Thus, by these 9 ships all together 1,252 people were rescued and survived.

 

From the 918 men of the U-Boat Training Division, 402 drowned while 516 survived.  Many of them were younger men in good shape and with training as well as experience in ship loss emergency situations.  From the 373 female naval auxiliaries aboard, 123 were rescued and 250 drowned.

 

EDITOR NOTE – Our friend and Member, RITA CLARE (1571-+-1990), was with the 2nd U-Boot-lehrdivision based in Gotenhaven/Gdingen, and her best friend Charlotte was on the GUSTLOFF.  Charlotte was never found – one of the 250.

 

From the 173 civilian crew members, which included about 60 Croatians, 83 were rescued and 90 drowned.  Thus they constituted almost 50% of those people who were rescued and did survive.  Their training and experience no doubt assisted them in becoming survivors.

 

From the people who jumped into the rough sea early, the fewest were able to survive in the prevailing icy temperatures for very long.  The many minor children and farm women had hardly any chance at all to stay alive longer than a few minutes and most were unable to swim to begin with because most of the refugees aboard were from farms and small villages in the East Prussia countryside.

 

From 3,250 registered minor children aboard the GUSTLOFF, barely 100 eventually survived once they were rescued because quite a few died from exposure after they were picked up.

 

During the entire spring and summer of 1945, the beaches and shoreline of the Swedish islands of Öland and Gotland as well as the actual Swedish coast were often covered with floating bodies or what happened to be left of them after being so long in the water, on account of the prevailing sea currents and the normal wind direction.

 

Because both Petersen and Zahn were amongst the survivors, as they had only got off the GUSTLOFF in the very last minute before she disappeared, an interrogation of them was arranged, also questioning several other people.  Naturally, such a naval investigation would not revive even one single person from the drowned.  However, the German Navy just ignored the continued presence of the Soviet Russian submarine S-13 off the Pomeranian coast, of the Stalinec Type of submarine having a tonnage of 840, and 1070 when dived and a maximum surface speed of 19.5 miles with a range of 9,800 miles when proceeding at the most economical speed, carrying a crew of about 50 men.

 

This turned out to be a terrible mistake and an irresponsible error of judgment for which the cause was never established.  Because, on the 10th of February 1945, this same submarine S-13 attacked in the night the passenger liner GENERAL von STEUBEN of 14,660 tons which had been converted to and was used as a military hospital ship evacuating injured soldiers from the area of Courland, Latvia which had been encircled by Soviet Russian troops.

 

SS GENERAL von STEUBEN (early on)

 

S-13 hit this hospital ship with two torpedoes and sunk her too.  From the 4,267 wounded army soldiers and the naval medical and nursing staff, 659 persons were rescued…..while 3,608 drowned in the Baltic Sea where the rough and freezing weather had continued and complicated rescue attempts considerably.

 

Wreck of GENERAL von STEUBEN

On the Floor of the Baltic

 

In view of the fact that actual ship sinkings achieved and the tonnage involved have become, rightly or wrongly, the most important criteria for submarines and their captains.….Captain Alexander Marinesko turned out to be the most successful submarine commander in the entire Soviet Russian Navy, with two ships of 40,144 tons.  Nevertheless, when S-13 returned to her base, Marinesko was severely berated by his Flotilla Commander and other superiors because they simply did not believe nor accept his claimed sinkings.  In fact, Marinesko almost got removed from his Command as he had a long history of disciplinary problems, of heavy drinking and of fighting while intoxicated.  He was also accused by his superiors to have disregarded some of his operational orders and having largely ignored specific instructions, doing instead his own thing, so to speak.

 

But Marinesko had expected that his successes would wipe out these past disciplinary problems once he returned to Turku, Finland on the 13th of February 1945.  He anticipated to be named Hero of the Soviet Union and to get awarded the Lenin Order in addition.  After a welcome dinner in Turku, his naval superiors cancelled all other receptions for him and his crew, and Marinesko was only given the Order of the Red Flag, a fairly frequent and much lower reward.

 

EDITOR NOTE – Marinesko received a “higher” recognition from the German side.  Adolf Hitler declared Marinesko his ‘personal enemy’.

 

Because Marinesko reportedly argued at length with several of his superiors, Marinesko was placed on some dead end assignment instead, which was only rectified twenty years later when his naval career had been practically finished in spite of his continued protestations.  His furiosity and his growing disappointment with the Soviet Russian views of political correctness as exercised by his naval superiors, became considerable.

 

About 25 years later, once the political correctness ideas and expectations shifted and changed once again, Marinesko was rehabilitated and now he was turned into an over inflated Soviet Russian superhero.

 

 

EDITOR NOTE – Many post-war paintings hang in various Russian naval museums of the GUSTLOFF and most if not all, show the swastika painted on the funnels.  In reality, there was no such insignia.

     Curators of these museums still argue fiercely that no less than 6,000 highly trained U-Boat crewmen went down with this ship.

     Both are politically motivated false propaganda.

 

While the various German sources emphasized in later years the enormous number of women and children killed, this again did not represent the full or truthful picture of this calamity either. Because there can’t be any question whatsoever that the GUSTLOFF moved under orders by the German Navy and the U-Boat Command organization.  Moreover, the GUSTLOFF carried 918 U-Boatmen when she was sunk, apart from other passengers aboard which clearly made her a military transport target even if Marinesko did not have any information to that effect although assuming and claiming otherwise.  In actuality, Marinesko never even knew which particular ships S-13 had sunk and the claims he made once he returned to base kept rising with every pronouncement he was permitted to make.

 

One could even consider the presence aboard of the female naval auxiliaries alone as sufficing to attack the GUSTLOFF in line with the prevalent policies.  Furthermore, anti-aircraft guns had been installed in Gotenhafen just prior to her final voyage into destruction, intended to defend the GUSTLOFF against Soviet Russian airplanes, which was seen as the most likely occurrence on this trip.

 

While the case of the hospital ship von STEUBEN was a bit different in certain respects…however…neither Czarist Russia nor the Bolshevists and Communists thereafter had ever signed or joined the many countries that signed the International conventions and treaties of The Hague and Geneva, including amongst many other points a very strong protective clause with respect to hospital ships.  Although that fact did not prevent the sinking of or attacks on a number of hospital ships by all sides.

 

After ironing out all pending odds and ends in the Danzig area, which required about one week, Schütze and the Staff of the Higher U-Boat Training Command boarded the U-Boat Tender and Command Ship OTTO WÜNSCHE of 5,900 tons, to proceed to Warnemünde.  Schütze requested from Leonhardt protective escort ships for the OTTO WÜNSCHE but again, the 9th Escorting and Security Flotilla was unable to provide such protection, and Leonhardt was uncertain when he may have escort ships available.

 

Schütze was furious and complained to Admiral von Friedeburg in Kiel but he likewise could not furnish such types of ships.  SCHULZ (162-+-1986) finally persuaded Schütze that they should proceed with the WÜNSCHE traveling at her highest speed of 21.5 miles and depart in the dark, zick zacking constantly until they reached the Western Baltic because that would be the best protection available, even though the WÜNSCHE had 19 anti aircraft guns aboard as defense against Soviet Russian air attacks and the WÜNSCHE reached Warnemünde safely on the 10th of February 1945.

 

On the 16th of April 1945, the Soviet Russian submarine L-3, actually primarily a minelayer, commanded by Captain Third Rank (Lt. Cdr in the USN or Kapitänleutnant in the Kriegsmarine) Vladimir K. Konovalov, fired a fan of three torpedoes in the middle of the night at the freighter GOYA of 5,230 tons that had already been previously damaged by Soviet Russian bombs off Libau (Leipaja).  Off Hela her cargo areas had been literally stuffed by almost 7,000 refugees.

 

EDITOR NOTE – The submarine L-3 is on display in Russia, and we toured that boat on our “Patrols” in Russia 1995 and 1996.

 

The GOYA sank quickly and only 334 people survived, while 6,666 persons drowned in the Baltic.

 

Nevertheless, Dönitz proclaimed that such losses had to be expected and could not be prevented entirely under the prevailing conditions.  Although it is almost incomprehensible why the Soviet Russian submarine S-13 was not hunted down or at least chased away from the Pomeranian coastal sea area instead of being permitted to remain there for over ten days after the GUSTLOFF disaster, so that S-13 could also sink the hospital ship von STEUBEN, totally unmolested by the German Navy.

 

In closing, some personal memories of the 2nd ULD in Gotenhafen.  Because the U-Boat Command grew during some periods, faster than the required U-Boat training organization, a lot of the midshipmen, just graduated from the Naval Academy at Flensburg-Mürwik (equivalent to the American Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD) who wee transferred into the U-Boat Command, could not be accepted by the various training units and starting with the Class of 1939-A were directly assigned to front U-Boats instead.  Some kind of ‘Learn by Doing’ scheme was introduced where these midshipmen served on two or three war patrols to gain practical U-Boat front experience until places became available at the training units.

 

EDITOR NOTE – In the American forces, ‘Learn by Doing’ is referred to as OJT, or On the Job Training.

 

When that actually happened, all prospective new participants for the training courses were assigned accommodations aboard the HANSA or the GUSTLOFF in Gotenhafen on a first come, first assigned basis.  Unfortunately, I only arrived very late and was amongst the last arrivals, when all cabins had been filled on those ships serving as barracks ships.  Consequently, all late arrivals had to be put aboard that very old pot, the OCEANA, the home for millions of cockroaches and thousands of huge Asian rats that chewed up anything that looked like it might be food.

 

In addition, on that ancient bucket which became very worn out during the many years of her past service, practically nothing worked any more as required.  Thus a bunch of mechanics and a batch of emergency repairmen had to work almost around the clock attempting to make some kind of patchwork repairs.  Yet, once one problem was temporarily fixed, another developed almost immediately.

 

EDITOR NOTE – Where does one go to enlist in this outfit!

 

Therefore, the unfortunate latecomers were forced to constantly sneak aboard the HANSA or the GUSTLOFF to be able to use the various facilities on those ships and frequently we had to use the cabins of our naval classmates or friends to be able to take needed hot showers, some soaking bath or to be able to care for the required paperwork for the courses where the heating actually worked and it was warm enough to do so.

 

However, for those of the participants who had already served on U-Boat war patrols at the front, permission was given to skip the purely theoretical classes and the introductory courses for green horns because we often knew more about actual U-Boat operations than many of the instructors.  Thus, at least, we were able to grab some extra sleep instead.

 

Gotenhafen and also Pillau were rather functional places, offering hardly anything what concerned entertainment, recreation or fun of any sort.  Therefore, everybody who was able to get shore leave was allowed free personal leisure time, proceeding by train either to Danzig or Königsberg as fast as possible or in summer, to the beach resort towns of Zoppot or Cranz instead, as Gotenhafen and Pillau were pure drag places for sailors.

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PETER, this was an outstanding piece of research and writing.  Vielen Dank to be sure!  Next month in KTB #188, we will run a photo of Marinesko and some of his idiosyncrasies that our friends in the Russian Navy who served with him, told to us.