Most people know about the Titanic, the large passenger ship that sank in 1912. Some even believe it to be the worst maritime disaster, ever. But the worst maritime disaster in history is actually the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German military ship which sank in 1945, causing the deaths of an estimated 9,343 people on board. The death toll was six times the death toll of the Titanic disaster which took the lives of 1,517 people.
The Wilhelm Gustloff was a 700-feet long luxury liner that began cruising in 1937. By 1945, it was serving to evacuate German civilians from East Prussia which was quickly being taken over by the Soviet Red Army. On 30 January, 1945, the ship, which had been designed to carry 2,000 passengers at most, was carrying 10,582 German refugees and soldiers, almost half of whom were children. The ship was hit by a Soviet submarine, killing the majority of the passengers.
More about the Wilhelm Gustloff:
- The ship was named after Wilhelm Gustloff, leader of the Swiss Nazi Party who was assassinated in 1936.
- The navigation lights, which the captains of Wilhelm Gustloff had turned on to avoid collision with a German convoy, made the ship visible to the Soviet submarine.
- The Soviet submarine hit the Wilhelm Gustloff with three torpedoes.