Wilhelm Gustloff file photo [8350]

Wilhelm Gustloff

BuilderBlohm und Voss
Yard Number511
Slip/Drydock NumberVII
Laid Down1 Aug 1936
Launched5 May 1937
Commissioned1 Sep 1939
Sunk30 Jan 1945
Displacement25,484 tons standard
Length684 feet
Beam77 feet
Draft21 feet
MachineryFour MAN 8-cylinder diesel engines rated at 9,500hp each, two twin-screws
Speed15 knots
Range12,000nm at 15 knots
Armament3x105mm anti-aircraft guns, 8x20mm anti-aircraft cannons
Passenger Capacity1,465
Two-Bed Rooms248
Four-Bed Rooms241


ww2dbaseThe Wilhelm Guftloff was the first purpose-built cruiser liner of the German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront, DAF), used to provide recreation for German workers. In the summer of 1939, she was conscripted into the German Navy. Her first role was to bring German servicemen of the Condor Legion back from Spain. On 1 Sep 1939, she was requisitioned by the German Navy. In the first year of the European War, she served as a hospital ship off Poland and Norway with the designation Lazarettschiff D, or Hospital Ship D. On 20 Nov 1940, she had her medical equipment removed and was repainted the standard naval gray of the German Navy, and she was launched as an accommodations ship for about 1,000 men of the 2nd Submarine Training Squadron, stationed at Gotenhafen, Germany (now Gdynia, Poland), near Danzig. She remained at Gotenhafen for the following four years. During Operation Hannibal, as Russian troops approached Gotenhafen , she took on somewhere between 6,000 to 10,000 civilians and servicemen and disembarked for Kiel, Germany on 30 Jan 1945. She sailed with passenger liner Hansa, escorted by two torpedo boats. En route, Hansa and one of the torpedo boats developed mechanical trouble, thus Wilhelm Gustloff and torpedo boat Löwe sailed on ahead. Against the advise of the military captain Lieutenant Commander Wilhelm Zahn, senior civilian captain Friedrich Petersen kept the ship in deep water. When Petersen was informed that a German minesweeping convoy was near by, he turned on the ship's red and green navigation lights to avoid a potential collision. Shortly after the navigation lights were turned on, at about 2100 hours, she was spotted by Russian submarine S-13, commanded by Captain Third Class Alexander Marinesko. S-13 launched three torpedoes at Wilhelm Gustloff, with the first hitting near the port bow, the second hitting just ahead of midships, and the third hitting the engine room. Aboard the ship, panicked passengers trampled each other toward the rescue equipment (which was inadequate for the overcrowded ship) as the ship settled by the bow and listed to starboard and then to port. Many began to jump into the water, which was at about freezing point. The ship sank bow first less than 45 minutes after the torpedo hits. 1,200 survivors were rescued; somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 lives were lost, making it possibly the greatest loss of life in a maritime disaster in history. After the sinking, although all four captains survived, only the military captain, Lieutenant Commander Wilhelm Zahn, was questioned; the inquiry was never completed before the German surrender. After the war, many called the sinking a war crime as thousands of civilians died as the result of the Russian submarine attack, although the counter-arguments were made that she made no attempt to display that she was carrying civilians, plus she was indeed carrying about 1,000 active military personnel.

ww2dbaseSource: Wikipedia.

Last Major Revision: Aug 2009

Wilhelm Gustloff Interactive Map


Wilhelm Gustloff under construction, Slip VII of the Blohm und Voss shipyard, Hamburg, Germany, 1937Launching ceremony of Admiral Hipper, Blohm und Voss shipyard, Hamburg, Germany, 6 Feb 1937; note Wilhelm Gustloff in backgroundLaunching of Wilhelm Gustloff, Slip VII of Blohm und Voss shipyard, Hamburg, Germany, 5 May 1937Swimming pool aboard cruiser liner Wilhelm Gustloff, 1938
See all 16 photographs of Wilhelm Gustloff

Wilhelm Gustloff Operational Timeline

1 Aug 1936 The keel of Wilhelm Gustloff was laid down by Blohm und Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany.
5 May 1937 Wilhelm Gustloff was launched at Slip VII of the Blohm und Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany.
15 Mar 1938 Wilhelm Gustloff was completed.
1 Sep 1939 Wilhelm Gustloff was requisitioned by the German Navy.
22 Sep 1939 Wilhelm Gustloff began its service as a Navy hospital ship.
20 Nov 1940 Wilhelm Gustloff completed its service as a Navy hospital ship.
30 Jan 1945 While transporting civilians from OstpreuĂźen (East Prussia), Germany, German Navy passenger ship Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk by Soviet submarine S-13, under the command of Captain 3rd Class Alexander Marinesko, taking somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 lives, possibly making it the greatest loss of life in a maritime disaster in history.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
21 Dec 2018 10:25:18 AM

Im doing this topic for history for school. I have a lot of information but I feel like I need more. All the websites give me the same info. I feel like I need more. If you know any other info please email me
2. Anonymous says:
2 Feb 2022 06:34:52 PM

Is there any information about where most of the civilian evacuees came from? Were they mostly East Prussians as one would suppose? If there were Estonians and Latvians, is there an indication of numbers or a percentage? I did read that registrations did end before final boarding numbers were complete but the information I’m asking for would still be really interesting for my research. Thank you.
3. Anonymous says:
5 May 2022 12:41:40 PM

You can find some information like about the refugees seeking evacuation on the Wilhelm Gustloff in the book Salt to the Sea. Its a good book!
4. I Am Anonymous! says:
22 Feb 2023 11:39:04 AM

go read salt to the sea it has some relations to this (note that the book is a fiction book!).

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More on Wilhelm Gustloff
Event(s) Participated:
» Invasion of Poland
» Invasion of Denmark and Norway
» East Prussian Offensive

Wilhelm Gustloff Photo Gallery
Wilhelm Gustloff under construction, Slip VII of the Blohm und Voss shipyard, Hamburg, Germany, 1937
See all 16 photographs of Wilhelm Gustloff

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