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The Cruellest Night: Germany's Dunkirk and the Sinking of the "Wilhelm Gustloff" Paperback – 18 Aug 1980
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Top customer reviews
The Wilhelm Gustloff was a 25,000 ton luxury liner built in Germany in 1938. She was a beautiful ship in every respect but her cruise liner days were almost immediately cut short by the advent of WW2. On 30 January 1945, she departed Gdansk with a cargo of 6,100 people - most of whom were either wounded soldiers or refugees. All were fleeing the advancing Russian army which they feared more than anything else on earth. At 2106 hrs that night the ship was struck by 3 torpedoes fired from a Russian submarine. In under 3 hours the ship had sunk and the death toll was eventually put at 5,200 people.
As part of the same evacuation plan, the 14,660 ton "Steuben" sailed from the same port on 9 February carrying 4,267 people. Later that night she too was struck by two torpedoes and sank within 20 minutes. During the time it took for this ship to sink, many wounded German officers committed suicide. Only some 300 people were saved.
On 16 April 1945, the 5,230 ton "Goya" was sailing across the Baltic also overloaded with 6,100 German troops and civilians fleeing the advancing Russians when she too was torpedoed and sunk. On this occasion, the much smaller Goya sank within 7 minutes. The death toll for this ship is ranked second only to the Wilhelm Gustloff.
In this incredible book the full story of these three ships is told. For those who wish to see evidence of research, the bibliography in my copy runs to almost 6 pages and includes some of the highest authorities anyone could possibly quote.
The rescue was botched and there were few survivors.
Truly perhaps the greatest maritime disaster of all time and so little reported!
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This book is about this tragedy and about the various people involved. It gives a very detailed account of the sinking and the rescue attempts afterward. The author does a very good job of describing the characters of the people involved and describing the events leading up to the sinking. He is very adept at explaining the point of view of both the Russian captain, the German leaders and the civilians who endured the sinking. In a very non-judgemental way, he points out the fact that this was a vessel carrying German sailors and arms, even though this did nothing to lessen the personal tragedy heaped upon many of the civilians who went through this ordeal. Having said this, the book does drag just a little bit towards the end, and the author does attempt to force-feed the reader the character traits of the Russian captain.
Even though the book is somewhat dated and is one of the few books translated into English about this event, it is a must read for World War II buffs.