Worst Sea Disaster of All Time
Everyone has heard of the Titanic, in which 1,500 souls went
down to a watery grave in the north Atlantic in 1912. 
Most have heard about the Lusitania, the converted World War I
passenger liner carrying munitions for Allied cause, which was
hit and sunk by an enemy submarine in 1915, with the loss
of 1,200 lives.
Others have heard of the sinkings of the Empress of Ireland
(1,100 dead), the Athenia (112), and the Andrea Doria (51). 
But how many have ever heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff,* 
a hospital ship carrying wounded German soldiers and refugees
in the closing days of World War II, which was torpedoed and
sunk without warning on January 30, 1945, by a submarine
in the service of America's Communist ally, the Soviet Union? 
In that disaster, as many as 9,000** persons lost their lives,
nearly six (6) times as many as perished aboard the Titanic! 
Indeed, more lives were lost on this one single ship than on the 
Titanic, the Lusitania, the Athenia, the Andrea Doria and the
Empress of Ireland combined (less than 4,000)! 
The Gustloff was not the only vessel, however, to earn the dubious
distinction of being a worse-than-the-Titanic sea disaster.  Second
and third place go to two other German hospital ships, the Goya
and the General Steuben, respectively. 
A companion ship to the Wilhelm Gustloff, the Goya, with fewer
passengers on board—"a mere" 6,000 to 7,000!—was sunk by still
another Soviet sub on April 16, 1945.
On February 10, 1945, the other vessel, the Steuben—named after
the German general who helped America gain its independence—
was attacked by the same submarine which earlier sank the Gustloff,
with the loss of 5,200 women, children and wounded men.
In total, some 20,000 perished in these never-punished war crimes.  
But some of those who committed these horrendous atrocities were
later awarded medals by the victorious Allies of World War II.     
* The Wilhelm Gustloff was launched as a cruise ship for German workers
and their families under the Kraft durch Freude ("Strength Through Joy")
program in 1937.  Named for the famous Swiss National Socialist hero
and martyr, it was converted to use as a hospital ship during the Second
World War.
** National Geographic Magazine, February 2005


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