TO FLOATING U-BOAT BARRACKS
November 20, 1940
and winter beckons in
Wilhelm Gustloff once again begins a process of metamorphosis –
its second in just over a year.
Over the next few weeks, the ship is converted for
use as “floating barracks” for the Second Submarine
Training Division, housing approximately 1,000 U-Boat
the ship is gutted. Medical
equipment is dismantled and removed.
Doctors, nurses and medics are gone – discharged
or reassigned. Only
a handful of the engine maintenance crew is ordered to
Bertram also stays on board, though he no longer can take
the Gustloff to
sea – a frustrating position for any experienced sailor
of such rank.
naval grey paint eventually replaces the bright white
coating and green stripes the Gustloff
displayed as a hospital ship.
Red crosses are removed on the funnel, leaving
barely visible raised imprints of colourless KdF logos.
The goal is no longer visibility but camouflage.
International law no longer protects the Wilhelm Gustloff as it did while operating as Lazarettschiff D. For
the first time, the former purveyor of affordable leisure
cruises is a legitimate military target.
very interesting photo from 1941 that shows the Gustloff
(background) in the process of being painted naval
grey. In the foreground is the Löwe
- a torpedo boat that would play a critical role
on January 30, 1945.
source: SOS Shicksale Deutscher Schiffe Nr.
is in the role of U-boat barracks that the Gustloff
will spend the majority of its life (just over four
structured and disciplined training of the young U-boat
personnel produces effective results in the early years of
the war. Taking
command of the recruits in 1942, U-boat
officer Lieutenant Commander Wilhelm Zahn ensures a
rigorous training program.
as war continues, recruits become younger and training
becomes shorter. The
odds are not good for those commissioned to feared German
submarines – as few as 1 in 10 will survive during the war.
BEGINNING OF THE END
well behind enemy lines and with secure control of the
by the German Navy, not
much exciting happens in the first few years in
Karl Dönitz, in charge of the Kreigsmarine, officially
visits Gotenhafen in March of 1943.
However, it is around this time ominous signs begin
to appear. After
breaking the pact with Stalin and invading the
in 1941, front lines
(although still far away from the
) are beginning to
bombers from the 8th Air Force reach
the skies over Gotenhafen on
October 9, 1943.
rain down on the harbour.
narrowly escapes disaster as a bomb explodes in the water
off its starboard side, creating a reparable gash only 1.5
metres long in the hull.
Several other ships in the harbour are not so
are sunk in the raid, including the hospital ship
Stuttgart, another ship from the
more carefree KdF cruising days.
Gustloff Archiv - used with permission
February 20, 1944
marks the return of
Friedrich Petersen as captain (Captain Bertram gets his
wish to be back at sea with a “ship that moves” and
is to report back in
on the 21st).
Petersen has been through quite an ordeal since
commanding the Gustloff for just one cruise during
had been captured by the Allies and was held as a POW.
Repatriated to the Germans because of his age, at
66 years old he is not
considered a threat.
He gains freedom in return for a written promise
not to take active command of any ship.
The Gustloff must seem like the perfect option.
this time however, front lines continue to
press releases struggle to find any form of victory.
Fewer U-boats return from missions.
has been evacuated.
D-Day looms on the horizon.
still stands, there is a troubled uneasy feeling over the bay as the
Russians drive nearer by the day.
Refugees begin heading toward the ports in the Gulf
to escape Russian retribution.
October of 1944, the Red Army under the command of General
Galitsky is crossing the eastern border of the Reich and
taking the town of
city to fall into
Russian hands. Terror
is only just beginning in the
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