THE CRUELLEST NIGHT: Germany's Dunkirk and the Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by Christopher; Ronald Payne & John Miller Dobson

THE CRUELLEST NIGHT: Germany's Dunkirk and the Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff

Email this review


In 1945 the Russian armies were pushing the Germans back from formerly occupied territories; and the Germans, in terror of Russian murder and rape (""It was as though Nemmersdorf had been visited by an army of savages""), staged what the authors call their own Dunkirk. From Gydnia and other Baltic seaports they began the evacuation of more than two million people. Packed aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a former luxury liner, were some 8,000 passengers (the ship was designed to hold about 1,500), including several hundred women naval recruits. Shortly after weighing anchor, the ship was torpedoed three times, by a Russian submarine and only a handful of those aboard survived in the icy seas. From interviews, the authors describe the horrors they witnessed: a baby, dropped, rolling into the sea; a mine exploding nearby. The Russian sub commander went on to sink another ship loaded with fleeing Germans, at a cost of 3,000 lives; and a second sub torpedoed still another vessel, adding about 7,000 victims to the toll. The dead count from the Wilhelm Gustloff alone exceeded that of the Titanic, Lusitania, Athenia, Andrea Doris, and Empress of Ireland disasters combined, the authors point out; and they characterize this set of disasters as the worst--and least noted--in history. Ironically, the first Russian sub commander soon toppled too; treated contemptuously, or so he thought, he got into drunken fights and was demoted and disgraced. But that sidelight apart, this depends largely on whipped-up emotions and overwhelming numbers.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 1979
Publisher: Little, Brown