The Wilhelm Gustloff at Gotenhafen (Gdynia), August 1944
The German seaport of Gotenhafen --now Gdynia, Poland-- was a major shipyard and navy base. In early 1945, Gotenhafen supported Operation Hannibal (see separate articles), the evacuation of German citizens from East Prussia ahead of the advancing Soviet Army. Among the ships and boats pressed into service from Gotenhafen were the former cruise ships Wilhelm Gustloff, Cap Arcona, Antonio Delfino, Deutschland and the freighter Goya, which were all sunk with great loss of life between January and May. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff on 30 January 1945 remains the single greatest sea disaster in history, with more that 9000 lost on the overcrowded ship.
Gotenhafen was covered twice by RAF reconnaissance in August 1944. On 6 August the Wilhelm Gustloff could be seen in one of the port’s large floating dry docks, indicating it was being refurbished (Graphic 1). Since 1941 the ship had served as a floating barracks for the 22nd U-Boat Training Flotilla at the Gotenhafen naval base. By 23 August, the ship had arrived at a quay near the U-Boat school; another accommodation ship, possibly the Hansa (previously the Albert Ballin) remained at an adjacent quay. The Cap Arcona, along with the possible Steuben, Deutschland and freighter Goya were docked elsewhere in port.
Several facilities were identifiable in the vicinity of the port (map). The headquarters of the 22nd U-Boat Training Flotilla was located in the naval base near the quays where the Gustloff and possible Hansa were docked on 23 August. The headquarters and main school facilities were probably housed in the adjacent former Maritime Academy, but a large number of temporary buildings in the area along the quays were probably associated with the school. A subcamp of the Stutthof concentration camp was south of the port; the camp had at least 10 barracks, but a separate possible area with an associated barracks was located nearby.