Goya was a Norwegian motor freighter completed in 1940 and named after Francisco de Goya. Following the invasion of Norway during the Second World War, she was seized by Germany and pressed into the service of the Kriegsmarine as a transport ship. Its sinking is one of the worst maritime disasters ever by numbers of casualties, exceeded only by the Wilhelm Gustloff (ship), also sunk by Soviet submarine.
Towards the end of the war, the ship was used in Operation Hannibal, as one of more than 1,000 ships commissioned to participate in the evacuation of some minor German military units but mainly civilian personnel from pockets along the Baltic Sea still holding out against the Soviet Union's Red Army. In 1945 the Goya was being used as an evacuation ship carrying people, mostly civilians, from the eastern and southern Baltic Sea to the west. Her commanding officer was Captain Plünnecke. Goya was marked as a hospital ship and carried about 1000 hospital beds for very seriously wounded soldiers who were immobile.
On 16 April 1945, Goya was sailing in convoy from Gotenhafen (Gdynia), around the Hel Peninsula and across the Baltic Sea to Kiel in western Germany with two smaller vessels, Kronenfels and a steam tug Aegir, and two minesweepers as convoy escorts: M-256 and M-328. The ship which was meant to accommodate a maximum of 850 including crew members was overcrowded with more than 7,000 refugees fleeing the Soviet invasion as well as the wounded.
Four hours after leaving the port, and close to the southern tip of Hel Peninsula, the convoy was attacked by Soviet bombers. During the air raids one of the bombs hit Goya, but damage was minimal. After rounding the peninsula and leaving Danzig bay, several miles north of Cape Rixhöft the convoy was sighted by the Soviet minelayer-submarine L-3, which also carried torpedoes. While Goya was faster than submarines, the convoy was slowed down by the engine problems of the Kronenfels, which also required a 20-minute stop for repairs. At precisely 4 minutes before midnight the commander of L-3, Captain Vladimir Konovalov, gave the order to fire a spread of four torpedoes. Two of them hit Goya; one struck amidships, the second exploded in the stern, sending an immense plume of fire and smoke bursting into the sky. The impact of the torpedoes was so great that the ship's masts collapsed upon the refugees sleeping on the top deck. Within moments, the ship broke in two and as fire consumed the upper portions of the Goya, it sank in less than four minutes, drowning thousands in their beds.
The exact death toll is difficult to estimate. Authors cite the total number of passengers as "over 6000", or 7200, although the exact number might never be known, as the evacuated military personnel and civilians boarded the ships in chaotic circumstances and often occupied all available space on ships when leaving the German enclaves in East Prussia and occupied Poland. In any case, the death toll exceeded 6000 and most likely reached 7,000, making the sinking one of the worst maritime disasters by number of casualties, exceeded only by the Wilhelm Gustloff (ship). Around 182 people were saved (176 soldiers and 4 civilians), of whom 9 died shortly afterwards.
- Spencer Tucker|title=Sinking of Wilhelm Gustloff, General von Steuben and Goya | encyclopedia=World War II at Sea: An Encyclopedia|url=https://books.google.com/books?id=N0nrSWUHx6sC&pg=PA800%7C 30 November 2011, publisher ABC-CLIO, ISBN: 978-1-59884-457-3
- Heinz Schön: Ostsee '45, Motorbuch Verlag Stuttgart, 1995, ISBN|3-87943-856-0
- Egbert Kieser: Danziger Bucht 1945, Stuttgartm Germany, 1978, Buch-Nr. 08685-0