Karlsruhe (ship)

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The SS Karlsruhe was a 1905 launched German cargo freighter (Frachtdampfer; 66.30 m long, 10.10 m wide) named after the city of Karlsruhe, which was used in the evacuation of civilians from East Prussia (Operation Hannibal[1] ) in January 1945. It was sunk by the Soviet air force with the loss of about 950 people. The well-preserved wreck was found and inspected by Polish divers in July 2020, the world was informed in September 2020.



The Karlsruhe left Pillau in East Prussia at 8 p.m. on 10th April 1945 with just over 1100 people on board, 888 of them civilian refugees as well as 150 wounded soldiers from the Fallschirm-Flakregiment "Hermann Göring" and 25 railwaymen (Deutsche Reichsbahn. The ship was due to meet up and be included in a large convoy assembled off Hela in West Prussia and to accompany them. At 9 a.m. on April 12th the convoy set out from Hela but there was a fairly strong counter-wind. As the Karlsruhe could only make seven nautical miles per hour and the convoy was trying to sail at nine, it gradually fell behind. The Captain of the leading ship decided to take the Karlsruhe in tow and detached his ship from the convoy to arrange this. At 9.15 a.m. the air-raid sirens went off. Two waves of Soviet bombers attacked the ships and the Karlsruhe was hit firstly in the engine-room, with a torpedo dropped from a plane then hitting the ship in a similar area which caused it to break into two parts. It sank within four minutes. The Soviet planes continued to machine-gun those in the icy water. The Kriegsmarine Minesweeper "M 294" under Kapitänleutnant Volberts from the 25. Minensuchflottille was able to save 63 people, Minesweeper "M 341" under Oberleutnant zur See Henry Peter Rickmers was able to save 87 people. All others were murdered.[2]

Further reading

  • The Expulsion of the German Population from the Territories East of the Oder-Neisse Line, editor Professor Theodor Schieder with an editorial committee of four others, Published by the Federal Ministry for Expellees, Refugees and War Victims, Bonn, West Germany, vol.1, 1954, p.143-5, 'The sinking of the Karlsruhe'
  • Michael A Eggleston / Frances O'Connor Rogers: Operation Hannibal – The World War II Evacuation of East Prussia and the Disaster at Sea, 2018, ISBN 978-1720771432


  1. In early 1945, the German navy rescued 2 million people from advancing Soviet troops, over 40,000 people lost their lives. The criminal sinking of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff cost 9,000 to 10,000 lives alone, among them 5,000 children. The operation dwarfed the Allied evacuation from France in 1940, both in scale – and loss of life.
  2. Heinz Schön: Die letzten Kriegstage – Ostseehäfen 1945, Motorbuch Verlag, 1995, ISBN 978-3-613-01654-5, p. 19.