SS General von Steuben

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SS General von Steuben
Name: 1923: München
1930: SS General von Steuben (later simply Steuben)
Namesake: Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben
Owner: Norddeutscher Lloyd
Builder: AG Vulcan, Stettin, Germany
Launched: 1922
Maiden voyage: 23 June, 1923
Renamed: 1930
Fate: Sunk 10 February 1945
General characteristics
Type: Passenger ship
Tonnage: 14,660 Gross Register Tons
Propulsion: Steam reciprocating, exhaust turbine, twin propellers
Speed: 16 knots
Capacity: 793 (214 cabin class, 358 tourist class, 221 third class)

The steam ship (SS) General von Steuben (formerly named the München, but renamed in 1930 as the General von Steuben, after the famous German officer of the American Revolutionary War) was a German luxury passenger ship.

The name was shortened to Steuben in 1938. She was commissioned in 1939 as a Kriegsmarine accommodation ship. In 1944, she was pressed into service as an armed transport ship, taking German troops to Eastern Baltic ports, and returning to Kiel with wounded. She was sunk in 1945 by a Soviet Submarine, S-13; and at least three thousand people perished.

Prologue: Operation Hannibal

Along with the Wilhelm Gustloff and many other vessels, she was part of the largest evacuation by sea in modern times. This evacuation surpassed the British retreat at Dunkirk, both with regard to the size of the operation and the number of people evacuated. Yet it, like the sinking of the Gustloff, is one of the least-known major operations of World War II.

By early January 1945, Großadmiral Karl Dönitz realized that Germany was soon to be defeated and, wishing to save his submariners, had radioed a coded message on 23 January 1945 to the Baltic Sea port Gotenhafen (Polish city and port Gdynia under German occupation) to flee to the West - Code name: Operation Hannibal.

Submariners were then schooled and housed in ships lying in the Baltic ports, with the bulk of them at Gotenhafen. Among them were the Deutschland, the Hamburg, the Hansa, and the Wilhelm Gustloff.

This justified the rationale behind Dönitz's decision to mount Operation Hannibal. Notwithstanding the losses suffered during the operation, the fact remains that over two million people were evacuated in front of the Soviet Army's advance into East Prussia and Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland).

Prelude to tragedy

In the winter of 1945, East Prussian refugees headed west, away from the city of Königsberg, and ahead of the Soviet Army's advance into the Baltic states and East Prussia. These exiles and thousands like them fled to the Baltic seaport at Pillau (now Baltiysk, Russia), hoping to board ships that would carry them to the relative safety of western Germany. The Steuben was one such vessel, a luxury liner drafted into service for the Third Reich.

The sinking of the Steuben

File:General von Steuben wreck.jpg
The wreck of SS General von Steuben

The 14,660-ton liner set sail from Pillau in the bay of Danzig on 9 February 1945, her destination being Swinemünde (now Świnoujście, Poland). On board were 2,800 wounded German soldiers; 800 refugees; 100 returning soldiers; 270 navy medical personnel including doctors, nurses and auxiliaries; 12 nurses from Pillau; 64 crew for the ship's anti-aircraft guns, 61 naval personnel, radio operators, signal men, machine operators, and administrators, and 160 merchant navy crewmen, a total of 4,267 people.[1] Just after midnight, two torpedoes from the Soviet submarine S-13 hit the Steuben. According to survivors, she sank within about 20 minutes.

Three thousand to four thousand people died in the sinking of the Steuben. About 300 survivors were saved by torpedo boat T-196 and brought to Kolberg (now Kołobrzeg, Poland).

The wreck was found and identified in May 2004 by Polish Navy hydrographical vessel ORP Arctowski. Pictures and graphics appear in a 2005 article in National Geographic.[2]

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
[[Commons: Category:Steuben (ship)

| SS General von Steuben



  1. Koburger, Charles W., Steel Ships, Iron Crosses, and Refugees, Praeger Publishers, NY, 1989, p.7. Koburger also notes that other equally reliable sources put the total embarked at 3300.
  2. Marcin Jamkowski [author] & Christoph Gerigk [photographer], (2005, February), Ghost ship found, National Geographic 207(2), 32-51. See note in the "References" section.


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