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Wilhelm Gustloff Shipwreck Expedition May 2003
History | Team | The Amber room | wreck images | Findings
Expedition Images | Online article | scale model | Historic images | German Gun Boat
| The sinking
Gustloff montage by Leigh Bishop

In May of 2003 a team of American and English divers led by Mike Boring united with Polish Divers to explore the wreck of the Wilhelm Gustloff and bring back the best possible images they could with the current technology available. In doing so the tragic story of the Gustloff could be brought to the surface for others to learn of and discover for themselves the true story of history’s worst maritime disaster. Please use the navigation bar at the top of the page to learn more of our Gustloff expedition and the history of this shipwreck.

Photographs of the wreck
Two of the worlds leading shipwreck photographers joined the expedition to make 35mm stills of the wreck, the images on these pages are mainly video captures and several specific photographs have been kept from web publication for their own works. To use rare images of the wreck commercially please contact Leigh Bishop through this website.

The Wilhelm Gustloff
Many people are aware of such maritime disasters that took great loss of life such as that of the Titanic in 1912 or Lusitania in May 1915 however at the time of writing this few are aware of the Nazi War time Ocean liner ‘Wilhelm Gustloff’. The Gustloff sank in Jan 1945 north of Poland as she escaped the collapse of the eastern front, aboard with her approx. 10,000 refugees, Nazis and submariners their families alike escaping to the west.
7,700 would go down with the great ship allowing the Wilhelm Gustloff her morbid place in the history books as the worst maritime disaster of all time. The world continues ignorant of this once ‘strength through joy’ great liner. The Gustloff story is one of pride, power and glory although a story that inevitably turned its face to a disturbing grief through human greed, anxiety and above all ignorance to life itself. The face of today should surly be reminded of this grim past. With the ability of today’s underwater explorers, technology and transportation it is possibly to bring the stories of past such as the Gustloff tragedy to life. Even if through only a haunting reminder.
Wilhelm Gustloff click image to see more historic images of the ship

The Russian sunbmarine S13 makes its attack Almost 4 times as many men women and children lost their lives in this single incident than that of 9/11!& 6 times that of Titanic. When our team left England & the US for this expedition in May of 2003 little if anyone would have heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff, her history and of course her tragic loss.
With Gunter Grass’s release of Crabwalk as well as these diving expeditions perhaps we can turn just a few heads and educate historically.
The navigation bar above will guide you through the larger extent of this story both the diving of recent times and of course the history of the ship and its sinking. Mike Boring began his exploration into the Gustloff when he once brought an antique book covering the subject back when he lived in the US. The ship itself begins her story in from her launch in 1938, taking her name from the assassinated Nazi Martyr Wilhelm Gustloff a close friend to Adolph Hitler and strong
Chris Hutchison on the 2003 Gustloff expedition
Nazi party representative. At 25,484 Tons she was the pride to all Nazi followers and enjoyed life as a cruise ship through the so called ‘‘strength through joy’ years leading up to the break out of WW2. Although a great Ocean liner she was also a victim of the propaganda trend being a direct attack to the west to raise heads towards the classless liners. Hitler had built the Wilhelm Gustloff for all that followed the Nazi way of life from the
poor to the rich all could enjoy a cruise aboard this luxury liner. There was no 1st,2nd and 3rd class passengers aboard the Gustloff all could enjoy the liner for what she was. On the out break of war she was momentarily turned into a hospital ship before residing the war years as a barracks home to serving submariners of the German U-boat training school at Danzig bay Prussia. (Now north east Poland). As the eastern front collapsed during the later part of the war the Russian Red army
advanced on the Germans. With revenge on the Nazi’s the Russians spared no-one as they slaughtered every one in their path. As word spread through German occupied pockets of the outraged Russian advance the largest evacuation of its kind began as Karl Donitz pushed over 3 million refugees into the west. 10,000 of these refugees fled the Russians aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff desperately hoping for a new life.As the Gustloff made passage west across the southern Baltic sea those aboard could never have imagined their dreadful fate to come. As freezing sleet and snow was pushed across the decks by the forceful night wind the Russian submarine S13 fired two torpedo's into the vessels port side sinking the ship below the surface of the cold Baltic waters along with 7700 people.
The wreck of the Wilhelm Gustloff Image by Brad Sheard Click to enlarge
A diver films the wreck of the Wilhelm
Gustloff in the Baltic Sea Photo by
Brad Sheard

Click image to enlarge
Russian Submarine ace Alexander Marinesko then went onto torpedo the General Stuben another German refugee liner; all told Marinesko and his crew of S13 would be responsible for the loss of over 10,000 men women and children in a single mission. An achievement he would never be credited for until the 1960’s.
Map showing location of the incident
Key Map showing the location of the ill fated Nazi ships

Local Polish resident Photo by Leigh Bishop The 2003 diving expedition to the wreck was primarily an exploratory trip in every sense; this was a virgin expedition to a country we were not accustomed to and a place in which we had to find our own ground. Our goal was achieved as we explored the wreck and brought home with us digital video footage and 35mm still images. The expedition wasn't without incident and as we found out nothing runs exactly to plan however having said that our objectives were achieved. Today the ship known as the Wilhelm Gustloff lies on the bottom of the Baltic Sea in cold water of some 3ºc 25 miles north of Poland. As well as fleeing refugees was the Gustloff carrying a cargo that some say was the famous Amber Room worth an estimated $350 million, if she was did the Russians turn to the wreck after the war ended in search of their treasure the Nazi’s had looted from the during the war. Can we even begin to challenge the secrets of this shipwreck. Time will tell - This is her story:-

For these pages of Deep-Image I am in debt to expedition leader Mike Boring and all the 2003 team that made this happen, Mike Cross for any continued work he carries out in the Soviet Union and Ziemowit Kierkowski for his information and images from Poland.

Left ; Situated in the heartland of Europe, Poland has been both a bridge and a front line between eastern and western Europe. Today, free from outside interference, Poland is the place to go if you're interested in seeing how a nation picks itself up off the floor and tries to reinvent itself. It's a multifaceted country where the capital and medieval old towns are coddled by contemporary city slickers and where horse-drawn carts negotiate country lanes in areas where the 20th century appears to have got lost somewhere down the road.


Text copyright Leigh Bishop 2003

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