SS Cap Arcona (1927)
The Cap Arcona, on 1 January 1927.
|Builder:||Blohm & Voss shipyard, Hamburg|
|Laid down:||21 July 1926|
|Launched:||14 May 1927|
|In service:||29 October 1927 (maiden voyage)|
|Nickname:||The Queen of the South Atlantic|
|Fate:||Requisitioned into the Kriegsmarine in 1940.|
|Out of service:||1940–14 April 1945|
|Fate:||Sunk on 3 May 1945. Wreck dismantled in 1949.|
|Notes:||Used as floating barracks until the vessel returned to active service ferrying civilians and military personnel as part of Operation Hannibal|
|Tonnage:||27,561 BRT, 15,011 net|
|Displacement:||11,500 long tons (12,880 US tons)|
|Length:||205.9 meters (675.52 ft)
196.2 m (floating)
|Beam:||25.8 m (84.6 ft)|
|Draught:||12.8 m (8.7 m)|
|Propulsion:||Two steam turbines, two propellers. 17,500 kW|
|Speed:||Service: 20 knots[note 1]|
|Capacity:||1,315 (1927) (575 1st Classe, 275 2nd Classe, 465 in dormitories (until 1937), total 1315, from 1937 : 850)|
The Cap Arcona was a large German luxury ocean liner, formerly of the Hamburg-South America line. It transported passengers between Germany and South America until 1940 when it was taken over by the German Navy.
Late in the war, the ship was used for the evacuation of Germans from East Prussia. While heavily-laden with prisoners from Nazi concentration camps, she was sunk in 1945 by the Royal Air Force. About 5,000 people died. The sinking of the Cap Arcona was one of the biggest single-incident maritime losses of life during the war and, as such, one of the largest maritime losses of life in history.
The 27,561 gross ton Cap Arcona, named after Cape Arkona on the island of Rügen in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, was launched in 1927. She was considered one of the most beautiful ships of the time, was the largest German ship on the South American run, and carried upper-class travelers and steerage-class emigrants, mostly to South America.
In 1940, the Cap Arcona was taken over by the Kriegsmarine (the German Navy), painted overall grey and used in the Baltic Sea as an accommodation ship in Gotenhafen (formerly Gdynia, Poland). In 1942, she was used as a stand-in for the doomed Titanic in the German film version of the disaster. On 31 January 1945, the Kriegsmarine reactivated her for Operation Hannibal, where she was used to transport 25,795 German soldiers and civilians from East Prussia to western Germany. These trips were made very dangerous by mines and Soviet submarines.
On 30 January, the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, carrying a total of 10,582 passengers and crew, was torpedoed by the Soviet submarine S-13 and sank in forty minutes. An estimated 9,400 died. In the early morning of February 11, the same submarine S-13 torpedoed the 14,666-ton SS General von Steuben on its way to Copenhagen with military and civilian passengers; 3,500 were lost. On 20 February, the Cap Arcona's captain Johannes Gertz shot himself in his cabin in Copenhagen rather than face another trip back to Gdynia.
On 30 March 1945, the Cap Arcona finished its third and last trip between Poland and Copenhagen carrying 9,000 soldiers and refugees, but her turbines were completely worn out. They were repaired only partially and her days of long-distance travel were over. She was decommissioned, returned to her owners Hamburg-Süd and ordered out of Copenhagen Harbor to Neustadt Bay.
As a prison ship
Towards the end of April 1945, the Germans assembled a small fleet of ships in the Bay of Lübeck, comprising the liners Cap Arcona and SS Deutschland, and the smaller vessels Thielbek and Athen. Since the steering motors were out of use in the Thielbek and the turbines were out of use in the Cap Arcona, the Athen was used to transfer prisoners from Lübeck to the larger ships and between ships.  By the end of the month, these ships held more than 10,000 prisoners from the Neuengamme concentration camp and its subcamps, and two barges came from Stutthof and Mittelbau-Dora camps. The order to transfer the prisoners from the camps to the prison ships came from Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann in Hamburg, who was himself acting on orders from Berlin. Later, during a war crimes tribunal, Kaufmann claimed that the prisoners were destined for Sweden.
However, at the same trial, Georg-Henning Graf von Bassewitz-Behr, Hamburg's last Higher SS and Police Leader (HSSPF), said that the prisoners were in fact slated to be killed "in compliance with Himmler's orders". It has been suggested that the plan called for scuttling the ships with the prisoners alive and aboard, while Kurt Rickert, who had worked for Bassewitz-Behr, testified at the Hamburg War Crimes Trial that he believed that the vessels were to be sunk by U-boat or Luftwaffe aircraft. Eva Neurath, who was present in Neustadt, and whose husband survived the catastrophe, reported that she was told by a police officer that the ships held convicts and were scheduled to be blown up.
On 30 April 1945, two Swedish ships, Magdalena and Lillie Matthiessen, sailed from Lübeck, the first with 223 western European prisoners, for the most part French-speaking,[note 2] who were transferred from the Thielbek to the Magdalena, and the second with 225 women from Ravensbrück on board for transportation to hospitals in Sweden.
On 2 May 1945, the British Second Army reached the towns of Lübeck and Wismar. No. 6 Commando, 1st Special Service Brigade commanded by Brigadier Derek Mills-Roberts, and 11th Armoured Division, commanded by Major-General George P. B. Roberts, entered Lübeck without resistance. On that day Mr. De Blonay of the International Committee of the Red Cross informed Major-General Roberts that 7,000-8,000 prisoners were aboard ships in the Bay of Lübeck.
On 3 May 1945, three days after Hitler's suicide and only one day before the unconditional surrender of the German troops in Northwestern Germany at Lüneburg Heath to Field Marshal Montgomery, the Cap Arcona, the Thielbek, and the passenger liner Deutschland were attacked as part of general attacks on shipping in the Baltic Sea by RAF Typhoons of 83 Group of the 2nd Tactical Air Force.
The aircraft were from No. 184 Squadron, No. 193 Squadron, No. 263 Squadron, No. 197 Squadron RAF, and No. 198 Squadron. Besides four 20 mm cannon these Hawker Typhoon Mark 1B fighter-bombers carried eight HE High Explosive "60 lb" RP-3 unguided rockets or two 500 lb (230 kg) bombs.
Pilots of the attacking force stated that they were unaware that the ships were laden with explosives and prisoners who had survived the camps. Some sources suggest elements of British command knew of the occupants, but failed to pass the information on.[note 3] The RAF commanders ordering the strike reportedly thought that the ships carried escaping SS officers, possibly fleeing to German-controlled Norway with a dilapidated wreck.
Equipped with lifejackets from locked storage compartments, most of the SS guards were able to jump overboard from the Cap Arcona, and there are rumours that despite the water temperature of only 7°C, they were busy shooting any prisoners who tried to escape. German trawlers sent to rescue Cap Arcona's crew members and guards managed to save 16 sailors, 400 SS men, and 20 SS women. Most of the prisoners who tried to board the trawlers were beaten back, while those who reached shore were shot down. The prisoners who managed to swim ashore were mainly gunned down by the SS. Only 350 of the 4,500 former concentration camp inmates who had been aboard the Cap Arcona survived.
RAF Pilot Allan Wyse of No. 193 Squadron later recalled, "We used our cannon fire at the chaps in the water . . . we shot them up with 20 mm cannons in the water. Horrible thing, but we were told to do it and we did it. That's war."
Severely damaged and set on fire, the Cap Arcona eventually capsized. The death toll was estimated at 5,000 people. Photos of the burning ships, listed as Deutschland, Thielbek, and Cap Arcona, and of emaciated survivors swimming in the very cold Baltic Sea, around 7 °C (44.6 °F), were taken on a reconnaissance mission over the Bay of Lübeck by F-6 Mustang (the photo-reconnaissance version of the P-51) of the USAAF's 161st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron around 5:00 pm, shortly after the attack.
On 4 May 1945, a British reconnaissance plane took photos of the two laid wrecks, Thielbek and Cap Arcona, the Bay of Neustadt being shallow. The capsized hulk of the Cap Arcona later drifted ashore, and the beached wreck was broken up in 1949. For weeks after the attack, the bodies of victims washed ashore, where they were collected and buried in mass graves at Neustadt in Holstein, Scharbeutz and Timmendorfer Strand. Parts of skeletons were washed ashore over the next thirty years, until the last find in 1971.
The prisoners were from at least 30 nationalities: American, Belarussian, Belgian, Canadian, Czechoslovakian, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Luxembourger, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swiss, Ukrainian, Yugoslavian and others.
- Francis Akos (born 1922), born Weinman Akos Ferencz in Budapest, Hungary; Chicago Symphony Orchestra violinist
- Heinrich Bertram, captain of the Cap Arcona
- Emil František Burian, musician and theatrical director, founder of Theatre D, a leading avant-garde theatre in inter-war Europe
- Erwin Geschonneck, who later became a notable German actor, and whose story was made into a film in 1982
- Ernst Goldenbaum, East German politician
- Benjamin Jacobs (1919–2004) born Berek Jakubowicz in Dobra, Poland; dentist, holocaust speaker and author
- Philip Jackson, son of an American surgeon dead during the attacks
- Heinz Lord, German-American surgeon
- André Migdal (1924-2007), French resistant, holocaust speaker and author, poet, survivor of the Athen
- Sam Pivnik, art dealer and lecturer on the Holocaust
- Gustaaf Van Essche (1923–1979), Belgian politician
- Cap Arcona:
- Hamburg-Buenos Aires in 15 days
- Among them was Michel Hollard, of the French resistance, who had set up an intelligence network to feed information to the Allies before he was captured.
- From the Till report of June 1945: "The Intelligence Officer with 83 Group RAF has admitted on two occasions; first to Lt H. F. Ansell of this Team (when it was confirmed by a Wing Commander present), and on a second occasion to the Investigating Officer when he was accompanied by Lt. H. F. Ansell, that a message was received on 2 May 1945 that these ships were loaded with KZ prisoners but that, although there was ample time to warn the pilots of the planes who attacked these ships on the following day, by some oversight the message was never passed on... From the facts and from the statement volunteered by the RAF Intelligence Officer, it appears that the primary responsibility for this great loss of life must fall on the British RAF personnel who failed to pass to the pilots the message they received concerning the presence of KZ prisoners on board these ships." See: Benjamin Jacobs and Eugene Pool, The 100-Year Secret: Britain's Hidden World War II Massacre. The Lyons Press, October 2004. ISBN 1-59228-532-5 and Noel Till, Report on Investigations, WO 309/1592
- Williams, David, Wartime Disasters at Sea, Patrick Stephens Ltd., Yeovil, UK, 1997, pp.235-36.
- Koberger, Jr., Charles W., Steel Ships, Iron Crosses, and Refugees, Praeger, NY, 1989, p. 87.
- Jacobs, Benjamin & Pool, Eugene, The Hundred Year Secret, The Lyons Press., Guilford, Connecticut, USA, 2004, p.32.
- Jacobs, Benjamin & Pool, Eugene, The Hundred Year Secret, The Lyons Press., Guilford, Connecticut, USA, 2004, pp.44-45.
- Jacobs, Benjamin & Pool, Eugene, The Hundred Year Secret, The Lyons Press., Guilford, Connecticut, USA, 2004, p.162.
- Vaughan, Hal (2004). Doctor to the Resistance: The Heroic True Story of an American Surgeon and His Family in Occupied Paris. Brassey's. pp. 154–156. ISBN 1-57488-773-4.
- Bond, D. G. (1993). German history and German identity: Uwe Johnson's Jahrestage. Rodopi. pp. 150–151. ISBN 90-5183-459-4.
- Vaughn, p. 148
- Vaughan, pp. 156-157
- Noel Till, Report on Investigations, WO 309/1592
- Arthur, Max (October 16, 2000). "RAF pilots tricked into killing 10,000 camp survivors at end of war - Home News, UK". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2009-02-25.
- "Die Tragödie in der Neustädter Bucht". Wlb-stuttgart.de. Retrieved 2009-02-25.
- The 100-YEAR SECRET , inside front cover +  Cap Arcona, May 1945.
- "British error killed WW2 camp inmates". Shanghai Star. 2000-03-07.
- Isherwood, J.L. (May 1976). "Steamers of the Past: The Hamburg-South American Liner Cap Arcona". Sea Breezes.
- "The Sinking of the Thielbek". .uni-hamburg.de. Retrieved 2009-02-25.
- No. 19 German magazine Schiffe Menschen Schicksale, Schnelldampfer "Cap Arcona", p. 37.
- Raymond Van Pée (1995), Ik was 20 in 1944 (in Dutch)
- Günther Schwarberg: Angriffsziel "Cap Arcona", Steidl Verlag, 1998 Göttingen.
- English language
- Roy Nesbit, Cap Arcona: atrocity or accident?. Aeroplane Monthly, June 1984
- Benjamin Jacobs and Eugene Pool, The 100-Year Secret: Britain's Hidden World War II Massacre. The Lyons Press, October 2004. ISBN 1-59228-532-5.
- Benjamin Jacobs, The Dentist of Auschwitz, University Press of Kentucky, Reprinted April 2001, ISBN 0-8131-9012-6, chapters 17, 18.
- Hal Vaughan, Doctor to the Resistance: The Heroic True Story of an American Surgeon and His Family in Occupied Paris, Potomac Books Inc. 2004, ISBN 1-57488-773-4
- Maj. Noel O. Till, Report on Investigations, WO 309/1592. (No. 2 War Crimes Investigation Team), Sept. 1945
- Sam Pivnik, Survivor. Auschwitz, The Death March and My Fight for Freedom. Hodde & Stougthon Ltd., London 2012, ISBN 978-1444758382.
- German language
- Rudi Goguel, Cap Arcona. Report über den Untergang der Häftlingsflotte in der Lübecker Bucht am 3. Mai 1945. Frankfurt/M 1972, ISBN 3-87682-756-6
- Günther Schwarberg, Angriffsziel „Cap Arcona“, Steidl Verlag, Göttingen 1998, ISBN 3-88243-590-9
- Wilhelm Lange, Cap Arcona, Struves Buchdruckerei u. Verlag, Eutin 1988, ISBN 3-923457-08-1
- Wilhelm Lange, Mythos und Wirklichkeit - Eine "publikumswirksame" Präsentation der Cap-Arcona-Katastrophe vom 3. Mai 1945 (page 27) 2/2000, in Schiff und Zeit, Panorama maritim N° 52
- Wilhelm Lange, Neueste Erkenntnisse zur Bombardierung der KZ Schiffe in der Neustädter Bucht am 3. Mai 1945: Vorgeschichte, Verlauf und Verantwortlichkeiten. In: Detlef Garbe: Häftlinge zwischen Vernichtung und Befreiung. Die Auflösung des KZ Neuengamme und seiner Außenlager durch die SS im Frühjahr 1945. Bremen 2005, ISBN 3-86108-799-5
- Claus Rothe, Deutsche Ozean-Passagierschiffe 1919–1985, VEB Verlag for Verkehrswesen Berlin 1987 transpress
- Karin Orth, Planungen und Befehle der SS Führung zur Räumung des KZ-Systems. In: Detlef Garbe: Häftlinge zwischen Vernichtung und Befreiung. Die Auflösung des KZ Neuengamme und seiner Außenlager durch die SS im Frühjahr 1945. Bremen 2005, ISBN 3-86108-799-5
- Herbert Diercks, Michael Grill, Die Evakuierung des KZ Neuengamme und die Katastrophe am 3. Mai 1845 in der Lübecker Bucht. In : Kriegsende und Befreiung. Bremen 1995 ISBN 3-86108-266-7
- Sven Schiffner, Cap-Arcona-Gedenken in der DDR: Gedenken, Volkssport, Propaganda. In : Detlef Garbe, Carmen Lange : Häftlinge zwischen Vernichtung und Befreiung. Bremen 2005
- French language
- André Migdal, Les plages de sable rouge. La tragédie de Lübeck, 3 mai 1945. NM7 éditions, Paris 2001, ISBN 2-913973-20-5.
Documentaries, TV movie
- Typhoons' Last Storm, Lawrence Bond, 2000.
- The Cap Arcona case, Günther Klaucke, Karl Hermann, 1995.
- Der Mann von der Cap Arcona, GDR TV movie, the Erwin Geschonneck's story by the theme of the sinking of the Cap Arcona, 1981/82.
- De ramp met de Cap Arcona, 2011.
- Nazi Titanic: Revealed, Channel 5 Documentary, 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cap Arcona (ship, 1927).|
- History of the tragedy
- Disaster on the Baltic Sea
- Appendix A
- Cap Arcona Wrecksite
- Lucien Revert (French)
- Scuba diving around the wreck
- Photo of the Cap Arcona (1938)
- Photos of the Cap Arcona
- Album photos
- Die Tragödie in der Neustädter Bucht (The tragedy in the Bay of Neustadt) (1940-1945)
- Photo of the Cap Arcona (1945)
- Photo of the Cap Arcona (1949)
- Postcard of the Memorial
- Cap Arcona, etching, Alfred Hrdlicka (1986)
- Drawing of the burning ships. Unknown author.