SS General von Steuben

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Bundesarchiv N 1572 Bild-1925-079, Polarfahrt mit Dampfer "München", Advent-Bay.jpg
SS General von Steuben
  • 1923: München
  • 1930: SS General von Steuben
  • 1938: 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)

SS General von Steuben was a German luxury passenger liner. She was launched as the München (sometimes spelled Muenchen), renamed in 1930 as the General von Steuben (after the famous German officer of the American Revolutionary War), and renamed again in 1938 as Steuben. On 10 February 1945 the liner was torpedoed by the Soviet submarine S-13 during Operation Hannibal and sank, sending four thousand people to their deaths.

Early History[edit]

Passengers disembark from the München at Gudvangen, Norway in the Summer of 1925.

In 1923, the München was the first German trans-Atlantic passenger liner both to be launched, and to enter New York Harbor, since the end of World War I. She arrived in July 1923 on her maiden trans-Atlantic voyage.[1]

1930 fire and sinking[edit]

On 11 February 1930, after docking and discharging passengers and most of her crew from a voyage from Bremen, Germany, a fire broke out in a paint locker which quickly spread to another storage hold; the massive fire and explosion resulted in a five-alarm fire with all fire equipment in New York City being sent to the burning ship. The fire could not be controlled and it sank next to the wharf it was docking at.[2]

In one of the largest shipping salvage efforts of its time, München was raised, towed to a dry dock, repaired, and returned to service. Shortly afterwards the ship's owner renamed her General von Steuben.[3]

World War II[edit]

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 wounded troops to Kiel.

Operation Hannibal[edit]

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 in both the size of the operation and the number of people evacuated.

By early January 1945, Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz realized that Germany was soon to be defeated. Wishing to save his submariners, he radioed a coded message on 23 January 1945 to the Baltic Sea port Gotenhafen (the Polish city and port of Gdynia under German occupation) to evacuate to the West under the code name Operation Hannibal.

Submariners were then schooled and housed in ships lying in the Baltic ports, with most 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.[citation needed]

Notwithstanding the losses suffered during the operation, the fact remains that over two million people were evacuated ahead of the Soviet Army's advance into East Prussia and Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland).


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 refugees 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 in the fleet of ships sent for the purpose.

Final voyage[edit]

On 9 February 1945, the 14,660-ton liner sailed from Pillau in the bay of Danzig for Swinemünde (now Świnoujście, Poland). On board were 2,800 wounded German soldiers; 800 civilians; 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.[4]

Just after midnight, two torpedoes from the Soviet submarine S-13 hit the Steuben. According to survivors, she sank within about 20 minutes. Between three and four thousand people were killed in the sinking. About 300 survivors were saved by torpedo boat T-196 and brought to Kolberg (now Kołobrzeg, Poland).


Diver at one of the engine order telegraphs of SS Steuben

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.[5]

The wreck lies on her port side at about 70 metres (230 ft) depth, and the hull reaches up to 50 metres (160 ft) depth. The ship is mainly intact.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "New York City, NY (Hudson River) Liner MUENCHEN Fire" Associated Press, 11 February 1930
  2. ^ "New York City, NY (Hudson River) Liner MUENCHEN Fire" Associated Press, 11 February 1930
  3. ^ "The Ship That Came Back To Life" Popular Mechanics, June 1930
  4. ^ 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 3,300.
  5. ^ Marcin Jamkowski [author] & Christoph Gerigk [photographer], (2005, February), Ghost ship found, National Geographic 207(2), 32-51. See note in the "References" section.


Web resources[edit]

Coordinates: 54°41′N 16°51′E / 54.683°N 16.850°E / 54.683; 16.850