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History’s Greatest Naval Disasters by John Ries

The Little-Known Stories of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the General Steuben and the Goya
For many people, the image of a great maritime disaster calls to mind the well-known sinking of the Titanic, which went down in April 1912 after striking an iceberg, taking the lives of 1,503 men, women and children. Others may think of the Lusitania, which sank on May 7, 1915, after being hit by a German submarine torpedo, taking 1,198 lives. Less well known is the fate of the American packet steamer Sultana, which suddenly exploded and sank in the Mississippi River near Memphis on April 27, 1865. Estimates of the loss of life range from 1,450 to 2,200. Almost all of the victims were exchanged federal prisoners of war on their way home from Confederate camps. A recent article in The Washington Times called the Sultana sinking “the most staggering and appalling marine disaster in history.” But the scale of even the Sultana disaster is dwarfed by the little-known sinkings of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the General Steuben and the Goya — converted German liners crowded with refugees and wounded soldiers that were sunk by Soviet submarines during the final months of the Second World War. In each case, more lives were lost than in the sinkings of either the Sultana, the Lusitania or the Titanic.

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