Operation Hannibal (iii)

'Hannibal' (iii) was the German evacuation of troops and civilians from East Prussia as General Hovhannes Kh. Bagramyan’s 1st Baltic Front, General Ivan D. Chernyakhovsky’s 3rd Belorussian Front and Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Konstantin K. Rokossovsky’s 2nd Belorussian Front advanced from the north-east, east and south-east respectively (21 January/9 May 1945).

By a time early in January 1945, Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz, commander-in-chief of the German navy, had come to the conclusion that Germany would soon to be defeated and, in the hope of saving his submariners, on 23 January ordered the units based at Götenhafen to pull back to the west on receipt of the trigger word 'Hannibal' (iii), at the same time taking with them as many German citizens as they could. As late as April 1945, however, Adolf Hitler believed the war had to be continued, but nonetheless the flood of refugees streaming away from the Soviet advances swiftly turned the operation into one of the largest emergency evacuations by sea in history: over a period of four months some 1,100 German vessels, including ore haulers, freighters, naval vessels and even fishing boats were able to evacuate more than 2 million people along the southern side of the Baltic Sea to Germany.

In the face of the Soviet attack threatening East Prussia and Danzig, the greatest evacuation operation in history got under way on 24 January. Overall responsibility for the operation rested with the Marineoberkommando 'Ostsee' at Kiel under the command of Generaladmiral Oskar Kummetz, with supervision of operations around the Gulf of Danzig and Kurland entrusted to Fregattenkapitän Adalbert von Blanc’s 9th Sicherungsdivision and in the area to the west of Rixhöft as far as the Danish islands to Konteradmiral Hans Bütow’s (from February Fregattenkapitän Hugo Heydel’s 10th Sicherungsdivision.

The shipping required for this huge task was controlled by the Wehrmacht Seetransportchef, Konteradmiral Conrad Engelhardt, and comprised mostly the large passenger ships which, up to this late stage in the war, had been used as accommodation ships in Pillau, Gotenhafen and Danzig. These ships included the 27,561-ton Cap Arcona, 27,288-ton Robert Ley, 25,484-ton Wilhelm Gustloff, 22,117-ton Hamburg, 21,131-ton Hansa, 21,046-ton Deutschland, 17,528-ton Potsdam, 16,662-ton Pretoria, 15,286-ton Berlin, 14,660-ton General Steuben, 13,882-ton Monte Rosa, 13,589-ton Antonio Delfino, 10,123-ton Winrich von Kniprode and 9,554-ton Ubena. Also involved were the 13,751-ton whale factory ship Walter Rau and many freighters including the 7,862-ton Moltkefels, 7,848-ton Wangoni, 7,838-ton Neidenfels, 7,650-ton Lappland, 7,287-ton Vega, 7,258-ton Volta, 6,267-ton Göttingen, 6,261-ton Sachsenwald, 6,257-ton Kanonier, 6,133-ton Duala, 5,950-ton Vale, 5,869-ton Wiegand, 5,791-ton Urundi, 5,493-ton Tübingen, 5,446-ton Albert Jensen, 5,347-ton Brake, 5,346-ton Tanga, 5,337-ton Mathias Stinnes, 5,230-ton Goya, 5,193-ton Mendoza, 5,125-ton Cometa, and 5,064-ton Eberhard Essberger. Many other ships of under 5,000 tons were also committed to the undertaking and, in addition, auxiliary warships and escort vessels were operated largely for the evacuation of refugees.

To protect the convoys Korvettenkapitän Georg Pinkepank’s 1st Minensuch-Flottille, Korvettenkapitän Dr Emil Kieffer’s 3rd Minesuch-Flottille and Kapitänleutnant Heinz Vogeler’s (from February Kapitänleutnant Emershaus von Haxthausen’s) 25th Minensuch-Flottille of the 9th Sicherungsdivision were used in the Gulf of Danzig and Kurland area, each with some six operational boats, as too were Kapitänleutnant Carl Hoff’s 1st Räumsboots-Flottille and Korvettenkapitän Albert Zaage’s (from March Kapitänleutnant Paul Voss’s) 17th Räumsboots-Flottille, each with between seven and 10 motor minesweepers, Korvettenkapitän Gottfried Böttger’s 3rd Vorposten-Flottille and Korvettenkapitän Carl Dittmer’s 17th Vorposten-Flottille, each with between six and eight trawlers converted as patrol craft, Korvettenkapitän Wolfgang Leonhardt’s (from March Fregattenkapitän Karl Palmgren’s) 3rd Sicherungs-Flottille and Korvettenkapitän Christian Petersen’s 14th Sicherungs-Flottille, each with numerous small adapted fishing vessels and KFKs (fishing cutters), Kapitänleutnant Hans-Joachim Prater’s 31st Minesuch-Flottille with four KFK groups, Oberleutnant Dr Alexander Reichmann’s 3rd Unterseebootsjagd-Flottille with many small fishery vessels adapted as submarine chasers, Korvettenkapitän Heinrich Wassmuth’s 13th Landungs-Flottille and Korvettenkapitän Erich Brauneis’s 24th Landungs-Flottille, each with naval ferry barges, and Kapitänleutnant Dr Schroder’s 3rd Artillerieträger-Flottille and Korvettenkapitän Dr Theodor Sonnemann’s (from April Kapitänleutnant August Eggers’s) 7th Artillerieträger-Flottille with SAT (heavy auxiliary gunboat), LAT (light auxiliary gunboat) and AF (gun ferry barge) craft. In the waters between the Gulf of Danzig and the Bay of Pomerania, the newly formed 2nd ]Minensuch-Flottille and 12th Minensuch-Flottille, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Gerd Rosenow and Kapitänleutnant Reinhart Ostertag respectively, operated with the modern 'Typ 43' minesweepers of the 10th Sicherungsdivision, as did Korvettenkapitän Georg Mergelmeyer’s 15th Räumsboots-Flottille with the new motor minesweepers, Kapitänleutnant Dr Helmuth Reimann’s 2nd Sicherungs-Flottille with the mine destructor vessel Sperrbrecher 104, the minesweepers M 502 and M 545, and many small fishery vessels and KFK craft, Korvettenkapitän Walther Grosse’s (from May Korvettenkapitän Fritz Reinhold’s 36th Minensuch-Flottille with converted drifters, Korvettenkapitän Theodor Wentzel’s KFK-Schulflottille and from March Kapitänleutnant Bittkow’s newly formed 6th Unterseebootsjagd-Flottille as well as Korvettenkapitän Felix Wiegandt’s (from April Korvettenkapitän Johannes Zaepernick’s 11th Landungs-Flottille with naval ferry barges for transport purposes.

In the western Baltic Kapitan Gerhard Schulz’s 1st Sicherungs-Flottille operated from Kiel for mine defence.

On 25 January Robert Ley, Pretoria, Ubena and other ships departed as the first wave of evacuation vessels from Pillau with 7,100 refugees. More ships followed, and by 28 January 62,000 refugees had been evacuated. The light cruiser Emden steamed to the west from Pillau with a modest number of refugees and the sarcophagus of Reichspräsident und Generalfeldmarschall Paul von Hindenburg.

At this stage of 'Hannibal' (iii), the main threat to the evacuation was the British air mining offensive in the western part of the Baltic Sea and as far as the Pomeranian coast. This caused frequent closure of the compulsory routes in 65-ft (20-m) waters and considerable delays while the vessels of the 1st Sicherungs-Flottille and 2nd Sicherungs-Flottille searched for mines. In January the British dropped 668 mines in 159 sorties, and these caused the loss of 18 ships totalling 42,673 tons and damaged another eight totalling 9,177 tons. In February the British dropped 1,354 mines in 291 sorties, and the Germans lost 23 ships totalling 25,642 tons and had another 13 totalling 13,490 tons damaged. In March the British dropped 1,198 mines in 270 sorties, resulting in the German loss of 26 ships totalling 69,449 tons sunk and another 11 totalling 48,557 tons damaged. The destroyer Z 28 was sunk at Sassnitz in a British air attack on 6 March, when 191 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers and seven de Havilland Mosquito light bombers raided the port in an attack which also sank the submarine-chasers UJ 1109, UJ 1118 and UJ 1119 as well as the 3,344-ton hospital ship Robert Möhring.

For the rest, the danger from the air during this time was relatively light as the Soviet air forces were still largely committed to support of land operations. Thus great evacuation successes were achieved. Each of the large passenger ships could carry between 5,000 and 9,000 evacuees at a time, and the freighters anything up to 5,000 evacuees, according to their size. Initially the protection of the evacuee ships against the threat of Soviet submarines was inadequate as no effective anti-submarine vessels were available until the second half of February, when the 11th Unterseebootsjagd-Flottille and 12th Unterseebootsjagd-Flottille were redeployed into the area.

As part of their response to the evacuation from East Prussia, the Soviets transferred their submarines to the deep-water area between the Gulf of Danzig and the Bay of Pomerania, thereby avoiding the shallows near the coast which were the preferred target area for British aerial minelaying efforts. Even so, there were several losses, for example in the 'Geranium' field. The British mines were concentrated off Swinemünde, where a number of vessels succumbed: on 29 January the escort vessel F 5; on 31 January the 1,157-ton tender Memel with about 600 refugees lost, and the 15,286-ton hospital ship Berlin which had just disembarked wounded and was on her way back to Pillau; on 2 February the 5,821-ton freighter Planet though without personnel losses; and between 12 and 17 February the transports Ditmar Koel (670 tons), Dieter H. Stinnes (2,545 tons) and Consul Cords (951 tons) together with the 5,095-ton Minenräumschiff 11, while the 9,338-ton transport Drechtdijk was damaged. On 18 February Tolina, an uncompleted new ship loaded with refugees and under tow from Hela to Swinemünde by the steamship Neustadt, was missed by the Soviet motor torpedo boat TKA-181.

Between 28 February and 5 March, off Warnemünde, the transports Ellen Larsen (1,938 tons), Erika Fritzen (4,169 tons) and Rixhöft (5,378 tons), the motor minesweeper R 177 and 21,131-ton transport Hansa were lost, and the 6,049-ton tanker Jaspis and 1,923-ton freighter Irene Oldendorf were damaged. On 6/7 March, off Sassnitz, the 22,117-ton Hamburg ran onto mines.

The Soviet submarines Shch-318 and Shch-407 remained to the south-west of Liepaja and the south-west of Memel respectively: Shch-318 sank the 643-ton tanker Hiddensee on 4 February and Shch-407 missed the torpedo training boat TS 8. L-3 laid 10 mines off Ventspils on 26 January and 10 to the north of Brüsterort on 2 February: the 1,141-ton freighter Henry Lütgens was lost to the first barrage on 29 January, the 4,191-ton icebreaker Pollux to the second, probably on 7 February, and the 2,864-ton freighter Jersbek on 30 March. The new K-51 reached the area to the south-east of the island of Bornholm, and on 28 January sank the 2,028-ton Danish freighter Viborg but on 6 February missed another freighter despite making two attacks. S-13 patrolled the Stolpe Bank area, where it achieved great success.

On 30 January the liners Wilhelm Gustloff and Hansa, hitherto employed as accommodation ships for Kapitan Karl Neitzel’s 2nd Unterseeboots-Lehr-Division were ordered to leave Gotenhafen for the western part of the Baltic Sea with U-boat crews and large numbers of refugees. There were no powerful escort vessels available, and Hansa was delayed by engine problems, so Wilhelm Gustloff departed, under escort of only the small torpedo boat Löwe (ex-Norwegian Gyller), using the deep-water channel. Though there are no absolute figures, there were probably about 10,582 people (918 members of the 2nd Unterseeboots-Lehr-Division, 373 Marinehelferinnen(female naval auxiliaries), 173 crew members, 162 wounded soldiers and 8,956 refugee men, women and children on Wilhelm Gustloff. During the night S-13 hit the ship with three torpedoes, and the ship quickly sank. The heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper, with a crew of almost 1,500 and also with about 1,500 refugees on board, was being escorted by the torpedo boat T 36, also carrying refugees, passed the sinking vessel but had to continue at high speed because of the submarine danger. Löwe rescued 472 people and landed them at Kolberg; T 36 reported that she had evaded two torpedoes from S-13 and attacked the submarine with depth charges, but nevertheless rescued 564 persons, who were landed at Sassnitz; the steamship Gotenland, carrying about 4,000 evacuees from Libau and escorted by the minesweeper M 387, rescued two; M 387 saved 98; M 341, which was already carrying 144 refugees, saved 37; the steamship Göttingen, loaded with 2,464 wounded and 1,190 refugees, rescues 28 and her escort, M 375, another 43; and the small torpedo recovery vessel TF 197 and the patrol vessel V 1703 rescued one child. Thus the number of people pulled from the water totalled 1,252, of whom 13 later died on board the ships which rescued them, and thus the greatest maritime disaster of all time claimed about 9,343 lives.

On the following day the liners Hansa, Hamburg and Cap Arkona (with 8,000 refugees) and other ships departed the Gulf of Danzig and reached the western Baltic. Meanwhile the submarine L-3 made three unsuccessful attacks on shipping off Ventspils and then, after laying mines off Brüsterort, made two more attacks on 4 February, one of them on the returning T 36. On 6 February, to the south of Bornholm, K-51 made two unsuccessful attacks on the same ship.

On 9 February the liner General Steuben, used as transport for wounded soldiers, departed Pillau with 2,800 casualties, 800 refugees and 667 others. The escort from Hela comprised the old torpedo boat T 196 with 200 refugees and the torpedo recovery vessel TF 10. On 10 February the liner came under attack from S-13 to the north of the Stolpe Bank and was hit by two torpedoes. Because of the bitter cold only 639 people were rescued alive, so 3,608 persons, most of them the wounded, went down with the ship.

In mid-February K-52, M-102, Shch-309 and Shch-303 departed their bases to enter the fray in the Baltic Sea. Shch-309 sank the transport Göttingen off Liepaja on 23 February, resulting in the deaths of about 500 persons. On 24 and 26 February Shch-309 made three further attacks but achieved no hits. Between 24 February and 8 March K-52 made seven attacks and made unconfirmed claims for one torpedo boat and five ships sunk in the deep-water channel from Liepaja to Swinemünde. Shch-303 unsuccessfully attacked a ship off Liepaja on 5 March and possibly sank the 6,002-ton transport Borbek four days later, although this vessel was also recorded as having been sunk on 11 February to the north-east of Hela by a Soviet air-launched torpedo. M 102 and the small M 90 patrolled off Ventspils but claimed no victims.

On 26 February the armies of Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Georgi K. Zhukov’s 1st Belorussian Front launched an offensive from their line to the east of Stargard in the direction of the Stettiner Haff and Kolberg in eastern Pomerania. From around Friedland, part of Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Konstantin K. Rokossovsky’s 2nd Belorussian Front advanced toward Koslin, which the III Guards Cavalry Corps captured on 5 March. In the west, General Polkovnik Semyon I. Bogdanov’s 2nd Guards Tank Army reached the Stettiner Haff on 3 March, General Mikhail Ye. Katukov’s 1st Guards Tank Army and General Leytenant Zygmunt Berling’s Polish 1st Army the area near Kolberg and General Major Nikolai P. Simoniak’s (from March General Polkovnik Vladimir I. Kuznetsov’s) 3rd Shock Army the crossing to Wollin near Dievenow.

To cover the bridgehead opposite Wollin, a task force commanded by Vizeadmiral August Thiele was created with the heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer, destroyers Z 38, Z 31 and Paul Jacobi, and torpedo boat T 36. From 11 to 18 March the destroyers Z 43 and Z 34 and the torpedo boat T 33 supported the defenders of Kolberg, numbering some 2,500 to 3,000 men who had been encircled since 7 March, so as to make possible the evacuation of about 75,000 isolated refugees with the help of naval ferry barges of the 11th Landungs-Flottille and support from the 5th Artillerieträger-Flottille. In the roads, some of the defenders were embarked on the transports Westpreussen (2,870 tons) and Winrich von Kniprode (10,123 tons) as well as a number of small warships. During the night 17/18 March the evacuation of some 75,000 refugees, soldiers and wounded was completed.

On 7 March the 2nd Belorussian Front launched an attack from the Köslin-Vistula line near Marienwerder in the area of Gotenhafen and Danzig. General Walter Weiss’s (from 10 March General Dietrich von Saucken’s) 2nd Army was driven back to the line between Rixhöft, Neustadt and Karthaus, where it was able to stabilise the front at least temporarily with the support of naval gunfire and so gain valuable time for the further evacuation of refugees.

From 10 March the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen was also involved in the operation, as too were, from 15 March, the pre-dreadnought battleship Schlesien, the SATs Soemba, Joost and Ostsee and the gunnery training vessel Drache. On 21 March Schlesien had to be withdrawn for lack of ammunition, her place being taken on 23 March by the cruiser Lützow (ex-pocket battleship Deutschland) in company with the destroyers Z 31 and Z 34. From 25 March the light cruiser Leipzig also took part in the shelling of land targets.

The Soviet naval air force, and in particular the 9th Ground-Attack Division and 8th Mining and Torpedo Division, flew 2,023 sorties against embarkation operations in Danzig and Gotenhafen and off Hela. Here destroyers, torpedo boats, minesweepers and small auxiliary warships were used to loft a barrage of anti-aircraft fire in an effort to shield the transports, but on 12 March the 1,761-ton transport Gerrit Fritzen, the minesweeper M 3137 (K 181) and submarine chaser UJ 303 were sunk, as too, on 18 March near Schlopin, were the motor minesweeper R 227 and 1,722-ton transport Orion; the 565-ton Ellen was damaged, as was the 1,172-ton Lisa Essberger in Gotenhafen roads on 19 March. On 22 March the 1,186-ton Frankfurt was sunk, as were the 665-ton Bille and 999-ton Weser on 26 March.

However, before the fall of Gotenhafen on 28 March and of Danzig on 30 March, several large transports and numerous smaller ships managed to depart to the west crowded with refugees. For example, on 23 March Deutschland had 11,145 refugees on board and on 28 March 11,295, and Potsdam more than 9,000.

Losses were caused by a mine barrage laid off Hela on 13 March by the Soviet submarine L-21. On 14 March the torpedo boats T 3 and T 5 sank on this barrage, as did U-367 on 16 March. On 9 April Z 43 was damaged. Shch-303 possibly torpedoed the 6,002-ton Borbek off Liepaja on 9 March, and this ship was sunk on 11 March by aircraft. Near the Stolpe Bank, off the island of Bornholm, the submarine K-53 sank the 1,912-ton freighter Margarethe Cords on 17 March. L-21 sank the 581-ton patrol boat V 2022 on 22 March and the 105-ton tug Erni on 24 March, and after a number of unsuccessful attacks on 18 March this submarine was hunted off Kolberg in the next few days by F 8 and TS 4. The submarine M-90 patrolled off Liepaja in the middle of the month but enjoyed no success.

On 27 March, before the evacuation, the wreck of the battle-cruiser Gneisenau was sunk in Gotenhafen as a blockship.

During the night 4/5 April the survivors of General Mortimer von Kessel’s VII Panzerkorps, comprising 8,000 troops, and about 30,000 refugees from the Oxhofter Kaempe bridgehead were delivered to Hela in 25 KFKs, 27 MFPs, five SATs and five other vessels in 'Walpurgisnacht'.

The movements and embarkations off Hela were covered over the following days by a number of vessels including, among others, the cruiser Lützow, the destroyers Z 31, Z 38 and Paul Jacobi, the torpedo boat T 36 and the SATs Ostsee, Soemba and Robert Müller 6. Among the transports proceeding to the west were Pretoria with 7,000 refugees, Deutschland with 10,000 refugees, Cap Arcona with 9,000 refugees and Eberhart Essberger with 4,750 refugees. By 10 April 157,270 wounded had been evacuated from Hela since 21 March, while from the still unoccupied ports in the Gulf of Danzig (Pillau, Kahlberg, Schiewenhorst and Oxhöft) 264,887 persons were evacuated to Hela in small craft and naval ferry barges during April.

From 7 to 13 April a sharp intensification of Soviet air activity against the embarkations became evident. In the process, the 5,450-ton transport Flensburg, 10,850-ton supply ship Franken which with her sister ship Dithmarschen had replenished the units of the fleet, the aircraft repair ship Hans Albrecht Wedel, the transports Albert Jensen (5,446 tons), Moltkefels (7,862 tons), Wiegand (5,869 tons) and Karlsruhe (897 tons), the 1,069-ton hospital ship Posen, UJ 301, UJ 1102 and R 69 were sunk.

From 9 April Soviet motor torpedo boats were transferred to Neufahrwasser, and from 10 April made 10 sorties. On 10 April the 804-ton freighter Neuwerk was sunk in error by S-boote. The embarkations off Hela continued under the anti-aircraft cover of the warships but on 8 April, because of lack of fuel and ammunition, Lützow, Z 31 (damaged by bombs) and Z 38 were withdrawn; and on 10 April Z 39 and T 33 had to bring Z 43, damaged by mines and bombs, to the west. Thus there remained, for anti-aircraft defence, Z 34, Paul Jacobi, T 33, M 203 and the SATs Soemba, Ostsee, Nienburg, Robert Müller 6 and AF 21. On 15 April Z 34, Paul Jacobi, Z 39, T 23, T 28, T 33, T 36 and the minesweepers withdrew in company with a convoy comprising the ships Matthias Stinnes, Eberhart Essberger, Pretoria and Askari with about 20,000 refugees. On her return Z 34 was torpedoed by the Soviet motor torpedo boats TKA-131 and TKA-141, and the damaged destroyer was brought into Swinemünde by T 36 and M 204.

On 18 March the Soviet armies started their sixth major offensive against Generaloberst Dr Lothar Rendulic’s (from 6 April Generaloberst Carl Hilpert’s) Heeresgruppe 'Kurland', although this was broken off after about 10 days.

On 26/27 March Soviet torpedo bombers attacked a convoy off Libau and sank the small tanker Sassnitz together with R 145 and R 260. Eight fighters from the Jagdgeschwader 54 then drove off the aircraft, allowing the remaining German motor minesweepers to retire. At the scene of the incident, three boats of Kapitänleutnant Hermann Holsapfel’s 5th Schnellsboots-Flottille surprised a group of nine Soviet motor torpedo boats during the following night and in a fierce engagement sank TKA-166, TKA-181 and TKA-199, and took 15 prisoners including the commander of the 2nd Motor Torpedo Boat Division.

From 23 March a new wave of Soviet submarines was sent out, some of them operating until the second half of April. On 30 March Lembit laid a mine barrage off Rixhöft, and on 25 April the patrol vessel Vs 343 was sunk on this. Shch-310 patrolled off Libau: on 27 March the boat missed an intended target, but on 10 April sank the 1,201-ton freighter Ilmenau; more misses followed on 12 April, 14 April (Z 34 and T 36), 22 April and 24 April. On 4 April, to the north of the Stolpe Bank, K-56 missed the submarine chaser UJ 1201 but on 11 April, to the south of Utklippan, sank the 57-ton Swedish lugger Ramona by gunfire. The 1,923-ton German freighter Huelva succumbed to air attack on 24 April.

L-3 laid a mine barrage on 23 March to the north-east of Rixhöft: Through there is no clear evidence of sinkings on this barrage, the minesweeper M 3138 was sunk on the same day.

From 19 to 25 March Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Aleksandr M. Vasilevsky’s (from April General Hovhannes Kh. Bagramyan’s) 3rd Belorussian Front compressed the pocket in which General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller’s 4th Army was trapped to the south of Königsberg on the Frisches Haff. This formation had been supplied by ferry barges across the Frisches Haff since January. Now 11,365 wounded, 324 troops and 14,520 refugees were evacuated to Pillau, as many as 5,830 troops and 2,830 wounded being extracted during the last night on 25 March. Because of the situation near Danzig and Gotenhafen, however, the embarkations at Pillau were considerably disrupted between 8 and 28 March, and air attacks sank a number of ships including, for example the 3,717-ton Meteor on 9 March and the 2,804-ton Jersbek on 30 March.

On 6 April the 3rd Belorussian Front, supported by powerful air forces, began its final assault on Königsberg, whose defenders had been largely overwhelmed by 9 April and finally surrendered on the following day. In the harbour the hull of the heavy cruiser Seydlitz, on which work had ended in the summer of 1940, was blown up.

The Soviet armies continue their offensives to the west, and on 15 April broke through the front in Samland. Some 70,000 refugees were trapped in Pillau, but many of them were brought across to the Frische Nehrung and others were evacuated by sea. In the process the freighters Mendoza (5,193 tons), Vale (5,950 tons) and Weserstein (1,923 tons) succumbed to Soviet air attacks between 8 and 11 April. On 16 April the SATs of Egger’s 7th Artillerierträger-Flottille, Soemba, Nienburg, Ostsee, Robert Müller 6 and Kemphan, together with the gunnery training vessel Drache, arrived to support the German defensive battle near Fischhausen, and two days later Drache was sunk in an air attack.

Some of the Soviet submarines of the wave which had departed late in March and the new wave which had departed in mid-April were able to carry out attacks. During the night 16/17 April, after heavy attack by aircraft, the 5,230-ton motor vessel Goya, with about 7,000 people (mostly refugees) on board, the 4,661-ton Mercator with about 5,000, and the 2,834-ton steamship Kronenfels with about 2,500, departed Hela Roads escorted by the minesweepers M 356 and M 328, which were also carrying refugees. Off Rixhöft L-3 hit Goya with two torpedoes: the ship quickly sank, taking 6,666 people down with her, and only 334 were rescued by the minesweepers. On 19 and 21 April L-3 made another pair of attacks without hitting her targets, but did manage to sink a small motor boat. Shch-309 attacked shipping on 19 and 24 April off Pillau, and K-52 claimed to have sunk three ships and missed three more between 22 and 27 April to the east of the Stolpe Bank, though none of these attacks can be corroborated. Shch-407, S-13, D-2 and K-53 departed for patrols but only the last claimed to have made attacks (three early in May) though, once more, these cannot be substantiated.

The gun carrier SAT 5 (Robert Müller 6) was damaged and then sunk by an air-launched torpedo on 18 April.

During the final night of the evacuation on 24/25 April, naval ferry barges succeeded in extracting a further 19,200 refugees and troops. In all, 141,000 wounded and 451,000 refugees had been brought out via Pillau since 25 January.

On 8 April the 11,115-ton fleet oiler Franken and the submarine chaser UJ 301 were sunk by air attack off Hela. Between 16 April and 4 May, the German evacuation from points on the lower reaches of the Vistula river to Hela, and thence to the west, continued. On 16 April a convoy with eight ships and escort vessels departed Hela, where the aircraft repair ship Boelcke was sunk in an air attack. In air attacks on 19 and 20 April the 5,897-ton steamship Altengamme was lost off Sassnitz, and V 215 and the 180-ton Königsberg off Hela. On 25 April the 2,435-ton Emily Sauber was torpedoed and sunk by one of the Soviet motor torpedo boats operating from Neufahrwasser. On 20 April Eberhard Essberger left Hela with 6,200 evacuees and Lappland on the following day with 7,700 evacuees. On 21 April 28,000 refugees were embarked, and on 28 April seven steamships evacuated 24,000 persons. The total for April was 387,000 persons. Two claims by K-56 to the north-east of the Bay of Pomerania cannot be substantiated.

On 25 April the incomplete aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin and four steamships and small craft were blown up at Stettin before the 2nd Shock Army could advance across the Lower Oder via Anklam toward Stralsund. The Soviets reached this last on 1 May, and Romanovsky’s 19th Army crossed to Wollin near Dievenow and advanced on Swinemünde.

The pre-dreadnought battleship Schlesien was despatched on 2 May into the Greifswalder Bodden to protect the Wolgast bridge to Usedom, but struck a British air-laid ground mine near Greifwalder Oie, was badly damaged and had to be towed back to Swinemünde. On 4 May the wrecks of the battleship and Lützow were blown up, as too were other ships left behind in the harbour. The Führer der Zerstörer, Vizeadmiral Leo Kreisch, with five steamships, the destroyers Z 34, Z 38, Z 39 and Z 43, the torpedo boats T 33 and T 36, the tender Jagd, the auxiliary cruiser Orion and the anti-aircraft ship Hummel with 35,000 people on board, set out for Copenhagen. On 3 May the tender Hai (F 3), the torpedo boats T 8 and T 9, and the evacuation transport Der Deutsche were sunk or badly damaged by British air attack in the Kiel Bight. The incomplete U-474 was sunk at Kiel and S 201 by bombs at the Schnellboot base there. The target ships Bolkoburg, Swakopmund and Wega were all sunk by air attack off Fehmarn. The destroyer Z 43 was scuttled in the Geltinger Bight, and the damaged torpedo boats T 8 and T 9 were scuttled in the Strande Bight. The fast tug Herold (ex-S 18) was sunk by air attack off Laland.

Between 3 and 9 May the last evacuations from Hela to the west took place. From 1 to 8 May small craft and naval ferry barges of Wassmuth’s 13th Landungs-Flottille moved about 150,000 refugees and troops from the landing stages of the lower reaches of the Vistula river to Hela. On 3 May the transports Sachsenwald and Weserstrom departed to the west with 8,550 refugees, together with the torpedo boats T 36 and T 108 carrying another 300 persons between them. The freighters Linz, Ceuta and Pompeji and the auxiliary cruiser Hansa headed to Hela on 5 May together with the destroyers Hans Lody, Friedrich Ihn, Theodor Riedel and Z 25, and the torpedo boats T 17, T 19, T 23, T 28 and T 35. At Hela these vessels, together with V 2002, M 453, V 303 and the training vessel Nautik embarked 45,000 refugees. After beating off attacks by Soviet motor torpedo boats from Kolberg, the ships arrived off Copenhagen on 6 May, and the fast warships were unloaded in the roads in order that they could depart on another rescue mission as soon as possible.

Together with the destroyers Z 38 and Z 39 and the torpedo boat T 33 from Swinemünde, Karl Galster, Friedrich Ihn, Hans Lody, Theodor Riedel, Z 25, T 17, T 19, T 23 and T 28 reached Hela once more on 7 May and, until early on 8 May before the beginning of the ceasefire heralding the end of hostilities, take on board 20,000 soldiers and refugees who were disembarked in Glücksburg on 9 May. On the same night, the freighters Weserberg and Paloma set out with 5,730 refugees. The small pleasure steamer Rugard, carrying 1,500 refugees, managed to ward off an attempt by three Soviet motor torpedo boats to capture her on 8 May. On the last day of the war, a convoy consisting of 65 small vessels left Libau in the Kurland peninsula of Latvia with 15,000 men, the last 300 of them on small vessels which were then captured by Soviet warships.

In all, some 1.42 million persons had been evacuated by sea from the Gulf of Danzig and Pomerania between 25 January and 8 May. To this figure can be added another 600,000 refugees removed in short-distance evacuations within the Gulf of Danzig. In all, 161 German merchant vessels were sunk during the 15-week course of 'Hannibal' (iii).