The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






The Death Ships Of Lubeck Bay

Bizarre, Fascinating, and Wacky World War I & ll Secrets.

by Cecil Owen

Terrified screams filled the air, as another British Hawker Typhoon fighter-bomber came diving swiftly down. This pilot also began to machine-gun the helpless men, women, boys, and girls in the water. There were hundreds of struggling victims so he had some very easy targets. Soon the bay was full of corpses that washed ashore for several days. This was a senseless tragedy that never should have happened. It was a very gruesome massacre that was covered up for several years!

The time is 2:30 pm May 3, 1945, and the place is the seaport of Lubeck, Germany. This is only four days before the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany May 7, 1945! Three German ships are involved in this disaster, the Cap Arcona, the Thielbek, and the Athen.

The Cap Arcona was the most beautiful ocean going passenger liner of the Hamburg-Sud Steamship Company. It was a three funneled luxury liner with twin screws (propellers). Normally she sailed between Hamburg, Germany and Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (South America). But when war was declared she was commandeered into war service. The Thielbek and the Athen were much smaller ships, freighter "tramp" steamships, also commandeered into war service.

The Cap Arcona and the Thielbek were anchored in Lubeck Bay offshore, west of the seaport of Neustadt, Germany. While fortunately the Athen was docked in the Neustadt harbor. The seaport town of Neustadt is approximately 50 miles from

Cecil Owen

Hamburg, Germany, a large industrial city. And located south of Hamburg was Neuengamme, the largest concentration camp in Germany! (It had 96 satellite camps, and at least 20 of them were women's camps.) Neuengamme was also one of Hitler's largest extermination camps!

Reichsfurer-SS Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo (German state secret police), was chosen by Hitler to organize and oversee all of the concentration camps in Europe. He was responsible for the torture, starvation, and death of several million Jews and Europeans. If you disagreed with him about anything, behind the barb wire you were tossed!

By this time Himmler realized that Germany had lost the war, so he sent

secret orders to all concentration camp commanders that surrender is unacceptable, to evacuate all camps immediately. No prisoner was to fall into the hands of the allies alive. Himmler ordered them to load all of the prisoners onboard ships and sail out into the middle of the Baltic Sea. There they were to scuttle (sink) the ships so all of the prisoners will drown, leaving no trace of them.

Thus the Nazi death marches began, as the prisoners from Neuengamme satellite concentration camps were forced to march north. They were all headed for Lubeck Bay death ships. The prisoners were forced relentlessly ahead, much of the time without food or water. Hundreds began to drop dead, from hunger or thirst, while many were shot when too exhausted to


Camp commander Gerhard Thiele of satellite camp Hannover-Stocken decided to hurry things up. As they reached the village of Isenschnibble, he forced his remaining prisoners, 1,038 of them, into a large village barn. His soldiers poured gasoline and oil over bales of straw, then the straw was set on fire with the barn doors  locked.  Only 22 prisoners were able to hide and escape this death trap.

When prisoners began to arrive at Lubeck Bay so many had died or were killed, almost half had perished. Not all the prisoners had been forced to walk, some arrived by train in cattle boxcars, and some even by old cattle wagon.

The prisoners were a mixture of French, Belgian, Dutch, German, Polish and Russian. By April 18th prisoners began to arrive, and another nightmare awaited them. The Russian prisoners were separated from the rest to received even more contempt and cruel treatment. The ships Thielbek and Athen were old freighters, therefor not built to haul passengers so the Nazi soldiers began to fill up the ships holds (large compartments below deck, where cargo is normally stored).

The hold of a ship is cold, dark and damp, and usually reached by a ladder. There were no beds, just a little straw to sleep on, but soon there was standing room only. If a person needed to "dabble", they had to sit on a bucket. Buckets were lowered into the hold and raised when full. Soon the stench was terrible and became almost unbearable.

Captain Nobmann, skipper of the Athen, initially refused to take any prisoners onboard his ship. But he was warned to bring

them onboard, or be shot. Captain Bertram, skipper of the Cap Arcona, and Captain Jacobson, skipper of the Thielbek, were given the same orders.

Finally there were 5,000 prisoners, 400 SS guards, 500 Navy Gunnery mates, and a crew of 76 onboard the Cap Arcona. There were 2,800 prisoners onboard the Thielbek, and 1,998 prisoners onboard the Athen. Conditions were so terrible that every morning a motor boat had to pick up many prisoners that had died the night before. It was a very unpleasant task, disposing of the bodies.

All three ships were flying several large white flags. And the white flags were an international distress signal. Eventually the ships were ready to start their last pathetic voyage but before they could leave the harbor.... catastrophe struck. Eight British Royal Air Force Hawker "Typhoon" fighter-bombers of Squadron 263 (stationed at Ahlhorn, Germany), attacked the Cap Arcona.

Captain Martin Rumbold was flight leader, and he was eager for a "kill." Each of the Typhoons carried eight rockets, which were fired in Salvos and all of the 64 rockets hit the ship.

Next, eight Typhoon fighter-bombers of Squadron 197 (stationed at Celle, Germany) also attacked the Cap Arcona. Lieutenant J. Harding was flight leader for them. Each of these Typhoons carried two large bombs, and fifteen of those scored a direct hit.
The ship was on fire and many of the prisoners were trapped down below in the holds. The Cap Arcona was leaning to one side badly, and sea water was pouring in rapidly. Hundreds of prisoners perished in the fire, hundreds more drowned, but most of them were killed by the British Royal Air Force. The British pilots showed no mercy as they machine-gunned the helpless prisoners. (as they struggled to stay afloat in the water.)

Out of 5,976 onboard the Cap Arcona, only 350 survived. The ship sank in shallow water that left it partially visible as a reminder of the tragedy.

At the same time, Typhoons of Squadron 198 (stationed at Plantlunne, Germany) attacked the freighter Thielbek. Thirty two rockets were fired into this ship and it began to sink very rapidly. Captain Johnny Baldwin was flight leader for this terrible disaster. The Thielbek sank beneath the waves in just twenty minutes. Out of the 2,800 onboard, only fifty prisoners survived.

All of the 1,998 prisoners onboard the freighter Athen were the lucky ones---they all survived because the Athen was not anchored out in the Lubeck Bay, as the Cap Arcona and the Thielbek were. Fortunately it was anchored up in the Neustadt Harbor. That is why it was not attacked by the British Royal Air Force.

It is  ironic that while these Neuengamme concentration camp prisoners of war were in camp, they were never bombed. The British war planes would fly over the camp and wiggle their wings. This assured the prisoners that some day they would be liberated by the allies. But now these same British Royal Air Force planes bombed and sank their ships and by far the saddest and most contemptible act.... machine-gun survivors in the water.

Unfortunately, most of the prisoners who died that day could not even be identified. They were picked up, floating in the water, and buried in mass graves. The dead ones still onboard the sunken Cap Arcona were left there until it was sold for scrap iron several years later.

The deaths on May 3rd, 1945 of some 7,000 concentration camp prisoners, remains a little known chapter of World War Two history. What did the British Royal Air Force High Command have to say about this whole tragedy? "Oh! Sorry! Why we thought those ships were fully loaded with Nazi German soldiers!"

The 100 Year Secret: Britain's Hidden World War Two massacre by Benjamin Jacobs (one of the 350 survivors of the Cap Arcona)
Summary of the Cap Arcona Disaster by Wilhelm Lange
The 1945 Sinkings of the Cap Arcona and the Thielbek by Mark Weber Journal of Historical Review July-August 2000
Concentration Camp, Death March, Death at Sea at Hands of Allie,