Wilhelm Gustloff was the first purpose built cruise ship for the German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront, DAF) and used by subsidiary organisation Kraft durch Freude (KdF) (Strength Through Joy). Her purposes were to provide recreational and cultural activities for German functionaries and workers, including concerts, cruises, and other holiday trips, and to serve as a public relations tool, to present “a more acceptable image of the Third Reich”.She was the flagship of the KdF cruise fleet, her last civilian role, until the spring of 1939.
She made her unofficial maiden voyage between 24 and 27 March 1938 carrying Austrians in an attempt to convince them to vote for the annexation of Austria by Germany.
From September 1939 to November 1940, she served as a hospital ship, officially designated Lazarettschiff D.
Eventually she was put back into service to transport civilians and military personnel as part of Operation Hannibal.
Operation Hannibal was the naval evacuation of German troops and civilians as the Red Army advanced. The Wilhelm Gustloff’s final voyage was to evacuate German refugees, military personnel, and technicians from Courland, East Prussia, and Danzig.
Was sunk on 30 January 1945 by Soviet submarine S-13 in the Baltic Sea An estimated 9,000 passengers were killed in the sinking, making it the greatest maritime disaster in history.