|Cap Arcona (II)
1927 - 1945
the mid-1920s, there were three major shipping companies in
Germany. Besides the Hamburg-Amerika Line and the Norddeutscher Lloyd,
who both operated on the North Atlantic, there was also the Hamburg-South
America Line, in Germany popularly known as Hamburg-Süd.
had been founded on November 4th 1871, as a result of the growing
emigration from Germany to South America. The company soon established
itself as one of the best on the South American trade, and grew larger
and larger into the first decade of the 20th century.
in 1914, the First World War broke out. After four years of bloody battles,
the German Empire was defeated in 1918. When the victorious allied gathered
at Versailles in 1919 to dictate the peace terms, they were ruthless. The
allied forces had lost many ships during the conflict, and therefore German
ships were taken as compensation. As a German shipping company, the
Hamburg-Süd could not escape
this verdict. The grand Hamburg-Süd fleet was stripped bare, with
all ships taken as war reparations.
|The Cap Arcona
enters the waves for the first time.
year, in 1920, the Hamburg-Süd directors set out on the mission of
rebuilding the company’s fleet. But due to the harsh times of war, funds
were low and the task would not be an easy one. The first vessels that
were commissioned were three small sailing schooners. In addition, other
vessels were chartered from several companies to fill the huge gaps. Hamburg-Süd
quickly rose towards new heights, and by the end of 1920 the company put
their first post-war passenger steamer into service – the 5,745-ton Argentina,
capable of making 10 knots.
years later, Hamburg-Süd had recuperated and risen above its pre-war
heights. It was now decided to commission a new flagship for their fleet,
a ship that would be the grandest and most luxurious on the South American
run. The new vessel was ordered from the prominent shipbuilders of Blohm
& Voss in Hamburg.
14th 1927, the new ship was launched and christened the Cap
Arcona. Five months later, on October 29th, she had been
fitted out and would soon be ready to set out on her first voyage across
the Atlantic. Not only was she the largest ship on the South American trade,
but her service speed of 20 knots would also make her the fastest. Hamburg-Süd
had great expectations in their new ship, and soon she would be put to
19th 1927, the Cap Arcona left Hamburg on her premiere
voyage. Her destination was La Plata. The new ship soon proved her worth,
and everything about her was completely satisfactory. Hamburg-Süd
was once again one of the world’s foremost shipping lines.
|A lovely colour photograph
of the Cap Arcona, showing her red and white funnels.
emigration to South America continued, and by 1929 the passenger shipping
with South America reached its zenith with a total 57,859 passengers. The
following ten years meant continued success for the Hamburg-Süd, and
in 1939 they operated 52 ships of a total tonnage of 385,000 grt.
was to become the year when a second global conflict broke out. On the
morning of September 1st, Adolf Hitler’s German forces marched
into Poland and immediately made enemies of Great Britain and her allies.
the Cap Arcona was taken over by the German Kriegsmarine for use
as a naval accommodation ship in the German controlled Baltic port of Gotenhafen
(now Gdynia). Here she would provide housing for Kriegsmarine sailors.
Although a considerably large vessel, the Cap Arcona was never to
be put to use as a troop transport. She remained anchored in Gotenhafen
for the following five years, seeing no
the middle of this dull and monotonous task, the Cap Arcona went through
a brief career as an actress. While the battles raged across the globe,
Hitler’s propaganda minister Goebbels decided to make a powerful movie
to show how good the German people was and also how corrupted and evil
its enemies were. The subject for the film was Titanic, and the
idea for the film was easy: All of the ship’s crew, British of course,
were corrupted and ill-minded. The only righteous person in the movie was
a fictious German officer on board.
Selpin was chosen as the film’s director, in spite the fact that he was
not very Nazi-friendly. Yet he had a remarkable talent of filming maritime
subjects, and was therefore chosen for the job. During the filming on board
the Cap Arcona, Selpin encountered trouble. The German naval officers
kept flirting with women extras, and made the shooting very difficult.
At one point, Selpin lost his temper and made a number of harsh comments
about the German navy. Goebbels found out about this, and it was not long
before Selpin was arrested. According to Gestapo, he later ‘committed suicide’
in his cell. Werner Klingler was chosen to finish the film, and eventually
it was ready for a test screening.
|The Winter Garden on board Cap Arcona.
Goebbels found that the movie would be very bad propaganda. The panic scenes
were very realistic, and could be compared to the situations that occurred
during Allied bombing raids. Goebbels was furious and banned the film.
It wasn’t until 1955 that it first could be shown in West Germany.
end of 1944, the tables had turned on Germany. Although Hitler’s ‘Blitzkrieg’-tactics
had been very successful during the first years of the conflict, the German
forces were now on the retreat from both the eastern and western fronts
of the Reich. Seeing that the war was lost, Germany was on the run.
increasingly turned its attention to the massive sea rescue operation taking
place in the Baltic Sea. Between late 1944 and May of 1945, over 2,000,000
refugees were transported to the west from the wake of the advancing Soviet
Armies. In all, 25,000 were lost during the entire operation, making it
not only the largest sea rescue and transport operation in history, but
also one of the most safe as well. As the sea rescue operation in the Baltic
became increasingly more frantic, every available German ship was put into
use in making the run to the eastern ports to take out refugees, sick,
wounded, and fleeing soldiers.
in the closing months of World War II, the Cap Arcona was used to
rescue 26,000 refugees in three separate runs between the besieged eastern
ports and the west. After her third and final run, exhausted and worn-out
from lack of maintenance and constant use, the Cap Arcona was released
from service by the German Naval High Command. She was no longer a ship
of the German Kriegsmarine and was ordered to Neustadt Bay near Kiel where
she was to be paid off.
when the Cap Arcona reached the Neustadt Bay she was given new orders.
She was to be transformed into a floating prison to transport inmates from
the Neuengamme Concentration Camp near Hamburg. Between April 26th
and 28th 1945, more than 5,000 prisoners were taken on board
the former luxury liner. She was then supposed to leave the area, but due
to lack of fuel she could not travel anywhere.
struck a few days later, on May 3rd 1945. British Typhoon-class
bombers made a raid over the area and spotted the Cap Arcona in
the waters outside the city of Neustadt. Not knowing her cargo of concentration
camp prisoners, the pilots could not resist the perfect target sitting
dead in the water. The bombs were soon falling on the Cap Arcona,
turning the one-time luxury liner into a floating hell. Smoke filled the
passageways and the ship quickly took on a dangerous list. Many of the
ship’s occupants somehow made it out on the top decks, but this did by
no means guarantee safety. The bombs kept coming, and it would be impossible
to survive for long in the cold waters surrounding the vessel.
|The tragic end of the
the bombs finally stopped, only a few of the prisoners had managed to escape.
The Cap Arcona was lying on her side in the Neustadt Bay, she had
taken with her some 5,000 people, perhaps more. Ironically, the following
day British troops marched into Neustadt. They would have been able to
rescue all the prisoners from the Cap Arcona.
of the Cap Arcona remained at the spot until the end of the war,
when she was finally broken up.
|The Cap Arcona - Specifications:
||676 feet (206.5 m)
||84 feet (25.7 m)
||27,560 gross tons
||Steam turbines turning