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The Thielbek was a 2,815 GRT freighter that was sunk along with the SS Cap Arcona and the Deutschland during British air raids on May 3, 1945 while anchored in the Bay of Lübeck with the loss of 2,750 lives. The ship was a passenger ship flying a white flag and had been commandeered along with the Cap Arcona to take on board prisoners from the Neuengamme, Stutthof, and Mittelbau-Dora concentration camps. It was later revealed by the head of the Hamburg Gestapo that the prisoners were to be killed, and it has been suggested that it was planned to do this by scuttling the ships with the prisoners aboard.
On 17 April 1945 the Thielbek was informed that they were to prepare for a "special operation", and the following day John Jacobsen, the Captain of the Thielbek, was summoned to a conference by the SS along with Captain Bertram of the Cap Arcona at which they were ordered to take on board concentration camp prisoners. Both the captains refused, and Jacobsen was relieved of command of his ship.
The order to transfer the prisoners from the camps to the prison ships came from Hamburg Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann, who was himself acting on orders from Berlin. Kaufmann later claimed during a War Crimes Tribunal that the prisoners were destined for Sweden, however at the same trial Bassewitz-Behr, the head of the Hamburg Gestapo, said that the prisoners were in fact to be killed in compliance with Himmler's orders.
Embarkation of prisoners began on 20 April, with the Swedish Red Cross present. The ship's water supply was insufficient for so many people and 20 to 30 prisoners died daily. The prisoners, with the exception of political prisoners, remained on board for 2 or 3 days before being transferred to the Cap Arcona by the smaller vessel Athen.
Between the two attacks on the Cap Arcona, nine Hawker Typhoon aircraft of No. 198 Squadron RAF stationed at Plantlünne attacked the Thielbek and the Deutschland, 5 aircraft firing rockets at the Deutschland and 4 at the Thielbek. Numerous cannon shells and 32 rockets were fired at the Thielbek, which was left on fire with a 30° list to starboard, and sank 20 minutes after being attacked. Of the 2,800 prisoners on board the Thielbek, only 50 survived the attack.
Four years after her sinking the Thielbek was refloated and the human remains found on board laid to rest in the "Cap Arcona" cemetery in Neustadt. She was repaired and returned to service, having been renamed Reinbek. In 1961 the Knöhr and Burchard shipping company sold the ship which was then renamed Magdalene and later Old Warrior and sailed under the Panamanian flag before finally being scrapped in 1974 in Split, Yugoslavia.
- Maritime disasters
- SS Cap Arcona
- SS Wilhelm Gustloff
- RMS Laconia
- SS General von Steuben
- HMT Rohna
- SS Armenia
- Junyō Maru - Japanese "hell ship" torpedoed while transporting about 6,000 prisoners of war and forced labourers.
- Ukishima Maru - Imperial Japanese Navy vessel sunk while transporting 4,000 to 5,000 Korean forced labourers.
- Hal Vaughan, Doctor to the Resistance: The Heroic True Story of an American Surgeon and His Family in Occupied Paris, Potomac Books Inc. 2004
- "SS Thielbek (+1945) WRECK". www.wrecksite.eu. http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?59619.