Great Maritime Disasters

Kublai Khan's FleetDisasters are a reliable source for shipwrecks, sometimes useful for archaeology, other times just tragedy. Here are some of the worst, known disasters at sea through history, in peacetime as well as war. This list is sorted by number of casualties, not by historic significance.


Kublai Khan's fleet. In 1274 and 1281, storms wrecked the Mongol invasion fleets repeatedly trying to attack Japan, possibly killing more than 100,000 soldiers.

Wilhelm Gustloff. January 1945. 7-9000 wounded German soldiers as well as civilians died when this passenger ship was torpedoed and sank in the ice cold sea. Several movies have been made about this tragedy.

Tango Maru and Ryusei Maru. June 1944. Two transport ships in a Japanese convoy torpedoed by submarine USS Rasher. Ca 8000 men were killed, of which ca 3000 were forced labour prisoners on the "Hell Ship" Tango Maru.

Cap Arcona and Thielbek. May 1945. Ca 7500 evacuated concentration camp prisoners died when these two German passenger ships were attacked by mistake by the RAF.

Goya. April 1945. Ca 7000 German soldiers, as well as civilians, died when this passenger ship was torpedoed and sank in the ice cold sea.

Danish-Lübeck Navy. In 1566 the entire navy opposing Sweden was anchored off the coast of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. A surprising storm sank 15-35 ships and killed maybe 5-6000 men.

Toyama Maru. June 1944. Japanese troop transporter torpedoed, killing ca 5600 soldiers.

Junyo Maru. September 1944. Japanese transporter with allied POWs and civilian forced labour, torpedoed by British submarine. Ca 5600 were killed. Such prison transport ships were called "Hell Ships".

Spanish Armada. August 1588. Stormy weather off Scotland and Ireland sank maybe 26 ships and maybe 5000 men died, and England was not invaded by Spain.

Doña Paz. December 1987. Overloaded Philippine passenger ship caught fire and sank quickly, killing maybe 4300 people. Only 21 persons survived by diving under the flames.

Orion. May 1945. German merchant ship loaded with civilian refugees. Sunk by bomb attack, killing ca 4000.

General von Steuben. February 1945. Ca 3000 wounded German soldiers as well as civilians died when this passenger ship was torpedoed and sank in the ice cold sea.

Rigel. November 1944. Norwegian transporter used by the Germans, bombed by mistake by the RAF, killing 2571 people, mostly Russian, Polish and Serbian prisoners of war.

Yamato. April 1945. 2475 men died when the the world's largest battleship sank in action.

Baltic Convoy. Nov-Dec 1811. A British naval and merchant convoy from Sweden to Britain was caught by storms off the Danish west coast. Several ships were lost, among them HMS St George. Totally more than 2000 men died.

RMS Lancastria. June 1940. British troop transporter off the French coast hit by German bombs. At least ca 2000 soldiers killed, maybe as many as 5000, real numbers are classified.

Kiangya. December 1948. Chinese transporter with refugees hit a mine and sank with maybe 2-3000 people.

Sinfra. October 1943. French ship in German hands transporting. Sunk by air attack off Crete, killing 2098 men, mostly POWs.

Bismarck. May 1941. Ca 2000 died when the ship sank in battle.

Arisan Maru. October 1944. Japanese "Hell Ship" transporter with US POWs, torpedoed by US submarine. 1792 US prisoners were killed, prisoners who already had survived the 1942 death march from Bataan. This is considered the greatest US naval disaster.

Le Joola. September 2002. Overloaded Senegalese passenger ferry capsized in rough seas killing at least 1863 people.

Sultana. April 1865. Mississippi steamboat, the boiler exploded, killing ca 1700 people.

Tek Sing. January 1822. Chinese junk loaded with china and passengers hit a reef and sank killing at least 1600 persons.

Titanic. April 1912. 1517 persons died when the ship sank.

Tsushima Maru. August 1944. Japanese transporter with evacuated civilians, torpedoed by submarine. Ca 1500 civilians and crew were killed.

Koshu Maru. August 1944. Japanese "Hell Ship" transporter torpedoed by submarine USS Ray. Ca 1500 men were killed, of which 1239 were forced labour prisoners.

HMS Hood. May 1941. Ca 1400 died when the ship sank in battle.

Per Åkesson, February 2007

page rev jul '12

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