The world’s worst naval maritime disasters resonate throughout history often due to tragic circumstances which resulted not only in the deaths of enlisted sailors but in immense losses of civilian lives as well. profiles the world’s worst naval disasters.

Wilhelm Gustloff

The Wilhelm Gustloff sank in January 1945 in the Baltic Sea due to three torpedoes fired by the Soviet submarine S-13 resulting in the death of more than 7,000 people, the single greatest casualty toll of any maritime disaster. The ship drowned within 70 minutes after being struck by the first torpedo.

The ship was designed to carry 1,800 passengers and crew, but was carrying more than 10,000 people at the time of the attack. The icy waters in the cold Baltic Sea ensured that very few escaped.

Wilhelm Gustloff was originally constructed as a cruise ship by the Blohm & Voss shipyards in 1937 and was requisitioned by the German Navy in 1939. The vessel served as a hospital until late 1940 and was later used as an accommodation and transport ship until it sank in 1945.

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The MV Goya transport ship sunk in the Baltic Sea resulting in the death of 6,700 people, making it one of the worst maritime disasters in history. The 5,230t MV Goya was constructed by Akers Mekaniske Verksted in 1940 and was used as a transport ship by Germany during World War II.

The vessel was deployed to evacuate German troops and refugees fleeing the Soviet Red Army in 1945. It was sailing from the Danzig Bay to Stettin in the Baltic Sea when it was attacked by a Soviet submarine.

“The ship was designed to carry 1,800 passengers and crew, but was carrying more than 10,000 people at the time of the attack.”

The overloaded ship sank after being hit by two torpedoes fired by the Soviet mine-lying submarine L-3. The ship was broken into two pieces and sank within seven minutes.


The loss of the Armenia resulted in the death of between 5,000 to 7,000 when it sank in 1941. The ship was sunk in the Black Sea by two torpedoes fired by a German Heinkel bomber He-111H.

Armenia was carrying wounded Russian soldiers and civilians from Yalta to Gurzuf, Ukraine, at the time of the incident.

The MV Armenia was constructed as a troop transport ship by Baltic Shipyard in 1928, requisitioned by the Soviet Navy and deployed as a transport and hospital ship in 1941. It was later converted into a hospital ship for military service in the Black Sea.

Junyo Maru

The Junyo Maru sunk in the Indian Ocean with a death toll of 5,620 people. The vessel was requisitioned by the Japanese Government in 1938 and was sunk in September 1944 off west coast of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean by torpedoes fired by the British submarine HMS Tradewind.

Junyo Maru was carrying Dutch, British, American and Australian prisoners of war, and Japanese guards from Tanjung Priok, Java to Padang, Sumatra, at the time of the attack. It sank 20 minutes after the attack.

The 5,131t Junyo Maru was constructed by Robert Duncan & Co in 1913. Originally built for Lang & Fulton, Junyo Maru was used as a cargo ship.

Toyama Maru

The sinking of the Toyama Maru occurred in June 1944 in the Nansei Shoto, off Taira Jima, Japan, due to torpedoes fired by the US submarine Sturgeon (SS-187). The disaster killed 5,400 people due to burns caused by gas explosion, 600 people were rescued.

The Toyama Maru was constructed by Mitsubishi Dockyard & Engineering Works in 1915. Japan deployed the 7,089t vessel for troop transport in the World War II.

“The disaster killed 5,400 people due to burns caused by gas explosion, 600 people were rescued.”

The ship was carrying more than 6,000 personnel of the Japanese 44th Independent Mixed Brigade to Okinawa at the time of incident.

Cap Arcona

The Cap Arcona’s sinking caused the death of more than 5,000 people, making it one of the worst naval maritime disasters. The ship was carrying up to 8,000 prisoners at the time of the incident when it capsized, due to severe damage and burns caused by fighter-bombers.

It was sunk in May 1945, along with Thielbek and the passenger liner SS Deutschland, in the Baltic Sea by Royal Air Force Typhoons of 83 Group of the 2nd Tactical Air Force.

Blohm & Voss built the Cap Arcona as an ocean liner in 1927. The German Navy requisitioned the vessel in 1940 and deployed it as an accommodation ship in Gotenhafen. The ship was used to rescue German soldiers in East Prussia and for transport to Germany in January 1945.

SS Ryusei Maru

The sinking of the SS Ryusei Maru caused a death toll of approximately 5,000 people after it was hit by four torpedoes fired by the US submarine Rasher (SS-269) in February 1944 off the north coast of Bali Island.

Ryusei Maru was carrying 6,600 soldiers of Imperial Japanese Army units from Surabaya to Ambon at the time of the incident. The convoy intercepted by the Rasher included Ryusei Maru and Tango Maru.

Ryusei Maru was requisitioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1938 until it was sunk in 1944. The 4,777GRT vessel was constructed as a cargo ship by Tyne Iron Shipbuilding Co in 1911 and was owned by Ganger Rolf A/S Oslo until 1916.

Tamatsu Maru

The Tamatsu Maru was sunk in August 1944 by two of the six Mark-23 steam torpedoes fired by USS Spadefish, causing the vessel to roll over and finally sink. The sinking killed more than 4,755 people, one of the worst disasters during the Pacific War.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries built the Tamatsu Maru as a cargo ship in 1943. The Imperial Japanese Army requisitioned the vessel in 1943 and used it as a landing craft depot ship with a weight of 9,589t. The ship was deployed for military service from Moji to Manila in February 1944. It was later used to transport Japanese military troops for the defence of the Philippines.

“The sinking killed more than 4,755 people, one of the worst disasters during the Pacific War.”

The attack occurred after the ship was separated from convoy escorts, after departing from Mako, due to heavy rain and force winds from the south-east.

SS Oria

The SS Oria, which sank in February 1944 off of Cape Sounion due to a storm, caused the death of more than 4,145 people, marking it as one of the worst disasters in the Mediterranean Sea.

The 2,127grt ship was constructed by Osbourne, Graham & Co in 1920. Built as a cargo ship originally, it was commandeered into use by France as part of a convoy for World War II. The ship was carrying 4,200 Italian prisoners, 60 Germans and 30 guards from Rhodes to Piraeus at the time of the accident.

France requisitioned the ship in 1941, naming it SS Sainte Julienne, and deployed it in the Mediterranean Sea until 1942. Operations were later shifted to Mittelmeer Reederei, who renamed it Oria and deployed to carry war prisoners and troops.


The sinking of the Lancastria resulted in 4,000 deaths including those of 3,000 troops and approximately 1,000 civilians.

The Lancastria was sunk in June 1940 in St Nazaire, France, by bombs fired by five enemy KG.30 Dornier Do17 planes. The ship was carrying up to 9,000 people at the time of the incident, despite being originally designed for a capacity of 2,200 including 375 crewmen. The drowning occurred within 20 minutes of the fire.

The ship was constructed as Tyrrhenia by William Beardmore & Co in 1920. The Tyrrhenia served as an ocean liner between Liverpool and New York until 1932 and was later converted into a cruise ship to serve in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. The ship was named HMT Lancastria in 1940 to serve as a troopship to evacuate British troops and refugees from France.

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