E.S. Robert Ley Sister ship to the Wilhelm Gustloff
Souvenirs of the E.S. Robert Ley - 1939
On this page you will find memorabilia & souvenirs combined with the opening information from the Robert Ley exhibit. I will begin with one of the well documented pieces of the collection - a Krupp-Berndorf coffee pot that was absconded from the liner. Perhaps one of the most interesting items from the ship to surface came from the collection of Hans Haase, who was an electrician and on board film director for the Robert Ley from 1939 until 1945. His personal collection of paperwork and artifacts from the Ley was unfortunately broken up and sold at auction in Germany, June of 2008. Records of the auction include a silver bread tray 5.2cm high, 29.2cm long, and 18cm deep (bottom marked WMF Cromargan, KDF) (A photo can be viewed in the RL Photograph section where a similar piece is photographed), original photos of Hans working aboard the liner (below), his discharge papers dating July 23, 1945 (oddly after she was bombed by the RAF - below), and a program from "An evening with Maria Paudler" from September of 1942. Also included was a complete copy of the discharge letter from 1945 for documentation purposes. The one item I acquired from this collection is photographed at right. Shown right is an original coffee pot which was part of the Ley's on board silver service and taken by Haase during one of his disembarkments from the ship. The design is by Cromargan and it can hold 2 liters. The bottom is stamped "Krupp Berndorf" with the logo "NICRO" and an animal figure, followed by "DAF 200cl." The spout looks as if it was repaired at one point. This onboard service silver may be one of a handful of original onboard pieces used by her passengers, since it is likely that all of it was destroyed when she was bombed while at berth in 1945.
Hans Hasse (left) working on board the Robert Ley's Radio Room.
Hans on board another ship before his assignment to the Ley (right).
Copy of Testimonials: (Roughly Translated from German) Mr. Hans Hasse, born 1-29-08 in Altona, let it be known since March 14, 1939 up to March 13, 1945 actively served as the radio technician on the K.d.F. ship "Robert Ley". The ship had an extensive broadcast and cinema movie plant, which helped in preserving the K.d.F. journeys and served very well in protecting the war efforts, when the ship served in the war as a submarine training ship, where the largest demands were made. Mr. Hasse led the plants in an expecially exemplary manner and received many regognitions of the supreme command of the navy. Apart from the activity as radio technician and filmmaker, Mr. Hasse together with the electricians of the ship had to provide for the maintenance of the electrical system. We always give the certification to Mr. Hasse that he served his duties always and consciously helped to have our satisfaction fulfulled. His guidance onboard, his untiring eagerness for work and his flawless character traits offer awareness of those around him, and he completed tasks posed at any given time. Due to the situation which emerged by the war in sea navigation, we sincerely regret that Mr. Hasse will depart from the services of the Hamburg America Line and we wish him the best for the organization of his further future and imminent and full success.
Hamburg, July 23, 1945 Hamburg America Line Engineer Personnel Gen. Sassenhagen
While not an official souvenir, someone must have enjoyed the book enough to take it out of the Robert Ley's onboard library. The book is entitled "The Men At The Fiery Oven" #175 in the library collection. All books on the libary had the sticker at right to show where the book belonged.
HAPAG Flag Not a souvenir piece, but an interesting and hard to find flag. This is an original 1930s H.A.P.A.G. Flag - or Hamburg Amerikanische Packetfahrt Actien Gesellschaft. As flown on the Robert Ley. 58" tall, 84" wide. Marked Komp-F1 H.
Robert Ley Model Plans - 1:200 Scale Produced in 1941 for 1.45 Reichmarks. Stamped "Made in Germany", "Eibenstock, 19, Nov 1943."
Reproduction / Fake - Reproduktion / Gefälschte Robert Ley onboard camera with original leather case. Type: Zeiss Ikon Box Tengor 54/2 - Made from 1928-1934. Inside sticker: "Property of the Kraft Durch Freude, MS Robert Ley." I've been researching these cameras for some time now. While it is true that box cameras could be purchased or loaned to passengers on board, it never made sense as to why they would use outdated cameras that were 10 years old on the flagship of the KdF fleet. After dealing with these cameras for some time, I recently purchased another in the style shown at this LINK. The realization came when I found out that this camera wasn't made until 1948 - a full 3 years after the Robert Ley was bombed and 9 years after her last peacetime voyage. This instantly made the three markings on them fake. Two are shown below and the other inside the case states: Eigentum der KDF Robert Ley. Another give away that it is a fake is because of the name. The Robert Ley has the initials E.S. for Elektroschiff, not M.S. for Motorschiff. There are also a large collection of Wilhelm Gustloff "onboard library books" with similar markings and the same stamp for "Eigentum der KDF -Bordbücherei-MS-Wilhelm Gustloff" that have been coming up online. These are also fakes and are not to be purchased for an authentic piece. To view the fake library books, please view the Souvenir section of the museum site.
*A coffee pot identical to this can be seen on the dining room table on board the Robert Ley in the Getty photos as well as in the galley above. There is also another one in use for the Christmas party under the Wilhelm Gustloff Accomodation Ship photo album.
Image Courtesy of Life.com
Image Courtesy of Life.com
E - S - R - O - B - E - R - T - L - E - Y
1:200 Scale Model of the E.S. Robert Ley Built March 7th - 25th, 2012 based on the plans above. I was pressed for time to get her completed - made out of hardstock paper and a styrofoam base with modeling water. The first 10 photos below are the trial set. I was anxious to get her to the bay to photograph her, but the sun was already setting and it was windy, so it was hard to get good shots. On April 1st, conditions were so much better that I decided to wrap the base in saran wrap and set her afloat on the bay for a few images. The remaining 16 images are from that day.
The KdF, or Kraft durch Freude, was Germany's "Strength through Joy" program headed by Dr. Robert Ley under the parent organization the German Labor Front, or DAF. Its primary objective was to promote tourism and vacations within the Third Reich. In order to get people to join, the program offered low-cost cruises to exotic places for the German working class. The idea was that happy people work harder and it soon became the most effective program in the Third Reich. When first created, it employed ocean liners that would have otherwise been mothballed from the depression. These liners came from the Hamburg South-America Line, Hamburg-Amerika Line, and Norddeutshcer Lloyd companies. They included the Berlin, Der Deutsche, Milwaukee, Monte Olivia, Monte Rosa, Monte Sacrmeinto, St. Louis, Sierra Cordoba, and the Stuttgart. As Nazi Germany progressed and membership continued to grow, voyages for these ships were booked solid. Dr. Ley soon decided to build two liners specifically geared towards the KdF and its voyages. These ships would be known for their equal classes on board, open spaces, and every cabin would have an ocean view with no interior cabins. The first new flagship for the KdF, the "Adolf Hitler", had its name changed to the "Wilhelm Gustloff" in 1937. The second liner, the Robert Ley, was also under construction at the time. Ley's vision was to build 20 to 30 new ships for the program, but only these two were ever built. While I know I have previously stated that the Wilhelm Gustloff was the first liner to be built for the KdF, it turns out this is not true. The hull for the Wilhelm Gustloff was laid at Blohm + Voss on August 4th, 1936. In fact, the keel for the Robert Ley was laid at Howaldtswerke Shipyard in Hamburg on May 2nd, 1936 - a full 3 months before the Gustloff. July 17th, 1936 saw the completion of the builders model of the Ley. Although she was laid first, she would be completed second. The Gustloff was launched on May 5th, 1937 - the Ley on March 29th, 1938. By the time the Gustloff was launched, the Ley would only have a shell of steel and her bottom two decks completed. Until recently, there was almost no information on the construction of the Robert Ley. However, in 2016, I was able to purchase a photo album kept by a worker building the ship with 144 photographs from the day her keel was laid all the way through her delivery voyage for the DAF! A majority of the images are all hand-dated so we can follow her progress as she is being built.
Shown below are all of the photographs in this spectacular album. Important photograph dates are also shown along with an original launch invitation for the ship. When she was completed, the Robert Ley was the new flagship for the KdF program - until the 3rd liner would've been built. Unfortunately, war would interrupt this effort and she was only the flagship for 6 months and completed roughly 13 voyages before September 1st, 1939. Because she was such a short-lived liner and died a relatively "unnewsworthy" death, there had been very little information that has survived about the liner through the years. Rather than being able to dedicate many pages to her as I have the Gustloff, her story has been shortened to showcase what has survived through the test of time.
E.S. Robert Ley Photo Album - May 2nd, 1936 to March 24th, 1939. 144 original photographs, some with the official stamp of Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft Shipyard. The images are presented in the order they are placed in the album; I have noticed some are not in their respective chronological order.
Construction, Launch, Outfitting, and Delivery of the E.S. Robert Ley
Photographs 1 - 4: Builders model of the Robert Ley. Photograph 5: Keel laying ceremony, May 2nd 1936. Photographs 6 - 60: Construction of the Robert Ley. Photographs 61 - 100: Launch of the Robert Ley. Photographs 85 & 86: Large model of the Ley, Toy model.
Photographs 101 - 120: Outfitting of the Robert Ley. Photographs 111, 116, 117: Special postal stamps for the Ley. February 13th, 1939 - She was getting prepared to be launched. April 18th, 1939 - Just after her launch. What these stamps are for is unknown. Photographs 121 - 141: Special voyage to deliver the Robert Ley to the DAF.
Launch Invitations for the Robert Ley March 29th, 1938
After outfitting, the DAF took delivery of the new ship on March 24th, 1939 and after trials left for her maiden voyage on April 18th, 1939. Most considered the Robert Ley 'less aesthetically pleasing' than her sister with a more top-heavy look, but she still maintained wide open spaces and equal accommodations for passengers and crew. The Ley was to then complete three additional "pre-maiden voyages" before her actual maiden voyage was to take place. Her first actual voyage was a special voyage with Hitler & Dr. Ley on board for the launching of the German battleship Tirpitz. This voyage lasted from March 31st - April 4th, 1939. Shown below are a few of the museum collection photographs of Adolf Hitler and Dr. Robert Ley on the ship for that trip. It was the first and only trip Hitler would spend aboard either new KdF liner. Like the color photos above, Getty Images also has many more color photographs of Hitler and Ley on the decks of the ship.
Speech for the Launch of the Robert Ley March 29th, 1938
Speech of the Leader in Hamburg on the Occasion of the Launch of the KdF ship Robert Ley on 29 March, 1938.DRB Edition v. March 29, 1938, No. 505. Hamburg, March 29, After the chief of the company, Director Baech, from the Howaldtwreft, informed the Führer that the KdF vessel was clear, the Führer stepped forward in front of the microphone to hold the inauguration speech even to the proud ship. At this moment, the wave of enthusiasm hits over all the people. For a long time, the tossing arms of rejoicing and the cheers are going up to the Führer. Then the Führer speaks. He pointed out: "German!" - "German people and people!" "In these days, as we have just witnessed the founding of a greater empire, we must be especially aware that this great Germany has a higher sense and purpose only if it is fulfilled and sustained by an indissoluble, true German national community. This fellowship can not be a dream, it is a problem of the education of our people, and in the service of this task there is also a struggle against all those elements which could be regarded as antisocial and class-splitting. The nation-socialist state, the national-socialist national community, endeavor, therefore, to make available to our people all that was formerly the prerogative of a limited life and people's stratum. We wish the German people, the German people, the beauty of German life. In the course of these ideas, the work "Kraft durch Freude" was once founded, to help millions of happiness not so favored people nevertheless the happiness of the German home and show their beauty But help to open up new possibilities for our people, which were once only accessible to a small selection of people. This is an objective which once at first seemed fantastic to many. There were not a few who thought that 'this program reminds us so much of the earlier promises of the martyrs that it can not be realized.' Well, my fellow-citizens, the realization is in full access, but it can only be achieved, recognizing that this life can only be more beautiful by the shared work of all, and so is this work which is destined for us. A hundred thousand and millions of German nationals, and to give them happy hours and days of recreation, the result of a collaborative work and performance. The nation-socialist state and the nation-socialist national community have thus set a very great goal. They know that this goal can only be achieved by the strongest commitment of all and with exceedingly great idealism. At that time I was appointed the head of this great community, who had met me during my struggle as one of my greatest idealists. He understood how to tackle an almost insoluble problem and to realize a mighty task with a boundless idealism, thereby fulfilling a truly idealistic belief in the Kurdish people and above all the German workers. The first of these two KdF ships was given the name of a martyr of our movement, and it is now ready for us, and has made its first voyage, in the "Europe of the German Worker ". Now we are about to leave the" Bremen of the German Worker, "and I will give this ship the name of my greatest idealist of the German working class, the name of my old fellow-combatant and party-leader Dr. Ley."
Deck Plans for the E.S. Robert Ley Touring the New Flagship of the KdF Fleet
Plans for the Robert Ley are very difficult to find since she was only a passenger ship for a few months. Currently, the plans I have seen for sale the most are those that were printed in 1941 for a 1:200 scale model - shown above along with a 1:1250 scale Wiking cast-iron model. While several of her public rooms have been documented through professional and souvenir photos, the decks they are located on were primarily a best guess until recently. Until March 2022, there was one publication in the collection which gave a detailed plan for one deck - The Promenade Deck in the December 1939 edition of The Art in the Third Reich (below).
After almost 15 years of collecting, I was finally able to purchase a MASSIVE 1939 deck plan from the Robert Ley. Measuring over 4 feet wide and almost 5 feet high, there is a ruler at the bottom of the one image for comparison. It gives every passenger accommodation detail you could want, right down to the cabin numbers. Another set of plans is known to have been published in Werft Reederei Hafen in 1939.
The Promenade Deck begins with the Wintergarden at the front of the ship, followed by the Forward Staircase and elevator. The next room is the Theater with the stage area and the Middle Staircase with the machinery shaft. The small area where the two pages meet is listed as the "economic area" or Wirtschaftsräume. Finally, there is the Great Hall and Rear Staircase.
Photos 1-2: Wintergarden Photos 3-8: Theatre & Stage Photos 9-11: Middle Staircase Photos 12-15: Great Hall Photo 16: Promenade Deck
Addiitonal Rooms Aboard Photo 1: Bridge *It is unknown which decks of where these other rooms were located on the ship. Photo 2: Lower deck landing of the Forward Staircase. Photos 3-4: Gymnasium Photos 5-6: Lounge Photos 7-8: Library Photos 9-10: Dining Room Photo 11: Boat Deck Photo 12: Passenger Cabin Photo 13: Swimming Pool
Getty Images: Hugo Jaeger, Maiden Voyage of the Robert Ley.
While color photography existed during the time and both ships were photographed from the exteriors quite a bit, very few color photographs are around of the Wilhelm Gustloff. One would think that being the first ship of the new fleet to set sail, color images would be ubiquitous, but alas, they are not. Ian Spring of PixPast managed to obtain a few color slides taken on the Wilhelm Gustloff, and the museum collection has six slides shown on the first albums and photos page. For some reason, the award for most color photographs (and color film for that matter) goes to the Robert Ley. Several color films can be seen on YouTube during the ship's maiden voyage - all of the Wilhelm Gustloff's film footage was done in black and white. Photographer Hugo Jaeger was aboard the Ley for her maiden voyage and the trip to watch the Tirpitz being launched with Hitler and Dr. Robert Ley on the ship. I wanted to share these images below to give you a better understanding of what the liner looked like in its color schemes, as I imagine the Gustloff was done in a very similar palette. All photos are from the Getty Images collection online and they currently hold all copyrights and credits to them. You can search their site for additional photos with Hitler aboard.
Photo 1: Each time I have shared this photo in WWII forums or on our Facebook page, the only comment I always get is, "I have never seen Hitler wearing a gray coat." I am not sure why, but I thought it noteworthy. Photo 2: Inge Ley on the Ley on April 1st, 1939. Photo 3: Unknown German ship from the decks of the Ley. Photos 4-9: Hitler viewing a show in one of the ship's lounges and mingling with passengers. Photos 10-11: Hitler and Ley touring the new engine room.
From this point forward, all of the information of the Robert Ley's voyages will be placed within the menus and photographs pages. I have decided to place the souvenirs section next.
E.S. Robert Ley Souvenir Cap Tallies
#1 - The standard black with gold lettering. The Nazi flag on the left, the KdF flag on the right.
#2 - Maiden voyage version, white with blue lettering and the same flags on either side.
#3 - Maiden voyage version, white with gold lettering the same flags on either side.
Souvenirs left to right, top to bottom: 1- Robert Ley pin with DAF flag. 2- Robert Ley pin with Nazi flag. 3 - Robert Ley pin in white & black. 4 - Special voyage pin for the Robert Ley. 5 - Cobalt blue vase. 6 - Tea cup and saucer. 7 - Perfume bottle with stopper and original box with price tag. 8 - Small plate made for the general market. 6" made by Made by Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur. 9 - Embroidered handkerchief. 10"x10". 10 - Life ring with ship photo in the middle. Backmarked **ERN** HOPRR 7 Hamburg Glockengiesserwall 1* 11 - Flagship Robert Ley plate made for the general market.
12. Robert Ley souvenir pillowcase. Flags removed, faded, and worn.
Right: Souvenir Nautical Flag Bracelets - Spells out E - S - R - O - B - E - R - T - L - E - Y.
*This bracelet is usually found with a Nazi flag (below left) at the beginning clasp and a KdF flag (below right) at the opposite end. The one at top is complete from a June 7th to 13th, 1939 voyage.