Photograph of the Gneisenau sinking off the shores of Malaga. / SUR

16 December 1900: Malaga rushes to the aid of German sailors

The heroic action of local people managed to save all but 41 crew members

Debbie Bartlett

December 16th is an important date in the history of Malaga; on that day in 1900 a German training ship carrying 470 men sank off the shore of the city in a storm and thanks to the heroic action of local people all but 41 of them were saved.

The Gneisenau belonged to the Imperial German Navy and had been anchored off Malaga, waiting to pick up a German diplomat. On 15 December the Malaga port authorities warned Captain Kretschmann that high winds were approaching and advised him to move the ship into port, but he decided to weather the storm at sea. The following morning the ship's moorings broke and the Gneisenau, battered by strong winds and high waves, quickly sank.

Local people rushed to help, setting out in boats to rescue as many of the sailors as they could, and throwing ropes from the harbour walls to pull in survivors.

Forty-one of the crew drowned including the captain; some reports stated that several local rescuers were among the dead, however a recent investigation carried out by local historians disproved the claims.

The sailors who survived were taken in and looked after by the people of Malaga, and those in need of medical treatment were taken to the Hospital Noble.

The bodies of the dead were buried in the English Cemetery in the city.

A few days after the shipwreck disaster, Queen Regent Maria Christina, on behalf of her son King Alfonso XIII, bestowed the honorary title of 'muy hospitalaria' ('very hospitable') on the city of Malaga. The words can be read on the top right of the city's coat of arms.

Seven years later, the grateful German government was quick to respond when Malaga needed help. The city was severely flooded in 1907 when storms washed a torrent of water and mud from the mountains in the north. Twenty-one people died and two bridges were washed away.

The Germans sent funds to replace one of the bridges, and that new bridge is still known to this day as the Germans' bridge (Puente de los Alemanes), despite its official name being the Santo Domingo bridge.