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The expedition to the wreck of the German ship Karlsruhe has begun

The weather was good and allowed the Baltictech expedition to set off to the wreck of the German ship Karlsruhe. Over the next two weeks, the mystery of crates from the hold of the Nazi vessel will be solved. Although the weather on the Baltic Sea can be capricious and unpredictable, this time luck smiled
Published: September 5, 2021 - 09:00
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 21:09
The expedition to the wreck of the German ship Karlsruhe has begun

The weather was good and allowed the Baltictech expedition to set off to the wreck of the German ship Karlsruhe. Over the next two weeks, the mystery of crates from the hold of the Nazi vessel will be solved.

Although the weather on the Baltic Sea can be capricious and unpredictable, this time luck smiled on the Baltictech team. The biggest expedition in the group’s history so far has gone to sea. Today, Sunday 5 September, their vessel Glomar Vantage anchored above the wreck of a German vessel.

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Due to the enormous scale of the undertaking, the Baltictech group is supported by a number of external people and entities. To make the most of the time spent underwater, the expedition also includes extremely experienced divers from abroad Phil Short, Sami Paakkarinen, Oscar Svensson and Jenni Westerlund.

Contents of the hold of the wrecked steamer
SS Karlsruhe is one of the most interesting wrecks from the time of Operation Hannibal photo: Tomasz Stachura

We set out to explore the Karlsruhe wreck. Thanks to the cooperation with the Glomar Ofshore Company we have a large research vessel Glomar Vantage. The vessel is equipped with a moon pool and all the necessary equipment to work with divers. Moreover, on board we will have a decompression chamber with all the facilities and service. informed Baltictech on its website

Baltictech expedition September 2021 Karlsruhe expedition

Over the past few months the Baltictech expedition to the Karlsruhe wreck has taken on a decidedly larger scale. Divers from outside the group, both from Poland and abroad, have been invited to join the project. All this in order for the most experienced team to use the time spent on the wreck as effectively as possible.

We had to obtain all the permits, rent the vessel and provide the Decompression Chamber. A total of 25 people are taking part in our project, including Polish and foreign divers, hydrographers, personnel of the Decompression Chamber, and observers from the Maritime Office in Gdynia and the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk. We hope that this long-prepared expedition will solve several mysteries, including the most important one, i.e. what did Hitler’s last ship carry from Konigsberg? said Tomasz Stachura, diver and head of the Baltictech group

Group exploring the wreck
Exploration of the SS Karlsruhe wreck during an earlier Baltictech expedition

In addition to divers, the 25-strong team also includes experienced hydrographers, technicians and decompression chamber staff. The team is completed by observers from the Maritime Office in Gdynia and the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk.

The key question that the Baltictech expedition will answer is. What was the last ship to leave Königsberg? Were they works of art? Including perhaps the legendary amber chamber? Or are the holds merely mundane items, of little value today, but priceless in the realities of war? Everyone hopes to find out the answers to these questions as soon as possible.

Archival photograph of the steamer
Archival photograph of the SS Karlsruhe steamer
Last voyage from Königsberg

11 April 1945. Karlsruhe set sail on her last voyage from Piława, which was one of the ports of Königsberg. On board there were 150 soldiers of the regiment “Herman Görnig”, 25 railway workers and 888 refugees. Including the crew, there were a total of 1083 people. The ship also took on 360 tons of “returnable goods” in uneven crates and military vehicles.

The history of this ship has remained virtually unknown, even though it was the fourth largest human disaster during Operation Hannibal. The Karlsruche was sunk three weeks before the end of the war, with the loss of nearly a thousand lives. Restoring this history for posterity is an important duty for us.

Near Hel the Germans formed a convoy consisting of 4 freighters and 3 trawlers. On the evening of April 12 the convoy left the roadstead of Hel. In the morning of April 13, it was detected by Soviet planes, which attacked and sank the Karlsruhe. The ship sank with all its cargo in a flash, within just 3 minutes. Out of almost 1,100 people, the nearby vessels rescued only about 100 survivors.

cars inside the wreckage
The loading bays are full of vehicles and crates photo Tomasz Stachura
Discovery of the SS Karlsruhe

As the attack position was imprecise, the wreck’s resting place also remained unknown for a long time. Baltictech Group found and identified the wreck of the German ship Karlsruhe in late 2020. They made this discovery while searching for the wreckage of vessels involved in the evacuation operation Hannibal. The discovery received a lot of media coverage and quickly began to raise many questions. In turn information on the boxes in the hold the discovery allowed for many speculations and theories to be floated about their contents.

We realised that this could be the most interesting undiscovered story from the bottom of the Baltic Sea. During the dives on the wreck we came across boxes and remnants of vehicles. The crates are scattered on the bottom, but some, undamaged, are still resting in the ship’s holds. In December 2020, we organised another survey expedition, during which we explored the vicinity of the wreck using an ROV robot. We managed to find additional crates scattered on the bottom and the wreck of another ship only 500 m away from Karlsruhe. It was probably also part of a westbound convoy.

All this made the Baltictech group see the wreck of the German ship Karlsruhe as such a promising discovery that they decided to organise the biggest expedition in their history so far. Let’s hope that the Baltic will prove to be kind and unveil another of its wonderful secrets that it has been hiding since the Second World War.

Glomar Vantagefrom Glomar Offshore on which Baltictech will depart
The Glomar Vantage ship on which the expedition to the Karlsruhe wreck will sail
Facilities and support

The entire project is financed by the Baltictech Group from private funds. The main sponsor of the expedition is the SANTI Company, which for years has been supporting the project of searching for the Polish submarine ORP Orzeł. In addition, Glomar Offshore, the owner of the vessel Glomar Vantage, and the companies Suex and JJ-CCR, which support the project with equipment.

Baltictech

It is a diving group from the Tricity which deals with research on Baltic wrecks and which promotes the Baltic Sea as one of the most interesting diving sites in the world. One of their most important activities is lobbying for greater accessibility of the Baltic wrecks for the diving community. Every two years the group organises a conference in Gdynia, where we share our knowledge and experience with other divers.

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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