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Wreck of Karlsruhe steamer found in Baltic Sea

The Tri-city group of technical divers Baltictech found the wreck of the German steamer Karlsruhe, which was sunk in the spring of 1945. The vessel, carrying considerable cargo, was the last ship to leave Piława before the Red Army occupied East Prussia. The latest discovery is another interesting wreck located as part of the search
Published: September 30, 2020 - 09:00
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 21:09
Wreck of Karlsruhe steamer found in Baltic Sea

The Tri-city group of technical divers Baltictech found the wreck of the German steamer Karlsruhe, which was sunk in the spring of 1945. The vessel, carrying considerable cargo, was the last ship to leave Piława before the Red Army occupied East Prussia.

The latest discovery is another interesting wreck located as part of the search and identification of vessels participating in Operation Hannibal, the largest evacuation operation ever conducted by sea. Members of the Baltictech group decided to take advantage of the favourable circumstances and intensified the work conducted in this area.

Exploration of the wreck of the SS Karlsruhe
Exploration of the wreck of the SS Karlsruhe fot Tomasz Stachura

The Karlsruhe was an old small ship, but in those days any vessel capable of evacuating people to the west counted. We had been looking for its wreck for over a year, when we realised that it might be the most interesting, undiscovered story from the bottom of the Baltic Sea so far. The Karlsruhe went on its last voyage under a strong escort with quite a big cargo for this ship. The wreck rests a few dozen kilometres north of Ustka at a depth of 88 metres. It is practically untouched. In its holds we discovered military vehicles, porcelain and many chests with so far unknown contents – said Tomasz Stachura.

Broken telegraph SS Karlsruhe
SS Karlsruhe sank in just 3 minutes after being hit by a torpedo photo: Tomasz Stachura

The SS Karlsruhe was built in the G. Seebec shipyard in Bremerhaven in 1905, and was almost 67 metres long and just over 10 metres wide. The steamer set off on her last voyage 40 years later from Piława, which was then one of Königsberg’s ports.

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

When the vessel left port on 12 April 1945, 150 soldiers of the “Herman Gornig” regiment, 25 railway workers and 888 refugees were on board. Including the crew, the number of people embarked on the ship totalled 1,083. However, it was not only people who were on board the Karlsruhe. The ship also took on 360 tonnes of “returnable goods” in uneven crates and military vehicles.

Open boxes in the hold of the wreck
Some of the crates have opened as a result of the sinking photo Tomasz Stachura

History and available documentation indicate that the German steamer Karlsruhe left the harbour in great haste and with a heavy load, after the Germans had to evacuate Königsberg. All this put together stimulates the human imagination. Finding the German steamer and boxes with currently unknown contents resting on the bottom of the Baltic Sea may be significant for the whole history,’ explained Tomasz Zwara, a diver and member of the Baltictech team

Wreck site of the SS Karlsruhe
Further exploration of the wreck seems to be a matter of time photo Tomasz Stachura

A convoy consisting of four freighters and three minesweepers was formed near Hel and left Hel on the evening of 12 April. On the morning of April 13 the units were detected by Soviet aircrafts, which attacked and then sank the Karlsruhe. The ship was hit by an aerial torpedo and sank in just 3 minutes. In such conditions, it is not surprising that only about 100 people were rescued from the ship.

SS Karlsruhe steamer wreck
The SS Karlsruhe was the last ship to leave Piława before the Red Army marched in, photo: Tomasz Stachura

As the attack position given by the Soviet airmen was imprecise, the subsequent location of the wreck was also not easy and the final resting place of the German steamer and her passengers remained unknown until today.

Contents of the hold of the SS Karlsruhe
It was one of the most interesting undiscovered wrecks from the time of Operation Hannibal photo Tomasz Stachura

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the finding of the wreck is also being reported today by the mainstream media, which unfortunately clearly lacks some understanding of the subject. As a result, the information about the discovery of the relatively small steamer SS Karlsruhe in the Baltic Sea was mistakenly accompanied by pictures of a powerful cruiser that bore the same name and has recently been identified in the waters of the North Sea.

You will read more about the discovery and exploration of the wreck of Karlsruhe in the upcoming autumn issue of DIVERS24 Magazine. In the meantime, we recommend reading the below interview with Tomasz Stachura, in which he talks about the search for wrecks of vessels taking part in Operation Hannibal.

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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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