The Karlsruhe, a World War II ship that rests on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, is finally being explored. Why is this relic so special?
Many divers and historians believe the wreck may contain the remains of the now-mythical Amber Room, along with other extremely valuable items plundered by Hitler’s armies. While it is finally behind investigated, there is a long road ahead to find such wonders, if they exist at all.
Baltictech, a technical diving company operating primarily in the Baltic Sea, discovered objects around the ship in December 2020, including 10 chests that had been shaken loose during the vessel’s sinking.
One of these chests had rubber seals, giving the team hope that it could contain valuable items. The contents inside could be remnants of the fabled Amber Room, but other ideas suggest it may be paintings instead.
The wreck, which lies 88 meters below the surface, was explored remotely with the use of an ROV (remotely operated vehicle). Unfortunately for chief Baltictech diver Tomasz Stachura, he is unable to visit the wreck in person, due to its 288 ft depth. As an archaeologist, he is only licensed to dive to 130 ft (40 meters). As a result, deep pockets will be necessary to fund the project.
The Karlsruhe was the last vessel to leave from the former Prussian capital Königsberg in 1945, during Operation Hannibal, the biggest sea evacuation in history. This operation saw almost 2 million German troops and refugees flee East Prussia during the final weeks of the war.
She left Königsberg on April 11 1945, loaded with 360 tons military vehicles and equipment, as well as many crates, potentially containing the looted Nazi treasure. On top of this, 150 troops and almost 900 civilian refugees were on board.
On the morning of April 13, the Karlsruhe was convoying with 4 freighters and 3 minesweepers when they were spotted and attacked by Soviet aircraft. The Karlsruhe sank in just 3 minutes, taking her cargo and almost all of the 1080 people on board down with her. Just 100 managed to survive the sinking.
As mentioned, the Karlsruhe could have been carrying the Amber Room during the hasty evacuation. This would make sense, as the last place it was seen was in Königsberg.
The Amber Room was an incredible 18th century chamber lined with amber panels and gold, built for Prussian Royals. It was later gifted by the Prussian King Frederick William I to his ally Tsar Peter the Great of the Russian Empire. The value of such a room is estimated to be worth around $500 million today.
In 1941, the Nazis looted the room, and relocated it to Königsberg Castle. After the evactuation of Königsberg, it was never seen again. This romantic mystery of long lost Nazi treasure has since caused it to become a Holy Grail tier mythical artefact for some.
The question is: does it even exist at all? Many have accepted the Amber Room as destroyed, as Königsberg Castle was damaged by heavy British bombing in 1944, and later shelled and burned by Soviet forces. Records from the Soviet’s confirm this, as they themselves conducted extensive investigations into the whereabouts of the Amber Room, concluding that it was indeed destroyed in Königsberg.
More dives on the wreck are held off until April. As always, the biggest hurdle with the exploration of the Karlsruhe is financial, as the money required is astronomical. Stachura has suggest the military as a possible option to assist excavating the wreck, but this isn’t guaranteed. Resources are limited and the scale of the task is vast.
As reported by Atlas Obscura, Stachura describes the scenario as “an utterly submerged story”. It has a beginning and a middle. What about the big finish? At present this seems a remote prospect. Nevertheless, as the diver puts it, “This story must be completed.”