General Von Steuben
General von Steuben is one of the most significant shipwrecks in the Baltic Sea.
One of the greatest world naval catastrophes after Goya and Wilhelm Gustloff wrecks.
Diving there has been forbidden since 2006. As it turns out, totally ineffective.
But first things first…
We, as Baltictech have been trying to change diving rules on Baltic wrecks and make as many as possible open for divers to explore as we believe only diving society is able to prevent them from devastation or plundering. We managed to raise a diving ban on Georg Buchner wreck and now we are doing our best to change these rules on so called Baltic Titanics.
SS Steuben is one of the greatest naval tragedies in the world (from 3600 to 5000 people died there according to different sources) and despite a huge loss of human beings, not so many people know the terrible history of the end of WWII.
Initially Munchen (that it how she was called) was put to sea in Szczecin in 1923, being a luxury ocean liner between Brem and New York. From the beginning of WWII she was assigned to a navy of Nazi Germany. From the beginning of August 1944 assigned to hurt soldiers transportation. During the Hannibal, a military operation which aimed at evacuation of soldiers and civilians by sea from Eastern Front. Now, under the name of SS Steuben she is to be sank by Russian submarine on 10th February, 1945. After 20 minutes Steuben settled on the Baltic Sea floor after being hit by 2 torpedoes.
Regardless of nationalities and her flag, it is one of the greatest naval catastrophes of all time. In 2006, the polish authorities decided to acknowledge wreck as a grave of WWII and they forbade to dive there at all. Unfortunately, till now no stocktaking has been carried out on the wreck and our knowledge is based on literally several videos shared on the Internet from two expeditions based on the permission of the Marine Office and several ‘illegal ones.’
We decided to persistently aim at gaining permission for diving and we wanted to compare its condition with the pictures from years ago. The Marine Office eventually agrees but the National Marine Museum gives us one condition, their employee’s monitoring which means we get ‘a political one’ on our board.
Krzysiek turned out to be a great guy and his knowledge of the wreck helped us a lot. His personality, character and attitude towards wrecks and divers gave us really positive feeling that we are thinking in the same direction.
On 18th December we set off from Łeba harbor to the sea to take one dive. We plunge in in two separate brigades. The first one was to take pictures in the area of the captain’s bridge. The second, was filming footage focusing on the bridge in particular. The wreck settles at the depth of 72 metres and we resolve to spend 30 minutes of bottom time. During the immersion, we find ourselves to be in a crystal clear water but the visibility becomes poorer on the wreck and looks like milk. Due to wreck’s size- 170 metres in length, it takes a lot of time for us to figure out where we are.
We managed to reach the bridge in around half of the bottom time. And there we saw nearly a clean room. We even wondered if it was some kind of a hall.
But the partholes made us one hundred certain that we were on the bridge. We started to take pictures and filming. The entire dive took us almost 2,5 hour. Fortunately, it wasn’t too cold and after coming to the surface we started a lively discussion. Unfortunately, the effect of our diving is striking… In the places where once there was a steering wheel and telegraphs remained only protruding screws. Almost everything that could be taken apart disappeared! As it turned out, a mean depth of 60 metres did not prevent from multi-stage underwater ‘work’. As it turned out, an absolute ban imposed on diving on Steuben did not play its role which was to secure the wreck. Unfortunately, no one has made a complete inventory of the wreck and we are not even able to determine to what extent Steuben was plundered. We have been trying for some time to come up with different solutions other than absolute wreck closure in cooperation with Marine Office. Munin, commonly known as a minesweeper settling besides harbor in Hel, Poland sets an example for us. A diving community has been doing their best for years to make sure no one steels a steering wheel and till now new enthusiasts of the underwater world can watch the wreck in her full glory. Both for us- divers and government officials a wreck is not only a piece of scrap lying on the sea bottom. Wrecks are a kind of monuments of sea tragedies. Each wreck is a separate story of life and death, it is our common heritage which we ought to care for and be able to share in a responsible way.
We hope to come back to Steuben in the following year and that our initial diving is just the beginning of a new phase of cooperation with Marine Office and National Maritime Museum.