We have been preparing for the comprehensive and thorough research of this wreck for nearly a year, that is, since the moment when we realized the object discovered by us in April 2020, is the German steamer SS Karlsruhe, which was one of the last to leave the port of Pilawa just before the Red Army occupied Koenigsberg. That was deeply significant as by this route not only refugees were transported out of East Prussia but also goods, equipment and looted goods.
Karlsruhe was a small, old steamer, however, any vessel capable of evacuating people to the West was of high importance in those days.
Built in G.Seebeck Bremerhaven shipyard in 1905.
Dimensions: length - 66.3m / width - 10.1m / draught - 3.6m / displacement - 897 tons.
The unit was captured by the Kriegsmarine in 1945 and then used to transport refugees, troops and carry goods from the encircled areas of East Prussia.
Karlsruhe set sail from Pilawa on 11 April, 1945. Sailed to Hel where a seven unit convoy was formed and then set off further West in the evening of 12 April.
On the morning of April 13, Soviet aircraft spotted German ships and sank two vessels including the steamer Karlsruhe.
The reports we found said that the ship took 150 soldiers of the ‘Herman Gornig’ regiment, 25 railroad workers and 888 refugees. Along with the crew, that was a total of 1083 people.
The ship also took 360 tons of cargo including military equipment and the so-called ‘returnable goods’.
Now we know that her wreck lies a few dozen kilometers North of Ustka, Poland at a depth of 88 metres (290 feet). At the time of discovery, it was virtually intact. In its holds we discovered military vehicles, porcelain and a good number of chests.
Our discovery could provide groundbreaking information on the disappearance of the legendary Amber Room, as it was in Koenigsberg that it was last seen.
In the summer of 2020, we dived this wreck three times discovering dozens of chests, military vehicles and motorcycles. In December 2020, we organized another three day expedition with aim to explore the area around the wreck employing ROV to find another over a dozen scattered chests on the bottom.
All these facts encouraged us to organize the largest research expedition in our history.
On 4 September, 2021 we set out to sea in the 66 m long Glomar Vantage ship equipped with 4 anchors to stabilize the vessel over the wreck and a Moonpool (diving well) which we as divers could enter the water through.
Owing to the cooperation with the military unit - ‘Grom’, we had at our disposal a professional decompression chamber on board along with a great three-person rescue team. Furthermore, there were two hydrographers on board with an underwater robot - ROV, historians and representatives of the Maritime Office and the National Maritime Museum in Gdansk.
And of course the team of 14 divers from Poland and abroad who dived every day spending 30 hours in total in the water each throughout the whole expedition. We used 240kg of absorbent lime, 120 000L of oxygen and 50 000L of trimix 10/70.
We recorded around 10 hours of underwater video footage and 50 hours of footage from the surface as well as from a drone and ROV. There is a good chance that thanks to these materials a documentary film about the entire history of Karlsruhe will be made especially that already during the Expedition we heard from the families of survivors willing to talk in front of the cameras.
On the first day we dived the wreck of an unknown vessel only 500 metres away from Karlsruhe, which we had known about for a year but had not had a chance to check and identify before. It turned out to be a 40 metres long sailing vessel with a metal hull lacking a mast, presumably used as a barge for refugees transportation. We believe that it was part of a convoy which Karlsruhe sailed in and was most likely towed by one of the convoy vessel. The remaining days we dived only the wreck of the steamer Karlsruhe making its detailed identification and taking pictures which will later be used to create a photogrammetric image.
On the first day we set up a permanent anchor line on the wreck which ended just below the bottom of our base ship. Thanks to this, we were independent of the weather and waves. We attached safety reserve cylinders to the rope which were to serve us in case of failure of our equipment (thankfully, though, there was no need to use them even once).
The wreck lies at a depth of 88 metres so we could spend from 25 to 35 minutes on the bottom which gave a total time of two to three hours in the water (including decompression).
The water temperature on the wreck was about 6 degrees and at the surface 17 degrees. Visibility on the bottom depending on the day ranged from 1 to 4m.
Since this wreck being a huge war grave and a place where over 960 people died, we decided at the beginning to commemorate all the victims with a minute of silence and throw a wreath into the water, and according to an old naval custom and tradition, end the ceremony with the sound of the ship’s siren.
On the fourth day of the expedition we came across an inscription on the side of the boat which finally confirmed our identification from last year one hundred percent. During the remaining dives we checked all the damaged and open chests (only such we could look into). In all of them we saw personal belongings, spare parts, porcelain, tools and military equipment. All of the artifacts found were left on the bottom, on the wreck.
We did not find the treasure -)) and we also did not manage to answer the most important question: What do the chests at the very bottom of the hold, under a two-meter layer of silt contain?
Reaching them will be extremely complicated and what is most important, it is against the will of the archaeologists who are not willing for us to affect the structure of the wreck and cargo.
We came home happy. Diving and carrying out even light work at a depth of 88 metres in the Baltic Sea is quite a challenge. We are glad our Decompression Chamber did not come in handy even once and nothing undesirable happened.
The entire project was privately funded. The main sponsor of the expedition is the SANTI Company which has been supporting the Project of searching for the Polish submarine ORP Orzel for years. In addition, the company GLOMAR OFFSHORE, the owner of the Glomar Vantage vessel and the Suex Companies, JJ-CCR, TopWave, CNT Gdynia and Born2Dive supported the Project with equipment.