German shipwreck the Karlsruhe is finally being explored at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. But does it hold the remains of the legendary Amber Room, not to mention other precious items raided by Hitler’s men? Divers are certainly banking on it, though this painstaking journey is far from complete.
On Monday Baltictech detected objects on their sonar. Most intriguingly there are 10 chests – these had been shaken loose from the 196 ft steamship and are very much sleeping with the fishes.
One of the chests has “special rubber seals” the Polish team revealed, reported by the Daily Mail. Could these be keeping fabled Russian artifacts safe from saltwater and barnacles? Either way the contents are certain to house various chunks of loot bound for the Führer. Other commentators believe the chests might have rare paintings inside.
An ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) robot made the discovery. Frustratingly for Baltictech and chief diver Tomasz Stachura, getting up close and personal is out of the question. As he tells the Mail, this rusting slice of Nazi history is 288 ft below the surface. His status as an archaeologist means he can only officially descend to 130 ft. Deep pockets will be needed to fully investigate and salvage this remnant of war.
Karlsruhe was the last vessel to depart from former Prussian capital Königsberg in 1945. Now called Kaliningrad, it used to be a German stronghold. When the tides of war turned, the ship was loaded with German plunder as part of an epic evacuation dubbed Operation Hannibal. Soviet forces caught up with the Karlsruhe and consigned it to a watery grave.
The craft was more than just a floating treasure trove – over 1,000 refugees were also aboard when it went down. 113 survived the attack.
The Amber Room started out as a fancier-than-fancy design project for Prussian Royals. Eventually it wound up as a gift to Russian ruler Peter from Prussian King Frederick William I. This combination of amber panelling, gold leaf, gemstones and mirrored surfaces is said to be worth a cool $500 million plus in today’s money.
It was installed at the Catherine Palace at the former town of Tsarkoe Selo near St Petersburg. Nazis took the Amber Room for themselves in 1941. From there it reportedly went to Königsberg.
Does the Amber Room exist at all? Some think the Room, also referred to as the Amber Chamber, was destroyed in conflict before it even reached the steamship. Quoted by Atlas Obscura back in October. Stachura comments that while there’s no “hard evidence” of its presence, “nobody has any hard evidence that Amber Room is elsewhere”.
Reports state work on the wreck is now being held off till April. Stachura says the Karlsruhe contains “military vehicles, porcelain and many crates”. The Baltictech website writes the vessel “took 360 tons of ‘returnable goods’ in uneven crates”. With the wreck appearing to be in good condition the potential for an archaeological field day is great.
Problem is, despite the potential of solving the mystery of the Amber Room, will funds and manpower be available? Stachura has suggested the military as a possible option for excavating the site. If a significant group doesn’t come across, it’s unclear how things will develop. He also mentions the physical challenges needed for such an awesome recovery mission. Resources are limited and the scale of the task is vast.
Interestingly, the Karlsruhe isn’t alone. Another ship with the same name rests off the coast of Norway, having been sunk in 1940. Both were identified within the same time period. The Karlsruhe of 1945 has been known about since October.
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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.”