Does this German Ship hold a Famous Russian Treasure…?

Baltictech

Does this sunken German steamship shipwreck contain the lost treasures of Russia’s Amber Room? An intrepid diving team certainly think so. After locating the wreck of SS Karlsruhe north of Ustka in Poland, they believe the glittering chunk of history is within their reach. Albeit 290 ft below the surface!

The Amber Room was a royal gift that mushroomed in size. Back in the 18th century King of Prussia Friedrich-Wilhelm I wanted to give Russian Emperor Peter the Great a cabinet made of amber. However the idea was ditched in favor of an entire room decorated with amber panels and other riches.

The Daily Mail writes that “gilded carving, mirrors and yet more amber panels” were added to the indulgent treat. It mentions the room is “sometimes dubbed the eighth wonder of the world”.

A photo of the original Amber Room taken in 1931. Over 6.5 tons of amber were used.
A photo of the original Amber Room taken in 1931. Over 6.5 tons of amber were used.

Friedrich then had the Amber Room – also referred to as the Amber Chamber – sent to the Catherine Palace near St Petersburg. In 1941 the Nazis raided it, transferring tons of amber into 27 crates. It’s these containers that are believed to be aboard the Karlsruhe, where they’ve laid undisturbed for decades.

Tomasz Stachura of diving company Baltictech, quoted by The Guardian, says the wreck features “military vehicles, porcelain and many crates with contents still unknown.” The ship is reportedly in good condition.

How did all this amber come to be on the Karlsruhe? The vessel’s role in Operation Hannibal is key to the treasure seekers’ quest. “Hannibal” saw a million plus Nazi soldiers and civilians flee the stronghold of Königsberg (now the Russian city of Kaliningrad) in East Prussia, 1945. The advancing Red Army had prompted a major evacuation by sea.

Königsberg Castle, the last known location of the Amber Room, as seen in 1925.
Königsberg Castle, the last known location of the Amber Room, as seen in 1925.

Karlsruhe was the final ship to depart. The Guardian writes it “left Königsberg in a hurry with a large cargo”. As Königsberg Castle was the last known destination of the Amber Room crates, it makes sense to assume they took the remains of Peter the Great’s pride and joy with them.

The ship, measuring 196 ft, was torpedoed by the Red Army off the Polish coast in April 1945. 1,000 refugees were aboard. Only 113 people survived the attack.

Baltictech have spent a year tracking down the Karlsruhe shipwreck. The group partly relied on fishermen’s reports – where wreckage had interfered with their nets in certain locations – plus historical records of the conflict. Sonar was then used to pick out 22 ships similar in size to the German craft, before the culprit could be properly identified via the shape of its bow.

The wreck is in remarkable condition, despite being sat 290 ft below the surface for over 7 decades. Image by Baltictech
The wreck is in remarkable condition, despite being sat 290 ft below the surface for over 7 decades. Image by Baltictech

Another vessel named the Karlsruche was recently discovered, though this warship met its end five years earlier in Norway. Karlsruhe is a city in south west Germany.

Of course the attention-grabbing Polish wreck is just one possible place where treasure might be found. Speaking in 1991, President Yeltsin claimed the amber was buried in East Germany. That hasn’t been proved thus far.

Fragments of the loot were recovered. For example, in 1997 a stone mosaic from the chamber turned up, care of a family supposedly connected to the raid. A couple of decades on in 2016, historian Bartlomiej Plebanczyk investigated a German bunker 60 miles from Kaliningrad.

Much of the ships cargo is still intact, including many unopened wooden crates. Image by Baltictech
Much of the ships cargo is still intact, including many unopened wooden crates. Image by Baltictech

Some think the Amber Room’s panels and other valuables no longer exist. One theory goes they might have been obliterated by Allied bombers during the attack on Königsberg Castle. A replica of the chamber is based at the Catherine Palace, which includes the ‘97 mosaic.

Its incredible the wooden structures have survived for so long underwater. Image by Baltictech
Its incredible the wooden structures have survived for so long underwater. Image by Baltictech

If the Amber Room haul is down there, the find could be worth around $500 million. Before a thorough search is made, permissions must be sought. Stachura and co are currently talking to the Maritime Office. He explains to Live Science by e-mail: “We have focused only on the inventory, video shooting and photographic documentation.”

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It took 12 months to find the ship in the first place. In bureaucratic and archaeological terms that’s only a first step…!