Archives For Baltic Sea

Present Day Bottle of Selters CC Image Courtesy of Travelswiss1

 

Earlier this year, maritime archaeologists working a wreck in the Baltic Sea discovered a 200 year old stoneware bottle that they recovered to the surface. Surprisingly, the bottle, marked “Selters,” still contained its liquid contents from when the vessel sank. Selters, a mineral water found in Germany’s Taunus mountains, is still bottled today, however, scientists at the lab facility J.S. Hamilton Poland revealed last week that the liquid contents was most likely a vodka or gin and that the alcohol was still drinkable. The discovery makes a total of three edible items pulled from this Baltic Sea shipwreck, dubbed F53.31, as a stoneware jar of butter as well as a bottle of beer were found on the wreck in 2009.

Due to its chemical and biological environment, the Baltic Sea has acted as a surprisingly good preserver of organic (especially edible) material and has given up some of her secrets over the past few years. In 2011 and 2012, several bottles from a collection of 168 bottles of champagne were auctioned in the Åland Islands. The champagne had been recovered from the wreck of an 1840’s era schooner discovered by diver and brewery owner Christian Ekström. Another wreck off the Åland Islands revealed several bottles of beer that were analyzed by scientists and found to have been made from unroasted malt in the mid-1800s. Perhaps the most noteworthy recovery, though, is recovery of $8,000,000 worth of World War I era champagne and cognac from the wreck of the Jonkoping in the late 1990s. Thousands of miles south of the Baltic, another form of shipwrecked alcohol was revealed in 2010 when three newly discovered bottles of whisky were used to create a limited 50,000 bottle run of the whisky that accompanied Sir Ernest Shackleton on his 1907 British Antarctic Expedition.

Finland Shipwreck Champagne
CC Image courtesy of David Parsons on Flickr

UPDATE 3/27/14 The Aland regional government has been reprimanded by the Deputy Chancellor of Justice for the sale of champagne in 2011 and 2012. The sale occurred before the government received a permit from the National Board of Antiquities. Although the permit had been applied for, it had not yet been granted. Additionally, the export licenses required for the sale are governed by the very authorities who conducted the sale and pocketed the proceeds. The Deputy Chancellor of Justice is alleging this dual role violates both national and EU law on the export of cultural artifacts.

ORIGINAL POST 9/5/12

According to the German publication Deutsche Welle, another 8 bottles from a 168 bottle collection of champagne are set to go under the auctioneers hammer. The champagne was discovered two years ago by diver and (ironically enough) brewery owner Christian Ekström. Ekström was exploring a wrecked schooner off the coast of the Åland Islands when he came upon the bottles at the site. Researchers believe the schooner sank in the 1840s making Ekström’s find the oldest champagne ever found. Now, two years after the discovery, 10 of the bottles have been sold at auction with one, a Veuve Clicquot, selling for a record breaking $26,700. Authorities on the Åland Islands plan to hold auctions of the champagne over the next few years as a method of bringing tourists to the area.

Ekström’s find isn’t the first fermented treasure trove found in the Baltic as there have been both beer and other champagne caches discovered in recent years. The discovery and re-creation of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s whiskey, though, is still perhap the most noteworthy alcoholic find of the past few years.

Death in the Baltic

In Death in the Baltic, Cathryn Prince relates the tragic tale of the greatest maritime disaster in recorded human history – the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Prince has written previously about World War Two as well as the American Civil War and her latest volume is an excellent work of vernacular history. The Wilhelm Gustloff was among the numerous vessels pressed into service for Operation Hannibal – the Nazi seaborne evacuation of East Prussia in early 1945. Prince’s work especially shines in her weaving together various first-hand survivor accounts to paint a picture of what civilian life was like in the waning days of the Third Reich. Her description of the sinking as well as the story of the Soviet sub commander who led the attack are superb and make for highly engaging reading.

The only hiccup in Death in the Balticis Prince’s misuse of some nautical and military terms throughout the book. This is a minor quibble though and on the whole the work is a compact and very readable account of an often forgotten story. For several reasons which Prince highlights in the closing chapters of the book, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff has largely been overlooked in pop history even though its death toll was several orders of magnitude than even the RMS Titanic. Death in the Baltic is a wonderful blend of vernacular, maritime and military history and as such will appeal to a broad cross-section of readers.

nazi passenger ship

SS General von Steuben

By January 1945, Soviet forces were beginning to cut off German civilians and military personnel in East Prussia, the Polish Corridor and the Baltic States. Adolf Hitler stubbornly refused naval units to be utilized for an evacuation, instead insisting on no retreat, even in the face of overwhelming Soviet forces. Admiral Karl Donitz, one-time U-boat captain and commander of the Kriegsmarine’s U-boat forces until January 1943, finally convinced Hitler to relent and on January 23, 1945, Operation Hannibal, the largest seaborne evacuation in history began. From January 23 until early May, German Kriegsmarine units, merchant and fishing vessels and passenger liners were pressed into service to rescue approximately 1.3 million Germans from the Soviet juggernaut.

Former Norddeutscher passenger liner turned hospital ship SS General von Steuben was among those ships pressed into service. Incidentally the General von Steuben had been named after the Polish/German Revolutionary War office who had done so much to train General Washington’s ragtag army. On the night of February 10, the Soviet submarine S-13 spied the General von Steuben steaming in the Baltic with a load of 4,267 civilians, crew and soldiers. Struck by two torpedoes fired by the S-13, the General von Steuben disappeared beneath the waves of the Baltic along with 3,608 souls.

This was not S-13s first taste of blood during Operation Hannibal as the sub had sunk the German liner Wilhelm Gustloff only ten nights earlier with the loss of nearly 10,000 lives. The wreck of the General von Steuben was located in 2004 by a Polish naval vessel and lies in waters reachable by technical divers.

sunk nazi ship

SS General von Steuben on the Baltic Sea Floor

shipwreck

Wreck of Savonmaa
Photo: http://www.wrecksite.eu

On January 20, 1937, the Finnish steamer Savonmaa and twenty-six of her crew met an untimely end when she ran aground in the Skaggerak during a heavy storm. The ship was bound for the UK with a cargo of paper and pitprops and undoubtedly caused much angst for UK paper-pushers.

soviet submarine baltic sea

Wreckage of Soviet WWII Submarine S-6
Photo: Försvarsmakten

Earlier this summer civilian divers reported discovering what they believed to be a sunken submarine in 130 feet of water near Sweden’s island of Oland in the Baltic Sea. The Swedish Navy returned to the site with its submarine salvage ship HSWMS Belos to further inspect the wreck and determine its identity. Swedish news site The Local reports that the Swedish military believes the vessel is the Soviet submarine S-6 which never returned from its September 1941 patrol. Cyrillic text and a Soviet hammer and sickle are visible on the wreck providing evidence that the wreck is indeed a Soviet sub.

The Swedish military further believes that while cruising on the surface of the Baltic the sub struck a Nazi mine and was blown to pieces. This hypothesis flows from the fact that a hatch (seen above) was open on the vessel and it was found in multiple pieces on the sea floor. The large size of the debris field rules out the possibility the sub struck a mine below the surface and that the crew were able to make an attempt at escape. Thus it is most likely the sub was cruising on the surface, possibly re-charging its batteries at night, with hatches open to circulate air within the boat when it struck the mine.

submarine salvage ship

HSWMS Belos
Photo: Wikimedia

Resande Man

November 26, 2012 — Leave a comment
Swedish shipwreck

Diving on the Resande Man

Three hundred and fifty-two years ago today, the Swedish warship Resande Man sank near Stockholm while en route to Poland. Embarked aboard the Resande Man was Count Karl Kristopher von Schlippenbach who had been dispatched on a diplomatic mission to Poland. Count Schlippenbach was charged with negotiating an alliance with Poland against Russia and the Resande Man was carrying royal treasure to help aid diplomatic discussions.

The wreck of Resande Man proved King Solomon’s axiom that there is nothing new under the sun. Swedish legend states that the ship’s captain, much like the Costa Concordia’s Francesco Schettino, was focused on a woman he had taken aboard and thus failed to tend to the proper navigation of the ship. The captain’s negligence led to the Resande Man foundering in a strong storm on November 26, 1660. While 37 onboard perished, 25 were able to make it to dry land.

Despite salvage efforts on the ship in 1661, the ship is rumored to still contain a rich cargo. Because of this, she has achieved mythical status in Swedish maritime circles, much akin to the Merchant Royal in Great Britain. Divers believe they have found the ship and conducted several dives on the ship earlier this year. The Resande Man was featured on a map compiled by Anders Franzen (see below), the discoverer of the Vasa, and if the wreck is indeed the Resande Man, then the final wreck on the map has been located.

Swedish shipwreck map

Anders Franzen’s Map of Historic Swedish Shipwrecks