Archives For Baltic Sea

Winter War

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In November of 1939, Soviet forces invaded Finland with the intention of bringing additional territory into the communist fold. Even though the Soviet forces vastly outnumbered the Finns, Finnish troops put up a heroic resistance and the conflict was resolved 4 months later with the loss of ~11% of Finland’s pre-war territory. Thus when Nazi Germany launched its invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 the Finns were quick to lend their support to the Nazis in an effort to regain their lost territory.

Flowing from this cooperation was the use of Finnish naval forces to screen against Soviet naval forces while German ground forces advanced through the Baltic states. In one such operation, Operation Nordwind, one of Finland’s two capital ships, the Ilmarinen, struck a mine and sank with 271 casualties. The loss of the Ilmarinen on September 13, 1941 was devastating to the tiny Finnish Navy. For a force consisting of only 3,800 officers and sailors, the loss represented  7% of Finnish naval forces. By comparison, less than .8% of the US Navy perished in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Ilmarinen had been built in the 1930s as a coastal defence ship for the purpose of defending the numerous islands and islets of Finland’s Baltic coastline. Video of the ship in 1938 can be seen here (the Ilmarinen is the first ship shown in the video). The ship saw service in the Winter War defending the Finnish coast against the Soviet invaders and later shelled Soviet forces after the beginning of the German invasion.

Even though the Finns initially sided with the Nazis, they fought not for ideology, but for self-preservation. In September 1944, the Finns established a separate peace with the Soviets and engaged the Nazis in open combat in the Lapland region until the Nazis withdrew to Norway in April 1945.

Finland Shipwreck Champagne

CC Image courtesy of David Parsons on Flickr

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.

Wilhelm Gustloff

Photo: German Federal Archive

The worst maritime disaster in recorded human history occurred in the closing days of World War II and is little known in popular history. The torpedoing of the M/V Wilhelm Gustloff claimed ~9,000 lives including as many as 4,000 children. By comparison the RMS Titanic disaster cost 1,517 lives. In the waning days of World War II, the once vaunted German Wehrmacht was pressed into ever shrinking pockets of territory by advancing Soviet armies. Admiral Karl Donitz, desperate to evacuate 2 million German personnel and civilians from isolated pockets of German territory on the Baltic Coast, initiated Operation Hannibal – an evacuation almost six times the size of Dunkirk.

Among the ships used in the evacuation was the Wilhelm Gustloff, a former luxury liner built in 1938 to provide holiday excursions as part of Hitler’s “Strength Through Joy” program. Confiscated by the Kriegsmarine at the outbreak of hostilities in September, 1939, the ship served as a hospital ship and floating barracks. The Wilhelm Gustloff departed Gotenhafen on January 30, 1945 with more than 10,000 refugees and military personnel. Less than 9 hours after leaving Gotenhafen, the ship was spotted by the Soviet submarine S-13 which loosed a four torpedo salvo. Three of the four torpedoes (the fourth jammed in the tube) found their mark and within 70 minutes the Wilhelm Gustloff lay 150 feet beneath the Baltic Sea. More than 9,000 souls perished in the sinking, but for propaganda reasons the Nazi regime kept news of the sinking from spreading within the crumbling Third Reich. For numerous reasons, most importantly the overshadowing of the tragedy by the ending of the war and the exposure of Nazi death camps, the disaster is not a pop culture icon like the sinking of the RMS Titanic or the RMS Lusitania.

Some historians have speculated that the looted Amber Room might have been aboard and the Soviets allegedly launched an expedition to the wreck site during the Cold War. Evidence pointing to the Amber Room being aboard is circumstantial at best. The last known sighting of the room was in nearby Konigsberg Castle just days before the ship sailed. The room had been packaged into 27 crates and eyewitnesses report the moving of similar sized crates from trucks to the ship prior to its departure. In the most thorough analysis of the fate of the Amber Room to date, authors Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy posit that the Amber Room was destroyed on land sometime during the frantic evacuations from East Prussia and has been forever lost.

Viking longboat

CC Image courtesy of TNDrumGuy on Flickr

Divers operating near the Swedish village of Birka announced the discovery yesterday of underwater jetties dating back to the Vikings. The stone foundations found by the dive team were deeper than historians had believed Vikings could build. The discovery is causing archaeologists to re-examine some of their basic understandings of the Birka village and Viking building techniques. Historians have long thought Birka to merely have had small jetties and a trading post, but the foundations now lead them to believe the village could have been 30% larger than previously thought. They also now believe that it functioned as a port with a marketplace near the wharf

The village of Birka on the Swedish island of Björkö has long been the site of archaeological excavations because of its Viking history. Work in the area first began in the late 19th century and continues today. The village is a UNESCO world heritage site and contains a reconstructed Viking village and museum.

Baltic Sea UFO

August 16, 2012 — 1 Comment

Diver Peter Lindberg recently sat down with Red Ice Radio to discuss the “Baltic UFO” that was reported in several major media outlets earlier this summer (see here and here). At the beginning of this year’s recovery season, Ocean X, a Swedish salvage company, began further investigations of an underwater anomaly it discovered last year.  Some outlets questioned the veracity of Ocean X’s claims, allegations which Lindberg addressed in his interview.

Lindberg explained that he believes the most likely explanation is that the odd rock formation is an underwater volcano or, if artificial, a relic of the Ice Age.  He asserts that he never claimed for it to be a UFO and further research has ruled out it having been constructed during either world war. Much of the UFO speculation arose from Ocean X’s constant reports of interference at the dive site with its electronic equipment. Lindberg stated that while electronics and water don’t mix and equipment problems are common on dives, he’s never seen this level of interference.

His team just completed operations necessary to create a computerized 3D image of the object and have taken samples from loose rock around and atop it.  Ocean X is working with Stockholm University to process the data and samples and hopes to return to the site with a geologist and the tools to take a core sample. The team also used a frequency meter to determine whether or not the object was emitting radio frequencies and are awaiting final results.

While some may question whether or not Ocean X is using their “find” to garner publicity, Lindberg’s previous success in recovering the $8 million “Jonkoping Champagne” from the depths of the Baltic Sea definitively established his maritime exploration and salvage bona fides.

For the full interview, go to Red Ice Radio.