A team of Polish divers say they have found almost intact the wreckage of German World War II steamer Karlsruhe, which was bombed by Soviet planes and sunk in the Baltic Sea in April 1945, killing hundreds on board. The 10-member Baltictech team say the wreckage rests 290 feet under the sea dozens of miles north of Poland's coastal resort of Ustka.
In the wreckage, they say they have found military vehicles, china and sealed chests in the ship's hold, all in good condition.
"It looks like, after months of searching, we have finally found the wreckage of the Karlsruhe steamer," the Baltictech group said on Facebook, posting an underwater photo of an apparently well-preserved military vehicle.
The group said the discovery could also help solve a 75-year-old mystery - the whereabouts of the Amber Room, an ornate Russian chamber that was looted by the Nazis. Dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World," the room was part of the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, but was last seen in Koenigsberg, Reuters reported.
"We don't want to get excited, but if the Germans were to take the Amber Chamber across the Baltic Sea, then Karlsruhe Steamer was their last chance," the Baltictech group wrote on Facebook.
The Amber Room was constructed in Prussia and then given to Tsar Peter the Great of Russia in 1716 as a present. Reuters reports that the Germans dismantled the room and took it to Koenigsberg during the war. It disappeared during Allied bombing raids on the city. A replica of the Amber Room was later constructed in the Catherine Palace.
The divers said they accessed Allied, German and Soviet documents detailing the fate of the steamer and spent more than a year looking for it, believing it was among the "most interesting, yet uncovered, stories from the Baltic Sea bed."
The documents, which were shown to The Associated Press, say the Karlsruhe was built in 1905 at the Seebeck yard in Bremerhaven. Toward the end of World War II, it was included in the Hannibal Operation that evacuated Germans and Nazi troops from the East Prussia's Koenigsberg area as the Soviet Red Army advanced and was taking control of it.
On April 11, 1945, the steamer left the port of Pillau - which is now the Russian port of Baltiysk - with 150 troops of the Hermann Goering regiment, 25 railway workers and 888 civilians, including children, and hundreds of tons of cargo.
The next day, in the port of Hel, it was included in a convoy going to the German port of Swinemunde, which is now Swinoujscie in Poland.
On the morning of April 13, 1945, the ship was spotted by Soviet planes, bombed and sank within about three minutes. Some 113 of its passengers were rescued by the convoy, among the 1,083 on board, according to Nazi Navy documents, a German cable intercepted by the British and survivor accounts stored in German archives.
Last month,they discovered the wreckage of a German warship — also called the Karlsruhe — that was struck by a British torpedo in 1940.