Eerie photos of ‘perfectly preserved’ wreck at the bottom of the Baltic help solve WWII mystery
A lingering wartime mystery has finally been solved following the discovery of the Gerrit Fritzen, a ship sunk in 1945 during the largest maritime evacuation in history.
Taking part in Operation Hannibal, the steamboat was part of a 1,080-strong fleet of vessels that was tasked with evacuating two million Germans westwards as the Red Army relentlessly rolled forward.
Of these boats, 247 were sunk by the Soviets with 150 soon located or recovered immediately after the war.
Among those that were never found were five steamships, the Karlsruhe, Frankfurt, Orion, Gerrit Fritzen and Baltenland.
A few years ago, however, a Gdynia-based firm by the name of Baltictech announced a mission to locate these missing wrecks.
In a press release the specialist diving company wrote: “Until recently, the fate of these steamships remained unknown. Then in 2020 we found the Karlsruhe, and a year later the Frankfurt.”
However, in the same year that the Karlsruhe was found, divers using sonar equipment also managed to locate “a large object” lying 92-metres below the surface around 100-kilometres north of Gdynia.
Whilst some of the research team suspected it could be the Gerrit Fritzen, they gave this notion just a 10% chance of being proved correct.
Tomasz Stachura of Baltictech said: “In the case of previous wrecks we usually had archival data detailing their routes.” When it came to the Gerrit Fritzen, though, such reliable evidence was lacking leaving historians largely guessing as to what exactly the firm had found.
Now, that riddle has been solved once and for all after a diving team plunged to the wreck on September 8th.
Comparing the dive to “going into space”, the team came across a ship’s bell bearing the inscription Terne 1922 which enabled them to confirm without doubt the vessel’s identity.
Measuring 78-metres, the boat was built by the Ouse Shipbuilding Company in the English coastal town of Goole and originally christened the Terne in 1922.
First owned by a Norwegian operator, it changed names and ownership several times before being acquired by the German firm Fritzen Johs & Sohn. It was then that it was renamed the SS Gerrit Fritzen.
But while one mystery has been cracked, the full story of the Gerrit Fritzen remains shrouded in secrecy.
Of the facts that have been made public, it is known that the ship took part in Operation Hannibal and set sail from Liepāja to Lübeck on March 12th, 1945. Shortly after 12:00, it was strafed by Soviet aircraft and sank.
Whether or not the boat was carrying people fleeing the war is unknown, as too is the ultimate fate of the crew, though the evidence suggests that no-one perished on board.
“Over the course of three dives we did not find any bones,” says Tomasz Stachura. “However, the holds were full of chests of food and waterskins. Four military vehicles were also found.”
Publishing a series of images from the dives to their social media, Baltictech’s pictures have left fans of history staggered.
Hauntingly entwined in thick sheets of netting, much of the wreck has been almost timelessly preserved.
Both eerie and ethereal, the photographs present the wreck in stunning clarity and have found themselves widely shared since Baltictech made their discovery public at the end of last week.