Remains of WWII German warship sunk by RAF’s Dambusters raised from Szczecin seabed
Fragments of the Lützow, a German World War Two heavy cruiser which was sunk by the famous British Dambusters squadron in 1945, have been raised from the bottom of a shipping channel in the Szczecin Lagoon.
Twenty tonnes of equipment from the pocket battleship were found during deepening work that is being carried in the Piastowski Channel, a major shipping lane that connects Szczecin with Świnoujście on Poland’s Baltic coast.
The haul includes the nine-tonne rear wall of the ship’s powerful 280mm gun tower, a copper range finder, screws and bolts and personal items such as lifejackets and belts.
The pieces from the famous battleship are only a part of what marine workers have found at the bottom of the channel.
Other discoveries include heavy anchors, anchor winding mechanisms, a piece from a U-Boat gun and riveted buoys that separated shipping lanes in the 19th century.
The latest pieces of marine history were raised to the surface on Tuesday this week and are the fifth batch of items that have been discovered at the bottom of the channel in recent months.
They will go to the Polish Arms Museum in Kołobrzeg, where they will be washed, cleaned and painted before being out on display.
“We can’t be sure when or how many of the fascinating objects ended up there. Probably most of them sank to the bottom as a result of wartime action. These kind of things don’t just fall off by accident,” said Aleksander Ostasz, director of the Polish Arms Museum in a conversation with TFN.
“However, we have been able to identify the pieces that come from the Lützow,” he added.
The fragments of the Lützow settled at the bottom of the channel in April 1945 when the ship was the target of an air raid by the RAF 617 ‘Dambusters’ squadron.
The Lancaster bombers partially sank the German ship after attacking it with massive Tallboy bombs, one of the largest bombs ever dropped in the war.
Last September, one of the 5.5-tonne seismic bombs was discovered in the same site lodged into the bottom of the channel, where it remains today.
In early 1945, the 186-metre ship was anchored in the Piastowski Channel, known as the Kaiserfahrt at the time, after being withdrawn from active service in the Kriegsmarine.
The British RAF squadron had been bombing U-boat pens in the area, but when reconnaissance flights spotted the ship in the Kaiserfahrt, they planned a bombing raid to sink it.
Flt Lt Robert Horsley, who captained the Avro Lancaster bomber that struck the ship, described the attack in a letter after the war to German ex-sailor, Rudolf Ritscher, who had been part of the Lützow’s crew.
“The weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky, all the way from England to the target. The wind was light – ideal for bombing. The fighter escort left us and for last fifteen minutes we were alone in the sky – eighteen Lancasters,” he wrote.
“I was determined to get the bomb on the target – “Bomb gone” shouted the bomb aimer “Keep her steady for the photograph” – another seventeen seconds at least, still the flak burst about us, the cockpit was very drafty without its top which you had blown off,” he added.
Horsley’s plane struck the Lützow, although because the water was so shallow its guns remained above the water level. For a number of days they continued to be used as a stationary battery against advancing Soviet forces.
The battle-cruiser was launched in 1931 as the ‘Deutschland’ and was the lead ship in its class of heavy cruisers. It entered service in 1933 and saw its first combat in 1936 when it supported the German contingent fighting in the Spanish Civil War.
After being attacked by Republican planes piloted by Russians, the ship bombarded the town of Almeria in revenge.
In 1940, Adolf Hitler decided to change its name to Lützow, fearing that if the ageing ship bearing the name Deutschland were sunk it would be bad omen for the Reich.
The ship then saw action during Germany’s invasion of Norway, when it was damaged by a British bombing raid. Later, it operated in the Barents Sea hunting Allied merchant convoys.
In 1943, it was transferred to the Baltic as a training ship. Towards the end of the war it went back to combat duty by supporting the defence of the German garrison in Frombork, the defence of Gdańsk, the evacuation of Germans from the Hel peninsular and the defence of Kołobrzeg.
After the war, the Soviets hauled it out into the Baltic and used it as a floating target before finally sinking the vessel in 1947.
Ostasz is convinced that the Piastowski Channel will reveal more secrets. “There is a lot more down, there. I’m sure we will see more items brought t the surface,” he said.
The 12-kilometre channel was dug during the time of the German Empire between 1874 and 1880 during the reign of the first Kaiser Wilhelm. It allows the Świna river to be bypassed, providing a more convenient south-north connection for large ships.