Storms uncover 100-year-old boat buried under Baltic coast sand dune

After the storm that hit the Baltic coast at the weekend, walkers saw that parts of a boat were emerging from the sand on a dune between Jurata and Hel. Grzegorz Elmiś

The storms that recently battered the Polish coast have revealed a 100-year-old lifeboat that emerged from the sands of the Hel peninsula on the Baltic coast. 

Local history enthusiasts are now speculating that the wreck may be a relic from WWII’s Operation Hannibal.

A team from the nearby Coastal Defence Museum is at the site today investigating the wreck.Grzegorz Elmiś

In 1945, the largest ever marine evacuation in history saw up to 1,000 vessels take around 900,000 Germans from East Prussia to safety as the Red Army approached.

Many of the vessels sank in the dangerous seas. Among them was an ageing German minesweeper, the Nettelbeck, which was packed with crew, soldiers and civilians.

Grzegorz Elmiś

Local history enthusiasts are now speculating that the wreck may be a relic from WWII’s Operation Hannibal.Grzegorz Elmiś

As it was being hauled by another ship, it got into trouble near Jurata on the Hel peninsula. The 178 people on board made it to land safely.

The Nettelbeck now rests just 100 metres out to sea from the spot where the recent discovery was made after the weekend's storms.

Operation Hannibal in 1945 was the largest ever marine evacuation in history.Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1972-092-05 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Among them was the ageing German minesweeper the Nettelbeck, which was packed with crew, soldiers and civilians.Public domain

This has led local historical exploration groups to speculate that the lifeboat is connected to the Nettelbeck's sinking.

Historical filmmaking group Tank Hunter wrote on Facebook: “In Hel, during a storm and during the recording of a new episode, we came across a lifeboat that undoubtedly took part in Operation Hannibal and the rescue of survivors from the famous ship Nettelbeck in January 1945!”

Sunk on 26 January 1945, the Nettelbeck now rests just 100 metres off the coast of Hel where the recent discovery was made after the weekend's storms.Google maps

After the storm that hit the Baltic coast at the weekend, walkers saw that parts of a boat were emerging from the sand on a dune between Jurata and Hel. 

Among them was local photographer Grzegorz Elmiś who told TFN: “It’s definitely old, and in very bad condition,” but added: “there are many, many shipwrecks in the sea in these parts, so I would wait and see what the experts say.”

Grzegorz Elmiś

Historical filmmaking group Tank Hunter wrote on Facebook: “In Hel, during a storm and during the recording of a new episode, we came across a lifeboat that undoubtedly took part in Operation Hannibal and the rescue of survivors from the famous ship Nettelbeck in January 1945!”Grzegorz Elmiś

A team from the nearby Coastal Defence Museum is at the site today investigating the wreck.

Wiesław Wójcik from the museum could initially only confirm that the vessel is a lifeboat with a rudder.

Local photographer Grzegorz Elmiś who told TFN that although the boat “is definitely old, and in very bad condition, there are many, many shipwrecks in the sea in these parts, so I would wait and see what the experts say.”Grzegorz Elmiś 

HISTORY OF THE NETTLEBECK: 

Before being sunk, the Nettlebeck served in the German navy as a minesweeper from her launch in 1919 until 1923.

The ship then protected German fishing vessels in the waters around Iceland and northern Norway until 1932 when she was converted into a Kriegsmarine auxiliary ship.

The Nettelbeck saw service during Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 in the Bay of Danzig and the Bay of Pëck, today’s Puck.


She protected the battleships Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein and was the first Kriegsmarine vessel to enter the port in Hel on the day of the surrender of Polish troops.

From 1941 she was transferred to the North Sea. At the end of 1941, she was finally transferred to service in the eastern Baltic.

In 1942, the ship was then hit by three bombs. Two crew members died and ten were injured. The ship was repaired in the shipyard in Gdansk.

The Nettlebeck protected the battleships Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein and was the first Kriegsmarine vessel to enter the port in Hel on the day of the surrender of Polish troops.Public domain

In September 1944 near Tallinn, she was again severely damaged by aerial bombardment.

This time 15 sailors were killed and 24 were wounded. The damaged ship was towed to Königsberg for an engine replacement, but it never happened.

When Admiral Karl Dönitz announced the evacuation of the entire population of East Prussia in January 1945, the Nettelbeck was drafted back into service.

When Admiral Karl Dönitz announced the evacuation of the entire population of East Prussia in January 1945, the Nettelbeck was drafted back into service having previously been heavily damaged during fighting. Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1976-127-06A / CC-BY-SA 3.0

With 149 passengers and 29 crew, she was attached to a larger ship and set off in perfect conditions for Swinemünde, today’s Świnoujście.

The weather changed, however, when the convoy reached Hel. Unable to anchor in the choppy sea, she broke free of the lead ship and a rescue operation was carried out saving all the passengers and crew.

Since that time, it has rested just a few metres under the sea and is a hotspot for divers.