Divers searching for the legendary Amber Room treasures – looted by the Nazis and missing since World War II – say they have discovered chests lying around the wreck of a German steamer that sank in 1945.
The diving team found the wreck of the Karlsruhe off the Polish coast in September, 75 years after it sank 288ft below the Baltic Sea – possibly taking the stolen treasures with it.
On Monday, a sonar survey of the area revealed the chests and other objects surrounding the wreck of the warship, with one diver saying there could be paintings inside the chests.
‘As we suspected, around the wreck, and particularly, in front of the ship’s beakhead, a lot of items from the ship’s interior have spilled out,’ the team said, adding that they had found 10 trunks and ‘lots of other trinkets’.
The Baltictech team say they will continue their search in April as they hunt for the contents of the Amber Room, which was built for Russian tsar Peter the Great in the 1700s and ransacked by Hitler’s invaders in 1941.
A clue to the Amber Room mystery? A screen shows a man-made object on the floor of the Baltic Sea where divers searching for the long-lost treasures say that a sonar survey has revealed chests and other objects lying around a wrecked Nazi ship
Underwater discoveries: Baltic divers say they found chests and other items and will continue their search in April as they examine whether the wreck of the Karlsruhe could answer the decades-old question of what happened to the Amber Room
A ring-shaped object is displayed on the screen after divers carried out a survey of the sea floor following the discovery of the Karlsruhe, a wrecked German steamer, earlier this year
The divers said that ‘a lot of items from the ship’s interior have spilled out,’ adding that they had found 10 trunks and ‘lots of other trinkets’ while examining the area of the shipwreck
Polish divers search for the World War II German cruiser Karlsruhe at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, where they believe the lost treasures of the Amber Room – looted by the Nazis and missing since 1945 – could be buried
Divers said earlier this year that they hoped the discovery of the Karlsruhe could provide ‘ground-breaking information’ on the amber, gold and precious jewels which once belonged to the Amber Room.
After finding the chests, the team said that ‘one of them, which had special rubber seals, gives us hope that the contents will be some valuable items, maybe paintings?’.
‘Our ROV robot was unable to positively determine the contents of the remaining trunks,’ they added.
Assembled in the Catherine Palace near St Petersburg, the Amber Room stood there for three centuries, but was dismantled by German troops during their ill-fated invasion of the USSR.
In 1941, the Room’s contents were placed in storage in Koenigsberg – now a Russian city known as Kaliningrad – and then disappeared when the Third Reich collapsed in 1945.
As Hitler’s defeat loomed, the 196ft Karlsruhe was used to evacuate Germans from Koenigsberg – a journey which has sparked speculation that the treasures were spirited away on board the ship.
On April 13, 1945, the Karlsruhe came under attack from Soviet planes and was sunk.
‘It was in Koenigsberg that the Amber Chamber was seen for the last time. From there the Karlsruhe left on its last voyage with a large cargo,’ lead diver Tomasz Stachura explained.
‘It is practically intact. In its holds, we discovered military vehicles, porcelain and many crates with contents still unknown.’
The Amber Room (pictured in Russia in 1917), which was packed with amber, gold and precious jewels, was looted by the Nazis in 1941 and its contents mysteriously disappeared with the collapse of Hitler’s regime in 1945
The wreck of the German cruiser Karlsruhe was discovered off the Polish coast by divers exploring the area in search of the ship which was sunk in April 1945
The ship brought 1,083 refugees and 360 tons of cargo and has been lying 290ft underwater for decades
Divers have discovered military vehicles, porcelain and many crates with so far unknown contents
Documentation from the time suggests that the Karlsruhe left Koenigsberg in a hurry, with a large cargo and 1,083 people on board.
‘All this, put together, stimulates the human imagination,’ said diver Tomasz Zwara.
‘Finding the German steamer and the crates with contents as yet unknown resting on the bottom of the Baltic Sea may be significant for the whole story.’
Stachura previously said of the ship: ‘She brought 1,083 refugees and 360 tons of cargo with her. She set off on her last journey under a strong escort.
‘Sunken April 13, 1945 in the morning. Only 113 people were saved.
‘We don’t want to get excited, but if the Germans were to take the Amber Chamber across the Baltic Sea, then [the] Karlsruhe steamer was their last chance…’
The shipwreck was found at the bottom of the Baltic Sea several dozen kilometers north of Ustka
Divers found the shipwreck at a depth of 88 meters and say most of it is practically intact
The explorers say that the ship was in Königsberg around the time the Amber Room was last seen
After discovering the wreck, the divers later said it was too deep to salvage, saying that ‘we started the story but now it’s up to someone else to finish it’.
Stachura said: ‘As archaeological divers, we can only officially dive to 130ft, but the ship is over 260ft down. Military divers could do it but it could cost millions.’
The ship is not to be confused with a different Karlsruhe which was also recently discovered off the coast of Norway, having sunk in 1940.
In 2015, Poland was hit with Gold Train fever after explorers in the town of Walbrzych said they had found a tunnel which they believed was laden with looted Nazi treasure.
But after weeks of hype and speculation, when the explorers eventually began digging they discovered the tunnel was empty.
The episode has led to a general wariness surrounding claims of stolen World War II treasure being discovered, with authorities wanting ‘real evidence’ to support the claims rather than rumours.
Russian craftsmen have since constructed a replica Amber Room in the Catherine Palace.
Karlsruhe took part in Operation Hannibal, a German naval operation involving the evacuation by sea of German troops and civilians
The ship is not to be confused with the Karlsruhe which was also recently discovered off the coast of Norway, which was sunk in 1940
Tomasz Zwara from Baltictech added: ‘The history and available documentation show that the Karlsruhe was leaving the port in a great hurry and with a large load’
The remains of the Amber Room after it was seized by the Nazis, who packed the amber panels in 27 crates and shipped them to Germany, where they vanished and have not been seen since
The story of the missing Amber Room looted by the Nazis
The Amber Room was originally a gift to Peter the Great (pictured
The Amber Room was originally supposed to have been an amber cabinet, a gift from Friedrich-Wilhelm I of Prussia to Peter the Great, who admired the work on a visit to his castle in 1716.
But instead of a cabinet, it was decided to use the panels as wall coverings, surrounding them with gilded carving, mirrors and yet more amber panels.
The room was made up of panels containing six tonnes of amber resin, took 10 years to complete and is valued at some £250million in today’s money.
The 16 feet of jigsaw-puzzle style panels were constructed of more than 100,000 perfectly fitted pieces of amber.
In 1755, it was moved to the Catherine Palace at Tsarkoe Selo, 17 miles south of the Imperial Russian capital of St Petersburg.
In 1941, the approaching Nazi army surrounded the city, then known by its Soviet name of Leningrad. Tsarkoe Selo was one of the outlying areas occupied by the Germans.
Russians tried to hide the walls behind wallpaper.
But the Nazis knew what was behind the mundane covering, and went about dismantling the room – a process which took 36 hours.
Believing that the Prussian gift rightly belonged to them, they packed the amber panels in 27 crates and shipped them to Germany.
But the contents of the room vanished in 1945 and have not been seen again.