It was hit by Norwegian artillery and torpedoed by a British submarine before finally being scuttled by its own captain. But now, the long-lost wreck of the German light cruiser Karlsruhe has been identified off the coast of Norway.

The ship was first located three years ago, 24km from Kristiansand in the south of the country. It was found by Statnett, the Norwegian state-owned power company, during an inspection of infrastructure running underwater to Denmark.

A sonar scan of Karlsruhe off the coast of Norway. It was only upon the sight of its guns (see below) did investigators realise it was a warship.
A sonar scan of Karlsruhe off the coast of Norway. It was only upon the sight of its guns (see below) did investigators realise it was a warship.

This summer, Statnett launched an investigation. From the survey vessel Olympic Taurus, a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) was launched, whose multi-beam echo sounders located and photographed the wreck.

Karlsruhe led the German attack on Kristiansand during Operation Weserübung on 9 April 1940, as part of the Nazi invasion of Norway.

As the cruiser entered a fjord near Kristiansand, it came under fire from the Norwegian naval fortress at Odderøya.

Damaged, the cruiser was hit again later the same afternoon by a torpedo from the British submarine Truant. The severity of the destruction compelled the captain, German Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) Otto Schenk, to order the scuttling of the ship by one of its escorting torpedo boats.

With a length of 174 metres and equipped with steam turbines and nine cannons, it is the only German warship lost during the attack on Norway whose position was unknown. And when it was first located in 2017, its identity was not immediately clear.

Images: Olivia Knudsen/Statnett/Isurvey
Images: Olivia Knudsen/Statnett/Isurvey

As Statnett’s Senior Project Engineer Ole Petter Hobberstad explained, it was only when cannons and Nazi insignia became visible on the ROV’s sonar scans that it became clear it was a warship.

Hobberstad noted that, ‘Statnett has several subsea interconnectors that require regular underwater inspections work. Sometimes, we discover historical remains. But I’ve never found anything as exciting as this one.’

Part of what makes the wreck so fascinating is that it did not keel over when it sank. Instead, Karlsruhe sits upright more than 490m below sea level, almost exactly as it would have done on the water over 80 years ago.

This is an article from the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.




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