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Famous World War I Battleship Discovered at the Bottom of the Atlantic

Researchers used two kinds of sonar to detect the wreck of the World War I German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.
Researchers used two kinds of sonar to detect the wreck of the World War I German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.
(Image: © Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust)

The wreck of one of the most famous German warships of World War I has been located on the seafloor near the Falkland Islands, where it sank in a battle with British warships more than 100 years ago.

The battlecruiser Scharnhorst sank on Dec. 8, 1914, with more than 800 crewmembers on board, including German Adm. Maximilian Graf von Spee.

The Scharnhorst had tried to lead a naval attack on the Falklands, but the German squadron was surprised by a larger force of British warships. During the resulting Battle of the Falkland Islands, the British sank the Scharnhorst along with eight other German warships. 

Related: The 20 Most Mysterious Shipwrecks Ever

Using an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) operated from the survey ship Seabed Constructor, researchers discovered the wreck yesterday (Dec. 4) about a mile (1.6 kilometers) beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.

After it was revealed by the AUV’s sonar, the researchers sent down a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) to take video of the wreck.

"The moment of discovery was extraordinary," marine archaeologist Mensun Bound, the expedition leader, said in a statement. "We are often chasing shadows on the seabed, but when the Scharnhorst first appeared in the data flow, there was no doubt that this was one of the German fleet."

"We sent down an ROV  to explore, and almost straight away, we were into a debris field that said 'battle,'" he said. "Suddenly, she just came out of the gloom with great guns poking in every direction." 

The wreck of the World War I German battlecruiser Scharnhorst was found beneath more than 5,000 feet of seawater near the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.

The wreck of the World War I German battlecruiser Scharnhorst was found beneath more than 5,000 feet of seawater near the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. (Image credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust)

Searchers started looking for the wreck of the Scharnhorst and other warships from the German squadron in the centenary of the Battle of the Falkland Islands in December 2014, but they were unsuccessful.

Related: Photos: WWI-Era German Submarine Wreck Discovered Off Scotland Coast

The search resumed last month, using four state-of-the-art Ocean Infinity AUVs equipped with sonar instruments to search a 1,730-square-mile (4,500 square kilometers) area of the seafloor near the Falklands.

The wreck was found unexpectedly, when the AUV left its search path to turn around and scan another line of the seafloor — passing over the Scharnhorst during the turn, Bound said. The scientists realized they'd "found" the wreck only several hours later, when the AUV returned to the surface and the data from the search was downloaded and converted into a legible format, Bound said. 

The wreck — which lies on the seafloor about 100 nautical miles southeast of Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands — has not been touched or disturbed in any way, and the site will now be legally protected, said Donald Lamont, chairman of the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust. 

Image 1 of 4

The Scharnhorst was the flagship of German admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee, who died when it was sunk by British warships in the Battle of the Falkland Islands on Dec. 8, 1914.

The Scharnhorst was the flagship of German admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee, who died when it was sunk by British warships in the Battle of the Falkland Islands on Dec. 8, 1914. (Image credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust)
Image 2 of 4

The remains of the Scharnhorst were found by one of four autonomous underwater vehicles searching the seafloor for the World War I wreck.

The remains of the Scharnhorst were found by one of four autonomous underwater vehicles searching the seafloor for the World War I wreck. (Image credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust)
Image 3 of 4

Researchers used two kinds of sonar to detect the wreck of the World War I German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

Researchers used two kinds of sonar to detect the wreck of the World War I German battlecruiser Scharnhorst. (Image credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust)
Image 4 of 4

The wreck of the Scharnhorst was found by an autonomous underwater vehicle in only three days of searching part of the seafloor near the Falkland Islands.

The wreck of the Scharnhorst was found by an autonomous underwater vehicle in only three days of searching part of the seafloor near the Falkland Islands. (Image credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust)

The defeat of the Scharnhorst and its warship squadron was a decisive naval battle in the early stages of World War I, according to the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust.

The Battle of the Falkland Islands came just a few weeks after the Battle of Coronel, off the coast of Chile, when Graf von Spee's East Asia Squadron sank two Royal Navy armored cruisers. More than 1,600 British servicemen were killed in the battle, but only three Germans were wounded.

In response, Britain sent a squadron led by two advanced battlecruisers, HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible, to the South Atlantic to hunt for Spee and his warships. A month after their defeat at Coronel, the British warships engaged the largest German warships — the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Nürnberg and Leipzig. 

The Scharnhorst was the first to sink, after suffering heavy damage from the guns of the Invincible and the Inflexible.

More than 2,200 German sailors died during the battle, including Graf von Spee and his two sons — Heinrich aboard the Gneisenau and Otto aboard the Nürnberg.

The defeat of the East Asia Squadron spelled the end of Germany's hopes to dominate the sea during World War I, and the Imperial German High Seas Fleet was effectively bottled up in the North Sea by the Royal Navy for the rest of the war, according to the British Library

Bound was born in the Falklands, so the discovery of the Scharnhorst has a special meaning. "As a Falkland Islander and a marine archaeologist, a discovery of this significance is an unforgettable, poignant moment in my life," he said.

The search team will now look for the rest of the German fleet sunk in 1914, to better understand the events of the battle and to ensure the site's protection, Bound said.

Originally published on Live Science.

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  • JIMV
    admin said:
    The wreck of one of the most famous German warships of World War I has been located on the seafloor near the Falkland Islands, where it sank in a battle with British warships more than 100 years ago.

    Famous World War I Battleship Discovered at the Bottom of the Atlantic : Read more

    Sadly, the ship in question was not a 'Battle Cruiser' but instead the far less speedy and powerful Armored Cruiser. Battle Cruisers were under armored but well armed fast post dreadnought designs while armored cruisers were smaller, slower, and far less armed obsolete designs. Just as an aircraft carrier is not a submarine, an armored cruiser is not a battle cruiser nor is it (as labeled in the headline) a 'battleship.
    Reply
  • Bookdoc
    The original term back the was "Dreadnought" from the first British battleship although the terms became interchangeable. I have gotten tired of every warship today being called a "battleship" including those with little to no armor and nothing bigger than a 5" gun! Battleships were rulers of the sea for years until aircraft came along and the Pearl Harbor/Prince of Wales & Repulse sinkings showed the way of the future.
    Reply
  • Hartmann352
    There is one remaining dreadnought in the US, the USS Texas (BB-35), the sister ship of the USS New York (BB-34).

    The USS Texas was launched on 18 May 1912 and commissioned on 12 March 1914.

    Soon after her commissioning, Texas saw action in Mexican waters following the famous "Tampico Incident" and made numerous sorties into the North Sea during WWI, while based in England.

    When the United States formally entered WWII on December 8, 1941, following the Japanese surprise air attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, Texas escorted Allied convoys across the North Atlantic and later shelled German held beaches in the Invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, before being transferred to the Pacific in late in 1944 to provide gunfire support during the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Texas was decommissioned in 1948, having earned a total of five battle stars in World War II. The USS Texas (BB-35) is now a museum ship near Houston, Texas.

    Texas is the only remaining World War I–era dreadnought battleship, as noted by her midships twin 14" turret. She is also noteworthy for being one of only seven remaining battleships and the only remaining capital ship to have served in both World Wars.
    Reply
  • sarajo
    I did history at school -hated it
    Reply
  • Hartmann352
    sarajo said:
    I did history at school -hated it


    History is what we, collectively, were and who we are today. To understand the background of any aspect of today's news you must understand history. I happened to love reading about all kinds of history. I think that the enjoyment of history goes hand in hand with the parental support of reading and reading what you enjoy. Without enjoyment, there is little to promote reading and history.

    I have a personal affinity with the USS Texas. My father served on the USS New York, her sister ship while she was assigned to convoy duty during the dark days of WWII before he got his own ship. He always referred to the New York as the "Old New Yorker."

    My wife and I toured the USS Texas (BB-35) after my dad passed away. It was somewhat emotional to walk those similar decks my father trod during the storms and the heavy seas the North Atlantic is famous for.

    While Great Britain ruled the waves as late as WWI, by the end of WWII, the US Navy, with its two ocean fleets, possessed almost 1,200 surface combatants and was pre-eminent on the seas. Additionally, there were over 2,000 amphibious ships designed to place troops on contested shores.
    Reply
  • Hartmann352
    Bookdoc said:
    The original term back the was "Dreadnought" from the first British battleship although the terms became interchangeable. I have gotten tired of every warship today being called a "battleship" including those with little to no armor and nothing bigger than a 5" gun! Battleships were rulers of the sea for years until aircraft came along and the Pearl Harbor/Prince of Wales & Repulse sinkings showed the way of the future.


    The Battle of the Coral Sea (April 29-May 8, 1942) was the first major U.S. Navy fleet action against Japan and the first naval engagement in history in which the participating ships never sighted or fired directly at each other.

    Although the attacks between two U.S. Navy task forces and a combined U.S.Australian cruiser force with the Japanese Carrier Strike Force and supporting units resulted in a Japanese tactical victory, where the US Navy lost the big deck carrier USS Lexington (CV-2), a destroyer and an oiler, the Japanese were forced to withdraw from the operational area after losing a light carrier (IJN Shoho) and suffered serious damage to a fleet carrier (IJN Shokaku), which prevented her from taking part in the Midway attack. However, with their air groups too battered to support a further advance, the Japanese were brought to a standstill, and both sides limped home.

    The USS Yorktown was damaged in The Coral Sea by Japanese bombing and limped to Pearl Harbor where emergency repairs were completed to enable the carrier {the sister ship of the USS Enterprise (CV-6) "The Big E", and the USS Hornet (CV-8)} to take part in The Battle of Midway, June 4-7, 1942. Although the Yorktown was lost at Midway, she assisted US naval units in decisively defeating the Imperial Japanese Navy and placing them on the defensive for the remainder of WWII.
    Reply
  • Giganotosaurus
    sarajo said:
    I did history at school -hated it
    I pity you.
    Reply
  • sarajo
    Hartmann352 said:
    History is what we, collectively, were and who we are today. To understand the background of any aspect of today's news you must understand history. I happened to love reading about all kinds of history. I think that the enjoyment of history goes hand in hand with the parental support of reading and reading what you enjoy. Without enjoyment, there is little to promote reading and history.

    I have a personal affinity with the USS Texas. My father served on the USS New York, her sister ship while she was assigned to convoy duty during the dark days of WWII before he got his own ship. He always referred to the New York as the "Old New Yorker."

    My wife and I toured the USS Texas (BB-35) after my dad passed away. It was somewhat emotional to walk those similar decks my father trod during the storms and the heavy seas the North Atlantic is famous for.

    While Great Britain ruled the waves as late as WWI, by the end of WWII, the US Navy, with its two ocean fleets, possessed almost 1,200 surface combatants and was pre-eminent on the seas. Additionally, there were over 2,000 amphibious ships designed to place troops on contested shores.
    Yes I understand that now & my views & attitudes ave changed but this was when I was at school
    Reply