SANTI © Expedition to "Graf Zeppelin" Germany's only aircraft carrier

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Tough choice: if You have to drive 1000 km to the boat just to spend another 10 hrs on that You want to pick Your companionship carfully. I´m lucky – ISE´s Vicepresident Norbert Eder is not only my best friend but also one of the finest technical divers around, so I basicly shared the ride with my three favorite buddies ..:-)

[preview]

Tomek Stachura from SANTI invited us to dive the Graf Zeppelin on his second Expedition to the Wreck. So, after some days of planning, gasmixing and loading all our gear in Norberts Vehicle we hit the road and drove north on Monday 10th of May 2010. After around 11 hrs we reached the small city of Ustka on the Baltic coast of Poland where we met the other seven divers of the team, one Hungarian, and six polish divers. After the usual hello we spend two hours loading all of our gear on board of our Expedition Vessel “Nitrox” and left Port at 9pm. The evening went fast with dinner and some divers tales and we went to bed early.

The next morning when I went on deck at 6 am I found a lake like sea, sunshine and the boat in sight of a giant oil rig, that is located next to the position of Graf Zeppelin´s final resting place. We reached the position and some pleasant shiver ran down my spine knowing that “only” some 70 Meters separated us from the wreck..

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Graf Zeppelin was the only aircraft carrier launched by Germany during World War II and represented part of the Kriegsmarine's attempt to create a well-balanced oceangoing fleet, capable of projecting German naval power far beyond the narrow confines of the Baltic and North Seas. Construction was ordered on 16 November 1935 and her keel was laid down on 28 December 1936 by Deutsche Werke at Kiel. Named in honor of Graf (Count) Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the ship was launched on 8 December 1938 but was not completed and was never operational.

Planning and construction

Wilhelm Hadeler had been Assistant to the Professor of Naval Construction at the Technical University of Berlin for nine years when he was appointed to draft preliminary designs for an aircraft carrier in April 1934. The Anglo-German Naval Agreement signed 18 June 1935 allowed Germany to construct aircraft carriers with displacement up to 38,500 tons.  In 1935, Adolf Hitler announced that Germany would construct aircraft carriers to strengthen the Kriegsmarine. A Luftwaffe officer, a naval officer and a constructor visited Japan in the autumn of 1935 to obtain flight deck equipment blueprints and inspect the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi . The keel of Graf Zeppelin was laid down the next year. Two years later, Großadmiral Erich Raeder presented an ambitious shipbuilding program called Plan Z, in which four carriers were to be built by 1945. In 1939, he revised the plan, reducing the number to two.

The Kriegsmarine has always maintained a policy of not assigning a name to a ship until it is launched. The first German carrier, laid down as "Flugzeugträger A" ("Aircraft carrier A"), was named Graf Zeppelin when launched in 1938. The second carrier — never launched — bore only the title "Flugzeugträger B", but might, if completed, have been called Peter Strasser.

 

Having no experience building such ships, the Kriegsmarine had difficulty implementing advanced technologies such as steam-driven catapults into the Graf Zeppelin. German designers were able to study Japanese designs, but were constrained by the realities of creating a North Sea carrier vs. a "Blue Water" design. Several cruiser-type guns were envisioned to allow commerce raiding and defense against British cruisers, for example. This is in contrast to American and Japanese designs, which were more oriented toward a task-force defense, using supporting cruisers for surface firepower.

 Hull

Graf Zeppelin's hull was divided into 19 watertight compartments, the standard division for all capital ships in the Kriegsmarine. Her belt armor varied from 100 mm (3.9 in) over the machinery spaces and aft magazines, to 60 mm (2.4 in) over the forward magazines and tapered down to 30 mm (1.2 in) at the bows. Stern armor was kept at 80 mm (3.1 in) to protect the steering gear. Inboard of the main armor belt was a 20 mm (0.79 in) anti-torpedo bulkhead.

Horizontal armor protection against aerial bombs and plunging shellfire started with the flight deck, which acted as the main strength deck. The armor was generally 20 mm (0.79 in) thick except for those areas around the elevator shafts and funnel uptakes where thickness increased to 40 mm (1.6 in) in order to give the elevators necessary structural strength and the critical uptakes greater splinter protection. Beneath the lower hangar was the main armored deck (or tween deck) where armor thickness varied from 60 mm (2.4 in) over the magazines to 40 mm (1.6 in) over the machinery spaces. Along the peripheries, it formed a 45 degree slope where it joined the lower portion of the waterline belt armor.

Graf Zeppelin's original length-to-beam ratio was 9.26:1, resulting in a slender silhouette. However, in May 1942, the accumulating top-weight of recent design changes required the addition of deep bulges to either side of her hull, decreasing that ratio to 8.33:1 and giving her the widest beam of any carrier designed prior to 1942. The bulges served mainly to improve Graf Zeppelin's stability but they also gave her an added degree of anti-torpedo protection and increased her operating range because selected compartments were designed to store approximately 1500 tons more fuel oil.

Graf Zeppelin's straight-stemmed prow was rebuilt in early 1940 with the addition of a more sharply angled "Atlantic prow", intended to improve overall seakeeping. This added 5.2 m (17 ft) to her overall length.

Machinery

Graf Zeppelin's power plant consisted of 16 La Mont high-pressure boilers, similar to those used in the Admiral Hipper-class heavy cruisers. Her four sets of geared turbines, connected to four shafts, were expected to produce 200,000 shp (150,000 kW) and propel the carrier at a top speed of 35 knots (40 mph; 65 km/h). With a maximum bunkerage capacity of 5000 tons of fuel oil (prior to the addition of bulges in 1942), Graf Zeppelin's calculated radius of action was 9,600 miles (15,400 km) at 19 knots (35 km/h; 22 mph), though wartime experience on ships with similar powerplants showed such estimates were highly inaccurate. Actual operational ranges tended to be much lower.

Two Voith-Schneider cycloidal propeller-rudders were installed in the forward bow of the ship along the center-line. These were intended to assist in berthing the ship in harbor and also in negotiating narrow waterways such as the Kiel Canal where, due to the carrier’s high freeboard and difficulty in maneuvering at speeds below 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph), gusting winds might push the ship into the canal sides. In an emergency, the units could have been used to steer the ship at speeds under 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) and, if the ship's main engines were rendered inoperable, could propel the vessel at a speed of 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) in calm seas. When not in use, they were to be retracted into their vertical shafts and protected by water-tight covers.

Flight Deck & Hangars

Graf Zeppelin's steel flight deck, overlaid with wooden planking, was 242 m (794 ft) long by 30 m (98 ft) wide at its maximum. It had a slight round down right aft and overhung the main superstructure but not the stern; being supported by steel girders. At the bow, the carrier had an open forecastle and the leading edge of her flight deck was uneven (mainly due to the blunt ends of her catapult tracks), but these did not appear likely to cause any undue air turbulence. Careful wind-tunnel studies using models confirmed this. However, her long low island structure did generate a vortex over the flight deck in these tests when the ship yawed to port. This was considered to be an acceptable hazard when conducting air operations.

Graf Zeppelin's upper and lower hangars were long and narrow with unarmored sides and ends. Workshops, stores and crew quarters were located outboard of the hangars, a design feature similar to that of British carriers.  The upper hangar measured 185 m (607 ft) x 16 m (52 ft); the lower hangar 172 m (564 ft) x 16 m (52 ft). The upper hangar had 6 m (20 ft) vertical clearance while the lower hangar had .3 m (1 ft 0 in) less headroom due to the ceiling braces. Total usable hangar space was 5,450 m2 (58,700 sq ft) with stowage for 41 aircraft: 18 Fieseler Fi 167 torpedo-planes in the lower hangar; 13 Junkers Ju 87C dive-bombers and 10 Messerschmitt Bf 109T fighters in the upper hangar.

Graf Zeppelin had three electrically-operated elevators positioned along the flight-deck's center-line: one near the bow, abreast the forward end of the island; one amidships; and one aft. They were octagonal in shape, measuring 13 m (43 ft) x 14 m (46 ft), and were designed to transfer aircraft weighing up to 5.5 tons between decks.

Two Deutsche Werke compressed air-driven catapults were installed at the forward end of the flight deck for power-assisted launches. They were 23 m (75 ft) long and designed to accelerate a 2,500 kg (5,500 lb) fighter to a speed of approximately 140 km/h (87 mph) and a 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) bomber to 130 km/h (81 mph).

A dual set of rails led back from the catapults to the forward and midship elevators. In the hangars, aircraft would have been hoisted by crane onto collapsible launch trollies. The aircraft/trolley combination would then have been lifted to flight deck level on the elevator and trundled forward to the catapult start points. As each plane lifted off, its launch trolley would have been caught in a metal "basket" at the end of the catapult track, lowered to the forecastle on "B" deck and rolled back into the upper hangar for re-use via a secondary set of rails.

The catapults could theoretically launch nine aircraft each at a rate of one every thirty seconds before exhausting their air reservoirs. It would then have taken 50 minutes to recharge the reservoirs. When not in use, the catapult tracks could be covered with sheet metal farings to protect them from harsh weather.

It was intended from the outset that all of Graf Zeppelin’s aircraft would normally launch via catapult. Rolling take-offs would be performed only in an emergency or if the catapults were inoperable due to battle damage or mechanical failure. Whether this practice would have been strictly adhered to or later modified, based on actual air trials and combat experience, is open to question, especially given the limited capacity of the air reservoirs and the long recharging times necessary between launches. One advantage of the system, however, was that it would have allowed Graf Zeppelin to launch and land aircraft simultaneously.

To facilitate the catapult launches, German carrier aircraft were to use a special cold-start fuel mix of oil and 87 Octane gasoline added to a separate small fuel tank in each plane. In this way, aircraft could have been brought up from the hangars and immediately catapulted off without any need for engine warm-up prior to launch. Once airborne, a pilot would have simply waited for his aircraft’s engine to attain normal operating temperature before switching back to the plane’s primary fuel tank.

Four arrester wires were positioned at the after end of the flight deck with two more emergency wires located afore and abaft of the amidships elevator. Original drawings show four additional wires fore and aft of the forward lift, possibly intended to allow recovery of aircraft over the bows, but these may have been deleted from the ship's final configuration. To assist with night landings, the arrester wires were to be illuminated with neon lights. Two wind barriers were installed afore the midships and forward elevators.

Graf Zeppelin's starboard-side island housed the command and navigating bridges and charthouse. It also served as a platform for three searchlights, four domed stabilized fire-control directors and a large vertical funnel. To compensate for the weight of the island, the carrier's flight deck and hangars were offset .5 m (1 ft 8 in) to port from her longitudinal axis. Design additions proposed in 1942 included a tall fighter-director tower, air search radar antennas and a curved cap for her funnel, the latter intended to keep smoke and exhaust gases away from the armored fighter-director cabin.

Armament

Graf Zeppelin was armed with separate high and low angle guns for AA and anti-ship defense at a time when most other major navies were switching to dual-purpose AA weapons and relying on escort ships to protect their carriers from surface threats. Her primary anti-shipping armament consisted of sixteen 15 cm (5.9 in) guns paired in eight armored casemates. These were mounted, two each, at the four corners of the carrier’s upper hangar deck, positions that raised the possibility the guns would be washed out in heavy seas, especially those in the forward casemates.

Chief Engineer Hadeler had originally planned for only eight such weapons on the carrier, four on each side in single mountings. However, the Naval Armaments Office misinterpreted his proposal to save space by pairing them and instead doubled the number of guns to sixteen, resulting in a need for increased ammunition stowage and more electrically-operated hoists to service them. Later in her construction, some consideration was given to deleting these guns and replacing them with 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns mounted on sponsons just below flight deck level. But the structural modifications needed to accommodate such a change were judged too difficult and time-consuming, requiring major changes to the ship’s design, and the matter was shelved.

Primary AA protection came from twelve 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns, paired in six turrets positioned three afore and three aft of the carrier’s island. Potential blast damage to planes sited on the flight deck when these guns fired to port was an unavoidable risk and would have limited any flight activity during an engagement.

Graf Zeppelin’s secondary AA defenses consisted of eleven twin 37 mm (1.5 in) SK C/30 guns mounted on sponsons located along the flight deck edges: four on the starboard side, six to port and one mounted on the ship's forecastle. In addition, seven 20 mm (0.79 in) MG C/30 guns were installed on single-mount platforms on either side of the carrier: four to port and three to starboard. These guns were later changed to quadruple mountings.

Travemünde

In 1937, with Graf Zeppelin’s launch scheduled for the end of the following year, the Luftwaffe’s experimental test facility at Travemünde on the Baltic coast began a lengthy program of testing prototype carrier aircraft. This included performing simulated carrier landings and take-offs and training future carrier pilots.

The runway was painted with a contoured outline of Graf Zeppelin’s flight deck and simulated deck landings were then conducted over an arresting cable strung width-wise across the airstrip. The cable was attached to an electromechanical braking device manufactured by DEMAG. Testing began in March 1938 using the Heinkel He 50, Arado Ar 195 and Ar 197. Later, a stronger braking winch was supplied by Atlas-Werke of Bremen and this allowed heavier aircraft, such as the Fieseler Fi 167 and Junkers Ju 87, to be tested. After some initial problems, Luftwaffe pilots performed 1,500 successful braked landings out of 1,800 attempted.

Launches were practiced using a 20 m (66 ft) long barge-mounted pneumatic catapult, moored in the Trave River estuary. The Heinkel-designed catapult, built by Deutsche Werke Kiel (DWK), could accelerate aircraft to speeds of 145 km/h (90 mph) depending on wind conditions. Test planes were first hoisted by crane onto collapsible launch carriages in the same manner as intended on Graf Zeppelin.

The catapult test program began in April 1940 and, by early May, thirty-six launches had been conducted, all carefully documented and filmed for later study: seventeen by Arado Ar 197s, fifteen by modified Junkers Ju 87Bs and four using a modified Messerschmitt Bf 109D. Further testing followed and by June Luftwaffe officials were fully satisfied with the catapult system’s performance.

Aircraft

Graf Zeppelin's expected role was that of a sea-going scouting platform and her initial planned air group reflected that emphasis: twenty Fieseler Fi 167 biplanes for scouting and torpedo attack, ten Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters, and thirteen Junkers Ju 87 dive-bombers. This was later changed to thirty Bf 109 fighters and twelve Ju 87 dive-bombers as carrier doctrine in Japan, Great Britain and the United States shifted away from purely reconnaissance duties towards offensive combat missions.

1940–1945

Construction on the Kriegsmarine's two aircraft carriers had been fitful from the start due to a shortage of welders and delays in obtaining materials. Work on Flugzeugträger B was finally halted on 19 September 1939 because, now that Germany was at war with England and France, priority had shifted to U-boat construction. The hull, completed only up to the armored deck, sat rusting on its slipway until 28 February 1940, when Admiral Raeder ordered her broken up and scrapped.

Meantime, Germany’s conquest of Norway in April 1940 further eroded any chance of completing Flugzeugträger A (Graf Zeppelin). Now responsible for defending Norway’s long coastline and numerous port facilities, the Kriegsmarine urgently required large numbers of coastal guns and AA batteries. During a naval conference with Hitler on 29 April 1940, Admiral Raeder proposed halting all work on Graf Zeppelin, arguing that even if she was commissioned by the end of 1940, final installation of her guns would require another ten months or more (her original fire control system had been sold to the Soviet Union under an earlier trade agreement). Hitler consented to the stop work order, allowing Raeder to have Graf Zeppelin’s 15 cm guns removed and transferred to Norway. The carrier’s heavy flak armament of twelve 10.5 cm guns had already been diverted elsewhere.

On 12 July 1940, Graf Zeppelin was towed from Kiel to Gotenhafen (Gdynia) and remained there for nearly a year. Just prior to Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the carrier was again moved, this time to Stettin, in order to safeguard her from Soviet air attacks. By November, the German army had pushed deep enough into Russian territory to remove any further threat of air attack and Graf Zeppelin was returned to Gotenhafen where she briefly served as a floating warehouse for the Navy's hardwood supply.

By the time Admiral Raeder met with Hitler for a detailed discussion of naval strategy in April 1942, the usefulness of aircraft carriers in modern naval warfare had been amply demonstrated. British carriers had crippled the Italian fleet at Taranto in November 1940, critically damaged the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941 and prevented battleship Tirpitz from attacking two convoys bound for Russia in March 1942. In addition, a Japanese carrier raid on Pearl Harbor had devastated the American battlefleet in December 1941. Raeder, anxious to secure air protection for the Kriegsmarine's heavier surface units, informed Hitler that Graf Zeppelin could be finished in about a year, with another six months required for sea trials and flight training. On 13 May 1942, with Hitler's authorization, the German Naval Supreme Command ordered work resumed on the carrier.

But daunting technical problems remained. Raeder wanted newer planes, specifically designed for carrier use. Reichsmarshall Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, replied that the already overburdened German aircraft industry could not possibly complete the design, testing and mass production of such aircraft before 1946. Instead, he proposed converting existing aircraft (again the Junkers Ju 87 and Messerschmitt Bf 109) as a temporary solution until newer types could be developed. Training of carrier pilots at Travemünde would also resume.

The converted carrier aircraft were heavier versions of their land-based predecessors and this required a host of changes to Graf Zeppelin's original design: the existing catapults needed modernization; stronger winches were necessary for the arresting gear; the flight deck, elevators and hangar floors also required reinforcement. Changes in naval technology dictated other alterations as well: installation of air search radar sets and antennas; upgraded radio equipment; an armored fighter director cabin mounted on the main mast (which in turn meant a heavier sturdier mast to accommodate the cabin's added weight); extra armoring for the bridge and fire control center; a new curved funnel cap to shield the fighter director cabin from smoke; replacing the single-mount 20mm AA guns with quadruple Flakvierling 38 guns (with a corresponding increase in ammunition supply) to improve overall AA defense; and additional bulges on either side of the hull to preserve the ship's stability under all this added weight.

The German naval staff hoped all these changes could be accomplished by April 1943, with the carrier's first sea trials taking place in August that same year. Towards that end, Chief Engineer Hadeler was reassigned to oversee Graf Zeppelin's completion. Hadeler planned on getting the two inner shafts and their respective propulsion systems operational first, giving the ship an initial speed of 25-26 knots, fast enough for sea trials to commence and for conducting air training exercises. By the winter of 1943/1944 she was expected to be combat-ready.

On the night of 27–28 August 1942, Graf Zeppelin underwent the only Allied air attack ever specifically targeting her for destruction. Nine RAF Lancaster bombers from 106 and 97 Squadrons were despatched against Gotenhafen, each one carrying single "Capital Ship" bombs, a 5,500 lb device with a shaped charge warhead intended for armoured targets. One pilot was unable to see the carrier due to haze and instead dropped his bomb on the estimated position of the German battleship Gneisenau. Another believed he scored a direct hit on Graf Zeppelin but there is no known record of the ship suffering any damage from a bomb strike that night.

On 5 December 1942, Graf Zeppelin was towed back to Kiel and placed in a floating drydock. It seemed she might well see completion after all. By late January 1943, however, Hitler had become so disenchanted with the Kriegsmarine, especially with what he perceived as the poor performance of its surface fleet, that he ordered all of its larger ships taken out of service and scrapped. To Admiral Raeder, who had often clashed with Hitler on naval policy, this was a stunning setback. In a long memorandum to Hitler he called the new order "the cheapest sea victory England ever won". Raeder was shortly relieved of command and replaced with former Commander of Submarines Karl Dönitz. Though Admiral Dönitz eventually persuaded Hitler to void most of the order, work on all new surface ships and even those nearing completion was halted, including Graf Zeppelin. As of 2 February 1943, construction on the carrier ended for good.

In April 1943 Graf Zeppelin was towed eastward, first to Gotenhafen, then to the roadstead at Swinemünde and finally berthed at a wharf in the Parnitz River, two miles from Stettin. There she languished for the next two years with only a 40-man custodial crew in attendance. When Red Army forces neared the city in April 1945, the ship's Kingston valves were opened, flooding her lower spaces and settling her firmly into the mud in shallow water. A ten-man engineering squad then rigged the vessel's interior with demolition and depth charges in order to hole the hull and destroy vital machinery. At 6pm on 25 April 1945, just as the Russians entered Stettin, commander Wolfgang Kähler radioed the squad to detonate the explosives. Smoke billowing from the carrier's funnel confirmed the charges had gone off, rendering the ship useless to her new owners for many months to come.

Fate after the war

The carrier's history and fate after Germany's surrender was unclear for decades after the war. According to the terms of the Allied Tripartite Commission, a "Category C" ship (damaged or scuttled) should have been destroyed or sunk in deep water by August 15, 1946. Instead, the Soviets decided to repair the damaged ship and it was refloated in March 1946 and enlisted in the Baltic Fleet as aircraft carrier Zeppelin (????????). The last known photo of the carrier shows it leaving ?winouj?cie (before 1945 Swinemünde) on April 7, 1947. The photo appears to show the carrier deck loaded with various containers, boxes and construction elements, hence the supposition that it was probably used to carry confiscated factory equipment from Poland and Germany to the Soviet Union.

For many years, no other information about the ship's fate was available. There was some speculation that it was very unlikely that the hull made it to Leningrad, as it was argued that the arrival of such a large and unusual vessel would have been noticed by Western intelligence services. This seemed to imply that the hull was lost at sea during transfer between ?winouj?cie and Leningrad. One account concluded that it struck a mine north of Rügen on August 15, 1947, but Rügen, west of Swinemünde, is not on the sailing route to Leningrad. Further north in the Gulf of Finland, a heavily-mined area difficult for Western observers to monitor, seemed more likely.

After the opening of the Soviet archives, new light was shed on the mystery. Though some believed that the carrier had been towed to Leningrad after the war, in his book "Without wings, the story of Hitler's aircraft carrier" Burke disputed this. What is known is that the carrier was as "PB-101" (Floating Base Number 101) in February 3, 1947, until, on August 16, 1947, it was used as a practice target for Soviet ships and aircraft. Allegedly the Soviets installed aerial bombs on the flight deck, in hangars and even inside the funnels (to simulate a load of combat munitions), and then dropped bombs from aircraft and fired shells and torpedoes at it. This assault would both comply with the Tripartite mandate (albeit late) and provide the Soviets with experience in sinking an aircraft carrier. By this point, the Cold War was underway, and the Soviets were well aware of the large numbers and central importance of aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy, which in the event of an actual war between the Soviet Union and the United States would be targets of high strategic importance. After being hit by 24 bombs and projectiles, the ship did not sink and had to be finished off by two torpedoes. The exact position of the wreck was unknown for decades.

Discovery in 2006

On July 12, 2006 RV St. Barbara, a ship belonging to the Polish oil company Petrobaltic found a 265 m long wreck close to the port of ?eba (a BBC report says 55 km north of W?adys?awowo) which they thought was most likely Graf Zeppelin. On July 26, 2006 the crew of the Polish Navy's survey ship ORP Arctowski commenced inspection of the wreckage to confirm its identity, and the following day the Polish Navy confirmed that the wreckage was indeed that of Graf Zeppelin. She rests at more than 87 meters (264 feet) below the surface.

Source: Wikipedia.org – please note: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

 

After breakfast and a general briefing by Tomek we split in 3 teams that should dive in 30 min intervals after each other. As Norbert and myself both planned to dive Rebreathers we teamed up with Joseph from Hungary who also was on a PSCR. Gearing up for dives like this always takes a bit – several layers of underwear, heating vest.  Dry gloves. The breathers take some extra time as well, so does the camera and the scooters.

Anyway , 30 min after team one descended we were ready and instead of jumping with all the gear we had the pleasure of being gently lowered into the water by a divers lift – very comfortable and probably missed on all future dives without. As we used Trimix 15/60 we descended on 50% and switched to bottom mix at 15 Meters where we met the first team doing deco. What followed was a long flight into blackness and around 65 Meters I could spot the strobe the first team had left on the line below us. Seconds later we hit the wreck in 76 Meters on the Starboard side of the flight deck. Finally there. I heard  about the wreck in 1991 and since that often sat in front of charts and maps and history books and thought about its end. When she was found I even more felt the urge of exploring her. Now, 19 years later I touch the wreck, which, even accessible now will always be somewhat special and probably never frequently dived – due to the permissions needed as well as due to its remote and deep location.   The carrier rests in around 82 Meters with a 30° list to starboard. We reached the wreck somewhere between the superstructure and the stern and scootered towards the stern flying along empty rows of portholes, devasted  gun pads and the sheer endless flight deck that disappeared in the darkness above us. The feeling is a bit like an ant on a dinner table – it will never get an idea of what the table looks like. The same can be said for these dives. It would take hundreds of dives to get an idea of the wreck in its entire. So we were limited to experience the “ant-like” feeling scootering along this giant. From what we saw it is clear that there are no major things to be discovered in a historical way. What was not removed by the Germans was taken by the Russians, leaving a empty hulk that is simply impressive by its sheer size, its history and the fact that it is finally dive able. But just that, and the fact the only few before us managed to touch her make it worth the effort  and  a reward for the hassle of getting here. After 20 minutes we called the dive and left the water after 100 Minutes. Again the Lift was a pleasurable way to get back on the boat, with 2 stages, Rebreather, Scooter and Camera, simply scooter in the lift give an ok and step back on board without the effort of climbing up a ladder.  My camera, working fine on the boat, decided to fail in the water, just to mock at me and work perfect back on the boat. So my special thanks again to Tomek Stachura for the underwater pictures and the permission to use them. I would also like to thank Bonex Exploration Systems for the second Scooter they provided and all their excellent technical support for our special needs.

24 Hours later, sitting on my desk in Munich again I am asked if this kind of trips are worth the effort and the cash spent. The answer is a simple “yes of course!” Reinhold Messner was once asked why he climbed on the mount Everest. His answer was: “ because it is there”. Well, his answer says it all. As long as there are wrecks, caves or other things out there in what I like to call “the inner space” it is worth to go there and see, first hand, to document and to share. And now I have to end this article and start to prepare my gear – there so much more to see out there.

 

Pictures:

Historic b&w courtesy of Bundesarchiv
Underwater pictures courtesy of SANTI Diving T. Stachura
Surface pictures courtesy of ISE

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