Falklands

German WWI Battleship Wreck Found Near Falkland Islands

The wreck of German SMS Scharnhorst has been located off the Falkland Islands.

The wreck of a German First World War armoured battlecruiser has been located off the Falkland Islands.

SMS Scharnhorst was the flagship of Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee's East Asia Squadron.

The vessel has been discovered almost 105 years to the day after it sank, on 8 December 1914 during the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

The discovery is a breakthrough in the quest to locate all of the ships that comprised the German squadron lost during the battle.

Mensun Bound, who led the search, said there were "mixed emotions" around the discovery.

"The moment of discovery was extraordinary," he said.

"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.

"You could even see the impact crater."

SMS Scharnhorst 051219 CREDIT Falklands Heritage Maritime Trust.jpg
SMS Scharnhorst was built in Hamburg in 1905 (Picture: Falklands Heritage Maritime Trust).

The search began on the centenary of the battle in 2014, but was initially unsuccessful.

The mission was resumed in 2019 using innovative sub-sea search equipment.

Working from the sub-sea search vessel, Seabed Constructor, the search operation involved the deployment of four Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), exploring a search box of approximately 4,500 square km of seabed.

Scharnhorst was discovered on the third day of the search, 98 nautical miles south east of Port Stanley at a depth of 1610m.

Scharnhorst guns on wreck found falklands 051219 CREDIT Falklands Heritage Maritime Trust.jpg
SMS Scharnhorst sunk on 8 December 1914 (Picture: Falklands Heritage Maritime Trust).

"The search we organised had as its aim the locating of all ships of the German squadron, so that we may learn more about the battle and commemorate all who perished in it," said Donald Lamont, Chairman of The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust.

"The site of the wrecks can now be protected."

The Battle of the Falkland Islands followed the Battle of Coronel, fought off the coast of Chile in November 1914.

During the Battle of Coronel, Graf von Spee's fleet overpowered the Royal Navy and 1,600 British sailors perished.

A month later a British squadron under the command of Vice-Admiral Doveton Sturdee, pursued, engaged and defeated Graf von Spee's squadron, leading to the end of the only German permanent naval formation overseas.

SMS Scharnhorst, built in 1905, was the first to sink after sustaining substantial damage inflicted by HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible. 

Around 2,200 German sailors died in the battle, including Graf von Spee himself and his two sons.

Admiral Von Spee postcard 051219 CREDIT Falklands Heritage Maritime Trust.jpg
Graf von Spee was killed alongside 2,200 other German sailors in December 1914 (Picture: Falklands Heritage Maritime Trust).

"Speaking as one of the many families affected by the heavy casualties suffered on 8 December 1914 at the Battle of the Falkland Islands, the discovery of SMS Scharnhorst is bittersweet," said Wilhelm Graf von Spee.

"We take comfort from the knowledge that the final resting place of so many has been found, and can now be preserved, whilst also being reminded of the huge waste of life," he added.

"As a family we lost a father and his two sons on one day.

"Like the thousands of other families who suffered unimaginable loss during the First World War, we remember them and must ensure that their sacrifice was not in vain."

The wreck was not touched or in any way disturbed during the operation.

The team on board Seabed Constructor conducted an act of remembrance at the site, commemorating all who died during the Battle.