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Marine archaeologists find a large warship from the 17th century

by Vikingeskibsmuseet Roskilde 20 Sep 2020 06:10 UTC
Marine archaeologists from the Viking Ship Museum are currently conducting diving surveys of the wreck of a large warship from the 17th century. © Vikingeskibsmuseet Roskilde

Marine archaeologists from the Viking Ship Museum are currently conducting diving surveys of the wreck of a large warship from the 17th century. The ship is perhaps the last of the three sunken warships from the Battle of the Fehmarnbelt in 1644, the Danish warship Delmenhorst.

The ship is most likely the Danish warship 'Delmenhorst', the last of the three sunken warships from the 'Battle of the Fehmarnbelt' in 1644.

On a cool October day in 1644, the Danish navy suffered a scorching defeat in the Fehmarnbelt south of Lolland. The enemy was a superior Swedish-Dutch fleet.

When the cannon smoke settled after the battle, the commander-in-chief of the Danish fleet, Pors Mund, had not only lost his own life, but also 15 out of the 17 Danish ships.

Along with the gunpowder smoke - in Denmark - there was also a veil of oblivion over the events in the Fehmarnbelt on 13 October 1644.

The humiliation was total. The Swedish-Dutch fleet had sunk two Danish ships and captured as many as 10, while only the Danes managed to sink a single Dutch vessel.

Only two Danish warships reached Copenhagen, and three smaller vessels stranded on the coast of Lolland after the battle were rescued by locals.

Archaeologists find the last ship from Christian IV's last battle

Three ships were sunk during the Battle of the Fehmarnbelt in 1644. Now archaeologists have most likely found the last of the three wrecks, the Danish warship 'Delmenhorst'.

The other two sunken ships were found and examined in 2012. The sensational ship finds have all been made in connection with construction work for the upcoming tunnel to Germany.

The marine archaeologists from the Viking Ship Museum have found the shipwreck at a water depth of 3.5 meters just 150 meters from Lolland's south coast.

- "It is an exciting wreck. Firstly, it is the last of the sunken ships from the battle of the Fehmarnbelt in October 1644. Secondly, Delmenhorst is special because it is one of the first ships built according to drawing ", explains Morten Johansen, museum inspector at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, who is responsible for the work.

The marine archaeologists have been working on the shipwreck for the past 5 weeks, but already found the 7 x 31 meter shipwreck in the spring during routine feasibility studies prior to the construction of new land south of Lolland.

- "We found an oval - ship-shaped, you could say - pile of stones that were densely overgrown with seaweed. It was quickly clear that it is ballast stone from a larger vessel and between rocks and algae we could see the ship's frames and inch-thick cladding planks ", says Morten Johansen.

Pieces of shattered bronze cannons gleamed like gold

Despite the massive size of the shipwreck, it was a completely different sight that made the biggest impression on the divers:

- "On the very first dive, the sun shone down through the water, and it made dozens of burst and melted pieces of bronze cannons twinkle like gold between the charred wreckage", says Morten Johansen.

The bronze cannons in particular are strong evidence that the divers have found a warship, but also found cannonballs in four different sizes, testifying to the ship's use.

The clear traces of fire also help to substantiate the presumption that it is Delmenhorst that the marine archaeologists have found:

- "In the last hours of the naval battle - out in the afternoon - the crew Delmenhorst runs aground near the coast, where they hoped to be able to defend the ship with the help of a huge cannon battery on the coast. The Swedes sent a 'burner' - a burning ship - directly into the Danish warship, which then broke into flames and ended up being lost ", says Morten Johansen.

In just five weeks, archaeologists must expose the shipwreck's secrets

These days, marine archaeologists are working on surveying and collecting data and objects from the shipwreck before it is covered with sand and embedded forever in the new beach park to be established on the site.

- "The ship will remain in the environment where it has been doing well for 400 years. Then we hope that in the future someone will find a method that can ensure that you can get more knowledge out of such a wreck than we are able to pull out of it today ", says Morten Johansen.

Before covering the wreck, marine archaeologists record approximately 30,000 photos that will be used to build a digital 3D model of the entire area.

- "In this way, the shipwreck can be exhibited digitally at the museum, even though it is still on the seabed", says Morten Johansen, who reveals that work is already under way on an exhibition about the three ships from the excavations in the Fehmarnbelt to be shown on The Viking Ship Museum in 2021.

Facts about the find and the story:

  • The naval battle took place on 13 October 1644. Here a strong Swedish-Dutch fleet of a total of 42 ships sailed into the Fehmarnbelt and attacked the 17 warships that Denmark had lying here.
  • The result was a great naval battle. It started really well for the Danes, who got good shots at the opponents - but ended in a catastrophic defeat, where only two of the 17 Danish ships escaped without either being sunk or conquered by the enemy.
  • Delmenhorst is the last missing ship from the battle of the Fehmarnbelt, which was also the last naval battle in the 'Torstensson feud' (1643-1645), where Christian IV 'stood by the high mast' a few months earlier and lost his right eye.
  • The find of "Delmenhorst" adds to two previous finds. In 2012, marine archaeologists found two other well-preserved shipwrecks in the Fehmarnbelt:
  • The Danish warship "Lindormen" and the Dutch armored merchant vessel "Swarte Arent". Both sank during the battle of 1644.
  • The two shipwrecks were sensationally well preserved at a depth of 24 meters in the middle of the belt. Many rare items were salvaged: cannons and bullets, a ship's coffin and the galley's cookware.
  • The 'Torstensson feud' (1643-1645) was part of the protracted battle between the Danish and Swedish royal powers.
  • The then 67-year-old Christian the 4th had been caught in a two-front war against Sweden and the Netherlands, after he had dramatically increased the tariffs on ship traffic in the Sound and on the river Elbe.
  • The Torstensson feud became the beginning of the end of Denmark's time as a European superpower. After the victory, Sweden became the real big brother in the relationship with Denmark, and Christian IV never again fought a war for Denmark. The Battle of the Fehmarnbelt thus became the last of his long reign.
Facts about the Fehmarnbelt Tunnel:
  • The Viking Ship Museum's archaeological excavations in the Fehmarnbelt are financed by the Fehmarnbelt Tunnel Project.
  • The Fehmarnbelt tunnel will be an 18-kilometer immersed tunnel between Rødbyhavn in Denmark and Puttgarden in Germany.
  • The Fehmarnbelt tunnel will be the longest immersed tunnel in the world with a double-track motorway with emergency tracks in each direction and the double-track fully electrified railway.
  • The tunnel is expected to open in 2029. It will take 7 minutes to drive through the tunnel by train and 10 minutes by car.

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