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stepping stones of maritime history


In April 1715 a Swedish squadron of 4 ships of the line and 2 frigates commanded by rear admiral Carl Hans Wachtmeister from the flagship Princessan Hedvig Sophia received the royal order to intercept Danish supplies. In the Battle of Fehmarn on 24th April 1715 the Swedish squadron was intercepted and outgunned by a larger Danish squadron under the command of Christian Carl Gabel who commanded twice the number of ships and gained the additional advantage of the windward side. In an attempt to evade capture, Wachtmeister ordered his ships to jettison their guns and ammunition, to run aground and to cut masts to prevent the ships from falling into the hands of the Danes. His plan was foiled, as all ships of his squadron could be captured and set afloat again, with the exception of his flagship. This episode of the Great Northern War (1700–1721) contributed to the end of Swedish hegemony in the Baltic Sea region – the dominium maris baltici.

The ship fell into oblivium in the following centuries, but since 1970 several of the jettisoned guns were rediscovered and some of them salvaged – at least one illicitly. In March 2008, the wrecksite – only visible by its pile of ballast stones, which could be also mistaken for glacially deposited boulders – was identified as such and the news spread in the wreck-diver community. It was apprehended that artefacts from the site could be stolen, so the State Archaeology Department of Schleswig-Holstein (ALSH) issued an enactment to include the wrecksite into a designated protection zone, which covers not only the jettisoned guns and ammunition in the surrounding area, but also an inundated Mesolithic settlement area.

In 2010-2011 the wrecksite was excavated in two consecutive fieldschools with students in a collaboration between the ALSH, the Maritime Programme of the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) and the University of Kiel under the supervision of Dr. Jens Auer (SDU). The ballast stone heap was removed to excavate sections of the wreck. The photo below shows the underwater excavation of the galley area, indicated by brick stones.


Only the bottom section of the wreck has survived due to the teredo navalis boring activity, covered under sediments and a pile of ballast stones. While the analysis of the hull remains provided only limited details on ship-construction, the most interesting aspect of this wrecksite is its archaeological find assemblage, which includes personal belongings of the mariners like clay pipes, tableware and game pieces, parts of the rigging like parrels and blocks, as well as arms and ammunition, thus providing a fascinating snapshot in time of an early 18th century shipboard community. The archaeological assemblage is not only limited to the wrecksite itself but also its surroundings, as the Princessan Hedvig Sophia and other ships of the Swedish squadron were jettisoned before they were run aground.


As first archaeological protection zone to incorporate a seabed area, this is a precedent in Schleswig-Holstein. In a further precedent, this area was selected in 2019 as the first underwater site for a monitoring scheme as part of the established honorary confidants-scheme (Vertrauensleute-Richtline) acting on behalf of the ALSH. On the photo below Rolf Lorenz puts up a sign at one of the jettisoned guns, marking this as protected monument site.


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