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Danish Warship Sunk in Famous 17th Century Battle Discovered

Danish Warship Sunk in Famous 17th Century Battle Discovered

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Marine archaeologists are bringing many shipwrecks to light and changing our view of the past. In the Baltic Sea , off the coast of Denmark, divers have found the wreck of the Delmenhorst, a famous Danish battleship. This Danish warship sank in a decisive Danish naval defeat that changed the balance of power in Northern Europe almost 400 years ago.

Marine archaeologists from the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde were investigating the seabed off the coast at Rødbyhavn in south Lolland. This was the area where the Battle of the Fehmarn was fought between the Danish and Swedish-Dutch navies in 1644. Two other ships from this battle were found in 2012 during the construction of a tunnel to Germany.

The sunken Danish warship is almost completely buried in the seabed just 150 meters from the Danish coast. (The Viking Ship Museum)

The sunken Danish warship is almost completely buried in the seabed just 150 meters from the Danish coast. ( The Viking Ship Museum )

400-Year-Old Sunken Delmenhorst Warship Discovered

Last spring, divers from the Viking Ship Museum identified the sunken warship at a water depth of 3.4 meters (10 ft) just 150 meters (450 ft) from the Danish coast. It was found during an investigation before the construction of the Danish-Germany Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link, the world’s longest road and rail immersed tunnel in the Baltic Sea . Morten Johansen, who took part in the project told the Viking Ship Museum that “between rocks and algae we could see the ship's frames and inch-thick cladding planks.” This allowed the marine archaeologists to identify the 7 x 31 meter (21 x 100 ft) shipwreck. A pile of stones identified as ballast stones were also found.

The divers found several bronze cannons. According to the Viking Ship Museum , this was “strong evidence that the divers have found a warship.” This was backed-up by the discovery of cannonballs that had been fired. The team suspected that it was the long-lost warship the Delmenhorst. The Viking Ship Museum reports that “clear traces of fire also help to substantiate the presumption that it is Delmenhorst that the marine archaeologists have found.” They had found a vessel that had been lost for almost four centuries.

This multi-beam measurement of sea depths in the Baltic Sea shows the sunken Danish warship. (Femern A/S / The Viking Ship Museum)

This multi-beam measurement of sea depths in the Baltic Sea shows the sunken Danish warship. (Femern A/S / The Viking Ship Museum )

Warship Sunk During Battle of Fehmarn

The Delmenhorst was once the pride of the Danish navy, when it dominated the Baltic Sea in the 17 th century. On the 13 th of October 1644, a Swedish-Dutch navy of 42 ships attacked some 17 Danish ships in the Fehmarn Belt strait. Initially, the Danes fought bravely against the Swedes and Dutch but were soon overwhelmed. Only two of the Danish ships escaped to fight another day.

According to the CPH Post , “realizing that the battle had been lost, the ‘Delmenhorst’ was intentionally grounded near Rødbyhavn in the final hours of the battle.” The Danes hoped that a nearby giant cannon in the harbor would defend it from the enemy. Archaeology.org reports that “the Swedes set one of their own ships on fire and sailed it into the Delmenhorst, which also caught fire and sank.” The divers were the first to see the ship since that terrible day in 1644 and they were astonished by its good condition.

The sunken Danish warship shows signs of a violent fire. Amongst the artifacts retrieved from the shipwreck, were pieces of bronze cannons (left) and a calculation coin (right). (Morten Johansen / The Viking Ship Museum)The sunken Danish warship shows signs of a violent fire. Amongst the artifacts retrieved from the shipwreck, were pieces of bronze cannons (left) and a calculation coin (right). (Morten Johansen / The Viking Ship Museum)

The sunken Danish warship shows signs of a violent fire. Amongst the artifacts retrieved from the shipwreck, were pieces of bronze cannons (left) and a calculation coin (right). (Morten Johansen / The Viking Ship Museum )

State-of-the-Art Warship: First Ship Built to Drawings

Morten Johansen, who is leading the work on the shipwreck told the Viking Ship Museum that “it is an exciting wreck. Firstly, it is the last of the sunken ships from the battle of the Fehmarnbelt in October 1644.” It is also important because this vessel was one of the first to be built according to drawings. The Delmenhorst was a state-of-the-art vessel and its construction was an important moment in the history of marine technology. Before the mid-17 th century, shipbuilders relied on their experience and tradition, which was quite unscientific.

The Battle of Fehmarn was part of the Torstenson War (1643-1645). The outcome of the battle meant that “ Sweden replaced Denmark as the leading power in the region,” reports Archaeology.org. It was also the last battle of the Danish King Christian IV whose long-held ambitions to become the most powerful ruler in Northern Europe were dashed by the defeat.

Reconstruction drawing of the warship FIDES, which was of approximately the same type of size as Delmenhorst. (N.M. Probst / The Viking Ship Museum)

Reconstruction drawing of the warship FIDES, which was of approximately the same type of size as Delmenhorst. (N.M. Probst / The Viking Ship Museum )

Museum Plans 3-D Model of the Danish Warship

CPH Post states that “because the wreck is almost completely buried in the seabed, archaeologists will leave it in the hope that experts will have the technology to glean information from it in the future.” For the past five weeks, the divers have been working to secure the site so that the almost 400-century old shipwreck is preserved. Artifacts have been removed from the wreck and transferred to a local museum.

Marine archaeologists have taken some 30,000 images of the shipwreck. These will be used to create a 3-D model of the Delmenhorst. Morten Johansen, museum inspector at the Viking Ship Museum, explains that “in this way, the shipwreck can be exhibited digitally at the museum, even though it is still at the bottom of the sea.” It is hoped that the three ships from the excavations in the Fehmarn Belt will be shown at The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde in 2021, as they join the ranks of some of the most exciting underwater discoveries to be made to date.

Top image: Almost 400 years after the famous Battle of Fehmarn, marine archaeologists have discovered a shipwreck just 150 meters from the Danish coast. It has been identified as the Delmenhorst, a Danish warship which sunk during the battle. Source: Public domain

By Ed Whelan

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