Wreck of 17th-Century Danish Warship Found in the Baltic Sea

The “Delmenhorst” sank during a 1644 naval battle between Denmark and a joint Swedish-Dutch fleet

Delmenhorst shipwreck
The Delmenhorst sank in an October 1644 maritime battle. Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde

Marine archaeologists have located the wreck of a Danish warship defeated at sea approximately 376 years ago, reports the German Press Agency (DPA).

Per a statement from the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, the Delmenhorst sank during the Battle of Fehmarn, an October 1644 maritime clash between Christian IV’s Danish forces and a joint Swedish-Dutch fleet.

Researchers using multibeam sonar spotted the Delmenhorst’s remains while surveying the Fehmarn Belt, a strait in the western part of the Baltic Sea, ahead of construction of a planned underwater tunnel connecting northern Germany to the Danish island of Lolland. The wreck had come to rest just 500 feet from Lolland’s southern shore, at a depth of some 11.5 feet.

shipwreck found using sonar
Multibeam sonar located the ship's distinctive outline on the sea floor. Femern A / S

A decisive victory for the Swedes, the Battle of Fehmarn—and the Danes’ loss of the broader Torstenson War—signaled the end of Denmark’s dominance in Scandinavia and the start of Sweden’s ascendance.

After realizing the 1644 battle’s outcome was all but assured, Danish commanders intentionally grounded the Delmenhorst near the city of Rødbyhavn’s cannon, according to the museum. Though they hoped the weapon would protect the vessel from destruction or capture, the Swedes thwarted this plan by setting one of their own ships on fire and sailing it straight into the Delmenhorst.

All told, the Swedish-Dutch fleet sank or captured 15 of the Danes’ 17 ships. Christian’s forces, comparatively, only managed to sink one enemy ship, per the DPA.

Archaeologists discovered the wreckage of two of the three sunken Danish ships in 2012, making the Delmenhorst the only one whose location remained unknown.

Ship diagram
A construction drawing of the warship Fides, which is thought to be roughly the same type and size as the Delmenhorst. NM Probst

“It’s an exciting wreck,” says Morten Johansen, an archaeologist and curator at the Viking Ship Museum, in a statement. “First, it is the last of the sunken ships from the Battle of [Fehmarn] in October 1644. Secondly, [the] Delmenhorst is special because it is one of the first ships built from drawings.”

Archaeologists have recovered an array of artifacts from the wreck, including melted pieces of bronze cannons, four different sizes of cannon balls and coins. Divers took some 30,000 photos of the site, enabling researchers to create a 3-D model of the ship’s remains and the surrounding seabed.

Once underwater surveys are complete, the vessels will be covered in sand and featured in a new beach park. In 2021, the Viking Ship Museum plans on presenting a digital exhibition featuring the 3-D photographic model of the Delmenhorst.

“The ship will remain in the environment where it has been doing well for 400 years,” Johansen explains. “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.”

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