WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish divers say they have found the wreck of a German World War Two ship which may help solve a decades-old mystery - the whereabouts of the Amber Room, an ornate chamber from a tsarist palace in Russia that was looted by the Nazis.
Decorated with amber and gold, the Amber Room was part of the Catherine Palace near St Petersburg, but was last seen in Koenigsberg, then a Baltic port city in Germany but now the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
It was from Koenigsberg that the Karlsruhe steamer set sail in 1945 with a heavy cargo, before being sunk by Soviet warplanes off the coast of Poland.
Divers from the Baltictech group say they have found the wreck of the Karlsruhe.
"We have been looking for the wreckage since last year when we realised there could be the most interesting, undiscovered story lying at the bottom of the Baltic Sea," diver Tomasz Stachura said in a statement.
"It is practically intact. In its holds, we discovered military vehicles, porcelain and many crates with contents still unknown."
The Karlsruhe had been taking part in Operation Hannibal, one of the largest sea evacuations in history which helped more than one million German troops and civilians from East Prussia escape the Soviet advance towards the end of World War Two.
Documentation from the time suggests the boat left Koenigsberg in a hurry, with a large cargo and 1,083 people on board.
"All this, put together, stimulates the human imagination. Finding the German steamer and the crates with contents as yet unknown resting on the bottom of the Baltic Sea may be significant for the whole story," said diver Tomasz Zwara.
The Amber Room was constructed in Prussia and then given to Tsar Peter the Great of Russia in 1716 as a present.
The Germans dismantled it and took it to Koenigsberg during the war where it then disappeared during Allied bombing raids on the city. Many believe it was destroyed. Russian craftsmen have constructed a replica Amber Room in the Catherine Palace.
(Writing by by Alan Charlish; Editing by Gareth Jones)