The Search For A WWII Shipwreck
On 14 June 2015, after a seven-year search, the wreck of the Rio de Janeiro has been found off Norway's southern coast. The search team, led by Tom Lundahl and Espen Johannesen, managed to identify the ship from a lantern that was salvaged from the ship.
The Rio de Janeiro was a German cargo ship that was sunk before Lillesand off Norway's southern coast on 8 April 1940, a day before the German invasion of Norway.
Measuring 122.5 metres long and 16.8 metres wide, the ship was launched in 1914 as Santa Ines. Initially a passenger and freight ship, it had plied the route between Germany and South America. In 1921, it was renamed Rio de Janeiro.
During the Second World War, the German Navy requisitioned the ship to transport troops and material to Bergen. The plan was for it to arrive in Bergen immediately after the Germans took Norway.
However, on the way there, the ship came under fire from the Orzel, a Polish submarine operating under British command. Three torpedoes were fired at it; although the first missed, the subsequent two hit the Rio de Janeiro and caused it to sink.
The Rio de Janeiro in a recording from 1922 and Submarine Orzel. Click to enlarge.
Nineteen crew members and 164 soldiers perished. The 183 who survived were brought to shore at Lillesand, where residents rendered assistance, unaware of the impending raid on their homeland the following day.
Till recently, the exact location of the Rio de Janeiro wreck was unknown. The search for it began about seven years ago, initiated separately by Tom Lundahl and Espen Johannesen. In 2010, when the two men learnt of the other's mutual interest, they decided to combine their efforts. Both held regular day jobs, so they had only their personal time and weekends to devote to the search.
Nevertheless, the constraints on their time did not deter them. Their research included interviews with eyewitnesses and older fishermen, as well as more research done online and in museums and archives.
And when the weather permitted, the two men would head out to sea, with a small ROV and two side-scan sonars.
The railing of the Rio de Janeiro and the salvage of the ship's lantern by the ROV. Click to enlarge.
Their persistence paid off. In June 2014, while out at sea, Lundahl and Johannesen salvaged massive steel plates, iron pieces, a lifeboat and a motorcycle tyre (actually a spare tyre for a German Zündapp motorcycle) from the ocean floor.
Pål Nymoen (Directorate for Cultural Heritage), Espen Johannesen,
Tom Lundahl, Vidar Johannesen. (Click to enlarge).
They subsequently sought the assistance of Gisle Espeland because he had a larger, more powerful ROV and a multibeam sonar. Then, on June 13th, another expedition was launched; and on the very next day, the Rio de Janeiro was finally found, albeit broken into two pieces.
Having discovered the wreck, the two men informed the Norwegian conservation authority. They were given permission to recover the ship's lantern and bell, to be handed over to the municipality of Lillesand.
Now, the team would try to locate the ship's bell. As the work continues, extensive photo and video recordings have been scheduled to document the expedition.
As the wreck lies at a depth of 120 to 138 metres, Lundahl and Johannesen do not worry that the wreck may fall prey to souvenir hunters. They have described the Rio de Janeiro wreck as a memorial and thus should be treated with due respect.
ROV Video (1 hr). You will notice no movement the last 10 mins. of the Video. Why? Read the explanation of Tom Lundahl:
"We started the last search on Friday June 12th in the night. We only had 3 hours sleep the whole weekend. After we found the Rio we just needed to have a break. So to keep the ROV in place we let it “bite” into the boat. Then we made a longer break to eat and celebrate a bit...
I don’t know exactly how many hours in 6-7 years we have been investing in the search there are strong emotions… For me it has been kind of a hobby to make the search so when we finally hit the ship it was really great but also little bit sad to loose my hobby. This might sound strange but it is the truth. Me and Espen have the same feeling.
But we have another goal: Next step will be to check out inside the ship and to locate and save the bell. Not so easy, as we will work without ROV and do the dives for our own."
Additional Video material: Salvage of Rio de Janeiro
Additional Information Tom Lundahl, ADYKK.