Danube drought unveils secret World War II history: The Danube River’s water levels have fallen, causing dozens of World War II German battleships to rise to the surface. This is one of the effects of the worst drought Europe has seen in decades, which has also burnt farms and impeded river commerce.
A rusty hull, a broken mast where the swastika flag once flew. An upper deck where a command bridge once stood. And a barrel that may have been holding fuel or even explosive materials lean on a pebblestone dune. That has emerged from the water in the middle of a large river separating Serbia and Romania close to the Serbian port of Prahova.
The ships belonged to Nazi Germany‘s Black Sea navy, some of which still carried ammunition. The Germans purposefully destroyed them as they withdrew from Romania and Soviet troops approached.
According to historians, the fleet commander ordered the scuttling of 200 German vessels in September 1944 when they came under severe Soviet fire at Prahovo in the Danube canyon known as The Iron Gate.
The purpose of the intentional sinking was to, at the very least, impede Soviet advance in the Balkans. But when Nazi Germany finally capitulated in May 1945, it didn’t help.
Scientists attribute global warming and other elements, as well as this summer’s scorching weather, to the continent of Europe. The Danube, Europe’s second-longest river that runs through ten countries, was among the numerous rivers on the continent where navigation became hazardous due to the declining water levels.
Dredging has employed by Serbian authorities to keep ships going.
Although the wreckage rising from the water is a striking sight. They have been a source of frustration for river users for many years. With funding from the EU, the Serbian government is now seeking to address this issue.
Right after the war, the Communist Yugoslav government cleared several wreckages from the river. But most of them stayed, making transportation difficult, particularly in the summer when water levels are low.
Plans to remove the ships from the murky waters had in place for years. But the operation deemed too hazardous due to the explosives they were carrying and the lack of funding.
To increase the Danube’s capacity for commerce, the European Union and the European Investment Bank have now provided loans and grants to support the operation to remove some boats near Prahova.
Thirty million euros ($30 million) expected total cost of the process, of which 16 million are grants.
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Emanuele Giaufret, the EU ambassador to Serbia, said during a recent visit to the wreckage site, “These boats have sunk and they have been lying on the river bank ever since.” And that’s a difficulty. The Danube trade is affected, the flow is constrained. And there is a risk since some ships still have explosive munitions on board.
Alessandro Bragonzi, the regional director of the European Investment Bank for the Western Balkans, accompanied Giaufret. He said 21 sunken boats would remove as part of the endeavor.
Up to 40 other ships are thought to remain submerged. But just 21 are now obstructing the Danube’s fairway, particularly during times of low water, according to Bragonzi.
Instead of towing the ships out of the river, experts believe the recovery effort will include extracting the explosive chemicals from the sunken warships and then destroying the wreckage.