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Wreck of Nazi Germany's aircraft carrier found

Poland's navy said today that it identified a sunken ship in the Baltic Sea as almost certainly being Nazi Germany's only aircraft carrier, the Graf Zeppelin — a find that promises to shed light on a 59-year-old mystery surrounding the ship's fate.

The Polish oil company Petrobaltic discovered the wreck on July 12 on the sea floor at a depth of 86 metres some 60 kilometres north of the port city of Gdansk.

Suspecting it could be the wreckage of the Graf Zeppelin, the Polish navy sent a survey vessel Tuesday, navy spokesman Lt.-Cmdr. Bartosz Zajda said.

"We are 99 per cent sure — even 99.9 per cent — that these details point unambiguously to the Graf Zeppelin," Dariusz Beczek, commander of the vessel ORP Arctowski, said after returning to port today.

At sea, naval experts used a remote-controlled underwater robot and sonar photographic and video equipment to gather digital images of the 260-metre-long ship, Zajda said.

"The analyses of the sonar pictures and the comparison to historical documents show that it is the Graf Zeppelin," Zajda told The Associated Press.

Zajda said a number of characteristics of the wrecked ship exactly matched those of the Graf Zeppelin, including the ship's measurements and a device that lifted aircraft onto the launch deck from a lower deck.

The experts were still waiting to find the name Graf Zeppelin on one the ship's sides before declaring with absolute certainty that it is the German carrier, Zajda said.

The Graf Zeppelin was Germany's only aircraft carrier during the Second World War. It was launched on Dec. 8, 1938, but never saw action due to Hitler's disenchantment with his navy and political squabbles in the Nazi high command. After Germany's defeat in 1945, the Soviet Union took control of the ship.

On Aug. 16, 1947, Soviets used the ship for target practice, filling the hold with munitions before practising dive bombing techniques on it. The ship eventually sank, but its exact position has been unknown ever since.

Nick Hewitt, a historian at the Imperial War Museum in London, called the Graf Zeppelin "a fascinating what-if."

"Nobody really knows that much about her," Hewitt told The AP by telephone. "You get a look at what she was like, whether she had an armoured deck and all that sort of stuff, and you can figure out what she might have achieved."

Hewitt said the aircraft carrier could have had "an enormous impact" on the war, likely causing great havoc on Britain's convoy lanes in the North Atlantic.

Polish navy researchers will continue to examine the material gathered during their two days at sea, but further exploration of the wreck will fall to historians and other researchers, Zajda said.

The Graf Zeppelin will almost certainly remain on the sea bed. ``Technically, it's impossible to pull it out of the water," Zajda said.

Read entire article at Toronto Star