Shipwrecked in Paradise – History and Archaeology of the German merchant raider SMS Seeadler
Dr. Florian Huber
The SMS Seeadler was a three-masted steel-hulled sailing ship and one of the last fighting sailing ships to be used in war. The ship served as a merchant raider within the Kaiserliche Marine (German Imperial Navy) in World War I. Built as the British-flagged Pass of Balmaha, she was captured by the German submarine SM U 36 and in 1916 converted to a commerce raider. As SMS Seeadler she had a successful raiding career, capturing and sinking 14 ships until she was wrecked in August 1917 in Mopelia, 470 kilometers west from Tahiti in the Society Islands, French Polynesia. In November 2021, the wreck site was extensive documented by scientific divers from Kiel, Germany. After being exposed more than 100 years in the surf zone, the wreck has fallen apart, but massive parts of the once secret diesel engine as well as other interesting parts like anchors, winches, a gun and brass shells survived and tell an almost forgotten story of the First World War. Since 2014, the cultural heritage of World War I has been under UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. Thus, the investigation of the remains of SMS Seeadler is an important contribution to that aim and also essential to the memorialization of the horrors of global conflict and those who were lost to it. In addition, the combat operations of the German Imperial Navy in the Pacific during the First World War have been neglected in research to this day.