During the night of August 17-18, 1943 the Royal Air Force (RAF) launched Operation Hydra, a massive, nighttime bombing raid to destroy as much of the Nazi’s super-secret Peenemunde facility as possible and to kill as many of the resident scientists as well – thus Hydra . . . remove the head of the snake. Peenemunde was the research facility where the Nazis were developing their “vengeance” weapons including the V1 and v2.
The raid was moderately successful and cost 290 casualties (245 killed and 45 POWs).
Of the RAF crews that were lost that night one RAF Lancaster bomber crashed into a lake in Peenemunde.
The photo above shows the wreck of that Lancaster bomber just to the right of the our resident diver’s right shoulder as he treks out on the frozen lake to try and gain access to the wreck.
As crazy, irresponsible, foolish as this my initially appear, we had taken all the precautions we could. Our diver knew the wreck site as he had made several dives on it in summer months. He was outfitted in a dry suit so if he had gone through the ice he would not have quickly succumb to hypothermia. The water at the wreck site was only a few feet deep and, finally, we sent him out with the safety line and a long pole (a trick the Inuit have used for millennia to assist them with pulling themselves out of the water should they fall through the ice).
We had hoped to access the wreck to to a photogrammetric survey as part of National Geographic’s Documentary film series, Buried Secrets of WWII. Because we had our diver turn back before he got out to the wreck no model was created and this bit did not make it into the V2 (“Hitler’s Killer Rocket” – S1, E2) episode of the series.
All that said, and right at the moment this photo was taken, I was muttering to myself, “This is crazy. This is crazy.” I remember well hearing the ice crack as the diver made his way forward. I remember it was BITTERLY cold. I remember thinking just like life jackets in commercial aircraft have little to do with preserving life and more to do with recovering remains – this rope I’m holding will have little to do with fishing him out and more to do with recovering his remains!
These are the types of risks storytellers, historians, and archaeologists manage on a regular basis as part of their research. It’s such an honor for me to take part in and (sometimes) pretty nerve wracking!