In search of sunken treasure

A team of specialists searching a sunken tank, photo: CTK

Public broadcaster Český Rozhlas or Czech Radio is financing an unusual project – the attempted recovery of a WWII tank rumoured to be lost somewhere at the bottom of the river Labe (or Elbe). Diving teams are trawling through the river hoping to find a lost artefact from the past.

May 1945, Nazi military units are in turmoil as Soviet troops move across Europe from the east, and American troops move in from the west. Keen to avoid leaving any easy targets for the Allies to destroy, the Nazis either hid or destroyed most of their abandoned hardware in occupied Czechoslovakia. Earlier in February, the Allied bombing of Dresden had forced many Nazis to flee into Czechoslovakia. This is where the legend of the lost tank was born. Czech Radio along with the River Elbe Administration and the Military History Institute have been following up on a specific report found in the radio archives of a man, now sadly deceased, who claimed that there was indeed a tank at the bottom of the Elbe. The man, one Václav Patka had helped to clear the Labe river bed of military hardware right after the end of WWII. He stated that there was indeed a tank at a place called Dolní Zleb. Now, a team of specialists is trying to find out if this is true.

A team of specialists searching a sunken tank,  photo: CTK
Rudolf Klusáček is one of a team of divers trawling the Labe. I spoke to him literally after he had just emerged from one such dive and began by asking him to explain the history behind this hunt:

The diver Radek Hadrovský,  photo: CTK
“There was a situation during WWII when the Germans were running away from Dresden to Ústí nad Labem in the Czech lands and their move was being slowed down by their equipment, so they decided to ditch some of their heavy artillery during their journey. They ended up dumping a lot of it in the Labe. After the War, much of this was moved away, but some local residents insisted that one tank stayed in the river.”

Czech Radio has hired a number of specialists for this project, although some including the divers are working for free with the altruistic aim of serving historical research. So what is the team up to at the moment?

A team of specialists searching a sunken tank,  photo: CTK
“We hope we will have some luck. Yesterday, we were working with a magnetometer from a boat and there are some positions in the river where it is possible to find some large steel objects. Today, we are making the first training dives to test out the cooperation between the whole team. And tomorrow, we will be using the magnetometer to see if some steel came be found underwater. And then we will search for the tank by hand, because the visibility in the water is too low – perhaps no more than twenty centimetres.”

The odds of actually finding the tank remain low, but the possibility alone clearly has many historians very excited.

And you can find out more about the tank project at