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Sunken German warship from 1878 gets protected status from British government

The UK government has granted protected status to a wrecked German warship which sank off the British coast more than 140 years ago.

The SMS Grosser Kurfürst sank in May 1878 while its crew prepared for summer training exercises in the English Channel.

The ironclad warship was accidentally rammed during the exercises by another German warship, the Konig Wilhelm, which turned to avoid a separate collision with a pair of sailing ships, according to a press release from Historic England, the public body responsible for heritage protection.

In the ensuing crash, the SMS Grosser Kurfürst sustained an enormous amount of damage.

The Konig Wilhelm’s strengthened ram bow ripped away its armour plating and gouged a huge hole in the side of the vessel.

The warship sank rapidly and tilted upside down, in an accident which killed 284 men.

“Divers surveying the Grosser Kurfürst have confirmed that it lies on the seabed upside-down, which is the way that it sank,” Historic England said in a statement Friday.

Many of the disaster’s victims were recovered from the English Channel and buried at the Cheriton Road Cemetery in Folkestone, a port town in southeast England.

The wreck has been scheduled, meaning that recreational divers can dive around the structure but its contents remain protected.

A memorial built at the cemetery in tribute to those who died was also granted protected status on Friday.

“This historic shipwreck tells the story of Germany’s increasing naval strength in the late-19th century at a time when Britain and Germany were on friendly terms,” said Duncan Wilson, Historic England’s chief executive.

“The SMS Grosser Kurfürst is important as the only non-Royal Naval warship recorded as wrecked in English waters for the period 1860 — 1913,” Wilson added.

“The listing of the associated memorial in Folkestone with its German inscription is a poignant reminder of the loss of nearly 300 crewmen on board. It is right that we continue to remember them.”



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