Divers recover emblem of Nazi ship

February 13, 2006

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (Reuters) - Salvage experts recovered a massive bronze eagle emblem on Friday from the wreckage of a Nazi battleship scuttled off the coast of Uruguay at the outset of World War II.

The ship -- the Graf Spee -- was a symbol of German military strength in the war. It sank nine vessels in the Atlantic Ocean before being badly damaged in December 1939 during the battle of the River Plate, one of the war's first naval clashes.

After making port in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, the ship was sunk with explosives by its captain to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.

Divers have been working on and off since 1998 to recover the ship piece by piece, part of a multimillion-dollar effort by Argentine and German investors to refloat remains of the Nazi fleet and open a museum.

"This is a very unique piece in the world," said Hector Bado, leader of the recovery effort, adding the bronze eagle weighed up to 880 pounds (400 kg).

Eagles were often used with swastikas in Nazi symbolism.

The recovery was the second major one by the international team of divers. In 2004, the group raised the Graf Spee's range finder, a component that held the first radar antenna installed on a warship.

Photo courtesy of Gonzalo Viera Azpiroz