It was an "extraordinary" moment as the long-sought shipwreck appeared a mile beneath the waves, says the search team's leader. "Suddenly she just came out of the gloom with great guns poking in every direction," Mensun Bound says of the discovery of SMS Scharnhorst, a German armored cruiser sunk more than a century ago in the early days of World War I. The ship, found by an autonomous underwater vehicle about 100 nautical miles southeast of Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, was sunk by the British navy on Dec. 8, 1914, per Live Science. "We are often chasing shadows on the seabed, but … there was no doubt that this was one of the German fleet," says Bound, a Falkland Islander and marine archaeologist who calls it "an unforgettable, poignant moment in my life."
Vice-Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee and more than 800 sailors met watery graves in the sinking of the East Asia Squadron's flagship. It was payback for the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile five weeks earlier, in which the flagship had helped hand Britain its first naval defeat of the war, with 1,600 lost lives, per the BBC. The subsequent Battle of the Falkland Islands, seeing the loss of 2,200 German sailors, including Graf von Spee's two sons, meant "Germany's only permanent overseas naval formation effectively ceased to exist," per a release. The Graf von Spee family says the discovery is a reminder of "the huge waste of life," but "we take comfort from the knowledge that the final resting place of so many has been found, and can now be preserved." Indeed, the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust is pushing to have the undisturbed site protected by law. (Read more shipwrecks stories.)