Polish divers have stumbled across the wreck of a WWII ship in the Baltic which they believe might contain missing treasure pilfered from Russia by the Nazis.

The wreck is that of the 897-ton Karlsruhe – one of a fleet of vessels involved in Operation Hannibal, a German Navy initiative to evacuate thousands of troops and civilians from East Prussia between mid-January and May 1945 as the Red Army advanced.

She left the port in a great hurry on April 12, 1945 – the last ship to leave Królewiec before the Russians took it. She was carrying 1,083 refugees and 360 tons of cargo but was sunk the next day. There were only 113 survivors.

It’s also believed she was carrying the priceless art and amber panels (valued at £250million in today’s money) that for some 300 years had formed the legendary Amber Room in the Imperial Catherine Palace near St Petersburg.

The room’s ornate décor was often described as the eighth wonder of the world. Spread across 60m2 its walls were covered by more than six tonnes of amber comprising 100,000 pieces and arranged in an intricate jigsaw pattern.

Prussian monarch Friedrich-Wilhelm I had given the panels to Russia’s Peter the Great in 1716. But in 1941, adamant that the gift was rightfully the Third Reich’s, German soldiers stripped the amber panels from the walls of the room and shipped them to the Fatherland in 27 crates. After that, the trail goes cold – the panels vanished.

Until the recent discovery of the Karlsruhe by the Baltic-tech divers, who say the ship was in the last known area of the crates. Company spokesman Tomasz Zwara says documents show that the ship left the port in a great hurry and with a large load.

Lying at a depth of 88m the wreck is practically intact and in its holds divers have discovered military vehicles, porcelain and many crates – their contents so far unknown.

The Amber Room was subsequently re-created. If the missing panels are found, will they replace the replicas?