Divers and amateur historians stumbled upon an amazingly intact Messerschmitt 323 200ft underwater off Sardinian coast while they were searching for another sunken plane.
The Me-323 - the largest land-based transport aircraft from the War - was on its way to the Tuscan city of Pistoia from its German base in Sardinia when it was hit by a Bristol Beaufighter fighter plane in July 1943.
The Me 323 was the result of a 1940 German requirement for a large assault glider in preparation for Operation Sea Lion, the projected invasion of Great Britain. It was a powered variant of the Me 321 military glider and was the largest land-based transport aircraft of the war. A total of 213 are recorded as having been made, a few being converted from the Me 321.
Aldo Ferruci, a diving instructor and photographer who took pictures of the wreck, told The Daily Telegraph: 'It was just by chance that we found it because we were actually looking for a different plane wreck.
'We had understood that the Me-323 was in a totally different location so we were lucky to stumble on it. It is in good condition – it is almost intact, with the six engines still all in line.'
Other experts described the find as one of 'great historical importance'.
Second World War historians say they are aware of 'no other complete surviving Messerschmitt-323 Giant in existence.' The Me 323 was something of a "sitting duck", being so slow and large an aircraft. However, no transport aircraft can ever be expected to survive without something close to air superiority, and it is believed that no Me 323s survived in service beyond summer 1944.