Divers have discovered the remains of a remarkably well-preserved Stuka dive bomber, an aircraft that struck fear into Allied forces during the Second World War, lying on the seabed of the Adriatic more than 70 years after it was shot down.
The two-man aircraft was found at a depth of around 90ft off the coast of Croatia near the island of Zirje.
Although German-made, it’s thought that the bomber was being flown by the Italian air force and that it may have been shot down by a Yugoslav warship in April 1941 when the country was invaded by the Axis powers.
“The plane is lying on its wheels as if it smoothly landed on the seabed,” said Igor Miholjek of Croatia’s national conservation institute.
“The engine, which was most likely ripped off when the plane hit the water, was missing and was found nearby, but the rest of the aircraft is complete and in very good condition,” said Mr Miholjek, who took part in the diving expedition that found the wreck.
It was not clear whether the plane could be recovered and brought to the surface.
Nearly 6,500 Stukas were produced during the Second World War, but only two of them survive.
They are on display at the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon and in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
Two more have been discovered – one on the seabed off the coast of Greece and another in Norway – but they were in much worse condition than the one discovered off Croatia.
Stuka bombers were designed to dive at a steep angle and release their bombs at a low altitude for maximum accuracy.
The name ‘Stuka’ is a contraction of its full title in German, Sturzkampfflugzeug.
Stukas were operated by a pilot and a rear gunner.
The aircraft made their combat debut during the Spanish Civil War, when they were deployed against Republican forces by the Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion.
Stukas were notorious for making a screaming sound when they dived, striking fear into troops on the ground.
They became a symbol of Germany’s Blitzkrieg campaigns in northern Europe at the start of the war.