The Italian Almanac

Me-323 Gigant

A Big Nazi Plane

The wreckage of the only known example of a mammoth, Nazi-era, German airplane was found by a diver in waters near the Italian island of Sardinia. The Me-323 "Gigant" was the largest land-based transport aircraft used in World War II. The German airforce produced about 200 models of the plane, which had a 55-metre wingspan and six engines. The planes were 10 metres tall, 30 metres long and weighed 45 tonnes.

Military history buff and diver Cristina Freghieri found the sunken wreckage 64 metres under the sea near La Maddalena archipelago at the northeastern tip of Sardinia, after a year-long hunt through archives and history studies. The Me-323 was shot down by a British plane during an air battle on July 26, 1943.

A Milan bookseller specialized in military history tipped Freghieri off to recent work by a historian retracing the flight of the British plane, locating the area where it had downed the German transport plane. In early January, Freghieri went to La Maddalena and began dropping a wire-guided camera into the water. A local fisherman, Mario Vitello, took her to a location where he thought the plane had gone down. She began trying the area on May 27 and found the sunken plane the next day.

"It was a dive, a little forced due to fatigue from the morning's work. It was a pure emotional charge to suddenly see the airplane in the veiled blue of the sea. First we saw a piece of a sheet of metal, then another until the plane appeared, in an explosion of images, in all its beauty. My heart skipped a beat," Freghieri said.