- On 18/12/2013
- In Airplane Stories
By Mia De Graaf - DailyMail
It was the most treasured craft in Britain's possession when the Nazis declared war, but all of the Mk I Sunderland sea planes were thought to be long-lost after being gunned down in WWII.
The nation's only long-haul vessel, the 40 Sunderland flying boats were dispatched over the Atlantic Ocean and Germany to keep advancing submarines at bay.
But decades on, in 2000, one of the prized crafts has been found wrapped in coral 65ft below the coast of Wales in what historians are touting as one of the most important discoveries this century.
And though it is in bits, the thick coating of mud and barnacles have preserved the Sunderland's structure perfectly.
Now, 73 years since it sank in 1940, naval historians are on the cusp of finally piecing the unique vessel back together in a project worth half a million pounds.
A deep sea diver accidentally discovered the wreckage after seeing a lobster-pot had become snagged on something below the waves 13 years ago.
The diver followed the rope down to the seabed and came across the world’s only surviving Mark I Sunderland flying-boat.
Experts identified the craft as Sunderland T9044 of No 210 Squadron, RAF.
To confirm the identity, they tracked down the bomber's last pilot: 93-year-old Wing Commander Derek Martin OBE.
Martin was aged 20 in 1940, training young aircrews, when he flew the Sunderland out of Pembroke Dock, in West Wales, the day before it sank.
He said: 'I flew it on a routine flight around the dock and then moored it up.
'There was a gale during the night and it must have been holed by some floating debris and down it went.
'In the morning it wasn’t there. Well, it was at the bottom of the sea.'
Sunderland flying-boats flew out of Pembroke Dock during the Battle of the Atlantic - when they were used to attack German U-boats sinking vital supply ships.