The amphibious vehicle sank in Lake Garda, killing 23 US soldiers just days before the end of the fighting in Europe. But the boat, and the remains of the soldiers, were lost until this week.
Amateur historians had been searching for months for the relic – a six-wheel, two-ton amphibious DUKW vehicle that sank during a storm on Lake Garda on the night of April 30, 1945 – but were only able to confirm their find on Monday.
The DUKW, pronounced “duck,” was carrying supplies and ammunition to an American military camp near the town of Torbole, at the northern tip of the lake, but sank as a result of gale force winds that were battering the area that night.
The truck was carrying 24 US soldiers aged between 18 and 25 from the 10th Mountain Division, only one of whom survived the accident. The men who died were from the division's 605th Field Artillery Battalion, as well as a driver from the Quartermaster Corps.
The sinking happened just days before the end of fighting in Europe and the armistice with the Germans, on May 8, 1945.
“It was the biggest disaster to happen in modern times on Lake Garda,” said Mauro Fusato, the leader of the team that found the DUKW.
The wreck of the vehicle was found with sonar lying at a depth of 905 feet – one reason why it had not been located before.
“On Sunday, the sonar gave us an initial image, but it wasn’t clear enough to be able to say for sure that it was the DUKW,” Mr. Fusato told Ansa, an Italian news agency.
“On Monday, though, we used a remote-controlled camera and we saw it. It is intact and sitting upright.”
The next step is to try to identify any human remains that may still be lying around the wreck, as well as military equipment, insignia, and personal possessions. “There are lots of objects around it, which could be the skeletons or remains of the soldiers who drowned,” said Fusato.
Any operation to recover them would be highly complex and technically challenging, however. The wreck lies too deep for divers, and there are old fishing nets and other debris on the lake bed that could snag underwater subs. Ultimately it will be up to the US government to decide whether to proceed with a recovery, the researchers said, adding that they had informed American diplomats of the discovery.