Torpedo bomber recovered from Solent after 75 years

A WW2 Fleet Air Arm torpedo bomber has been found largely intact in the Solent – 75 years after its pilot was forced to ditch.

Workers laying a new power cable across the Channel discovered the Fairey Barracuda, lost on a training flight in September 1943, and are now carefully recovering the bomber in sections.

Despite more than 2,600 Barracudas rolling off the production lines – mostly for service with the Fleet Air Arm – there are none today.

The wreck was uncovered by engineers working for the National Grid who are laying a 150-mile-long cable from Fareham to Normandy; they surveyed a 180-metre-wide stretch of seabed.

This is an incredible find and a wonderful piece of British history.

David Morris museum curator

“If we had chosen a slightly different route, there is a good chance the plane would never have been found,” said David Luetchford of National Grid.

“Over the course of the project we’ve inspected over 1,000 targets of interest, many of which were found to be unexploded ordnance, not unusual given the history of this location. However, to have found a 1943 Fairey Barracuda torpedo bomber is incredible and such a key piece of British history.

“It’s not every day you get the chance to play a role in an operation like this and it is very lucky to have found the plane in such a small search area.”

The wreck was discovered last year; they waited until fair weather this summer to begin the three-week recovery operation with experts from Wessex Archaeology, clearing clay and silt so sections can be lifted.

The aircraft is believed to be BV739 of 810 Naval Air Squadron which lost power shortly after taking off from HMS Daedalus in Lee-on-the-Solent.

Pilot – Canadian Sub Lieutenant Douglas Williams – survived the ditching… and came through WW2 as well.

Barracudas saw extensive action in the second half of WW2 as carrier-based dive and torpedo bombers, taking part in attacks against Hitler’s flagship Tirpitz in Norway and later with the British Pacific Fleet as the war closed in on Japan.

For several years, enthusiasts have been hoping to build a full-size replica – a project given added impetus by the recovery of BV739; the parts raised from the seabed will be taken to the Fleet Air Arm museum in Yeovilton.

“This is an incredible find and a wonderful piece of British history. There are very few blueprints of the Barracuda plane design available so this wreckage will be studied to enable us to see how the plane segments fitted together and how we can use some of the parts we currently have,” said museum curator David Morris, who’s been working on the project for several years and visited four other crash sites to retrieve parts.

“This find is a huge step forward for our project and we can’t wait to get it back to the museum and share our findings with the public.”