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Forces War Records Blog


Blogger: GemSen Searching for a WWII plane wreckage underwater can be no easy task – so finding even a small part must feel like striking gold. Steve Hazel from the diving team, The Hastings Sub Aqua Club, was about 10 metres down when he noticed an intriguing piece of metal – a nut from a wartime plane. I can quite imagine the bubbles of excitement that would have escaped from the diver's mouth if it wasn’t shielded by his breathing apparatus. Adding more excitement to the mix is the likelihood of it belonging to a very rare RAF Armstrong Whitley (N1476) bomber, which apparently crashed into the sea on June 19, 1940.

Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley bomber - Forces War Records Archive

The nut was found by the diving enthusiasts just 200 yards of Hastings pier and carried the RR stamp of Rolls Royce who manufactured its Merlin engines, reported the Hastings and St Leonards Observer. After doing some more detailed research on the plane in question, Stuart Farquhar, the diving club’s equipment officer, believes that the wrecked British aircraft was returning to its base in Driffield, North Yorkshire after a bombing run in an industrial area of the Ruhr in Germany. The bomber had apparently been attacked and severely damaged by two Messerschmitts, over the English Channel. The plane crashed after a persistent fire in the port engine caused the pilot to shut it down. Despite some injuries, all the crew were saved. It was also reported that this was the fourth time that the pilot - Captain Dunn had crashed in five weeks of operational flying. He later died on September 22, 1940 after ditching again in the North Sea returning from another bombing raid. The undercarriage of the N1476 bomber in question was raised in the 1980s and put on display at The Aviation Museum in Robertsbridge. “We have not dived this site since 1990 and we found it straight away without any GPS location device,” said Stuart. There are no surviving examples of an original Armstrong Whitley bomber left in tact in the world - but Dr Elliott Smock has spent the last 13 years rebuilding an original Armstrong Whitley bomber and Stuart plans to hand the nut over to him. Dr Smock’s project started in 2000 after recovering parts of a Whitley bomber from East Scaraben mountain in the far north of Scotland. Based in London, he has assembled several parts and needs a propellor hub, guns and an engine. He told the newspaper: “I am very interested in the nut. There could be lots more parts of the plane waiting to be discovered on the sea bed. “It is an exceptionally rare machine and I am very keen to put one back together in as complete a state as possible. “The Whitley was one of the RAF’s main bombers during the early part of the war - the only night bomber it had in 1940. It was a precursor to the Lancaster and vital for our heritage that one can be preserved.” RAF's First Night Bomber The Armstrong Whitley was the RAFs first heavy bomber and was utilised by Bomber Command to complement the daylight missions of the Wellington and Hampden. Issued in July 1934  the first Whitley had made its maiden flight within two years and despite its prominent, jutting chin and a very distinctive nose-down flying attitude it was capable of carrying an impressive bomb-load of 7,000lb. One thing that bothered the Whitley during its early career was the unreliability of its two Armstrong Siddeley Tiger engines so later marks were fitted with the Rolls Royce Merlin.

Sources: Hastings Observer & RAF

Interested in RAF Aircraft and World War II? Have a look through our historic document library and you’ll find plenty of interesting finds relating to World War II and the RAF. Perhaps you are searching for your ancestors that fought during WWII? Forces War Records have a wealth of records that could aid your research.

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