Archaeologists seek pilot of WW2 wreck

Fairey Barracuda Torpedo Bomber that crash-landed in Solent in 1943 brought to surface

wing out of water

Archaeologists are keen to trace the pilot of a WW2 warplane that crashed into the Solent 75 years ago

This week marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day and  specialist divers have completed an operation to retrieve the wreckage of the 1943 Fairey Barracuda Torpedo Bomber – part of the 810 Squadron Royal Navy Air Station that was based at Lee-On-Solent during the war.

Fleet Air Arm pilot SUB LNT D J Williams got into difficulty shortly after taking off for a test flight before crashing 500m from the coast in Portsmouth. Williams survived the crash but the plane sank and its wreckage has only just been found by National Grid engineers during a seabed survey ahead of the construction of new subsea electricity cable between England and France.

The cable, called an interconnector, will be buried in the seabed and will stretch for 240km between Fareham, Portsmouth and Normandy, France – reviving memories of the PLUTO pipeline used  to supply petrol to allied forces during the Normandy invasion.

The Barracuda wreckage is the only one to have ever been found in one piece and the last remaining aircraft of its kind in the UK.

David Luetchford – a project head for  National Grid, said:

“An important part of our job is to always have a thorough and sympathetic approach to archaeological finds. 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.”

Work to fully retrieve the plane is expected to take around three weeks in total as experts from Wessex Archaeology are carefully excavating the area around the aircraft and removing large amounts of silt and clay.

So far, one of the wings has successfully been lifted out of the waters and work on the second is currently underway. The remainder of the plane will be recovered by lifting it in sections over the coming days.

Wessex Archaeology lead archaeologist Euan McNeil said:

“Our team has been working closely with all those involved to ensure that any risks to heritage assets on the seafloor are mitigated. This aircraft is a rare find and a fantastic opportunity to understand more about a piece of wartime technology.

“The recovery of the Fairey Barracuda will aid an ongoing Fleet Air Arm Museum project to recreate what will be the world’s only complete example of this type of aircraft. This will give us a chance to examine a unique lost piece of aviation history”

Once retrieved, the parts will be taken to the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset where it will be studied and used to rebuild a full-size Barracuda in the site’s aircraft hangar.

The team at Wessex Archelogy are currently trying to trace SUB LNT Williams and are keen for anyone with information about the pilot and his family to get in touch on 01722 326867.

wing close up

Wing section on deck