Kevin Fleming, CTV News Calgary Video Journalist | Thursday, August 12, 2021
Divers reveal a Halifax Bomber that’s rested at the bottom of the Baltic Sea for 78 years
CALGARY — An international team is in its second week in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Trelleborg, Sweden recovering pieces of RCAF Halifax bomber HR871 from 405 squadron, and a slice of Canadian military aviation history.
Karl Kjarsgaard is the project manager overseeing the dive team charged with recovering the bits and pieces of Canada’s military past.
“They’re actually cutting with compressed air tools and hand tools,” said Kjarsgaard. “They’re cutting through the bent ends of the Halifax wing main spar to get another piece of wing off and save it and its very critical to our wing build in Canada.”
Kjarsgaard has spent decades collecting Halifax parts from all over Europe. The goal of the project is to combine parts from the underwater Halifax with parts from the Nanton museum to build a complete plane so it can be displayed at the museum next to the Lancaster.
Those parts, it turns out, are pretty pristine considering they’ve been taking on water for the best part of eight decades.
“What really gets me is that this airplane has been underwater for 78 years and it looks like it came out of a fresh water lake, not the Baltic Sea,” said Kjarsgaard.
In 1943, a Royal Canadian Air Force Halifax bomber with a crew of seven was on a bombing mission when it was struck by lightning.
Pilot Alwin Phillips headed towards safety in Sweden. Running on only two of its four engines, the crew bailed out of the bomber and it kept flying over the Baltic Sea before crashing into the water.
Bomber Command Museum historian Dave Birrell knows the story well.
“Unfortunately it went in pretty hard because it wasn’t ditched but crashed-landed into the sea, so I think it’s in a lot of pieces – but pieces are what we need to put it back together.”
NOT MANY LEFT IN THE WORLD
Kjarsgaard found another Halifax in a lake in Norway that was fully restored between 1995 and 2009 and is now on permanent display at the National Air Force Museum of Canada. But there aren’t many left in the world.
“There’s another one that’s restored in the UK,” said Birrell. “Not very well but it’s restored and then there is one that is displayed in the Royal Museum in London which is just how they found it crashed in the bottom of a lake or the sea.”
Birrell said more Canadians flew in Halifaxes and more Canadians were killed in Halifaxes than any other bomber made. Over 40,000 bombing missions were done by Canadian squadrons and of those two-thirds were done by the Halifax bomber. There were three main bomber types that were used by Canadians: the Halifax, Lancaster and the Wellington.
“Every single one was turned into pots and pans and it’s amazing and they’re not the only type, the Stirlings and the Whitleys, they didn’t keep a single one of those either,” said Birrell. “You’d think when they got to the very last one that (they might have said) ‘maybe we should save this one’, but they didn’t.”
Birrell said that’s why this recovery project is so important to Canadians.
“It’s vital for us as Canadians because it’s a Royal Canadian Air Force airplane, it’s 405 squadron so it’s pretty special,” said Birrell. “The other Halifaxes are not Royal Canadian Air Force airplanes, they’re RAF so we’d be happy to have Halifax pieces from any airplane, but helping to put this project together using Canadian airframe and Canadian airplane is really important.”
The $52,000 recovery project is funded primarily by private donations and will be finished August 15th. It has been delayed for a few years because of poor weather conditions in the Baltic. So far crews have only lost a couple days to rough seas this month.
“We’re doing this for our veterans,” said Kjarsgaard. “We’re doing this for all of you folks in Canada who had guys in Bomber Command and we’re not giving up even if its rough weather we’re going to be out there.”
For more information on the Halifax 57 Rescue project or to make a donation click here: www.57rescuecanada.com
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