Summer 2019

Bringing up the Barracuda

A specialist team at James Fisher Marine Services has been working to safely bring a World War II bomber in the English Channel to the surface

The plane, a Fairey Barracuda (MKII) Torpedo bomber, was discovered by JFMS last year during an ordnance clearing campaign for the National Grid in preparation for the IFA2 electricity cable between France and the UK. It is believed to have got into difficulties during a test flight in 1943, crashing into the sea 500m from the coast of Portsmouth.

A rare, historic find

Because no Barracudas survived the war this submerged wreckage caused considerable excitement among military historians, and the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset asked IFA2 if it could be retrieved.

The rarity of the aircraft and the fact that it could still have live ordnance on board, meant JFMS had to conduct an extremely delicate operation which made full use of the team's expert UXO, subsea and diving experience. An in-house archaeological diver was also drafted in as extra support.

Keith Forward, subsea manager at JFMS, explains:

'We are delighted to have been able to provide an all-inclusive solution to National Grid and its IFA2 project which has involved UXO identification and detonation, subsea salvage and survey works. Retrieving the Barracuda has been a fascinating and challenging extension to the project.

'Compliance with the strictly controlled MOD licenses issued to Wessex Archaeology and agreed with Historic England meant that all dredged material has had to be sieved for artefacts and as the aircraft was 75% buried there was a lot of seabed to get through.'

He added.

It required the provision of storage containers for the recovered artefacts and special subsea lifting baskets which were brought in from sister company, James Fisher Offshore.

A hand-mounted ROV3D system was also deployed to create a 3D digital map of the wreckage prior to its salvage which will aid its accurate reconstruction. The diving team also utilised a high definition video camera system to record minute details of each dive. Together these pictures offer great visual detail for the archaeologists and the Fleet Air Arm Museum team.

The plane's pilot is believed to have been Sub. Lt DJ Williams who managed to escape the crash and survived WWII.

Wessex Archaeology project manager Euan McNeill says:

'This aircraft is a rare find and a fantastic opportunity to understand more about a piece of wartime technology. It has taken careful planning to ensure the remains are lifted with minimal damage or deterioration and being able to integrate our archaeologists and divers into James Fisher's team provided an excellent solution.'

First the silt around the aircraft was excavated and sieved for artefacts, then the remaining structure was divided into manageable sections for lifting.

As senior curator at Fleet Air Arm Museum, David Morris is heading up the team which hopes to piece the Barracuda together:

'The recovery has provided us with an enormous amount of original Barracuda fittings to work with. Thanks to the skill and detailed working of the dive and recovery teams we now have a myriad of hugely valuable, detailed components and several hundred thousand pounds worth of small parts, brackets, levers, controls, frames, widgets and detailed stuff that we would otherwise struggle to make or that would be impossible to replicate,'

He says;

'but as a result of this unique project, we hope to one day recreate the only complete Barracuda in existence.'

Further information

Recovered wing of the Fairey Barracuda (MKII) Torpedo bomber

 wing close up.jpg  LR Emma Devlin David Morris  Jake Stevens.jpg

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