Aircraft Wrecks

4th May 2020

Fairey Swordfish

The Fairey Swordfish was a biplane that punched well above its weight. Originally designed in the 1930s, the “Stringbag” was operated by both the RAF and Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy.

By the outbreak of the Second World War, the Fairey Swordfish was considered rather obsolete, yet it still played an important role during the conflict. In 1941, 16 Fairey Swordfish biplanes were launched from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal. They were responsible for crippling the Bismarck, the first of two Bismarck-class battleships built for Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine.

The Fairey Swordfish biplanes were also utilised in Malta. In fact, by the end of the war, they had caused more damage to Axis shipping than any other Allied Aircraft.

This particular plane was forced to ditch into the sea in April 1934 due to engine failure. Fortunately for the pilot, he was picked up and rescued by off-duty men from the Royal Air Force air sea rescue service, who just happened to be sailing for pleasure on a 27-foot boat from the RAF Kalafrana sailing club.

The wreckage was discovered outside of St Julians Bay in 2017 and lies at a depth of 65m and the skeleton of the plane remains, along with its engine, propeller and cowling (the covering for the biplane’s engine), which have all survived intact. She lies on an otherwise sterile seabed and this attracts a nice variety of sealife.

2nd May 2020

Junkers JU 88

As a former British colony, the island of Malta had a pivotal role to play in the Second World War. Throughout the conflict it was the only Allied base between Gibraltar and Alexandria in Egypt, and it became a military and naval fortress.

In 1940, the North African campaign increased its strategic importance and Malta became a prime target for the Axis bombers: the nations who fought against the Allies including Germany and Italy.

The Axis resolved to destroy Malta and starve its people by attacking ports, cities and the Allied convoys transporting cargo to the island. This became known as the Siege of Malta (and Second Siege of Malta), which took place between 1940 and 1943, eventually ending in victory for the Allies. Throughout the campaign, many ships and plans on both sides were destroyed. Much of this has been preserved in the archaeological record.

The Luftwaffe launched wave after wave of air raids using planes such as the Messerschmitt BF-109, the Junker’s dive bomber JU88 and the bomber JU88.

However by this stage the Allies had built up their own indomitable defence system. Malta was now the base for 35 squadrons consisting of over 600 modern fighters and bombers.

The Junkers Ju 88 was a German World War II Luftwaffe twin-engined multirole combat aircraft. Junkers Aircraft and Motor Works (JFM) designed the plane in the mid-1930s as a so-called fast bomber that would be too fast for fighters of its era to intercept. It suffered from technical problems during its development and early operational periods but became one of the most versatile combat aircraft of the war. Like a number of other Luftwaffe bombers, it served as a bomber, dive bomber, night fighter, torpedo bomber, reconnaissance aircraft, heavy fighter and at the end of the war, as a flying bomb. The assembly line ran constantly from 1936 to 1945 and more than 15,000 Ju 88s were built in dozens of variants, more than any other twin-engine German aircraft of the period. Throughout production the basic structure of the aircraft remained unchanged.

The JU88 wreckage which was discovered in 2009 outside of Salina Bay and sits at a maximum depth of 57m is well preserved, with a tail broken off that lies a small distance from the same site. The cockpit still retains its forward-looking machine gun. The wreck probably ended up in the sea after being hit by flak over its target, or shot down during a dogfight (aerial battle).

1st May 2020

De Havilland Mosquito

The Mosquito Fighter Bomber was a twin-engine multipurpose aircraft with two seats. It was mainly used as a fighter plane. This plane was built practically solely of wood apart from it’s tail, which was made from aluminium. With regards to specifications of the plane, she was 13.6 m long and had a wingspan of 16.5 m.

On the 26th of March 1949, it’s starboard engine had problems while on a mail run and the plane tried to land back at Hal Far. Unfortunately it crash landed into the sea.

Located around 500m off Dellimara Point on the East side of Malta. Obviously the wooden parts of the plane have long since deteriorated. What is left however is a metal frame with a heap of cables running through. Also the two engines are still intact as well. The tail however, is buried within the sand. There are also pieces of metal around the site of the wreck.

The wreck lies at a depth of 40 metres on a sandy seabed along with some small reefs nearby.

30th April 2020

Lockheed P2V Neptune

Built in the U.S. the Lockhead P2V Neptune was purposely used for hunting down submarines and marine patrol. It’s dimensions were of 30m in width (wingspan) and 24m in length.

The Royal Airforce worked with Neptune MR 1 planes however this particular plane was impaired with no chance of being repaired during a routine landing, at the Malta International Airport in Luqa on 13 of Jan 1956. With the collapse of the undercarriage, the aircraft was not able to fly again. After the crash it was then sold for filming use in the year of 1957, but not before removing all parts that were salvageable. Finally, the Neptune was scuttled for an underwater scene for a movie called THE SILENT ENEMY which was aired in 1958.

The plane wreck is situated 500 metres off shore from the north-east coast of Malta. It lies at a depth of 30 metres and what is left of it is part of the fuselage, and hardly any interior or wings with engine covers. Other pieces of the wings are half buried in the sand. The wreck was rediscovered in 2015.

29th April 2020

Bristol Blenheim

The first production Type 142M, now known as the Blenheim, made its first flight on 25th June 1936, and moved to Boscombe Down on 27th October 1936 for trials. The first squadron deliveries were made to No 114 Squadron at Wyton on 10th March 1937, the event being marred when the first Blenheim to land was totally wrecked after the pilot evidently applied the brakes too harshly, causing the aeroplane to overturn and break its back. By the turn of the year Nos 44, 90, 139 and 144 Squadron had been similarly re-equipped.

With 250 Mark Is in service with the RAF, the focus now switched to the improved Mark IV and over 2,200 Blenheims IVs were built in the following two years. Number 53 Squadron, RAF Odiham, was the first recipient of the Blenheim IV in January 1939, and by the end of that year the unit had been joined by 14 others, as the Mark I was withdrawn from front-line squadrons at home.

Blenheims were also heavily involved in the Middle and Far East (6 squadrons; 5 with Blenheims Is) as well as the Mediterranean where Nos 84 and 211 Squadrons participated in the abortive Greek campaign of 1941. In these regions, the Blenheim soldiered on with fighter escort until 1943.

At least nine Blenheim squadrons operated out of Malta during 1941-42. The Bristol Blenheim mark IV serial No. Z7858 (code M) started service on the 30th August 1941 allocated to the 18th squadron the following month and in October it was flown to the Middle East.

On the 13th December 1941 five Blenheims from 18th squadron took off from Luqa airport to attack Argostoli Harbour, Kefelonia, Greece. One of them was the Z7858 Blenheim with its crew, pilot Frank Jury, air gunner D.J. Mortimer and navigator Tom Black.

During their flight to the target they were attacked by a Macchi C200s, which prevented it from even reaching its objective. Air gunner Sgt Dennis Mortimer was helpless to react as the mid-upper turret with its twin .303 Browing machine guns had jammed and could not be rotated. The bombers port engine was also damaged causing the propeller to spin off.

After pursuing his quarry for many miles, the Italian broke contact. The Blenheim was left with smoke pouring from the destroyed engine and only about 30 metres above sea level; she continued towards Grand Harbour, then turned and headed south.

When a Maltese fishing boat was spotted just off shore, it was decided to ditch nearby. The Blenheim touched down tail first, Sgt Thomas Black was the only casualty being knocked unconscious, despite its battering she remained intact and floated allowing the crew to escape, all three were quickly rescued.

A Royal Air Force Sea Rescue launch went to the crash site after making sure the crew were safe, when they arrived the aircraft was still afloat, they attempted to tow it but before this could be achieved, Z7858 sank.

The Blenheim now lies on a sandy seabed surrounded by small reefs at a depth of 42m, less than a kilometre off Xorb L-Ghagin, in the south of Malta.

28th April 2020

Bristol Beaufighter

The Bristol Beaufighter was built in Filton and Weston Super-Mare England. The prototype flew on 17th July 1939 and the first production Beaufighters were delivered to the Royal Air Force in the following April.

The type was the first high performance night fighter equipped with airborne interception radar and successfully operated against the German night raids in the winter of 1940-1941. Later the Beaufighter was introduced into Coastal Command as a strike fighter. Its original formidable gun armament was retained but rockets and torpedoes were added giving it an even greater fire power. Not only did the Beaufighter operate with distinction in North West Europe but also a considerable reputation was earned in the Middle and Far East.

5562 Beaufighters had been produced by the time the last one was delivered in September 1945 and fifty-two operational Royal Air Force squadrons had been equipped with the type.

On 17th March 1943 at 1125 hours nine Beaufighters of No 272 squadron took off to escort nine Beauforts of No 39 Squadron on a shipping strike of Point Stelo. At 1138 hours Beaufighter ‘N,’ with Sgt Donald Frazee at the controls and Sgt Sandery as observer, started to climb to 1500 feet and turned left to search for other aircraft to form up with. At this time the aircraft began to vibrate violently and lost speed rapidly. The observer reported smoke coming out of his heating pipe, the pilot throttled back each engine in turn, this did not help, by this time he could hardly read his gauges due to the vibration. Their air speed was 130 mph and they were losing height at three to four hundred feet a minute.

There was no option but to ditch the aircraft and this was accomplished at 100mph in a slight swell about 1000 yards off Dragonara Point, Sliema. They both managed to get out and apart from minor bruises they were both uninjured. By the time they had both floated away from the aircraft, within 15 seconds she had disappeared beneath the waves. As all this took place close to shore, persons watching informed Fighter Control but a Maltese dghajsa reached the crew some five minutes before rescue launch HSL166 arrived on the spot. The air crew was transferred to the launch.

The Beaufighter now lies upside down on a sandy seabed at a depth of 38m.