Workers for British electrical company National Grid discovered the remains of a World War II RAF bomber on the floor of the North Sea while running a power cable between Northumberland and Norway.
The National Grid crew discovered the plane with sonar equipment they were using in preparation of laying the electric cable. A remote drone was sent with a camera to inspect the wreckage.
National Grid has notified the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) which is the part of the UK’s Ministry of Defence which investigates human remains of British troops that are discovered around the world.
The JCCC will not be able to positively identify the plane or the crew that was on it until more evidence is obtained to reliably ascertain precisely what plane the crew found.
The wreck is protected under the Protection of Military Remains Act of 1986 and may potentially be classified as a war grave.
Experts believe the plane to be a Short Stirling heavy bomber. These planes were used to deliver supplies to resistance fighters working to repel the German army from Norway between 1940 and 1945. Several of the planes went missing between 1944 and 1945. The wreckage located by the National Grid crew is thought to be one of those missing planes.
Due to the location of the plane’s wreckage, it is believed that it was part of the supply runs to Norway. Planes of this type had difficulty climbing to 15,000 feet which made them highly susceptible to enemy fire. Several Short Stirlings disappeared on these delivery runs.
The Short Stirling was put into production in 1940 for the Royal Air Force (RAF). While most bombers in the RAF had been designed with two engines and then retrofitted with two additional engines, the Stirling was designed from the beginning as a four-engine heavy bomber. Each of the engines had a propeller with three blades. Its distinctive nose-up when on the ground was due to the longer main legs of the landing gear to tilt the nose up on take-off and allow for a shorter takeoff run.
The typical crew of a Stirling was two pilots, a navigator/bombardier, a nose gunner, a flight engineer and two gunners. The plane was equipped with eight 7.7mm (0.303 caliber) machine guns. It could carry 14,000 lbs of cargo.
While capable in the air, it had difficulties on landings – many suffered severe structural damage when the plane dropped onto the runway during landing rather than landing gracefully. The plane was also small. It could only carry its maximum bomb load for 590 miles, longer runs required it to carry a smaller bomb. It also had to carry smaller bombs in spite of its large, 40-foot long bomb bay because it had a structural support across the middle of the bay. In just a few years, the Short Stirling was relegated to delivery runs while newer, more capable bombers took over the heavy bombing duties in the war. In all, 2,383 Short Stirlings were produced.
The technicians were scanning the seabed to locate objects that might impede them from laying a 720 km electric cable as part of the North Sea Link project. The project is a combined effort between National Grid in the UK and Statnett in Norway. The cable will run from Blyth in Northumberland to Kvilldal in Norway. When completed, the two organizations will be able to trade electricity with each other. The cable will be the longest such subsea interconnector in the world once it is in place and will have a capacity of 1400MW.
The two organizations expect to see such benefits as increasing the use of renewable energy, increased security for both countries’ power supplies, and economic growth from trading excess electricity.