WWII Sunderland Flying-Boat Rescued With The Help Of Her Last Pilot


The Mark I Sunderland was highly valued by Winston Churchill, who considered the U-boats as one of the biggest threats during the war. The 40-strong fleet was Britain’s only long distance aircraft at the very beginning of World War Two and was quite feared by the German U-boats.

Wing Commander Derek Martin OBE was her very last pilot and the man who helped identify the aircraft.

It was Britain’s most valuable craft when Germany declared war, but the Mark I Sunderland planes were thought to be all lost after being destroyed by the Nazis during the terrifying battles.

The Sunderland sea planes were flown over the Atlantic Ocean and Germany, however, as the Germans improved their equipment over the years, the entire fleet ended up into the sea.

Considered to be one of the most important discoveries of the century, the craft was found in 2000, covered in coral, 65ft below the coast of Wales. The Sunderland T9044 of No 210 Squadron, RAF, was first found by accident by a deep sea diver 13 years back. The craft, which sank 73 years ago, in 1940, is going to be reassembled in a half a million pounds project.

Martin, who is now 93 years old, is currently helping the Pembroke Dock Sunderland Trust to identify parts of the vessel, the Mail Online reports.

The day before the bomber sank, Martin, then 20 years old, flew the Mark I Sunderland out of Pembroke Dock, as he was training some young aircrews. “There was a gale during the night and it must have been holed by some floating debris and down it went. In the morning it wasn’t there. Well, it was at the bottom of the sea,” said Martin.

He now lives in Colnbrook, Berkshire but at the Time, Martin was a young instructor at a unit based in Pembroke Dock.

Aircrews were sent out across the ocean to fight the German U-boats using co-ordinates intercepted by the codebreakers at Bletchley Park. Over 6,000 RAF aircrew died during the attacks in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The team is hoping to extract and have the vessel put back together in no more than a year time. ‘Hopefully this Sunderland will help tell the story of what the crews of the flying-boats did for the nation,’ confessed Martin.

The project manager, Mr John Evans, is excited to introduce the “world’s only Mark I Sunderland.” He also said that despite the years under water, the craft was immediately recognizable and was found in a very good condition.

Evans, together with his team, are anxious to bring up as much as they can from the most treasured craft, before the 75th anniversary of its sinking, in November 2015.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE