'Fishing' for a Halifax

35 Squadron Halifax W1048 TL-S on display in the Bomber Command Hall at Hendon

Halifax W1048 TL-S from 35 Squadron had taken off from RAF Kinloss in Scotland on the evening of 27th April 1942 to take part in an attack on Tirpitz in Fættenfjord, Norway. Several hours later the crew found themselves fighting to keep the Halifax in the air having been hit by AA fire during the attack. In the early hours of April 29th, the pilot - Pilot Officer Don MacIntyre from Canada, skilfully crash landed the Halifax on the frozen surface of Lake Hoklingen about seven miles inland from Fættenfjord. All onboard managed to escape from the aircraft and their story is told here .

26 years later.....
In the late summer of 1968, members of Draugen Diving Club in Trondheim who had heard there was a British aircraft somewhere in Lake Hoklingen, decided to try and find it. They were provided with information about where to search by members of the Mossing family who lived on the shores of Lake Hoklingen and could remember the night the Halifax crashed in 1942. The Mossing family were also able to lend the divers a small rowing boat to assist in the search (motor boats were not permitted on the lake as it was a source of drinking water)

The divers used a primitive but very effective method to conduct their search. Their equipment was no more than a rowing boat and a long length of rope with a hook attached to one end. Over a period of a few weekends the divers 'fished' around in the lake hoping to hook the Halifax. The low water temperature and the depths that had to be reached limited the number of dives that could be made each day. Each time the hook caught fast to something a diver would swim below to check out what it had caught on. Time and time again the diver would resurface with the news that they had caught nothing more than an old tree trunk or other useless debris.

Finally, late on Saturday 24th August the hook caught hold of something and the divers were convinced that this time they had found the Halifax. Infuriatingly it was too late in the day to send anyone down to check, so a buoy was attached to the rope and a small raft left to mark the spot.

On Sunday 25th August, Edgar Bjørstad and Ole Storås made the dive that was to reveal the missing Halifax.

"We knew it was something real this time, and it was. As we dived down it was completely dark after about 10 meters depth and we only had one torch to guide our way. The water temperature was about +2 degrees and we got down to a depth of 33 meters. It was very dark, even with the torch and there was dark mud all over the area. The hook had caught on the tail fin. We thought we had landed on a barn door that had been thrown away, but the we realised it was the Halifax, it was no problem to see that."

And so finally, 26 years after sinking to the bottom of the lake, the Halifax had been found.

"It was fantastic. We moved slowly forwards and found the gun turrets. Then we moved to the front of the plane to the cockpit. After lighting up the instruments with our torch they stayed illuminated because of the luminous paint on the dials for a long time after. It was fantastic to see in the complete darkness, we will never forget it. All the throttles could be moved, we could move the flaps."

The Draugen divers contacted the Norwegian Historical Aviation Society and informed them of the discovery. This set off a chain of events that led to the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon, London, being able to offer the Halifax a home.

In October 1972, a team of five RAF divers and a civillian diver, Peter Cornish, arrived in Norway to meet up with the Draugen divers and conduct a survey of the Halifax in order to make plans for the recovery which would take place the following year. Peter Cornish had been called upon by the museum at Hendon because of his previous experience at recovering WW2 aircraft from underwater.

The Recovery ....
In early June 1973, an RAF C-130 transport aircraft left RAF West Drayton in England with 16 RAF personnel and peter Cornish onboard bound for Norway. About the same number of divers from Draugen Diving Club were ready and waiting for them at Lake Hoklingen having organised the logistics including food, tents, rafts, boats, cranes and other necessary equipment. Work soon commenced on the recovery with lifting points having been identified and fifty-four 40 gallon oil drums attached to the wreck which were then emptied of water using compressed air having first been sunk to the bed of the lake.

Shattered wooden props - recovery 1973
Making for the shore - recovery 1973

Finally on June 30th the wreck of the Halifax started to break free from the mud on the bottom of the lake and rise to the surface. It was a momentous occasion for all those involved and for the thousands who had gathered on the shore to watch the spectacle.

After 31 years resting on the muddy bed of Lake Hoklingen, Halifax W1048 TL-S saw the light of day once again. Jens Aassved, one of the Draugen Diving Club members recalls that inside the Halifax it was as it had been in 1942 when the crew left the aircraft. He recalls seeing shoes and a parachute as well as other personal belongings and equipment.

Return to the UK ....
The Halifax was slowly towed to the shoreline, and with great effort and ingenuity was loaded onto a low loader to commence the journey by road and sea back to England. At Levanger it was collected by a tank landing craft and ferried over the North Sea to Ipswich Docks where it was then taken by road to RAF Henlow for stabilising and refurbishment.

The initial plan was to restore the Halifax to her original appearance. The forward fuselage section was sent to RAF Wyton for restoration, however, this was not a successful project and was abandoned. It became apparent that a great proportion of the aircraft was in a very fragile condition and that if full restoration was undertaken little of the original aircraft would remain. The front gun turret was refurbished as a separate project and one engine was restored. Other than this, it was decided that the Halifax should be left in the condition that she had been found and would be displayed at Hendon. Meanwhile, the Halifax was sprayed with PX-9, a lanolin based preservative. Unfortunately, prior to this application the airframe had already started to corrode, it was later discovered that the Halifax should have been treated with another product prior to the PX-9 which could have prevented further corrosion. The application of PX-9 had not coated the Halifax uniformly, and as a result some areas continued to corrode. With the opening of the Bomber Command Hall at Hendon in 1983 the Halifax finally had a home. The display is a reminder to visitors that war has its costs in material and in lives and serves as a memorial to the aircraft and crews who did not return to these shores.

In 2002 Jens Aassved and several other members of Draugen Diving Club who were involved in the discovery and recovery of W1048 TL-S paid a visit to the RAF Museum in Hendon to visit 'their' Halifax. A further visit is planned for some time later in 2004.

Front of W1048 photographed in 2004
Rear of W1048 photographed in 2004

Continuing care ....
In the early 1970's, The Society of Friends of the Royal Air Force Museum was established to support the aims of the RAF Museum at Hendon. Each year the society makes a financial donation to the museum and is actively supportive by providing three teams of volunteers to work on the aircraft, vehicles and boats in the Hendon collection. In 1989 the society formed an aircraft team who would be responsible for restoration and conservation of the growing collection of aircraft in the museum. Initially this work would be carried out only on smaller items rather than entire aircraft. Later the team were asked to carry out corrosion inspections on some of the aircraft in the Battle of Britain Hall, and then they were tasked with looking after the aircraft in the Bomber Command Hall.

Inside W1048, the red colour is the result of a dye in the PX-9 product which was originally used.
Progress being made on cleaning up and preserving the interior
Interior of W1048
Ongoing work to the interior

In order to attempt to halt any further corrosion on the Halifax it was sprayed with Waxoyl - a delicate process which took a year to complete. After a full inspection a report was written for the museum detailing the condition of the Halifax and what The Society of Friends team could do by way of preservation/restoration. The museum concluded that the external surfaces of the Halifax were, as far as possible, to remain as they were other than any work required to stabilize it. The interior of the Halifax could undergo some conservation work. Currently work is ongoing in the interior to halt any further corrosion. This is a long and laborious process due to space limitations, keeping stress on the structure to a minimum and working within health and safety parameters. Work is also being carried out on two of the wing mounted bomb racks.

Cockpit interior
Pilots position
Exterior view of cockpit

My grateful thanks to the following people for their assistance with information and images for this page:
Jens Aassved - Draugen Diving Club, Trondheim, Richard Simpson - Keeper Dept of Aircraft & Exhibits, RAF Hendon, Pete Nash and Tony Aston - The Society of Friends of the Royal Air Force Museum, Rob Leigh , Harald Eriksen.

Back to Top
© Linzee Druce 2001-2012