SCUBA DIVERS FROM EAST CHESHIRE SUB-AQUA CLUB ARE ON A MISSION TO RAISE WW2 HIGHBALL BOUNCING BOMBS FROM SCOTTISH LOCH IN TIME FOR 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF HISTORIC DAMBUSTERS RAID
East Cheshire Sub-Aqua Club along with clubs from around the country are preparing for a daring underwater mission to recover two historic bouncing bombs like the ones featured in the World War II film The Dambusters.
The exciting project by a team of divers from the British-Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) to raise the Highball bombs from the bottom of a Scottish loch, is being backed by Mary Stopes-Roe the daughter of late British engineer, Sir Barnes Wallis, who invented them.
There are currently no Highballs on display to the public and the aim is to place two of the giant spherical bombs in British museums, in time for the 75th anniversary of the Dambuster raid, in 2018.
The Highballs were the naval or anti-ship version of the cylindrical shaped Upkeep bouncing bombs used by the Royal Air Force in the actual Dambusters raid in May 1943, both having been designed by Sir Barnes Wallis to bounce over water.
However, it is archive footage of the Highballs being tested at Loch Striven which feature in the 1955 The Dam Busters film, as footage of the actual dams bomb used by the RAF was still top secret.
More than 200 of the bombs, codenamed Highball by the military, were tested at Loch Striven. They were intended to be used on enemy ships but never became operational and they lie scattered on the floor of the loch to this day.
Now a team of eleven British-Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) scuba divers from all over the UK including Macclesfield, Birmingham, Tyneside, Swindon and Newport-on-Tay, are preparing to raise two of the bombs, this July.
The aim is to put two Highballs on display at the Brooklands Museum in Surrey and the de Havilland Aircraft Museum, formerly known as the Mosquito Museum, in Hertfordshire, in time for the 75th anniversary of the Dambusters raid next year.
Leading the team is diver Mark Paisey, from Macclesfield, who is also BSAC’s North West Regional Coach and a highly skilled BSAC First Class Diver and a member of Macclesfield based East Cheshire Sub-Aqua Club.
Mark said: “We like diving with a purpose. This is an expedition where we’re bringing together people from all over the UK and it’s nice to have a result to it at the end. The historical element is a bonus. We intend to map the two areas where the Highballs lie using a side scan sonar to see exactly how many there are. We need a fair degree of experience for the dive. One of the areas where the bombs are is 35m deep and the other is 55m.”
Mark added: “It will be great when one of the highballs is sitting in the museum.”
The project has received the blessing of Sir Barnes Wallis’ daughter Mary Stopes-Roe, who is approaching her 90th birthday this autumn and lives in Moseley, Birmingham.
She said: “I think it’s absolutely splendid. I’m very happy to lend my support to this project and wish the team the best of luck with the dive.
“It’s a fantastic project and it would be a fitting tribute to my father to have the Highballs in a museum.
“My father loved the water, and although he didn’t scuba dive, I remember once he did bring back a snorkel from a trip to Sicily and it was the first one we had ever seen.
“I think if he were still alive he would be standing on the side telling them all what to do!”
The diving team led by Mark Paisey, includes Kevin Phillips who is Diving Officer at Macclesfield-based East Cheshire Sub-Aqua Club, together with fellow members Loz Broome, Henry Paisey, Ken Burrows and Fred Santos, all from the Macclesfield and Stockport areas.
Kevin said: “It’s exciting to be involved in such a large scale project with such historical significance. The sense of adventure is something we all love, and we’re looking forward to working with a great team, and building our experience as BSAC divers.”
The North-West divers are being joined by follow BSAC members from clubs in Tyneside, Swindon, Dundee, and Richmond.
“We are so grateful to Mary Stopes-Roe for her backing it means a lot to have her blessing for the project.”
The Highball project came about after Mark qualified as a BSAC First Class Diver last year and started looking around for a worthwhile project to use his skills.
He was put in touch buy a mutual friend with Dr Iain Murray, author of Bouncing-Bomb Man: the science of Sir Barnes Wallis and a trustee of the Barnes Wallis Foundation of which Mary Stopes-Roe is also a trustee.
Dr Murray, a lecturer at the University of Dundee, has spent the last decade trying to find a way of raising the bombs from the bottom of the loch, which lies off the Firth of Clyde about 30 miles west of Glasgow.
His prayers have finally been answered now the BSAC team led by Mark have secured the necessary funding and lifting license to make the project a reality.
Dr Murray, who is also author of the Dam Busters Manual, said: “I’ve personally been interested in the work of Barnes Wallis for a long time. I occasionally visited the Imperial College London and had a rummage through his papers.
“I found lots of interesting stuff. I thought to myself when I have time there is a book in this.
“Then I heard in 2007 there was going to be a remake of The Dam Busters film. I thought this was the perfect time to do the book so stepped up my research at that time.
“I got a little bit of funding in 2010 to engage a diver and when a local fisherman heard about it he rang me and said they are definitely there, as now and then they fish them out of the net. He said they tow them to a deep bit and throw them back in!”
He said: “Since then I’ve been tentatively trying to get people interested in it, but not with very much success.
“Then Mark contacted me out of the blue last year. He came to Dundee to see me and has now put the whole thing together.
“The big thing driving the project is the fact there is not a Highball in a museum.
“I want one to go to Brooklands because they were very helpful with my research and it would mean they have a full set of Wallis’s bombs.
“Mark suggested the Mosquito Museum as the other as they have the aircraft which dropped his bombs.”
Barnes Wallis produced various prototype bouncing bombs, the dams bomb or Upkeep, the anti-ship bomb the Highball, the Grand Slam which was a 22,000lb earthquake bomb, the Tallboy which was a 12,000lb earthquake bomb, and a 4,000lb earthquake bomb purely for aerodynamic testing.
The Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey, has every one of these on display except a Highball. Several Upkeeps are on display, as are Tallboys and Grand Slams at other UK museums
Dr Murray added: “I’m hoping to be there when they do the recovery. I was beginning to lose hope that it would ever happen but now we have the team to do the job we should get them lifted this year”
“There are some that are bashed from hitting the target ship too fast, but some are in perfect condition. It’s a really exciting project.”
Press Coverage so far
That’s Manchester TV
BBC Radio Manchester – Mark Paisey BBC breakfast show interview with Andy Crane aired just before 9am on Saturday June 17. The item lasts almost five minutes from 2 hours 52 mins in to the programme, until 2.57.40. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0552xj8#play
BBC Radio Manchester also featured Phil Grigg’s underwater video with a post about the project, on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/bbcmanchester/
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