In July 2017 East Cheshire Sub Aqua Club led the project to recover two highball bombs from Loch Striven.
Scuba divers from East Cheshire Sub-Aqua Club drew together divers from other BSAC branches up and down the country and led a mission to raise two WW2 Highball Bouncing Bombs from a Scottish Loch in time for the 75th anniversary of the historic dambusters raid.
The project received a lot of press coverage both in print media and on the TV.
The Highball Bombs
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.
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. More than 200 of the code-named Highball bombs, 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.
There were no intact Highballs on display to the public anywhere in the world and our aim was to map, locate and raise two of these giant spherical bombs so they could go on display in British museums.
The first Highball that was recovered was donated to the deHavilland Museum near London. We then donated the second bomb to the Brooklands Museum. You can see the bomb being loaded onto their van at ECSAC’s clubhouse below and the handover taking place with our Chairman, Paul Tyers and our Diving Officer, Kevin Phillips, handing over the Bomb to Andy Lambert (Assistant Curator from the Brooklands Museum).
The deHavilland Museum have engaged the Mary Rose Trust to complete the restoration of their bomb so we hope to see it go on display in 2018 as part of the activities to remember the 75th Anniversary of Dambusters.
How the project came about
The Highball project was born after Mark Paisey qualified as a BSAC First Class Diver in 2016 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, Sir Barnes Wallis’ daughter, is also a trustee. The project received the blessing of Sir Barnes Wallis’ daughter Mary Stopes-Roe, who was approaching her 90th birthday at the time. She thought it was “absolutely splendid” and was very happy to lend her support to the project.
Dr Murray, a lecturer at the University of Dundee, had 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 had finally been answered when the BSAC team led by Mark secured the necessary funding and lifting license to make the project a reality.
A dive took place in July 2010 but at that stage Dr Murray had no means in which to raise the bombs, which were never made operational and so do not contain explosives.
Mark contacted Dr Murray and the project was set in motion
At the time, Mark was BSAC’s North West Regional Coach, a highly skilled BSAC First Class Diver and a member of our club. The team included our very own Kevin Phillips who was Diving Officer at the time together with fellow members Loz Broome, Henry Paisey, Ken Burrows and Fred Santos. We were joined by follow BSAC members from clubs in Tyneside, Swindon, Dundee, and Richmond.
From left to right: Mark, Loz, Kevin, Fred and Ken
I think if he were still alive he would be standing on the side telling them all what to do!”
In June 2020 during the Coronavirus lockdown, Kevin and Mark managed to take over BSAC’s specialist webinars to present the history and expedition of Project Highball. You can watch both of these presentations below.
Project Highball Part One: The History
Project Highball Part Two: The Expedition
The team created a dive trail that divers can follow and see the bombs for themselves in Loch Striven.
The video below is a 20 minute documentary created by Kevin Phillips who was our Diving Officer at the time
Project Highball: ECSAC Returns
Following the successful recovery of the Highballs, ECSAC wanted to go one step further. They wanted to try and create a 3D photogrammetry model of the dive site for museum goers to enjoy.
Photogrammetry is the science and technology of obtaining reliable information about physical objects and the environment through the process of recording, measuring and interpreting photographic images and patterns of electromagnetic radiant imagery and other phenomena.
The end result is a 3D image that accurately depicts the object itself.
We wanted to map the dive trail in the hopes of not only producing a 3D model of a bomb, but to look at future uses such as augmented reality for non-divers to enjoy the experience.
It is important to note that this is still an ongoing project for ECSAC who have so far been back to Loch Striven twice since the initial recovery to capture more data.
June 2018 - Trip Report by Vesta Charleshouse
We went, we saw(ish), we conquered!
Team Highball had an excellent weekend away at Largs with some fantastic team work. Having spent the journey north following road signs with ominous tales of yellow weather warnings, we were pleasantly greeted with the beautiful town of Largs and it’s fantastic sunset views, which then graced us for the whole weekend.
As things turned out the weather was super all weekend!
After a trip to the pub for some much needed thirst quenching and grub the team settled in for the night ready for the task ahead. As 7am came around we were up cooking breakfast and ready to go. Of course Kevin hadn’t arrived yet (as he was traveling down on the Saturday morning for a 10am launch) but we were eager!
With a successful launch down the RNLI ramp and into the water, we then crossed the inner seas from Largs to Loch Striven, 14Km across mirror still water.
Some porpoises came along to wish us luck! Now came an exercise in buddy building. After team Top Cat dropped the shot it was up to Kev and Steve Welton to descend into the depths of the Loch to locate and then set a distance line up from the shot too the side charge. We attempted to shot near to – but not on top of the Side-Charge as we have never been assured that it was not actually “Live”!
A few minutes passed and we thought the dark depths had got to Steve and Kev as their bubbles kept going round and round in circles. It wasn’t until they surfaced that we realised the visibility was so poor they had to set up a circular search pattern to locate the side charge. But it was a success and lines were now in so everyone could easily locate the start of the dive trail.
Next in went Alex and Michelle. Their original job was to dive the bombs for Alex to take the photographs for the photogrammetry portion of our mission. Alas, as visibility was so poor they had to settle for part of a side charge.
Dave Moss and Jon Green were up next. Tasked with running a distance line from the side charge to the anchor chain. Well not only did they manage to find the anchor chain, they even managed to run a line around two bombs and then sent a blob up for easy location. But there’s more, they then managed to travel the length of the chain north to the huge anchor and sent another blob up.. It only took 18 minutes of deco for Jon to come back up and Dave’s rebreather hadn’t failed him…yet. But this meant that we finally had a full dive trail!
Next in were Clive and Alison. They decided to drop down on the anchor and go along the chain to see if they could spot any more highballs. Alas, plenty of chain and also plenty of life but no bombs.
Mike, Vesta and Steve went in last again dropping on the anchor. Success came a little further up the chain when Mike located a highball! However at this point Vesta had great issues with her buoyancy and Steve had to hang onto a Leg to stop a return to the surface.
Back in the boat and a quick trip back across more mirror like water we dekitted, desmelled and it was back to the restaurant for more food and of course ale.
Day 2 was a huge success, mainly due to the breakfast briefing I suspect (pictured). Having already blobbed and marked up the key points we sent Alex and Michelle in first to start the photography of the highballs.
Next in were Clive and Alison followed by Mike and Vesta to take a leisurely dive around the side charge and bombs.
Then it was back to Jon, Dave, Kevin and Steve to retrieve all of our distance lines and blobs which was no short task!
A lovely trip over to Rothesay for fish and chips and then back to Largs for the final dekit.
All aboard and back to sunny Macclesfield. The final task comes down to Alex who will now compile the photos from the dives to see if we have managed to model the bombs.
Watch this space…hopefully it was mission accomplished, but if not, we can always go back!
Lots of fun had by all
July 2019 trip report - Vesta Charleshouse
Day 1 – After a long journey most of our intrepid explorers made it to Largs by 3pm. Cheshire Cat and Top Cat were put out to sleep in the marina and the gang headed down to the pub, gloating to Vesta who was still in work. At 10:30pm the gang was complete.
Day 2 – Cheshire Cat, manned by Mike, Jon Spencer and Simon set off for Loch Striven to put a shot in at the side charge while the rest of the gang went to find the Lady Margaret, a 18th century wreck. Sufficed to say, no one found the wreck as it was wooden, but there was an abundance of life including some quiet antsy crabs! After lunch we all headed off to Loch Striven to dive Mike’s plan.
Jon Green and Spencer went in first, down the shot to locate the side charge and then their mission was to find the chain, hopefully a bomb along the way, and send off a red blob. This was a success! Cheshire Cat was to find the anchor and shot it but alas we missed and Vesta and Peter were sent down to try a circular search pattern to find the anchor. Unfortunately with limited air due to depth they had to abandon their search. Alex and Michelle were sent down to start their Photogrammetry, initial photo results look very promising (see below).
Simon and Dave went in next and they found the anchor and placed a shot onto it so that tomorrow we could find it again.
Jo, Helen, Mike and Alison enjoyed a dive down the side charge and along the chain which proves to be a good route for day 3!
We got back to the marina at 7pm which meant take away fish and chips followed by socialising at the house and a good kip!
The size of the links in the Anchor chain can be seen in this photo taken by Alex Tasker
A Highball covered in life by Alex Tasker
LDay 3. Lazy start to the day with ropes off at 1pm. Vesta was today’s dive manager. We had more Photogrammetry to do around the anchor and we attempted to lay the permanent line but unfortunately due to technical issues the permanent line didn’t happen. We did however manage some fish and chips over on the Isle of Bute.
Day 4. The final day. Alison was dive manager today – The plan was for Alex and Michelle to scale the anchor if that didn’t work then find another Highball. Jon and Spencer were going to try and put in the permanent line from the side charge to the chain around a bomb. Simon and Dave were going in to try some more Photogrammetry.
After this, Alison, Helen, Mike, Jo, Vesta and Peter got to dive the SS Wallachia. You can see more on the SS Wallachia in our diving with Wreckspeditions here
3d Photogrammetry models
There are now two Highball 3D models available online at the following links. The expedition approach and plans as well as the main outputs (and planned next steps) are included in the report here
Scan data from Project Highball
SideScan Data of the Highball Site – this is a very large ZIP file and contains a copy of all the sidescan data files collected during our expedition.
3D Bathymetric Data of the Highball Site – this is a large ZIP file containing the 3D Scene File of a large scale Bathymetric Scan.
If you would like to contact any of these companies you can find their details here.