Typhoon Hunt Part 2 – The Discovery

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You often hear that a follow-up film is never as good as the first one. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to Ex Typhoon Hunt.  Divers from the RAF High Wycombe and RAF Halton sub-aqua clubs went back to the South Coast to carry on surveying an area of seabed just off Eastbourne, in a further attempt to find any clues as to a downed WWII aircraft.

The first visit in March this year had proved less than fruitful, as the team dealt with the cold, the extremely low underwater visibility and the currents.  The visit in September was to present a much more exciting outcome.
The original interest was sparked when a fisherman found that his line had snagged on an object on the seabed, which was identified by the RAF Museum as part of a Sabre IV engine, possibly from a WWII Hawker Typhoon aircraft.  The RAF Sub-Aqua Association (RAFSAA) had been asked to assist in identifying any other wreckage at the location of the find and a team had gone down under the auspices of the RAF Adventurous Trg Scheme and with permission from the various relevant authorities, only to discover next to nothing.

Using the same boat as the March trip, Mike the skipper of the MV ‘Sussex’ had kept all of his records from that trip.  This time, it was decided to put some divers on the original site, but also to put other divers on what appeared from the echo sounder to be another sea bed anomaly. Recognising that the current could suddenly run, in spite of diving on slack water on a neap tide, the teams went in with two plans in mind.  While the water was still, they would try to run ever-expanding circular searches, until the current became too difficult.  At that point they would form a line abreast and float with the current.  Both techniques are regularly used by divers when searching for underwater objects.
On the first day the sea was pretty calm following a long period of good weather, and the water was much warmer than in March, at about 14oC. Working as buddy teams the divers prepared their equipment and entered the water.  After only a short period a marker buoy appeared on the surface above the first divers; these are carried by divers and can be launched from underwater to allow the surface cover to track divers, or to mark something significant. This was followed shortly afterwards by what we discovered later to be a lifting bag; unfortunately the bag was carrying something just too heavy to float high enough in the water to be recovered and was lost with its bounty.  Meanwhile a second marker buoy had appeared showing the location of the 2nd set of divers who could be seen moving with the current as it picked up. Having expected little from the searches, the grin on the first pair of divers’ faces heralded a very different story, but that had to wait until the other divers had been recovered safely.

Just a couple of metres from the original mark a variety of artefacts had been found, including a fully intact 4-blade propeller, with, what appeared to be, another piece of engine.   The whole lot was covered in fishing nets which gave the impression that it had been snagged at some point and the nets cut.

Further dives identified the diameter of the propeller at about 16 feet (nearly 5 metres from tip to tip), as the nets were cut back to allow better access.  Plans to lift the propeller were formulated but the propeller remains on the seabed until a time when a fully formulated plan, involving appropriate equipment, can be drawn up.  Unfortunately there is still very little known about the wreckage.  There were no obvious serial numbers or other marks to compare with records, indeed the Hawker Typhoon only had a 3-blade propeller, while its sister aircraft, the Hawker Tempest, did have the same Sabre IV engine and a 4-blade propeller, but only with a 14 foot diameter.

This time spirits were high, albeit tinged with disappointment at not being able to make a positive identification.  Some photographs had been taken but the underwater visibility had still been very low, forcing only close-ups to be taken, and from which it was not possible to identify any of the artefacts.  Of course this all opens the door for more dives on the site, although it appears that the RAF Museum may no longer be interested in the finds.  English Heritage, however, have expressed significant interest and have provided guidance on how to record the finds and map the site.
Further to the great support from the first trip in March, those involved had forged an excellent relationship with 56 Signals (V) Sqn at the TA Centre in Eastbourne, who very graciously provided some floor space for the weekend.  Their can-do attitude proved that jointery really does work.

With such an exciting end to this trip, various plans are being considered, not least to revisit the site and conduct more dives looking closely at the artefacts in situ to see whether there are any identifying marks.  There is a hope that the Royal Navy will help with side scan sonar passes to map the site and see whether there are any other significant pieces.  This will help the team to target their underwater work more precisely.

Now that you’ve heard of our exploits, if you’re interested in having a go, and learning to dive or are already a diver, the Station Sub-Aqua club is a great place to meet like-minded people.  The club meets every Wednesday evening at RAF Halton and MT is arranged for the journey.  For more info call Flt Lt John Raine on ext 6345 or SAC Kelly Whitehouse on ext 3888.