From the time Wellington N2980 was first discovered in Loch 1978 to the day when she was lifted on to dry land, 1985-7 the whole discovery, verification and salvage operation took over 9 years. The story of it’s lifting is well described in Robin Holmes book One of our Aircraft and is just summarised here. One of our Bombers is no longer missing is an excellent recount of story of the recovery.
Having located the Wellington laying at a depth of 70 meters, Robin Holmes began the process of further investigation, fundraising and project salvage.
1978-80 Royal Navy Diving Group had been using Loch Ness Wellington as one of their working up sites and in 1979 they confirmed the Wellington was indeed R for Robert.
1981 The Sea Pup thanks to UMEL and Oceanics Ltd, a new ROV, did a survey which revealed that the old warrior had been extensively vandalized.
Details of first salvage project were published in 1981 edition of Flypast. As a result, public donations financed the survey July 1981. Robin Holmes met up with Paul Harris, one of the original pilots of R for Robert, who flew on both Heligoland and Wilhelmshaven raids, and promised him he would work to re-unit the two, pilot and plane.
Loch Ness Wellington Association was formed in 1984. Paul Harris and Richard Kellett joined Executrive committee, Heriot Watt University acted as accountant.
With a need to raise £50,000, the National Heritage Memorial Fund offered £20,000
Various organisations became involved:
K.D Marine (expressed interest in project),
Norman Boorer, chairman of VAFA (Spud) was invited to design suitable lifting frame.
At Brooklands, Morag Barton, agreed for Brooklands to take R for Robert once salvaged. British Aerospace contributed by printing a brochure The Story of Another Loch Ness Monster.
The salvage was spearheaded by Oceaneering International Services in Aberdeen, who said yes with their ADS system. The salvage was scheduled for the 9th September 1985 with an anticipated 5 days work.
Drumsmittal Primary school led by Mr Benzie were invited to be involved, wrote a play and and came to the Quay to see the raise.
Of course, it was not straightforward, there were many failures, false starts, bad weather, and 5 days became 10 days.
However on September 17th – the wimpy broke free from the suction of the mud and was heading for the surface. Then the lifting frame smashed and, broken up, rose to surface. They were out of time and money. Oceaneering came to rescue. More finance was found to cover costs.
On 21st September 1985 she rose.
SALVAGE OF THE GUN TURRET
When the Wellington was recovered from Loch Ness the front gun turret fell off, and lay in 70 meters of water. Parts of the Wellington still lay on the bottom of Loch Ness. A personal approach was made to the Royal Navy in Portsmouth to help with the salvage but the request fell on deaf ears. However, a letter to George Younger (Secretary of State for Defense at the time) achieved a more positive response, and the Fleet Diving Group were instructed to include the turret recovery in one of their working up exercises.
‘It’s Your Round’
The Loch Ness Wellington Association (LNWA) raised funds with a ‘It’s Your Round’ appeal . They offered a gamble by selling the as yet unsalvaged ammunition (suitably deactivated) from the front gun turret as souvenirs. The contributors agreed that if no recovery was effected, their money would not be refunded. Fly Past Magazine carried the appeal and sufficient funds were raised with a single round offered at £4.
On board the Ilchester, with technical backup provided by UDI (scanning sonar) and Ametek Offshore Ltd (small Phantom ROV), the Royal Navy hauled the gun turret up to the surface. Surface divers inspecting the turret before it was lifted out of the water found the bracket to which the lifting rope was attached was held by a single quarter inch bolt, so the turret was carefully lowered into a net under water and secured. How fortunate they were: the net caught the belts of ammunition as they cascaded from the disintegrating ammo boxes in the turret as it was swung on board.
While there, the two navy divers reported to see the nose section of the Wellington embedded deep in the silt but there was no strong point to which they could attach a line.
In 1987 the RAF Sub Aqua club from Kinloss carried out a detailed search of the area where the Wellington had been lifted out of the loch. They were looking for parts of the aircraft that had been dislodged when it grounded on the shallows at the head of the loch. This search (January 1988) recovered a large amount of material including the pilots leather seat, co-pilots control column, throttle box, trim controls, rudder pedals, pressure gauge, flare chute and many other small pieces off the aircraft.
Two documentary photographs from Graham Fairhurst, part of RAF Sub Aqua Club from Kinloss, of the dive done on 30th December 1987 are below. He describes the dive: “we went down to 13 metres for 40 minutes when we found the throttle, trim wheel, part of the canopy. We carried out a total of 6 dives over the period 30th Dec-17th Jan, all for a similar time and depth. We ended up using a rope and conducting a square search. The divers shows L-R Paul Avent, Dave Watson, Nick Hall, Graham Fairhurst, Marie Pittock.”
All the recovered items were transported to Brooklands Museum, along with all the rounds of deactivated ammunition not sold to raise funds for the front turret recovery.
(Background information from the papers of Richard Kellett)
Paul Harris, in a wheel chair and shortly before he died, visited Brooklands museum and was finally re-united with his old Wimpy.
One year later, Richard Kellett, from Bexhill, was conducted around the remains of the aircraft.
Richard Kellett in front of a model ?? 1989? Brooklands?
Left to Right: Robin Holmes (Heriot Watt University) Richard Kellett (RAF Retired) ??, Ken Crichton (Heriot Watt University) 1989? Brooklands?