Vintage Swordfish flies in run-up to Battle of the Atlantic commemorations

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Vintage Swordfish flies in run-up to Battle of the Atlantic commemorations
17 July 2012

One of the Navy’s two vintage Swordfish took to the skies of Somerset as part of preparations for 70th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of the Atlantic.

A BBC film crew joined the magnificent biplane to record footage for a documentary on the pivotal battle, whose victory will be marked by a weekend of major events in Liverpool next spring.

IS THERE ever a more stirring sight to raise the hairs on a naval aviator’s back?

Not too high above the sodden – and in many cases flooded – pastures and fields of Somerset, this is Swordfish LS326, arguably the jewel of the vintage aircraft of the Royal Navy Historic Flight.

This beautiful photograph – by LA(Phot) Abbie Herron of the Yeovilton photographic section – was part of a series taken in the run-up to next year’s major Battle of the Atlantic commemorations.

All three Services are focusing on one key event to mark as part of 70th anniversary commemorations of World War 2. The RAF marked the Battle of Britain back in 2010; later this year the Army will be paying tribute to Monty and his Eighth Army at Alamein.

And for the RN, the focus is on the Battle of the Atlantic – securing the nation’s seaborne lifelines and defeating the U-boats.

That battle – described by Churchill as “the dominating factor all through the war” – reached its climax in the spring of 1943.

In May 1943, the Allied powers sank 43 German submarines – 34 of them in the Atlantic – which wiped out a quarter of the enemy’s front-line strength.

A Swordfish prepares to touch down on a carrier's flight deck. Historic pictures courtesy of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton

On May 24, the German Navy’s commander Karl Dönitz recalled his boats. He sent them back to sea later in the year and submarines continued to attack Britain’s supply lines until May 1945, but never again did they pose the threat that they had earlier in the war.

Liverpool – home in the war to Western Approaches from where the struggle against the U-boat was directed – will be the focal point of 70th anniversary commemorations over the weekend of May 24-27 2013, including a service of thanksgiving.

And as part of those events, the BBC is already gathering material for a documentary on the battle – not least footage of a Swordfish in flight, hence this particular run out for the venerable biplane.

LS326 is a veteran of the titanic Atlantic struggle. Built in 1943 she served with 836 Naval Air Squadron, flying off the ‘merchant aircraft carrier’ Rapana – a former oil tanker converted into a makeshift carrier protecting convoys on the North Atlantic run.

Armourers load a Swordfish with a torpedo on the deck of an unidentified Royal Navy aircraft carrier – possibly HMS Illustrious

After serving in a training role, this Swordfish became a display aircraft and also appeared in the film Sink the Bismarck!

She’s been part of the Historic Flight for more than half a century and is currently painted in her Battle of the Atlantic livery.

LS326 has already appeared at air shows at Duxford and Yeovilton, and took part in a Falklands 30th anniversary flypast honouring fallen Fleet Air Arm crews – although her starring role in the Diamond Jubilee flypast down the Thames was thwarted (as it was for other Naval aircraft) by the British summer, which was particularly frustrating after Herculean efforts to maintain her.

The Swordfish is due to appear at Rhyl Air Show this weekend as well as displays at Eastbourne and Bournemouth later in the summer; full details can be found at the Historic Flight’s website:www.royalnavyhistoricflight.org.uk/display/

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