By Pierre Kosmidis
Photos by Karl Kjarsgaard, used by permission
An iconic WW2 aircraft is gearing up for take off from the seafloor, 75 years since it was laid to rest in the frigid seas of the Baltic Sea.
Karl Kjarsgaard from Canada is among the elite in WW2 bomber aircraft salvage operations and has played an instrumental role in bringing back to the spotlight several iconic WW2 aircraft. His current project is related to a Halifax, which was lost back in 1943.
Handley Page Halifax heavy bomber HR871 was assigned new in 1943 to the elite RCAF 405 “Pathfinder” Squadron whose job was marking the Nazi targets in Germany for the main force bombers of RAF Bomber Command.
After being struck by lightning, Halifax HR871 was badly damaged, losing two engines and having only marginal flight controls, on the Hamburg raid of Aug. 3, 1943.
With little hope of returning to England, the crew, led by pilot Flt. Sgt. John Phillips, diverted to neutral Sweden. All the crew of seven bailed out successfully just inland along the south coast of Sweden. John Alwyn Phillips, the pilot, is living in the UK and is very keen on the recovery project underway.
The bomber continued flying until it crashed into the Baltic Sea, 15 kilometres off the Swedish coast and sank into 50 feet (20 metres) of brackish (slightly salty) water.
Since that time, it has been inundated and covered by sand but three engines and small portions of the aircraft were visible.
After months of negotiations, Halifax 57 Rescue and Havsresan received official Swedish government permission to start the salvage of this RCAF Halifax bomber. The diving teams and a sonar vessel did intensive reconnaissance of the Halifax HR871 site in May, 2015.
SCSC was started by Kjell Andersson, he is their YODA of diving in SCSC and is kinda like a “Jacques Cousteau of Sweden”, a cool guy still diving but allowing his JEDI to do the projects! “, Karl Kjarsgaard says to www.ww2wrecks.com, adding:
“Phase 1” of the recovery is where we had to locate all the air frame within our grid. We have found the center-section, heart of the Halifax, because it is quite large and then we worked outwards and have begun to uncover the other sections which appear to be covered by up to a foot (20 cm.) of loose sand. Karl Kjarsgaard explains to www.ww2wrecks.com
“Phase 2” is now underway. Machine guns and engines have been salvaged off the seafloor and taken to a warehouse in Sweden.”
Canada used the Halifax 70% of the time in their combat in WW2 and this RCAF Halifax HR871 is the ultimate symbol of the honour and excellence of the Canadian Bomber Crews.
Canada lost over 10,500 bomber crew in WW2 and over half of them were lost in the Halifax bomber.
www.ww2wrecks.com has reached out to Karl Kjarsgaard, Retired Air Canada captain and Bomber Command Museum of Canada Director, to find out more on the salvage operations, the untold stories of the RCAF Bomber Crews, with only 25% of them having completed their 30 combat missions tour.
75% of these men did not finish their tours and were either Killed in Action or taken Prisoners of War, a colossal toll paid for Liberty and the ideals of the free world against the vile Nazi regime.
Where are you currently with the project? What are the immediate steps you will be taking?
We are ready to use the underwater vacuum cleaner system we have named “SUE” = “Sand – Removal Underwater Equipment”.
We have a brand new diesel water pump in the dive boat named “JACKIE” which will power SUE, and then we will be moving tons of sand to uncover the Halifax.
Karl Kjarsgaard standing on the center wing sections awaiting shipment to Canada after recovery from the Malta scrapyard
Then we will mark and stockpile all the Halifax sections and then lift them with the salvage vessel “Bjorn”. Once lifted out the sections will be transported by Bjorn to the Port of Trelleborg, Sweden where we have been given a FREE warehouse, all types of lifting machines, and fresh water swimming pools to conserve-preserve all we recover from the site of the Halifax.
Never let an artifact from saltwater get dry until all the salts are washed away!
There is an international team behind this project and support has been overwhelming from all sides of the world, regarding the financial contributions pouring in. How does this make you feel?
The donations which have come in have been a majority from Canada with some from the USA, and a about 5% from the UK. Many people from the UK have, in principle, endorsed our recovery as worthy but have not given donations so a bit of a disappointment seeing as how this story has been so widespread on the media and Facebook including the UK.
Overall, I am very pleased with the support and this is a work in progress. More recovery progress will beget more donations and so the onus is on us is to perform and recover as much as we can this summer season.
The emotional and operational support from the Swedes and Danes and my fellow Canadians has been very heart warming.
How important is it to salvage,
preserve, restore and make airworthy again such an iconic
To have a better future all nations must hold on to, evaluate, and cherish their past. The sacrifices of our fathers and grandfathers and families must always be remembered.
There is no finer example for Canada and the world of those who have gone before us and given their all than the Bomber Boys of Bomber Command and the RCAF in that command. ( only 25% of bomber crews finished their 30 combat missions – 75% did NOT.
Canada used the Halifax 70% of the time in their combat in WW2 and this RCAF Halifax HR871 is the ultimate symbol of the honour and excellence of our Bomber Boys. Canada lost over 10,500 bomber crew in WW2 and over half of them were lost in the Halifax bomber!
You are contributing to aviation archaeology, not just as an expert, but also as an active leader of the salvage operation. How will the whole operation be documented for the sake of archaeology per se
and the future generations as well?
“Well, we have the Fundrazr website to give immediate information to our supporters and the world but we are also documenting our recovery in Sweden with a film crew as directed by Jim Blondeau, one of the Directors of Halifax 57 Rescue who has a film studio in Ottawa.
All the video shot in the past 2 years and into the future will be saved and worked up into a documentary of our adventures to save this Halifax and our history.
You have gained extensive experience in salvaging other aircraft too. What is the key lesson learned and what has been the most memorable moment for you until now?
“The salvages are the direct connection to the aircraft and the history of WW2. A person must do lots of work BEFORE a salvage and prepare for the salvage with the right tools for the right job.
There will be good days of progress and bad days but one must be determined and it is all a journey and adventure.
Also, it is not always the destination of that journey that is the most important.
The adventures you have with your team will be THE most important part of that journey.
You will always remember who was on your team as the years go by.
My most memorable moment was doing a search and recover operation to find a Canadian Halifax bomber in a swamp in Belgium in 1997 with 3 missing-in-action airmen from Canada still inside.
We dug down 6 meters and we found the 3 missing guys.
One of them was air-gunner J. Summerhayes still sitting in his gun turret after 53 years.
After our team got Jack out I went to a quiet spot in the swamp and phoned Jack’s son, Doug Summerhayes in Stoney Creek, Ontario.
Doug was only 1 year old when his Dad went missing and never knew his father. So Doug answered the phone and I said to him,
“Doug, we have just found your Dad.”
An emotional and memorable moment in all our lives!”
If you could give some advice to any potential salvagers out there, what would that be?
My advice would be to research-research-research before you do a dive or survey to find an aircraft.
1 Dollar spent in research and preparation is better than spending 10 Dollars out on the water and coming up empty handed.
Then get the correct tools for the job, even if it is expensive or difficult, before you go out to find your treasure.
Karl with the Ron Hall prop of Halifax NR203 in the UK just after saving the inner parts from the prop for the Halifax rebuild.
Ron Hall, owner of this Halifax NR203 bomber engine with prop in Yorkshire, UK. He donated the inner machined parts to Halifax 57 Rescue as this prop is so rare. The outer prop is still intact for display, after the H57RC salvage, so he was happy.
Halifax – Lancaster original wartime H2S radar dome found by Karl in a farmer’s garden near Edmonton, Alberta – used for growing tomatoes, now stored in the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta near Calgary
Halifax Sweden Project – Basic diagram showing “SUE” the vacuum system being powered by “JACKIE” which would be the heart of the pumping system, on the barge on the surface.
Karl Kjarsgaard says:
“We have been doing our homework on other WW2 aircraft underwater in Sweden – Denmark waters (many bombers went down while dropping sea mines in these waters from 1942-1945) and we know of at least 7 other Halifaxes and Lancasters in brackish water within 100 kms. of Halifax HR871! So the adventures will continue.
I have just received word from Jan Christensen that SCSC will dive on Halifax HR871 either on July 20 or 21, 2018 with Plan B of diving of the Halifax on July 27, 2018. We really want to give SUE a initial workout to get it fully operational and start digging around the Halifax.”