Fairey Battle Mk1 L5343 is one of over a thousand Battles built by Austin Motors at Longbridge. Issued to 98 Squadron then stationed at Gatwick, in July 1938 it went to Iceland when the squadron transferred to 15 Group of Coastal Command. Flying directly from Wick to Kaldadarnes in Iceland, L5343 was flown by the CO, Wg Cdr G R Ashton AFC together with his observer, Sgt R G Walder and the wireless operator/airgunner Sgt W A J Jessop.
The Battles were intended for coastal patrol duties and for bombing the German invasion fleet should Iceland be attacked. On Friday 13 September 1940, FO 'Willy' Wilcox, a Canadian, was detailed to fly Lt Col H Davies to inspect an army detachment based at an airstrip then under construction. Though weather conditions were unfavourable, L5343 took off and climbed to 10,000ft in the hope of finding clear sky. With conditions becoming worse it was decided to return to Kaldadarnes. The engine then failed (an oil seal had broken causing the main bearing to seize) and FO Wilcox was forced to make an emergency landing in an area covered with boulders up to three feet high. Bouncing several times, the undercarriage collapsed and the aircraft suffered a crushed starboard wingtip together with crumpling of the forward fuselage lower surfaces. FO Wilcox, suffering a twisted ankle, and Lt Col Davies wee forced to walk for two days before encountering a rescue party.
Over the 17/18 September an RAF team visited the crash site and removed all the useful equipment such as guns, ammunition, radio and instruments. The rest was deemed not worthy of recovery and was burnt to prevent it falling into German hands. Most of the aircraft was destroyed with only the tail section and wings left partly intact. These remained where they lay for the remainder of the war and into peacetime until in 1971, a former member of 98 Squadron contacted the RAF Museum with details of the crashed aircraft. One year later an expedition was mounted from RAF Leeming to recover what was left amongst the boulders. At the same time the Merlin engine was traced to a local garage owner who reluctantly agreed to part with it in return for £10.00! The parts were flown back to the UK by RAF Belfast and taken to Leeming where restoration of L5343 began.In 1976 the remains were removed for storage at Henlow and in 1983 taken to RAF St Athan where further restoration of the aircraft began. The ensuing years saw the remains mated by a small RAF team with various other Battle parts in order to build one complete aircraft. (Many parts came from the Fairey Battle that was once part of the Strathallan Aircraft Museum in Scotland. This collection was auctioned off in 1977). Further parts were engineered by reference to the original specifications. All of this combined to rebuild L5343 at least externally. The restored airframe was delivered to the RAF Museum at Hendon and installed in the main aircraft hall. It was unveiled on 19 May 1990 by its former pilot, 'Willy' Wilcox. Upon completion of the Bomber Command Hall in 1993, L5343 was moved to its new position. However deep corrosion particularly in the engine bearers, tail section and main undercarriage became evident. In 2006, following assessment by members of Medway Aircraft Preservation Society, the museum asked them to undertake a detailed restoration of this unique light bomber.
Upon its arrival at Rochester, close examination revealed the main undercarriage was indeed severely corroded. The main oleo legs are at present stripped down and undergoing renovation with the strengthening of the wing roots also being attended too. The other main areas of corrosion were in the tail section and wings. Both are at present undergoing extensive work to refurbish or replace many parts together with preservative action being taken to prevent further deterioration. The fin section is already finished and awaits final fitting to the fuselage. The cockpit section (pilots seat, instrument panel etc) has been removed and is due to be refurbished over the coming weeks whilst the long cockpit glazing has been removed and will be replaced by early 2008. The Rolls Royce Merlin III is nearly ready for final fit after cleaning and repair whilst the propeller blades have been straightened by a specialist sub contractor as two of the three werebadly bent. The engine bearers are due back from RAF Cosford at any time and when returned and fitted to the airframe, the Merlin can be refitted to the fuselage. The entire airframe will then be sprayed to represent L5343 of 98 Squadron during 1939/40. Final assembly will take place during middle 2008 and because the aircraft is so large, the wings will not be mated to the fuselage until the aircraft is back at Hendon where it will once again take its rightful place in the Bomber Command Hall. MAPS engineers are in the workshop on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday mornings and will be pleased to see anyone interested in the restoration. If visiting the workshops, please observe the lights at the entrance of the airfield as you will be crossing an active airfield.