Fairey Battle Mk 1
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 were 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 MAPSL, the museum asked them to undertake a detailed restoration of this unique light bomber.
Upon its arrival at Rochester in 2006, close examination revealed the main undercarriage was severely corroded. The main oleo legs were stripped down and restored and the wing roots also required strengthening. Corrosion was also rife in the tail section and wings, requiring extensive work to refurbish or replace many parts together and other preservative work being taken to prevent further deterioration.
Another major problem was the glazing for the long cockpit section. The cockpit interior, including the crew seats and instrument panel, were removed, refurbished and refitted.
The Rolls Royce Merlin III was removed, cleaned, repaired and refitted. Two of the three propeller blades were badly bent and have been straightened by a specialist sub contractor. The engine bearers were returned to RAF Cosford for structural assessment and refurbishment before being returned and fitted to the airframe. The completed aircraft was sprayed to represent L5343 of 98 Squadron during 1939/40.
The aircraft was returned to the RAF Museum at Hendon 2008 where it took its rightful place in the Bomber Command Hall.