DURING mine warfare exercises this week in the Bay of Taranto off southern Italy, HMS Ledbury found the wreck of an aircraft on the seabed, in 30 metres of water.
On closer inspection with the ship’s remote controlled submersibles and then her Mine Clearance Dive Team, the wreck was identified as a Second World War German Air Force Heinkel He111 medium bomber.
HMS Ledbury had been tasked to test her minehunting systems – her sonar, submersible vehicles, and Dive Team – in a quiet patch of water just off the Italian coast.
Other units from the NATO task group were nearby conducting similar drills.
The Mine Hunting sonar operators closed up in Ledbury’s Operations Room spotted the large shape of a contact on their sets and immediately began to investigate it.
It was obvious from the shape and size of the sonar return that it was no ordinary find.
Next, one of Ledbury’s two ‘Pap’ submersible vehicles was launched to beam images of the contact back to the Ship from its internal video camera.
The team in the Ops Room could make out the aircraft’s wings, its fuselage, and engines. Sonar Operator AB(MW) Gavin Twigden said: “It was exciting to find such a large and rare contact. I knew as soon as I saw the sonar return that it was not a normal mine-like object.”
Members of HMS Ledbury’s Mine Clearance Diving team went down to investigate the find. In the clear, calm waters, they could confirm the aircraft’s shape, and also made sure there was no explosive ordnance around it.
LS(D) Simon Kimberley said, “It was pretty exciting to be diving on the wreck of an aircraft, and in such excellent conditions. From the marine life on the wreckage, it had obviously been under water for decades, though we could still make out the wings, engines, and cockpit.”
From the shape and size of the wreckage, and from the evidence of how long it had been under water, it is very likely that it was the wreckage of a Luftwaffe Heinkel He 111.
Such aircraft were used in the Mediterranean theatre in the Second World War on bombing and anti-shipping roles by the Axis powers.
Details of the wreck have now been sent to the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office for inclusion on nautical charts.
Ledbury has now continued her minehunting exercises into Greek waters.