Macclesfield divers hope to raise Dam Busters bombs

The East Cheshire Sub-Aqua Club team
The East Cheshire Sub-Aqua Club team

Scuba divers from Macclesfield are preparing for a daring underwater mission to recover two historic bouncing bombs similar to those featured in the World War II film The Dam Busters.

The project by a team of divers from the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) to raise the Highballs from the bottom of a Scottish loch is being backed by Mary Stopes-Roe – the daughter of inventor Sir Barnes Wallis.

There are currently no Highballs on display to the public and the aim is to place two of the giant spherical bombs in British museums, in time for the 75thanniversary of the Dambuster raid in 2018.

The Highballs were the naval or anti-ship version of the cylindrical Upkeep bouncing bombs used by the Royal Air Force in the actual Dam Busters raid in May 1943, both having been designed by Sir Barnes Wallis to bounce on water.

However, it is archive footage of the Highballs being tested at Loch Striven which features in the 1955 film The Dam Busters as footage of the actual dams bomb used by the RAF was still top secret.

More than 200 of the bombs, codenamed Highball by the military, were tested at Loch Striven.

They were intended to be used on enemy ships but never became operational and they lie scattered on the floor of the loch to this day.

Now a team of eleven British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) scuba divers from all over the UK, including Macclesfield, Birmingham, Tyneside, Swindon and Newport-on-Tay, are preparing to raise two of the bombs this July.

75th anniversary of the Dam Busters

The aim is to put two Highballs on display at the Brooklands Museum in Surrey and the de Havilland Aircraft Museum, formerly known as the Mosquito Museum, in Hertfordshire, in time for the 75th anniversary of the Dam Busters raid next year.

Leading the team is diver Mark Paisey, from Macclesfield, who is also BSAC’s north west regional coach and a member of Macclesfield based East Cheshire Sub-Aqua Club.

Mark said: “We like diving with a purpose. This is an expedition where we’re bringing together people from all over the UK and it’s nice to have a result to it at the end. The historical element is a bonus.

“We intend to map the two areas where the Highballs lie using a side scan sonar to see exactly how many there are.

“We need a fair degree of experience for the dive. One of the areas where the bombs are is 35m deep and the other is 55m.

“It will be great when one of the Highballs is sitting in the museum.”

Sir Barnes Wallis’ daughter Mary Stopes-Roe

Sir Barnes Wallis’ daughter Mary Stopes-Roe

The project has received the blessing of Sir Barnes Wallis’ daughter Mary Stopes-Roe, 89.

She said: “I think it’s absolutely splendid. I’m very happy to lend my support to this project and wish the team the best of luck with the dive.

“It’s a fantastic project and it would be a fitting tribute to my father to have the Highballs in a museum.”

The diving team led by Mark includes Kevin Phillips, who is diving officer at Macclesfield-based East Cheshire Sub-Aqua Club, together with fellow members Loz Broome, Henry Paisey, Ken Burrows and Fred Santos.

A dive took place in July 2010 but at that stage Dr Murray had no means in which to raise the bombs, which were never made operational and so do not contain explosives.

Barnes Wallis produced various prototype bouncing bombs, the dams bomb or Upkeep, the anti-ship bomb the Highball, the Grand Slam which was a 22,000lb earthquake bomb, the Tallboy which was a 12,000lb earthquake bomb, and a 4,000lb earthquake bomb purely for aerodynamic testing.



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