WWII plane discovery in Lower Lough Erne

Catalina landing on Lough Erne during WWII (photograph source: www.seawings.co.uk)
Catalina landing on Lough Erne during WWII (photograph source: www.seawings.co.uk)
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A sonar survey of Lough Erne has revealed a World War Two seaplane which could in turn be a potential war grave.

Archeologists are proceeding with care after confirming that a American Catalina aircraft is lying at a depth of around 45 metres in Lower Lough Erne.

The Lough Erne Survey Team (from top left) Robert Navan (Skipper of Aquarius & CSIG, IWAI), Les Saunders (CSIG, IWAI), Mike Kingston (CSIG, IWAI) (from bottom left) Tim Mackie (DAERA), Ronnie Snijder (DAERA), Rory McNeary (Marine Archaeologist, DAERA).

The Lough Erne Survey Team (from top left) Robert Navan (Skipper of Aquarius & CSIG, IWAI), Les Saunders (CSIG, IWAI), Mike Kingston (CSIG, IWAI) (from bottom left) Tim Mackie (DAERA), Ronnie Snijder (DAERA), Rory McNeary (Marine Archaeologist, DAERA).

Between 1941 and 1945 RAF Castle Archdale in Co Fermanagh played an important role as a flying boat base which provided air-cover for Atlantic convoys.

The site was initially surveyed by members of the Charts Special Interest Group (CSIG) in 2018 during which they reported an anomaly that they thought to be a WWII aircraft, probably a Catalina.

Following discussions with DAERA’s maritime archaeologist Rory McNeary, it was decided to undertake a sonar survey to clarify the nature of the anomaly.

Using their specialist survey expertise, members of The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ (DAERA) Marine and Fisheries Division recently collaborated with archaeologists from The Department for Communities’ (DfC) Historic Environment Division and members of Inland Waterways Association of Ireland’s Charts Special Interest Group (CSIG) to locate the plane.

High-resolution side-scan sonar image of a Consolidated PBY Catalina at a depth of c. 45m. Note the gun blisters where a waist gunner would have been stationed. Image courtesy of DAERA, Marine and Fisheries Division.

High-resolution side-scan sonar image of a Consolidated PBY Catalina at a depth of c. 45m. Note the gun blisters where a waist gunner would have been stationed. Image courtesy of DAERA, Marine and Fisheries Division.

Mr McNeary said: “We are grateful to Robert Navan and Mike Kingston of CSIG for bringing the remains of this Catalina to light.

“Had the site not been reported a unique underwater heritage asset would have been overlooked.

“Studying the seaplane will be of immense interest to professional and amateur historians alike.”

A survey of the area on April 8 this year by Marine and Fisheries Division staff using a side scan sonar confirmed the identification of the Catalina aircraft.

High-resolution side-scan sonar image of a Consolidated PBY Catalina. Note the wing section lying at a distance from the main body of the aircraft. Image courtesy of DAERA, Marine and Fisheries Division.

High-resolution side-scan sonar image of a Consolidated PBY Catalina. Note the wing section lying at a distance from the main body of the aircraft. Image courtesy of DAERA, Marine and Fisheries Division.

Rather than a scuttled plane the survey team believe this site may be a crash site and a potential war grave.

For this reason the plane is automatically protected under the Protection of Military Remains Act (PMRA) 1986. Under this act it is an offence to tamper with, damage, move, or unearth any remains without a licence.

Mr McNeary said: “Given that there is still the possibility of human remains and unexploded ordnance being found at the site we would ask people to fully recognise its protected status.

“I have no doubt that there are more exciting underwater archaeological discoveries to be made in Lough Erne.”