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Work starts to bring WW II Halifax bomber from Swedish seabed to Alberta town

Work to bring what’s left of a WW II Halifax bomber back to Canada from the bottom of the Baltic Sea is due to start off the coast of Sweden in the coming weeks.

Canadian bomber has sat undisturbed after crashing on a mission more than 73 years ago

Karl Kjarsgaard says a restored Halifax bomber is a must for Nanton’s Bomber Command Museum of Canada, as it’s the bomber Canadians used the most. Even more than the Lancaster Bomber, which the museum already has on display. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Work to bring what's left of a Second World War Halifax bomber back to Canada from the bottom of the Baltic Sea is due to start off the coast of Sweden in the coming weeks.

It's part of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada's plan to rebuild the iconic aircraft in Nanton, Alta., as it continues to collect key pieces of different Halifax wrecks from around the world as part of its Halifax Recovery Project.

"On our memorial wall outside our museum there are 10,000 names of Canadian lads killed in bombers and over 6,000 were killed in the Halifax. So if you had a Lancaster bomber in your collection — which we do — what do you need sitting beside it, if you're a red-blooded Canadian?" said Karl Kjarsgaard, museum director and co-founder of the Halifax 57 Rescue, a group set up to bring bombers home to Canada from around their world.

Work to bring what's left of a Second World War Halifax bomber back to Canada from the bottom of the Baltic Sea is due to start off the coast of Sweden in the coming weeks. 0:37

"It's kind of like Johnny Cash, we're doing it one piece at a time. It's a big airplane with 103-foot wingspan and 75 feet long and I would say you're looking at six to seven years to build it once you get all the pieces together," said Kjarsgaard.

The Royal Canadian Air Force bomber lost two engines and suffered extensive damage to its flight controls during a raid on Hamburg, Germany on Aug. 3, 1943.

Its crew of seven were forced to bail out, leaving the plane to plunge into the Baltic Sea.

The actual crew of HR871 pictured with the plane that crashed into the sea off the coast of Sweden back in 1943. All seven ejected safely before the badly damaged airplane crashed in the water, where it’s laid untouched until now. (Submitted by Karl Kjarsgaard)

Kjarsgaard says they had to convince the Swedish government to give them the salvage rights to the airplane and organize a dive and recovery crew, as well as a sonar vessel to make detailed maps of the seabed and the wreck site. He's been working with the Swedish Coast and Sea Centre on the project along with a local university.

Three thousand photos were taken of the seabed to piece together the site ahead of the recovery, which will cost around $110,000. Work first started in 2015 and has been slow to proceed but Kjarsgaard says the salvage team is now finally ready to bring the Halifax to the surface.

Karsgaard says the Halifax bomber is often overlooked by the more well-known Lancaster Bomber, even though the Halifax was used much more by Canadian airmen during WW II. (Submitted by Karl Kjarsgaard)

"Last summer was not good for recovery because of bad weather but I've just come back from Sweden a few weeks ago where we met with our divers and they're ready to go as soon as we can now," said Kjarsgaard, who added some parts,including two Merlin engines, have already been raised.

Giant underwater vacuum cleaners and fans will remove the sand around the wreck and divers will then dig the remains of the aircraft out, which will be brought back to shore and eventually flown back to Nanton to the Bomber Command Museum.

"They're all set to go, we've got all the tools and a brand new salvage boat with hydraulic cranes," said Kjarsgaard.

Kjarsgaard formed the rescue group back in 1994 as a charitable organization focused on the Halifax project, putting feelers out around the world searching for Halifax wrecks and parts. So far they have about 30 per cent of the parts they need for a rebuild, with the Swedish bomber being the group's third big find.

A machine gun from a Halifax bomber that divers have been working to recover near Malmo off the coast of Sweden. (Submitted by Karl Kjarsgaard)

The Halifax is the rarest of the Royal Canadian Air Force bombers with 1,230 planes scrapped in England after the Second World War ended. This makes the task of locating the parts Kjarsgaard needs to rebuild a complete plane a huge challenge.

Kjarsgaard says he remains hopeful his group will complete the rebuild. He's moving forward with an international fundraising push to make sure they can continue their work locating and transporting the many pieces of the Halifax puzzle.

"We have a crowdfund, we have a fundraiser site and it's been able to raise some money, as well as donations from families of veterans who flew in the Halifax and people from around the world," said Kjarsgaard.

He says he has several volunteer mechanics and aircraft engineers ready to help with the rebuild when that day comes.

Kjarsgaard says the fundraising drive has been successful over the years with donations and funding for the project coming from Britain, the United States, Europe, Australia, and Canada, as well as support from the Bomber Command Museum itself. But the money needs to keep flowing to make the Halifax dream a reality.

Kjarsgaard says he already has a lead on a new Halifax bomber wreck that's been discovered not far away from the current recovery site off the coast of Denmark. 

He says that one could be next.

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist covering all kinds of stories from northeast Calgary for web, radio, TV and social media, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey