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Swordfish W5856 (L Howard)

Royal Navy Swordfish coming home for the weekend

Published: 19 Sep 2015

The oldest flying Royal Navy Swordfish Mk1 in the world, Swordfish W5856, will be visiting the North of England this weekend.

She will be returning to the BAE Systems’ facility in Brough, East Yorkshire, the site where she was restored to full flying condition today (Friday 18th September), and flying at the Southport Air Show, Merseyside on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 September. 

Built in 1941, and remarkably still flying 74 years later, the bi-plane torpedo bomber became one of the most successful aircraft in the history of naval air warfare and is a living memorial to all those who have flown aircraft from ships at sea with the Royal Navy over the past 100 years.

Swordfish W5856, which saw active service in the Mediterranean during the Second World War, will take part in a full programme of events over the weekend including a visit to Sherburn-in-Elmet, where she was built by the Blackburn Aircraft Company, a fly past for employees over BAE Systems, Brough, and a day with BAE Systems Warton, Lancashire.    

The whole family was at the factory when the last Swordfish departed. She climbed into the sky, turned, banked and dived, I shall never forget it.

Sarah Douglas

The Swordfish played a crucial role protecting convoys from U-boat attack in the Battle of the Atlantic, sunk the Italian fleet at Taranto and crippled the mighty Bismarck in the Northern Atlantic in 1941. 

Flying in her original 820 Naval Air Squadron paint scheme at the time of the attack on the Bismarck, Swordfish W5856’s homecoming is expected to attract great interest and is also an opportunity for the Royal Navy to thank BAE Systems for building new wings for the aircraft.

“People in Yorkshire have a great affection for the Swordfish” said Sarah Douglas, nee Blackburn, whose family ran the Blackburn Aircraft factory. 

“The factory was run by my grandfather, Norman Blackburn, and local companies took great pride in making Swordfish components.” 

Over 1,700 Swordfish were built at the Blackburn Aircraft factory and the last one left the production line in August 1944. 

“The whole family was at the factory when the last Swordfish departed. She climbed into the sky, turned, banked and dived, I shall never forget it. Blackburn aircraft became known as ‘Blackfish’ and it will be wonderful to see a Blackfish Mk1 come home” said Sarah.

Transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1944 and shipped back to the UK in 1977, Swordfish W5856 was purchased by BAE Systems in 1990 and lovingly restored to full flying condition at BAE Systems Brough before being gifted to the Royal Navy Historic Flight in 1993.

In 2003, W5856 was grounded with corrosion in her wing spars and her future again looked uncertain. However, with great generosity, technicians and apprentices at BAE Systems again stepped in, and built a new set of wings which were delivered to the Royal Navy Historic Flight in 2012.

Speaking of the invaluable and painstaking work carried out by BAE Systems to keep the Swordfish flying, Lieutenant Commander Chris Götke AFC Royal Navy, Commanding Officer of the Royal Navy Historic Flight said, “We are deeply grateful to BAE Systems for their longstanding and continued support over many years.

"The enthusiasm of the engineers and apprentices at BAE has been outstanding and it will be an honour flying the Swordfish over the facility at Brough in salute to the skill of the workforce and generosity of their support.”

Rear Admiral Ian Tibbitt CBE, Deputy Chairman of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust, said, “BAE Systems could not have made a more important or vital contribution to keep the Swordfish flying and the Trust would like to take this opportunity to express its appreciation and say thank you for the exceptional dedication of everyone involved.

"The company’s heritage programme is an inspiration to current and future generations helping to preserve the UK’s military history and has made a real difference in helping to save an aircraft that sits at the very heart of the Nation’s naval aviation heritage.”


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