Fleet Air Arm Museum exhibition remembers The Battle of the Atlantic

By Richard Moss | 03 July 2013

Exhibition Preview: The Battle of the Atlantic at the Fleet Air Arm Museum from July 11 until December 2013.

a photograph of an aircraft carrier in a rough swelling sea
Aircraft Carrier HMS Searcher during the Battle of the Atlantic.© Courtesy Fleet Air Arm Museum
The U-Boat Wolf Packs, the famous sinking of the Bismarck, the bravery of the Merchant Navy and the long campaign of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force to protect them; there are many elements of the Battle of the Atlantic of World War Two.

These and many other components have raised the epic struggle to control the vital shipping lanes across the Atlantic into an almost mythic status that today befits its brutality, importance and the sacrifice of the men who served.

It was the longest campaign of World War Two, which began on the first day of the war and continued until the German surrender in 1945.

From the outbreak of hostilities Britain needed to import more than a million tons of material per week in order to survive. Thousands of ships and more than 30,000 Merchant Navy seamen were lost in the battle to keep the supply lines open. If the Allies had succumbed it would have in all probability, meant defeat in the war.

Amidst this long war of attrition, which stretched across six years, 1943 is now seen as the point at which the balance shifted in favour of the Allied forces – an advantage they maintained for the remainder of the war.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of this pivotal moment Yeovil's Fleet Air Arm Museum is exploring the battle's importance and the Fleet Air Arm’s vital role in it.

Central to the exhibition are three of the iconic aircraft that flew from the decks of Royal Navy aircraft carriers that carried the fight to the Germans and protected the convoys from the German Kriegsmarine (Navy).

Visitors can see a Fairey Swordfish, a Fairey Fulmar and a newly restored Grumman Martlet.

All three saw war service but the Swordfish, an antiquated bi-plane even by 1939 standards, remarkably saw service throughout war and is perhaps the most iconic. It was a torpedo from a Swordfish flying from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal that crippled the German battleship Bismark, which was later scuttled by her crew following a fierce and fatal engagement with a British fleet.

The barrel-like Grumman Martlet will be making its first public appearance following its painstaking restoration in the museum’s restoration halls where curators have revealed the original wartime paint schemes together with other details including accident damage.

In addition to the aircraft there will be a representation of a German U-boat conning tower along with a rare example of a German Gyrocopter.

Gyrocopters were stored onboard the U-boats within the torpedo tubes. They could be deployed rapidly when the submarine surfaced and towed behind the submarine lifting its pilot to height of some 100 metres, extending visibility to around 25 miles.

The aircraft, the people, the ships, the submarines and the technology all played their part in this long and decisive battle and the Fleet Air Arm Museum response is a fitting tribute.

a painting of a Fairey swordfish attacking a German ship at Sea
Fleet Air Arm Fairey Swordfish biplanes crippling the German warship Bismark in a painting in the Fleet Air Arm collection.© Courtesy the Fleet Air Arm Museum
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