File:Short Sunderland V ‘ML796 - NS-F’ (40161841072).jpg

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Given that I spent nearly 20 years as a volunteer helping to restore this aeroplane, it is remarkable that I have been on Flickr for seven years before posting a shot of her! The short version of her history is:- Built as a Mk.III but converted to become the first Mk.V. Her RAF service was from May 1945 to December 1949 which included flying with 230sqn during the Berlin Airlift. She then saw Aeronavale service from August 1951 to January 1962, after which she was used as a disco / nightclub at La Baule, France from 1965 to 1975, with her interior stripped and a spiral staircase installed (yes, really). Dismantled and collected by a team from the Imperial War Museum (IWM) and Duxford Aviation Society (DAS), she arrived at Duxford during 1976 for reassembly and restoration. Now 99% complete and wearing 201sqn markings (although she never flew with 201sqn) she is on display in the ‘AirSpace’ hangar at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford Airfield, Cambridgeshire, UK. 26th January 2018

Her ‘pre-Duxford’ history is given below in more detail and is a combination of information from three sources:-

  1. 1 The IWM website
  2. 2 Geoff Goodall’s Warbirds Directory


  1. 3

Converted from a Mk.III on the production line becoming the first Mk.V, with Pratt & Whitney R-1838 Twin Wasps replacing the Bristol Hercules of the Mk.III, among many smaller differences. 15th May 1945:-Delivered to the Flying Boat Servicing Unit at Calshot. 1945:-Joined No.228 Sqdn at Pembroke Dock. 3rd March 1946:-To No.4 Operational Training Unit at Alness. 10th July 1946:-In to storage with No.57 Maintenance Unit at Wig Bay 1948:-Reactivated for No.230 Sqn for the Berlin Airlift. 20 December 1949:- Allocated to the French Aeronavale under the terms of an agreement between the French and British Governments. 22 June 1950:-To Shorts Brothers at Belfast to undergo modifications as specified by the French Navy. 3 August 1951:-Modifications complete and delivered to France via 57MU at Wig Bay. Operated with various units including Flottile 7FE at Dakar December 1960:- Stored at Lanveoc-Poulmic 30 January 1962:-Struck off charge 1965:-Bought by Robert Bertin and used as a disco at Maisden-le-Riviere 1969:-Moved 353km to La Baule and in use as a nightclub. May 1976:-A local authority wished to have the aircraft removed as it blocked the path of a proposed road. Robert Bertin forced to offer it free to anyone who could take it away. The offer was accepted by the Imperial War Museum (IWM). Dismantled and collected by a team from the IWM and Duxford Aviation Society (DAS). 9 July 1976:-Arrived at Duxford in five sections.

I could (and possibly should!) write a book on the restoration of ML796 at Duxford. Initially it was expected to take three years, but it was nearer to thirty years before she was visibly complete and fully painted, although to my eye there are still many small jobs that need completing. The initial plan was basically just to reassemble and repaint. The actual restoration evolved into replacing the missing main-spar sections and recreating the whole interior to original condition, helped by receiving a container of spares from New Zealand.

In my time on the project, it was led by Geoff Sodeaux from the IWM, with the DAS crew chief being ‘Tod’ Slaughter (ex 64sqn and still an active DAS member, I believe). Technical drawings and advice for the main spars came from Norman Harry (previously of Marshalls, Cambridge), while other DAS crew members included John Tibbs, Martin Few, Dave Sharpe, George Belcher, Reg Nunn and many, many others over the years, last but not least of which being my late father, Mike Wilson and, of course, myself.

Known to us as “The Great White Whale” her land/sea journeys across France and from France to the UK had involved a fair amount of dismantling in places that shouldn’t be dismantled! The worst of these was probably burning off the base of the fin to get her under a low bridge, during her move to La Baule in 1969. Such were the restoration challenges facing the team at Duxford. The endless stories from the restoration include a power cut and sudden darkness while the crew were manually offering a tailplane up to the fuselage one Tuesday night, a hangar flood, Royal visits, trips to Hendon armed with a tape measure, TV appearances, depth charge doors which sound like a bomb going off when they operate, Brown ‘gunge’, Yellow ‘gunge’, Health & Safety banning any kind of ‘gunge’(!), straightening propeller blades using the IWM Conqueror tank, lots of metalwork, and some very, very big cranes!

As I said, there’s a book in there somewhere…..

Source Short Sunderland V ‘ML796 / NS-F’
Author Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UK
Camera location52° 05′ 48.63″ N, 0° 08′ 10.52″ E Kartographer map based on OpenStreetMap.View this and other nearby images on: OpenStreetMap - Google Earthinfo


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