Ryanair pilot finds Bismarck bomber solving death mystery for heroes’ families

News

A determined pilot has uncovered the final resting place of a British bomber which helped sink the Bismarck.

Ryanair flyer Luca Lazzara, 38, who is based at Stansted, spent five years hunting for the wreckage of four Royal Navy Swordfish torpedo bombers that crashed off the coast of his home town in Sicily.

He found out about the story after after seeing photos on the local Facebook page for Cefalu, in northern Sicily.

The grainy pics showed an upturned biplane that had crashed on the beach early on November 12, 1941.

The pictures captured his imagination and he managed to gain access to Italian documents unbeknownst to British researchers which helped him track down relatives of the airmen, who had never told their wives and children about their fateful mission.

He told The Times: “I managed to contact the 96-year-old brother of one of the missing airmen and he didn’t know what had happened … and was still holding out hope that he would see him alive.

“The family said they thought he might have survived somehow and lost his memory and couldn’t find his way back home. It’s been very emotional for everyone.”

Using records from the Fleet Air Arm Museum and personal flight log books, Lazzara discovered that one of the crashed aircraft was the first to be credited with a successful torpedo hit against the Bismarck, days before the German battleship was sunk by the British fleet on May 27, 1941.

He uncovered flight records that showed the Swordfish was later transferred from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.

It was here that it’s final flight took place on the night of November 11, 1941.

It was one of four Swordfish torpedo bombers from the navy’s 830 squadron set off from Malta to hit an Axis convoy over the Strait of Sicily.

But sadly three would end up ditching in the sea off Cefalu and one crash-landed on the beach.

Of the nine crew, two died after their plane exploded on impact with the sea.

It is believed the bombers lost their bearings after their radios failed in bad weather.

The seven survivors were captured.

According to Lazzara’s research pilot Lieutenant George Myles Osborn realised they were off track and led the other three pilots to Cefalu, where they ran out of fuel and had to ditch their aircraft.

Lieutenant Commander JG Hunt was flying as an observer and navigator with Osborn and Sergeant Matthew Parke, an RAF radar operator.

Sub-lieutenant Stewart Campbell and his gunner, Leading Airman Johnny Fallon, were in the second plane that ditched in the sea.

Lieutenant Raymond Warren Taylor, who crash-landed on the beach, was joined by Sub-lieutenant Frank Leonard Robinson, an air gunner who had flown the the bomber on the day it attacked the Bismarck.

Lieutenant Aidan Frederick Wigram died alongside Leading Airman Ken Dickens Griffiths when their Swordfish exploded.

Wigram, 34, left a wife and two sons.

Neither of the men’s families knew where or how they had died.

Griffiths’ relatives had held out hope that he might have survived.

Mr Lazzara has since contacted a few of the families involved but said he was determined to contact them all.