|BY THE TIME I LEFT THE UK, the B52 (eight jet engines) had become a B17 or B24 (four radial-piston engines). All we really knew was that the aircraft was from the 1940s.|
And by the time Nick Gibbs and I reached local dive centre BT Diving, it seemed that the aircraft was Italian rather than American, a Savoia-Marchetti SM-79 Mk2 Sparviero, or Sparrowhawk, torpedo-bomber (three radial piston engines).
One of the two pilots had apparently visited Kas, which lies on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey between Fethiye and Antalya, some 15 years before. It seems that the Sparrowhawk had scrambled from its base on a nearby Italian-occupied Greek island to attack British forces on another island, and came under fierce fire from British fighters.
The pilot and his crew had baled out just off Kas and the aircraft had glided into the sea, coming to rest on a reef with its nose in 60m and its tail in 70m of water. The other pilot had died, though his body had been recovered.
The 21m-long Sparrowhawk carried a crew of four or five, was armed with four machine guns and had capacity for a 1250kg bomb-load on internal racks or two torpedoes slung beneath the fuselage.
A distinctive hump on the upper forward fuselage, which housed both the fixed forward-firing heavy machine-gun and the dorsal gun, earned the SM-79-11 the nickname Gobbo Maleditto (Damned Hunchback). But many regarded it as one of the finest hunter-torpedo-bombers of WWII. It held a number of airspeed records since it first flew in September 1935, and sank many Allied ships in the Mediterranean.
BT Diving had yet to offer technical diving facilities, though it now does, so I knew I would have to dive the wreck on air. Also, my Nikonos V camera was warranted only to 50m. Nikon UK asked me to report back on how it got on!
The centre could offer only 18, 12 or 10 litre cylinders. When I saw the size of an 18 I decided Id rather breathe carefully on a 12, but requested a shotline with air at 6m. Ercan Tutal, the chief instructor for the centre, would come with us, carrying an extra 10 litre tank. Many years before I had been a Navy diver but since then I normally kept my diving to around 45m.
We motored out in the centres hardboat, passed the island of Meis about two miles out and anchored over a reef which topped at 5m below the surface. The sea was flat and, once down, the visibility exceeded my wildest dreams at 40m-plus.
We descended towards the sloping reef side, and at 20m I relaxed. Giant grouper surrounded us, with even bigger specimens just a few metres below. At 36m three large shapes approached from open water and came in close - amberjack up to a metre long. Then their bigger grandad arrived.
I remember Nick pointing furiously down towards a sandy area on the reef as an outline came vividly into view - a monster stingray. Five minutes and 46m into the dive and I already had a good collection of photos.
At 50m I was shocked to see clearly before me the front section of the Sparrowhawk - two radial engines on what remained of the wing sections, and another on the nose. At 60m I beckoned Nick in to pose behind the engines. I hadnt planned to risk the camera any deeper than this, but it was performing fine.
Revising my dive-plan, I signalled to the others that we could proceed slightly deeper along what remained of the fuselage, a jumble of metal tube. I could feel the camera wind-on stiffening slightly - normally the lever would spring back under its own power, but at 65m it had to be pushed back.
At 70m I could see the rubber-tyred tail-wheel beneath me. I beckoned Nick in to pose above it, but he seemed slow to understand. Come on, you bugger, get your brain in gear, I thought . A few gestures from me did the trick, but I rebuked myself for my impatience.
The exhaled air from my regulator glugged in the soup-like water but I still felt comfortable and warm, although the temperature had dropped 6 from that at the surface.
Back up towards the nose section of the Sparrowhawk, I wondered at the lack of covering to the airframe of what was otherwise an intact aircraft. I learned later that the wings had been constructed from fabric on an all-wood frame, all of which had disappeared after 60 years immersion.
The fuselage was made of welded steel tube. The front was still covered in Duralumin sheet but very little of that or the plywood remained on top, while the fabric that had covered the sides, bottom and tail unit had vanished altogether.
More pictures, then Ercan was signalling up. We stopped for more shots with the stingray on route. We didnt need Ercans spare air or the stage cylinder - in with 200 bar, we each came out with 45 bar on exit.
You can visit the Sparrowhawk with BT Diving (0090 242 836 3737), but it is now offered only as a technical dive.
|Nick Gibbs hovers above the centre and starboard radial piston engines of the Sparrowhawk |
|Near the port engine of the Sparrowhawk in Kas, showing fuselage tubing and ammunition on the seabed |
|the engine is covered in sponges |